Whether you’re a working parent with limited time during the week to cook, or you stay at home and have to cram every chore into the precious nap time hour, I have three words for you: SUNDAY MEAL PREP!
I’ll be honest about this, spending my Sundays as a line cook is not my favorite thing to do. But, it is the only way that I can put a home-cooked meal on the table every night without losing my mind. By preparing things in advance, I am able to spend some extra time with my kids and get a few runs in during the week. I also streamline the process by double batching three meals and serving them two nights in a row. We eat the same meal Sunday/Monday, Tuesday/Wednesday, and Thursday/Friday, and go out on Saturdays so I can have a little breather. And wine. Always wine. I’m not sure if anyone minds eating the same thing two nights in a row, but it seems that they know better than to complain.
THE PLAN: I prefer one large grocery haul for the week, so I plan all the meals and get my list together before the weekend. By the time I check out at the store, my cart looks like I could feed the Duggar family, but it’s a time saver to get it all done at once.
Thinking through the order of meals, first up are things that have shorter shelf lives or are more labor-intensive, so I can serve the quicker/easier meals later in the week when things are hectic and I’m exhausted. Also, some foods just don’t store and reheat well, so that’s a consideration. I’m usually assembling dinner with three hungry children at my feet (or two at my feet and holding one), so spending minimal time on it at that point is key.
THE EXECUTION: chop all veggies, combining what will be cooked together and separating the rest. Mix spices and make marinades. Get a crock pot meal ready for dump-and-cook later in the week. Make a batch of meatballs and freeze, either as a planned meal or a backup in case dinner is a flop and you need something easy on hand. Put together a casserole and stick it in the fridge to bake later. Make a big pot of soup and some salads for lunches. This one saves me from going to the food court at my office, which is a dangerous place. Put all salad toppings in a container and add the lettuce and dressing when you’re eating it so it doesn’t get soggy. Mince garlic, chop herbs, grate cheese and put into containers (I realize that pre-shredded cheese is easier, but some things aren’t worth cutting corners on, and fresh cheese is one of them).
If your mornings are as crazy as mine, there are lots of things you can prep ahead of time for breakfast. Make a double batch of muffins and freeze half. Breakfast burritos individually wrapped and frozen. Muffin tin eggs or quiche sliced and frozen. If you’re making pancakes or waffles, make an extra pile to freeze. Do you see the theme here? The freezer is your friend for make-ahead breakfasts. I also love overnight oats (individually portioned, of course). You can even semi-prep a smoothie by filling the blender with the cold ingredients and sticking the whole thing in the fridge at night. In the morning, just dump in the frozen fruit and blend. Eating a home-cooked breakfast and getting out the door on time CAN be done!
You can incorporate your kids into the process as much or as little as you like. Some days I enjoy it when my girls want to help, and other days I enjoy it when my husband takes them to the playground so I can knock it out. These days may or may not involve music and an adult beverage while I cook.
THE TAKEAWAY: This sounds like a lot, and it is. But being able to feed my family the way I want to and still maintain some level of sanity during the week makes it worth it. Get organized, roll up your sleeves, and, as we say in the South, get ‘er done!