Meal Prep Makes Dinner Easy

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It starts the way all bad habits do. Slowly. Quietly. Until one day you realize – this is not good. 

And that’s how it went with our meals: a bagel on my way to the office, a frozen meal from the store for lunch, take-out dinner from a restaurant. If I did cook, it was something thrown together using processed foods from the store. Most of the fruits and vegetables I was buying ended up getting tossed. It was definitely time for a change. 

Challenge Accepted

I started in January 2017 with Epicurious’ #Cook90 challenge, where you cook every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner – at home for 30 days. (Read about my Cook 90 experience.) It forced me to start planning out meals and writing weekly menus. And doing that led to a realization that I didn’t have enough time after arriving home from work to get dinner on the table at a decent time. 

What would make the cooking part go faster? Could I prepare things ahead of time? 

I like to cook and I like flexibility in our menus, so I didn’t want to prepare entire meals ahead of time to freeze and thaw. And I didn’t want to make meals to toss in the fridge and heat back up during the week. That just feels like leftovers. 

Finding My Way

I get asked quite often about how I meal prep. To look at the outcome of my weekend kitchen time, the results seem a bit random. A couple of examples from my Instagram Stories:

For me, the purpose of meal prep is to (1) help weeknight dinners come together quicker, and (2) provide me with flexibility. So I learned how to be my own prep cook

I set aside 2-3 hours every weekend to do meal prep. To help things come together quickly, I start by planning out our dinner menu for the coming week and then base my meal prep on what that week’s menu needs. 

What veggies need to be chopped for each dish? Can any sauces be made ahead of time? Does anything need to spend a lot of time in the oven? If so, can I make that dish in advance? (e.g. Make the pan of enchiladas or lasagna over the weekend so I only have to bake them the night we’re going to eat them.) 

How I Meal Prep

Here’s an example of how I might meal prep for a week.

Over the weekend: 

  • make roasted tomato sauce
  • roast 2 bulbs of garlic
  • roast 2-3 cups of veggies
  • make 3-4 cups of mashed potatoes, 
  • grate 1 cup of Parmesan cheese
  • slice 2 onions and 2 bell peppers into strips 

There definitely doesn’t seem like a meal anywhere in all that effort. 

But here’s how it comes together: 

  • Meal 1: Pasta with peas and garlic bread
    That night: Cook pasta. Heat up some frozen peas. Make some garlic butter and spread it on the bread, then broil the bread until it’s bubbly and starting to brown.  
    From the meal prep supply: Toss the roasted tomato sauce with the cooked pasta and peas. Stir in ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese and return to heat until everything is hot and cheese is melted. Mash a few cloves of roasted garlic into 2-3 Tbsp softened butter to make the garlic butter. 
  • Meal 2: Chicken fajitas
    That night: Slice a couple of chicken breasts into strips and cook in a skillet with taco seasonings. Warm up tortillas.
    From the meal prep supply: Cook the sliced onions and bell peppers in the skillet with the chicken. 
  • Meal 3: Grilled bratwurst with rice and veggies
    That night: Make a pot of white or brown rice. Grill sausages.
    From the meal prep supply: Heat up half of the roasted veggies and fold them into the cooked rice. Drizzle with a little olive oil. 
  • Meal 4: BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes and corn
    That night: Grill some chicken, basting with your favorite store bought BBQ sauce. Heat up frozen corn.
    From the meal prep supply: Warm up the mashed potatoes. 
  • Meal 5: Veggie Pasta
    That night: Cook pasta.
    From the meal prep supply: Heat up the remaining roasted veggies and toss with hot, cooked pasta, 1-2 Tbsp of butter and the remaining ½ cup of Parmesan cheese.

And that’s dinner Monday-Friday! Chances are pretty good that there are leftovers from the week’s meals, so a meal of leftovers becomes Meal 6. I often do a sandwich night (PB&J! Grilled cheese!) for Meal 7 to give myself a night off from cooking. 

What I like about this method is that nothing is locked in. Swap steak or shrimp for the chicken in the fajitas. Make BBQ pork chops instead of chicken. Use any frozen veggies you like. 

This is about getting a (nearly) homemade dinner on the table quickly and easily. And if I can do it, you can do it. 🙂 

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Meal Prep: The Next Level – Stocking Up | Mitten Girl

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