Now that back-to-school season is here, weeknight meals can sometimes feel like an obstacle course! However, all you need is a bit of organization (and creativity!) to make meal prep easy as 1, 2, 3! Here are a few top tips for making your fall routine a little easier.
The right tools for the job
For a stress-free back-to-school season, school supplies aren’t the only thing you need to buy! You also need to equip your kitchen with the right tools. Take stock of the accessories and plastic containers you currently have, and make sure you have these must-have items:
- Ice packs: handy for keeping your salads and sandwiches cool.
- Thermos: essential when you don’t have access to a microwave! It keeps your soups and stews warm for hours.
- Reusable bags: perfect for packing homemade sandwiches, granola bars, and muffins.
- Different-sized containers: ideal for chopped fruit or dressings, for example.
Planning is key!
One of the best ways to optimize your meals is to be organized! By planning your meals for the week, not only will you know exactly what to buy at the grocery store, but you’ll also avoid the frustration of trying to come up with a last-minute dinner. This means less time spent at the store and more time spent with the family. And remember: before heading out, always take inventory of what’s in your fridge to minimize any waste.
Make meal prep a priority
Are you familiar with meal prep? This trend, which has become very popular in the last couple of years, only seems to be gaining traction! It involves prepping the ingredients for your weekly meals on the weekend, freeing your schedule up during the rest of the week. Our advice is to start by planning your menu first.
For example, you can chop up some zucchini to use in your salads, pasta dishes, and stir-fries. You can prep your starches and protein ahead of time too, then just toss them into your recipes as needed.
Cook large batches
Have a busy week ahead of you? Think of doubling (or tripling) your recipes! Then make up individual portions for your lunches or suppers.
If you’re looking to add a bit of variety to your meals, know that meat, fish, tofu, and tempeh can all be reinvented as sandwiches or salads for your lunches. Your pork chops will be just as delicious the next day in a gyro, while your salmon fillet is sure to be yummy in a whole-wheat tortilla or chopped and tossed into your poke bowl.
Use your freezer
If you’ve made too much of something, the freezer remains your best ally! Spaghetti sauce, quiche, curry, soup, lasagna, and stew all freeze really well. The plus side to freezing your extra portions is that you’ll always have something to heat and eat on those extra-busy nights. Remember to label your dishes with the name of the recipe and date of preparation before freezing them. Most frozen dishes keep in the freezer two to four months.
Opt for frozen ingredients
Frozen fruits and vegetables are really practical on busy weeknights! Pre-washed and chopped, they can save you loads of prep time and are ideal in an Asian stir-fry or spaghetti sauce, for example. And don’t worry about how fresh they are—they’re actually frozen within 24 hours of being harvested, which means they are just as nutritious as their non-frozen counterparts. So there’s no reason not to stock up on them!
Stock your pantry with the essentials
Despite your best intentions, you might find yourself in a bit of a jam come dinnertime. And that’s why it’s wise to always have a decent inventory of non-perishables in your pantry. Boring old cans can easily be transformed into a last-minute Monday night feast!
- Canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, etc.): they make an excellent base for salads or pasta dishes, or can be transformed into tasty potato-based fish cakes.
- Lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes: these versatile beans boast loads of protein and are ideal in soups, chilis, or gourmet salads. Seeing as they don’t require soaking or cooking, they’re great for nights when you’re pressed for time!
- Jars of sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and pickled peppers: great on a vegetarian pizza, in a pasta dish, or rice salad, these must-have ingredients can take any express dish from drab to fab.
Meal prepping isn’t rocket science . . . and it’ll help you make healthy, balanced choices (as well as save you money!).