Now that school is back and kids’ sports are underway, your evenings have probably gotten a lot busier. Instead of turning to take out, delivery, or fast food, spend some time planning meals so your family can eat smart. Here are a few different strategies you can use to make preparing more meals at home easier and faster, no matter how busy you are.
Meal preparation tips
In a previous post, we shared some ideas for getting started with preparing meals and ingredients ahead of time. Some key points:
Prepare only what you can use within 4 days (for food safety reasons).
Start small, making a double batch for freezing or making a side salad for the week.
Make half of your plate of fruits and vegetables easier by preparing them ahead of time. You can add them straight to your meal or make a snack to go for hungry kids.
Bonus tip: When you find meat on sale, buy it and cook it plain (without seasoning). You can use it in different meals and / or freeze for later.
Speaking of freezing for later, freezing meal prep is another great way to save time during the week with a little effort up front. Freezing chopped vegetables is relatively easy and is then ready to use in recipes. Peppers, tomatoes, onions, and fresh herbs are all easy to freeze and don’t need to be blanched first. Check out our recent article on freezing fresh produce from the garden (or farmers’ market or grocery store).
You can also freeze whole meals in advance. Soups and casseroles work well for frozen meals. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has general guidelines for freezing prepared foods, and your local extension worker is also a good resource for freezing foods safely.
Make a meal plan
Meal planning is a lifeline for busy families. You’ll know exactly what to buy at the store and what to cook during the week, saving you the stress of deciding each night. We’ve got a few menu shortcuts to start figuring out what to cook – theme nights, filling up empty meals, and sassy changes. You can combine some of the above preparation strategies with these menu shortcuts and save even more time! If you’re new to meal planning, we even have a sample menu with a shopping list to get you started.
Set it up and forget about it
Slow cookers are a great kitchen tool to save time in the kitchen. Add the ingredients, cook it (usually 4 to 8 hours) and dinner is ready without the fuss. You can use pre-made ingredients or freeze all of your ingredients ahead of time to streamline even more. This is perfect if you start the slow cooker in the morning before heading to work.
– Virginia Cooperative Extension’s programs and employment are open to everyone. Virginia Cooperative Extension and USDA are Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action Employers. This material was partially funded by the USDA Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – SNAP. Virginia Cooperative Extension’s programs and employment are open to everyone, regardless of age, color, disability, sex, gender identity, gender expression, national origin , political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status or any other basis. protected by law. An equal opportunity / affirmative action employer. Published as part of the cooperative extension work, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the United States Department of Agriculture are cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Mr. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.