It’s a busy time of year right now for most folks and for many, school and work lunches are on the horizon. If you’re anything like me and you like to find ways to save time and money, keep reading, because I have some meal prep tips for you! Meal prepping is a habit that keeps money in my pocket and keeps me from getting to the “hangry” place. There is a certain peace of mind that comes with knowing that you don’t have to worry about your next meal.
If you’re not quite a pro in the meal prep department, not to worry, I’m going to show you the basics in a few easy steps. When mealtime rolls around, you want to be able to put together a simple meal that is nutritious, filling, and doesn’t take a lot of time.
The basic steps for efficient meal prep are determining the best prep method for what you want to prepare, making a plan by choosing the meals you want to eat for the week, writing your menu and scheduling time to prep. You’ll want to write your shopping list by department to save you time in the grocery store, then take note of what you already have on hand in your pantry and freezer, and check to make sure you have adequate containers for food storage and taking meals on the go.
Once you’ve got these things in place, you’re ready to meal prep! To make the most of your time in the kitchen, begin with foods that require the longest cooking times. Preheat the oven and prepare ingredients that will be cooked first. Bring water to a boil so that it’s ready when you need it. If two recipes call for the same ingredient, like chopped onions, prep the onions for both recipes at once, then divide to use as needed.
Something to be mindful of is the storage life of the foods you’re preparing. If stored in airtight containers, cut vegetables like onions and peppers will keep for two to three days in the refrigerator. Heartier vegetables, like chopped carrots and winter squash, will keep for at least four days. Lettuce and greens that have been washed, dried and kept in the refrigerator can stay fresh for up to a week. Cooked vegetables, grains and dishes containing meat, poultry, seafood or eggs should be consumed within three to four days, and be sure to reheat these to 165℉.
Another important tip is to freeze foods properly for the best quality product. Foods like soups, chilis, casseroles and cooked grains are easily frozen for future meals. During those crazy busy weeks, there is nothing more gratifying than pulling a ready-to-reheat meal from the freezer!
For soups and cooked grains, cool to room temperature (within two hours) and store in quart-size plastic containers or zip-top freezer bags. Leave an inch at the top of containers for food to expand as it freezes. Top casseroles with wax paper and cover tightly in foil. Label and date containers, and set reminders to consume frozen foods within three to six months. I’m repeating myself here because the last thing you want to do is make yourself sick by improper food handling so, always be sure to reheat to a cooking temperature of 165℉, when ready to serve.
With a bit of practice, you’ll discover a style of meal prep that works best for you. Whether you prep ingredients for one meal, prepare work lunches for the week, or cook a double batch of chili to freeze for next month, any amount of time spent meal prepping, yields big returns!