Help me with a super-efficient prep-ahead meal plan system please(28 Posts)
I'm determined to become more efficient with cooking; the thinking about it and shopping and planning takes up way too much of my time (bc I'm disorganised, not doing anything particularly complicated).
I work freelance so can use my time as I like, and am thinking of staying home all day Monday and using it to blast through household stuff - washing, shopping, cooking, prep (veg, salad etc.). Ideally I would have a system where I would cook a couple of things that we could then reheat in the week and/or put in the freezer for the following week.
I'd really like it if putting in 90% of the work on a Monday meant that Tues-Friday would just be a case of warming up or assembling (salads etc).
Anyone do anything like this? And if so, any tips or particular meal suggestions?
In terms of prep, I'm thinking of having vegetables and salad washed, peeled, chopped as necessary, but also of things like having chicken pieces in a marinade in the fridge to be used the next night.
... or poaching chicken breasts to use later in the week. Or roasting vegetables to eat in salads.
Am just going to keep on chatting to myself in slightly tragic fashion as things occur to me, and hope that someone might join in at some point to refine or organise my thoughts
I'm not a fan of batch cooking but that's esentially what you are asking about.
What I do is browse a few magazines, food threads here, write down a few ideas, add shopping list requirements and consider a few meat free days. Look at the calendar, see if there are any weird days where we aren't eating together, what we are doing at the weekend etc, and from that work out how many evening/weekend meals we need, and decide on what to have each day. Then check fridge or cupboard to see what we have in already and what I need to buy.
Then I order it online.
I often include a leftovers day or two, so eg we had roast chicken at the weekend so we have chicken quesadillas today using the leftover cooked chicken.
Dependent on the week and how complicated or undecided it is, I either plan what we are having each day ahead, or just have a list of 7-8 meals that I cross off as I cook them.
I've started making huge quantities of veg lasagne to potion off and freeze. I've even borrowed a couple of extra lasagne dishes so I can cook 2/3 times the amount. I freeze them in zip lock bags so they lie flat and don't take up too much freezer space.
I'm slowly getting better at making ahead but limited by storage space and time (working lp)..
I posted earlier today about makung a pot of ratatouille(sp?) It can then be a side veg, a soup, pasta sauce, bolognaise mix or sauce for spicy tomato chicken and a homemade pizza topping.
I prep and blanch a load of diffent veg. Today it was carrot, parsip, broccoli and cauliflower. I have diced and sauted onion and leek and have chipped potato and sweet potato.
All the above can be frozen if my meal plan changes.
I also always try and cook a chicken in the slow cooker to have stock for soup. The chicken is used for lunches, as a curry or a pie I find from a budget point it goes further then roast chicken.
I cook noodles or pasta and rice and cool it immediately and keep it in the fridge. I cook a chicken and maybe salmon and bacon, I then have the basis of loads of meals - curry, stir fry noodles, egg fried rice, carbonara etc and just have to add a sauce, eggs or stir fry - saves loads of time in the evening and I often have pasta salad for lunch or chicken and salad.
I don't do a whole day but over the course of a month, I cool double or triple portions of certain meals and then freeze. So pasta sauce, chilli, marinated chicken, shep pie. I do meal plan for the week on a Monday as the on line shop comes on a Tuesday morning but it's pretty fluid and sometimes just says 'fish' which means o will go to the fishmonger that day and pick whatever looks nice and then cook it somehow!
Pre-prepping veg never works for me as our fridge is ancient and manages to make everything go a bit manky but I often prep veg for dinner at breakfast time to free up some time later.
One day a week seems a bit excessive to me but perhaps do it to get you going for a month and then you should find you need to spent less time every week as you'll have built up a batch of 'ready meals'.
Top tips- LABEL EVERYTHING REALLY WELL. what it is and how many portions and any other instructions (eg if it needs more cheese on top, if it's a particularly spicy batch of curry etc). I bought tons of Sainsburys basic Tupperware. It's not fancy but it's cheap enough that I could throw out everything else and have just 3 different sizes. It also means j know exactly how much each holds as a portion.
I think if you wash salad ,it then doesn't last as long?
I peel and chop veg and freeze, batch cook chilli/ spag bol type meals.
(I buy ready chopped frozen onions, no tears involved)
I've just started making up ham or cheese bread rolls for packed lunches to freeze for the week, this is a godsend, take one out in the morning, it's defrosted by lunchtime.
I've had success washing and spinning lettuce and keeping it in the spinner in the fridge. I also prepare spring onions, cucumber, chives etc., and keep them in the fridge, so I can basically just chuck a salad together and dress it in a minute or so.
I know it seems a bit mad to do it all in one day but although I want us all eating home-cooked healthy food (as we do), I don't actually enjoy cooking very much and would really like it if it most of the work was done ahead, so I'm not spending so much time on it every day.
It's kind of batch cooking I guess - though I don't actually want to freeze huge amounts of stuff. I suppose I want to have a combination of batch/freeze, prepping ahead, using leftovers and super-simple suppers.
Rose Prince's The New English Kitchen has a section pertaining to this kind of idea; preparing 'stores' of things like cooked grains, pulses, sauces etc that can be used later on. I often cook bits like that at the weekend and leave thrm in plastic tubs in the fridge for later in the week. Also, don't forget to use your freezer as an extension of your storecupboard; I keep things like slices of homemade flavoured butters in thrre that can be popped onto sizzling meat as it comes of the grill or out of the oven.
