Recently I was chatting with some friends about how little time I have to cook lately with my crazy study schedule and just life in general getting in the way. I still love to cook (mostly to eat), but I am just not feeling it lately.
But every weekend I try to do some ahead-of-time preparation for the next week or two of cooking and eating and these are definitely strategies I plan to continue using, especially when I move to DC where we will both have real jobs and less time to spend in the kitchen. None of this is earth-shattering, but maybe you’ll learn a fun new tip and maybe you’ll have suggestions for me?
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I hate grocery shopping. HATE IT. So I tend to do one “big” shop every other week and occasionally run to the store mid-week to grab something I’m out of or something I’m craving. I tend to plan out 1 or 2 main “dishes” to make that week and put the ingredients on my shopping list. And I always make sure to stock up on some basics for my fridge and pantry:
- Milk (I’m into unsweetened almond milk these days)
- Eggs & egg whites
- Plain yogurt
- Lean protein in the freezer
- Brown rice
- Frozen vegetables (for when you run out of fresh ones!)
- Ketchup (necessary)
With the above ingredients, I can always manage to throw together some kind of a meal with the other ingredients I have. Even if it is boring, I make an effort to use the food I have purchased.
As soon as I get home from the grocery store I launch into Crazy Organizer Meredith and my Type A personality really comes out. For example, if I bought chicken breasts, I will open the package, re-package each breast individually, label, and freeze them. I un-bag my produce and put it away in the fruit basket or vegetable drawer. I buy a lot in bulk (dried beans, rice, nuts) and try to keep them organized by transferring them into tupperware or old glass jars that I wash and reuse (pickle jars and pasta sauce jars work best because they’re big!). It takes 10-15 minutes and the organization is totally worth it.
After all the organization of the fridge and pantry, I start some basic prep. If I am planning on a chicken dish, I’ll start to marinade it. I’ll soak some dried beans so I can boil them up later. I’ll hard boil several eggs to keep in the fridge. I’ll throw some rice in my rice cooker to keep on hand during the week.
When it comes to actually cooking, I like to make meals that are easily transported in a lunchbox to school or easily reheated for quick dinners. Some of my favorite dishes to have on hand are turkey burgers, channa masala, pasta salad, grilled chicken to throw in salads, and pizza dough to keep in the freezer.
I tend to make one dish on Saturday or Sunday and then make another, easier one mid-week. Also, remembering to pull things out of the freezer is now a habit for me. I scan it a few times a week. Do I have chili or cooked turkey burgers in there? Pizza dough? I just pull them out in the mornings and by the time dinner rolls around, they’re easily reheated. If you package individual servings before freezing, it makes it much easier to just pull a hunk o’ lasagna out and enjoy it.
Do you do meal planning or do you just fly by the seat of your pants?