One of the biggest concerns for busy families is finding the time to make a meal when everyone in the house is going in different directions at different times. We all know the advantages of home cooking – meals are lower in fat and salt, higher in veggies and fruit, and full of flavour. But slicing, dicing and cooking take time, and that’s on top of the time it takes to eat the meal you’ve just made.
Here are 4 tips to make meal prep quicker and easier.
1. Set aside some time every couple of weeks to make big batches of family favourites. It doesn’t take much more time to slice and dice ingredients for two, three or four times a recipes, and the cooking time doesn’t usually change at all. Divide the batch into individual, or family size, portions and freeze. Reheat in the microwave for delicious home cooked meals in less than 15 minutes. Soups, stews, chili and casseroles like the ones below are perfect for batch cooking.
2. Prepare ingredients ahead of time so you can assemble a meal quickly. Keep a supply of cleaned veggies (celery stalks, peeled carrots, sliced peppers, broccoli flowerettes etc) in the fridge for quick stir frys and salads. If you already know what’s on the menu for a few days do all the vegetable slicing and dicing at once, and put each recipe’s ingredients in a labelled container in the fridge. When you’re cooking ground chicken, cook extra and freeze it in meal size portions. You can even add herbs and spices (taco seasoning, Italian herbs etc) to the cooked chicken before freezing. Pull a package out of the freezer to make chicken tacos, or Chicken Cornmeal Muffins or pasta with meat sauce.
3. Save time by marinating meat in your freezer. That’s right – your freezer. You’ll need your favourite marinades and several pounds of chicken. Divide the chicken into meal size portions and put each portion into a re-sealable plastic bag. Use a bag that’s big enough to lay the meat out in a single layer. This way more of the meat will be covered by the marinade, and thawing will be much faster. Pour the marinade in, squeeze the air out of the bags and seal it. Toss the bags around a couple of times (make sure they’re well sealed first) so the marinade touches all of the meat. Lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet so the chicken is in a single layer again, and freeze. The meat marinates a little as it freezes and a little more as it thaws. Grab a bag from the freezer and let it thaw overnight in the fridge (or for an hour or so in cold water). If you’re an all-weather griller, fire up the barbecue and grill the chicken. If not, grab a skillet or a roasting pan to cook up a flavourful meal.
4. Fall in love with your slow cooker all over again. It’s one of the best tools for beating the meal making time crunch. Yes, you still have to do some slicing and dicing but this can be done the night before. In the morning, throw everything into your slow cooker then come home to the wonderful aroma of a ready to eat dinner. Slow cookers are great for doing big batch recipes so you’ve leftovers for lunches or another supper.