Another topic that was put to me was meal prep. This is a topic that I feel comfortable sharing because of the sheer laziness that made me meal prep. Also, I don’t know if we’ll be “outside” by Summer so it means we have to continue this excessive cooking that none of us were born to do… My kids are now doing better with the mixed food but when lockdown started, they were very much for the deconstructed meals. It took some time but I finally figured out snacks and meals that kept me out of the kitchen for very long periods. It also took a lot of frustration. While restaurants were still open for takeout I was getting annoyed that the food had always tasted better fresh – in the restaurant, and I was getting its distant cousin when it was delivered. So I had to think about what I could keep in my freezer that would make easy meals for the kids and for adults. I had to think of what wouldn’t add to the quarantine weight that was beginning to pile on as well.
Now, I think, the key to getting through all of the cooking is to have tools that make it easy! My go-tos are:
- Stasher bags – Less plastic waste by not throwing out endless ziploc bags.
- Air Fryer – 20mins wings that I don’t have to babysit? HELLO!
- Grill pan – that chicken for the salad would be done right quick in this!
- Rice cooker – “kthxbai” rice… put it in and leave it until you’re ready to eat!
- Containers – A good container to store leftovers is important when you will be storing more food than you usually do.
We’re meat eaters, so buying poultry/meat in bulk when I did a grocery shop meant that I’d “plan” a menu for the week, purchase whatever meat I needed and then once it came, it was going to be cleaned and seasoned before it was frozen so that it was ready for the pan once defrosted. The kids LOVE my greek seasoned tenders. After a lime and salt bath, the tenders are placed in a Stasher bag and dressed in olive oil, pepper, salt, ground garlic and greek seasoning. I’d do enough for more than one meal. So once defrosted, I’d have enough for lunch and dinner but the sides would be different. I found boneless chicken thighs were also very fast to cook (no bones!) and having Sweet Italian sausage for pastas and rice was very good to have on hand.
Let me break this one down a minute. Brown rice: I cook brown rice in a big batch in the rice cooker and keep it in the fridge for different meals. It could be stir fried (like above), I can bake some chicken and steam/grill some vegetables for the side or it’ll just be in a bowl for my rice loving daughter. Sausage: this meal was a shocker, laziness made me do it and it was so good! I bought the sausage to use with pasta, sliced like this or removed from the casing to have a more ground meat consistency. Corn: I LOVE fresh roasted corn. Ever since I learned to roast it by just broiling it in the oven and turning it until each side is a little brown, I can’t do corn from the tin. If there’s extra, I always keep it in the fridge to throw in salads or other meals. It’s about the versatility of the groceries you’re buying, and getting sick of the same thing all the time will have you experimenting and trying new things. Don’t be afraid to try it! My rule of thumb is to add something that has a flavor I can’t resist to pull me into the meal.
When I do “adult” meals like this, I tend to give my kids the same protein and then they’ll have one fruit/veg and rice or pasta with it. Speaking of kids, please stock up on those mini pizzas, nuggets, frozen mac & cheese dishes that they like. They’re eating every 5 seconds and you don’t need to be in the kitchen cooking a whole meal every time. Also, let’s be honest, they waste so much food. It’s better to have options that you know they’ll eat and not waste and would hopefully keep them full an extra 5 minutes. Whether you have a heavy lunch and a light dinner or a light lunch and heavy dinner, you deserve a break for either one of those. Just chuck some baby carrots or orange slices on the side and you’re good to go. Also, farro is a great grain to cook with. Again, I cook a batch if it’s in my meal pan and just put it in the fridge for salads – cold or warm!
The air fryer has been a blessing. I told the BFF I was considering it and she surprised me with one and once I figured it out, my husband had to beg me for a break from it lol. But he didn’t turn down wings! Baking wings before needed at least an hour in the oven, but this amazing machine had them done in 20mins for lunch. I just turn them half way and they’re ready when you hear the ding! The kids love the wings and tenders from it too! I’ve used it to reheat as well and I’m so happy to have it. Just take out you pre-seasoned wings in the stasher bag 😉 in the morning and they’ll be ready by the time you’re done putting together your sides.
Taking a break from the lunch/dinner options, let me pop into the breakfast realm for a minute. As easy as cereal is, we know it’s not always our preferred option. Or maybe it is for your family and that’s ok. Some days we prefer a heartier option when we know it’s going to get a bit busy. One of my freezer go-tos is a waffle. I either use my regular waffle recipe and add protein powder to it, make them, wrap individually, freeze and reheat in the toaster over or use the Kodiak Cakes protein waffle mix for a faster option. Any extras are frozen individually also. Another favorite is when I freeze the extras from Sunday morning scones and those are used for breakfast or a light dinner! If it freezes well, always try to have a few extras to freeze for an easy last minute meal whenever you need one. Breakfast for dinner is a thing right?!
Speaking of freezing, you better be freezing the rest of whatever casserole-type dish you made! Shepherd’s pie or lasagne… it may be one or two portions left, but if you or your partner or kid is sniffing around for an extra meal, warm it up! A toaster oven is great to have as well. I’m not a microwave person, I love my toaster over to make it hot and like I just cooked it. Yeah! I’m one of those people who would be starving and wait 20mins for my food to reheat in the toaster oven before I reheat in the microwave. Try it, you won’t want your microwave unless you have to melt butter.
Before I get to a sample menu, if you’re in the US, don’t be afraid to sign up for a meal service. Whether it’s Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, it helps to give you a break from your usual suspects and also it may teach you a thing or two to help make cooking faster or give you a new staple.
Here’s a sample meal plan for a week that I saved to my phone. I normally write it out so I can scribble changes as the week goes along but I think I mostly stuck to this one.
|Breakfast||egg frittata & toast (kids: bread)||protein pancakes||eggs (kids: muffins)||egg fritatta|
|Lunch||wings, cauliflower rice/corn/coleslaw stirfry|
kids: wings & mac & cheese
|baked sweet potato, sautéed spinach grilled tenders|
kids: tenders and rice
|stir-fried rice & chicken||grilled potatoes & pork|
Kids: pork and pasta
|Snack:||animal crackers||cheese & crackers/fruit||popcorn||cheese & crackers/fruit|
|Dinner||salad||oven fried tenders & salad/veg||lamb & veg||(order)|
I hope you note a few things: Friday is blank, on purpose. Don’t stress yourself out on the last day of the week, order from where for every meal if you can, you cooked most of the week anyway. “Order” was placed on Thursday so it wasn’t last minute rush from being blank and could be ordered in advance. My kids do not eat eggs so I have to do something with the homemade bread for them. That’s a note for me to also make bread lol. Muffins are either from scratch or a box, depends on what we’re in the mood for/ have time to bake. We’re not being picky! I’m vague with the salads because I let my mood determine what kind of salad it would be. If the kids have tuckered me out it will be the simplest salad I can put together. If I’ve got a pep in my step, it may have more love in it lol. I see meal plans as a guide and nothing to take to heart if it isn’t done as planned.
If there’s anything, you want me to do a separate post or be more specific on don’t hesitate to drop a comment below!