Whether you’re a working mom, single parent, if you work from home or you stay at home, there’s no doubt that keeping up with day to day responsibilities can be a challenge. And yes, I left out plenty of categories of people. My point, though, is that it doesn’t matter who you are – our lives are busy.
Have you ever found yourself saying “But I got a text saying – wait, so what’s going on? Who is going to be where tonight?”
And we over-schedule.
Oh, boy, do we over-schedule. SURE, I can homeschool and run a home business and keep a clean house and … date night? Oh, yes, I suppose I need to fit some date nights in there.
And somehow in all of this craziness, we need to fit in meal prep?
People still need to eat, and nightly take-out isn’t a healthy or cost-effective option for most of us.
So you want home cooked meals – and you want your family to eat at home – despite a life full of pressing demands. And you want to be eating fresh, wholesome food as often as possible while still saving money and time.
Let’s see how we can make that happen.
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Keep shopping lists
Anyone who doesn’t like shopping lists is leaving a huge time saver on the table. We all know the frustrating feeling of coming home from the grocery store to realize you failed to bring home some needed items.
“Darn it! I forgot half and half again!”
It’s worth keeping a running list in a central location like the kitchen, with a pen in easy reach. Family members can jot down items they may want, without having to send random texts at inconvenient times or make requests out loud that are soon forgotten.
Even better… categorize your list.
Some excellent planners take the time to type out a shopping list template that’s organized by grocery store department. Include the items you typically buy, such as milk, eggs, bread, meat, or lunch box favorites such as a type of juice box that your children prefer. Then, when it’s time to shop, you can print it out, check off what you need, add extras, and be on your way.
If you’re not a computer person, at least take a few moments to re-write the list that was posted in the kitchen, according to section, i.e. produce first, then deli, then meat, and so forth, according to the physical layout of your favorite grocery store.
If you’ve never done this, it may seem excessive at first. But you really will spend a lot less time fumbling around if you get your shopping list in ship-shape.
Have a general idea of what you’ll be making and serving for the 5-day work week, even if you don’t do a full out meal plan.
So if you usually grocery-shop on Monday, you might say to yourself: “Pork is on sale. I can get a roast and cook it in the crock pot. The remains become tacos for Tuesday. Mid-week we can have a vegetarian meal. Thursday is pot luck. Friday, we make homemade pizza.” When you combine meal planning with your slow cooker, you can save a lot of time.
Then, before you leave, jot down all the items you’ll need to buy to make this happen. Some things, like veggies and sides, can be flexible. But if you have a general idea of how the week’s meals will go, you won’t flounder when it comes time to make dinner.
Of course, you can really plan ahead and say “Pork is on sale. I can get eight roasts. Cook two in the slow cooker for tomorrow’s dinner and three meals of taco meat in the freezer. Cut two up and pressure can them for pork stew meat, and freeze four for later.”
Use your freezer
From frozen vegetables and fruit, to bread rolls and biscuits made ahead, your freezer can be your friend.
Freezer cooking means that you spend a day (or two) cooking meals for the freezer ready to be pulled out on busy nights. It’s a time saver and a money saver!
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Have one or two “heat and eat” options for a busy night
You can include these in your freezer cooking or buy them from the grocery store (yes, some store bought options are worth buying, if you look carefully).
Chicken nuggets and fingers heat up quickly in the oven or even the toaster oven. Frozen french fries only take about twenty minutes and are easy to clean up.
You can buy or make soup for the freezer. Either thaw in the fridge overnight when you know you’ll have a busy night or, if you use one, stick them in the microwave.
To thaw soup in a hurry, just run the frozen container under warm water. Then, place in a sauce pan with lid with a bit of water in the bottom, and turn the stove on medium. When the soup begins to liquefy, lower the heat and stir occasionally to break up frozen chunks and get the contents to warm up.
Stock starches in the fridge
Rice, pasta and whole grain sides such as brown rice noodles make easy grab-and-go selections to cut significant time from dinner prep.
For example, if you’re busy and thinking ahead to dinner, you can mentally prep for a quick one-pot meal that involves a quick zap of some broccoli in the microwave, a sauté of chicken, and the addition of pre-cooked noodles and sauce which can be added at the end.
Plan and shop for a cooking day
This can be a Saturday afternoon or any other day when you know you’ll be home. You can make more complicated meals like lasagna, casseroles, meat sauce, classic beef stew, stuffed cabbage, pot roast, stew, chili, soup, or something else that would take several hours to prepare and cook.
Freeze in single or double portions to thaw and eat on another night.
Clean as you go
When it comes time to hustle through dinner cooking, you can make easier work of the post-meal clean-up by tackling things as you go. It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but it really helps.
Items like peelers, colanders and boiling pots don’t require much soap to get clean. So you can quickly wipe and rinse them directly after use.
After chopping vegetables, wipe the knife on a clean cloth and store back in its proper place immediately (keeps people from cutting themselves, too).
Waste not a moment in getting food out of the pan you cooked it in, and running water into the pan to rinse and wipe before things get sticky and stuck.
When all’s said and done, you’ll have only dinner plates, serving bowls and utensils to wash.
And I don’t know about you, but I make the children wash those!