You’ve had a long day. The kids are cranky. Your feet hurt. There’s a show starting in an hour that you want to watch. Oh, and your family wants dinner…now! Sound familiar? If you’re tired of the pre-dinner headaches, here are five things you can do this weekend to make dinner prep easier all week. Best yet, you can do them all in an hour! Here’s how.
Now, I’m going to assume you’re already planning your weekly dinner menus in advance. You’re not? Well, hop over to a site like Food.com, which lets you select recipes then compile a shopping list. Then do yourself a favor and create not one but two different weekly menus, and repeat them. Really, your family won’t notice that you served meatloaf 14 days ago and now you’re making it again, so why feel the pressure to come up with dozens of different recipes when a mere 14 will do? Once you have your menu planned and your shopping list compiled, go through it and cross of any ingredients you already have before heading to the store. As soon as you get home — and I mean it, as soon as you get home — spend the next hour doing these five tasks.
1. Wash and chop your vegetables for the week. Use my homemade fruit and vegetable wash to clean away any mold-causing pathogens, then get to chopping. Stash each chopped ingredient in a separate container in your fridge, leaving out only what you’ll need to make the tossed salad you’ll be eating through the week.
2. Make your week’s salad in advance. Instead of spending ten minutes every night putting together a tossed salad, use my tips on making a salad that will last all week (which I’ll share with you on Wednesday!) and you’ll be sure your family gets the vegetables they need without eating up your time.
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3. Freeze your meat in marinade. Got a recipe that calls for marinated meat? Whip up that marinade and put it, along with the meat (even if it’s still frozen), in a freezer bag. Squeeze out excess air, mark the bag with the cooking instructions, and stash it in the freezer. Now the meat will marinate while it defrosts, saving you one more step in dinner prep.
4. Assemble slow-cooker meals in advance. I adore my slow-cooker’s usefulness on busy days, but in the past I didn’t use it as often as I should. Why not? Because I’d get so busy in the morning that I didn’t have time to brown meats, etc., before heading out the door. Then one day it dawned on me to prep even slow-cooker meals ahead of time. All I do is brown the meat I’ll be using and stash it in one bag, then put the veggies and any spices, sauce, etc., in another. Pop those into a container (or even a third bag) and tape the cooking instructions to it. Now getting a meal going in the crock-pot is a matter of dumping the ingredients in, adding whatever liquid’s required, and turning the thing on.
5. Make a big batch of simple sides that can extend to a full meal. We love wild rice, so on the weekend I make a big pot of it and separate it into three or four smaller containers that I freeze. We’ll have the rice plain one night, then when I’m serving Mexican I’ll defrost a container in the microwave and simmer it with salsa for a Spanish-style rice. The third container usually goes into a soup or stew, and the fourth gets turned into fried rice (so I can use up any leftover veggies).
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend that one hour working like crazy on the weekend than spend 30 minutes going crazy seven nights a week! What tips do YOU use to make dinner prep easier all week?