Summer holidays are over and it's time to get back to school, work, routine, and all the activities in between. After two months of free-range eating, there is a decent chance you'll find yourself standing in front of the fridge at 5pm wondering what to make for dinner. Megan Schultz, owner of Mission Control Catering and Cocoa Dot Cakes in Kamloops BC, served up some advice on how to handle the transition and avoid finding yourself feeding the family cereal for dinner.
Try to keep it simple. Meal prep can be daunting if you're not comfortable cooking or you're busy and have activities and family. Many families have two working parents who are too busy to spend time in the kitchen. Trying to stay on budget and make a variety of meals can add extra stress.
Success doesn't have to be complicated. Megan suggests investing in a few quality individual spices, rather than mixed packets or relying on pre-made seasonings. If those are in your pantry and you know what is in your kitchen, you are off to a good start. She cautions against trying a lot of new recipes at once as you are likely to end up with a lot of specialty ingredients in your pantry you will never use again. The same goes for buying items in bulk if it's not something you will use often.
It's a good idea to have the plan or menu for the week posted somewhere central. This way, if someone else jumps in to help or oversees the cooking that day, there's no guesswork as to which ingredients are to be used. This also helps create a sense of structure and unity in families working together.
Track ingredients using a template or a list so you know what you have on hand. It can be easy to lose ingredients when you have a lot of storage space. Being organized makes it easier to see and keep track of what's in the cupboard.
Containers are a great way to both organize ingredients and prep meals. Aim to have a variety of containers for both ingredients and prepared food. Megan suggests portion-sized containers for individuals and larger ones for families. Freezer bags are also handy and save space.
Getting the Goods:
The best time to grocery shop depends on a person's schedule. Thursday or Friday evenings are often not as busy in the grocery store, meaning you can get in and out in less time and with less stress. If you plan to use coupons or take advantage of sales, then plan shopping days around those dates. Megan suggests doing shopping and meal prep on two different days as trying to do everything all at once can take a lot of time. She often shops at night and then preps the following morning when ingredients are the freshest.
Megan's top 8 tips for meal prep success:
Prep veggies in advance. Washing produce and removing packaging when you buy it takes more time up front but is a huge time saver when you're scrambling in the kitchen to make a meal. Bonus: by doing this, veggies are ready for use as a quick snack, or for roasting or a stir fry.
Be flexible. Don't get stuck on having a specific meal on a certain day. Life happens. Be rigid in not wasting time or groceries, but flexible enough to switch it up when plans change. Don't let a change in plans ruin the rest of your planned week.
Cook items in advance. Things like rice and chicken can be cooked ahead of time then used in multiple meals throughout the week. This makes it easier to put together a balanced meal even if you don't have a recipe. She makes a quick salad on a Monday and then she has it all week to add to her plate
Bag it. Crockpot freezer bag meals are ready to go, pre-made meals. All you need to do is drop the contents into the Crockpot in the morning and come home to a cooked dinner in the evening.
Freeze it. Where possible, make extra servings and freeze leftovers. These frozen meals can save the day when plans go sideways.
Don't fuss so much. Not everything needs to be made from scratch, however nice that ideal sounds. There's a lot of value and time savings in purchasing pre-made items like salad dressing as opposed to making them from sparingly used ingredients.
Get creative. Sure, it's easy to go to Pinterest and find lots of recipes for chicken, but it's also easy to go to your pantry and look at what you already have. Reinventing ingredients to use them up saves time and money and creates variety. Instead of buying more taco shells and hot dog buns the next time you have a few left, try turning them into a new meal.
Have a weekly special. If you use flyers to shop for sales, find one item that takes a bit more time to cook and make that the special meal of the week. This creates a way to switch things up while staying on budget.