Getting back to school means a change in routine for most busy families, and the last question you want to hear at the end of the day is, “What’s for dinner?” Instead of heading to the drive-through or heating up a store-bought frozen meal, you can put together some quick, healthy meals with just a little bit of planning. Consider the following tips to help you meal prep like a pro!
Create a Weekly Menu
Planning your meals in advance will not only help you put together your grocery list but also help you get organized for the week. When creating your meal plan, keep it simple! Start with dinner and then consider lunches and breakfast. You can simply Google “meal prep tips” to find videos, websites and apps for ideas. For about $15 a month, yourdinnerisplanned.com will create meal plans and grocery lists for five meals a week for you! Or, check out the app Prepear that also allows you to search recipes, create menus and grocery lists. The VEBA Resource Center always has healthy and delicious recipes for when you need a little inspiration.
Grocery Shop In Person or Online
After you’ve created your meal plan for the week, create your grocery list. To save time and money, make a list and stick to it. Grouping items together like dairy, frozen, deli, etc…will help keep you organized and minimize your time either in the aisle or online. Consider pre-cut produce, bagged salad, chopped or sliced meat and poultry to save time in the kitchen. If you’re shopping online, save your orders so the next time you login to shop, you can just reorder as needed.
Once your grocery shopping is done (or your groceries are delivered), before you put everything away, set aside the items that you would need to prep for dinners. Then, wash, chop, dice, and slice your vegetables, fruit and protein to get them ready for the week’s meals. You can store them in plastic bags or air-tight containers until you need them during the week.
Bulk or Batch Cook
Instead of cooking every night, try cooking in bulk! Double batch your meals to make enough for leftovers, hot lunches or make-ahead freezer meals. Always consider how you can reuse ingredients throughout the week to make life that much simpler. For example, leftover grilled chicken is the perfect ingredient for next-day quesadillas or a Taco Tuesday. Cooking in bulk is also a great way to incorporate hot lunches for your kids. The morning of, simply reheat leftovers from the night before, store in an air-tight thermos and then send your kids to school with a hot lunch! If you find that you’re in a bind after a long day, there’s nothing better than reaching into the freezer and pulling out a homemade meal that just needs to be popped into the oven!
Another popular meal prep hack is to batch cook. Slightly different than bulk cooking, batch cooking is when you cook ingredients to be used in different meals throughout the week. After you have done your grocery shopping and prepped your ingredients for the week, take the next step and devote a couple more hours to batch cooking. You might use the crock pot to cook a couple of pounds of chicken, steam quinoa or brown rice, roast a couple of trays of vegetables — all to be used throughout the week! Start with your most difficult meal of the week and then work from there. Don’t forget about lunch and breakfast! Batch cooking is a perfect way to prep protein and vegetable bowls or egg muffins and breakfast burritos.
Meal-Prep Must Haves
The key to making meal prepping as easy as possible is to have the right supplies. Here’s what we suggest having on hand:
- Quality air-tight storage like Tupperware®
- One knife
- Silicone spatula
- Mixing bowl
- Saute pan
- Large pot
- Large baking sheet
- Slow cooker or Crock-Pot®
- Digital Scale
- Wide mouth peeler
- 2-3 hours
Meal prepping can save you time, money and your sanity! Incorporating these simple hacks will keep you organized, your family fed and your pocketbook happy. For inspiration and recipe ideas, visit the VEBA Resource Center’s Recipe Library.