You’re up at 5:30 am to grab your shower and get yourself ready before the kids are up and need their breakfast, make lunches and get everyone out the door. You drop the baby off at day care and rush on to work. You work all day, may leave later than planned. Once home you need to get dinner before taking the kids to their evening activities. Sound familiar? At this point in your day, you need to come up with something to eat that is quick, easy and nourishing. It needs to make itself basically, because you are tired, hungry yourself and you have little people pulling you in all directions.
There are solutions. Everyone is always talking about planning ahead. Sometimes, it’s not that easy to implement. But the time you spend on planning will save you time later on. By creating a basic plan of action each week you can cut out some of the stress when you get home and need to make something quick and easy. Planning can also keep you from splurging on high trans fat take out or fast food. Here are some tips for planning that will hopefully be easier to fit into your already hectic schedule.
Find A System That Works For You
A good place to start is to find a system that works for you. Maybe you are someone who can sit down with a few cookbooks and look through recipes that would fit into the schedule for the week. For example, the kids have evening activities on Tuesday and Thursday, but you have after work meetings on Monday and Wednesday. Crock pot meals are perfect for those nights that you won’t be able to make something once you get home. Quick and easy meals with a few ingredients will work best for those evenings that the kids need to be out the door right away.
You might be someone who has only thought about dinner the morning (or evening) of…and that’s where you need a system that will give you the power to do your way. You could use the plan ahead method. Plan what you need on the weekend and put it together the day you need it.
By developing a ‘system’ you can make your life a little easier in the long run. My friend Beth has a great system where she prepares all the meals for the week on Sunday. That works so well for her. I’m not that organized or energetic. My system is to get out my cookbooks, find the meals I’m going to make and write out a list. Once I shop, I’m good to go for the week and cook each meal on the day they were planned. Leftovers are usually used for breakfast or lunch the next day. Finding your own system is the only way to make it work for you.
Weekends may be a good time to get your meal list together and do shopping. If you work an off week schedule, you may need to adjust your planning day. It all depends on your own schedule.
Once you have done your shopping and have all your ingredients, you can do some pre-meal prep. Some may prefer to do this the day you are cooking the meal but getting some of those chores out of the way will give you more time to enjoy your meal.
Chop some of the veggies ahead of time to make it easier for those nights that you won’t have time to cut everything up. Cut up and store in Ziplock bags veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, squash (except spaghetti squash), peppers, onions and garlic.
Another easy way to make sure you have quick meals for the week is to make double batches of a certain dish. Cook double the meal on nights you have more time and then freeze or store the extras for another night. And don’t forget about left overs. Can you serve the same meal on another night or use the leftovers for breakfast or lunch?
Your meal plan for a typical week can include three or four recipes, an ingredient list for those recipes, and creative ways to use leftovers so you don’t have to cook from scratch every night.
Keep It Healthy
These tips can help you prepare some healthy meals.
1. Keep fresh and frozen vegetables on hand. A supply of salad greens, tomatoes, green onions, carrots and cucumbers makes it easy to whip up a salad. You can make frozen broccoli and cauliflower or other veggies quickly and top them with lemon juice or olive oil for a side dish.
2. Stock your pantry with healthy ingredients. That way you can create nourishing dishes with little fuss. Include tuna packed in water, salmon, sardines, diced tomatoes, olive oil, flavored vinegars and your favorite spices.
3. Use your grill. Outdoor gas grills and indoor electric grills cook foods quickly.
4. Roast a chicken. You can make several meals from one (or more if you have a larger family) roasted chicken. Cut up the chicken into serving size pieces for one meal and save the rest to make chicken tacos, chicken salad or add diced chicken to a tossed salad for an instant lunch or dinner.
Make It Fast
- look for recipes with few ingredients – less measuring, slicing, and dicing make dinner come together quickly
- use your kitchen appliances – food processors are great for chopping vegetables and blending sauces; crock pots make the dinner easy with everything ready when you walk in the door
- master quick cooking techniques – stir-frying and grilling takes less time than stewing
- double your recipes – then freeze them in meal-sized container. Soups, stews, casseroles, and grilled meats freeze beautifully.