I try and do this if we have a busy week ahead, typical prepare ahead meals for us:
Fajitas - all chicken, pepper, onion etc sliced and in a ziplock bag with some oil and seasoning. Can then fry these off while assembling a salad/cooking some rice.
Chilli mince mix - will make a big batch of chilli with loads of veg and red split leantils. Will prepare some peppers for stuffing and chop some potatoes into wedges and put in a bag with oil and paprika while it's all frying and then we have 2 dinners - stuffed peppers and a chilli that just needs reheating and some wedges to chuck in the oven.
Things like cottage pie and lasagne are also easy to assemble ahead of time.
I used to make a salad on a Sunday night that we could pick and choose from all week - it included onions, peppers, carrots [grated], cheese, mayo, felafel, halloumi, pasta, boiled and cooled potatoes, lettuce, shredded cabbage, a range of herbs and any other veg that I fancied [apart from Avocado] eg beetroot [yellow beets don't bleed like the red ones do]. I would put it all in a large airtight container and we would both take out pots each day for lunch and I'd bung some on the plate with whatever we were having for tea. It would all go by Thursday but it was a fab way of always having salad to eat.
When I was really really skint, and could only afford half an onion a night, I would buy a month's worth, peel and chop and freeze so that I could measure out just what I needed to cook with. Ditto peppers. So get in, oil on, onions and peppers in pan, and they were cooked and ready for whatever sauce 15 mins after getting in; and no daily peeling!
And planning your week is key. So sunday, cook extra veg and you can reheat on a Monday and bung in a curry - that sort of thing. Chilli with rice one day, reheated the next with salad and french stick.
Yes, this is all good. I suppose the meal plan is the start of it, and then prep as much as possible ahead of time. I would really like to spend less time cooking from scratch on weekday evenings so that I can spend more time with my dcs.
Freeze chopped onions, chopped garlic, chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped herbs. Then can add as needed very easily.
Slow cookers are great - put ingredients in container night before in fridge, then chuck in slow cooker and turn on in morning - ready in evening for hot meal. Can make enough for two meals and freeze other half. If a stew, can eat as is, or chuck pastry on top to make a pie.
I really like my Kitchen Revolution cookery book - no fancy pictures but has recipe for every week of the year, based on what is seasonally available, and each week has a big batch recipe which will freeze well and cook from frozen.
I like this idea of freezing chopped onions, celery, carrots etc, going to do that. Peeling and chopping stuff is so much faff and takes up loads of cooking time!
When I worked in an office (I now work at home) I would prep the veg as soon as I got back from the supermarket. I used the food processor but would for example take half the onions and slice then and then chop the other half. Put them in portion sized bags and freeze, same for carrots (although these need to be blanched) peppers, mushrooms etc etc. Now you can get a great selection of ready frozen veg. I buy the bags of chargrilled mediterranean veg, and the sliced peppers and always have some at hand. It makes a big difference.
Sunday is my cooking day. I make two dishes and make double what we need for a family meal. The two fresh go into the fridge for Monday Tuesday, the two frozen go into the freezer for next week. Weds Thurs we have the two frozen from the previous week. So this week we have chilli and peri peri chicken which I made yesterday. Wednesday and Thursday will be lasagne and curry.
Veg loses nutrients after it's been chopped so if that matters to you, it's not worth storing it for long periods after chopping.
Does it gone? Even if frozen straight after? Ah bugger it.
It doesn't lose its nutrition if it's frozen.
Pre packaged frozen veg is often better in terms of nutrition since it is frozen so quickly after picking (or at least that was my understanding).
Yes, I'm pretty sure freezing helps but I wouldn't chop up salad ingredients 4 days before I plan to use them if I was keeping them in the fridge. Maybe the lettuce as that is not so nutrient rich anyway... or buy baby spinach etc. instead.
I suppose it depends on how much it matters to you, though. I buy almost exclusively organic veg and would feel it's a waste all those nutrients disappear!
I'm trying to get a bit more organised about this too.
last night I roasted a big tray of veggies to base some evening meals on, and prepared some salads in jars for work this week.
If I was more organised I would have baked some potatoes and sweet potatoes at the same time as they keep for a while in the fridge and are great for lunches (much nicer cooked in the oven).
Tonight I will make a tabbouleh type dish that will last a few days.
Last week I made a lentil & kale soup that I am happy to eat for several nights in a row - If you can find dishes like that it makes things really easy.
I buy mostly organic too. I find the washed and spun lettuce lasts about 3 days, and I have glass containers for e.g. prepped cucumber and spring onions too, then I can add avocado and a dressing and assemble a quick salad. Or I make a big carrot salad and keep it in the fridge.
I like redhat's system - cooking double of two dishes, freezing half of it and having it for another week. That's the sort of thing I want to do. I basically want to make Mon-Fri meals a no-brainer. Can always do more interesting stuff at the weekend and/or if we have visitors.
I want to consciously use leftovers too; so poach or roast two chickens, so I can leftovers in various ways. Or slow-cooked pork to have leftover meat in fridge.
I sort of know what I want to do but a final plan is eluding me - it's like it's on the tip of my tongue! Everything slightly tricky because am not in the UK and supermarkets are hopeless and invariably don't have what I need at any given time, so I need to plan with a degree of flexibility.
How good are all you lot being so organised! I'm impressed
LovelyFriend what will you do with your roast veg?
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