Meal planning has been a habit of mine since I was single and living on my own. When we got married it was easy to keep up that practice and the only changes I had to make were to come up with more interesting meals and to add more meat.
Now that we have five children, planning meals is one of the things that keeps me sane. If I had to run to the store everyday for ingredients or stand in my kitchen at 4:30 wondering what I was going to feed everyone that night, I would lose my mind. I usually have a basic idea of what meals we will eat during the week, but not always on which day. I make sure there are essentials like rice and pasta in my pantry, different meats in the freezer, and frozen veggies for the days when fresh produce has run out. This ensures that there is always something to choose from.
However, I’ve found my current system both boring and inefficient. With the beginning of a new school year, I’ve decided to make my meal planning more intentional and creative. One of the ways I’m doing this I learned on Instagram.
Save your produce, redeem anything that might be going bad, and have some delicious meals and side dishes without a whole lot of effort.
I’ve done this a few times, but the last time I did it I took it a bit further. I planned my meals for the week based upon what was left in the fridge and some items I needed to use up in the freezer. On a Monday morning, I started chopping, mixing, and cooking, ran to the store to pick up my groceries (also a lazy genius move), came home and finished some more prep. By lunchtime I had all of this prepared for the week:
How did all of that get done? Right after breakfast my kids can usually entertain themselves for about 30-45 minutes without any intervention on my part. Within an hour I had mixed up a loaf of banana bread, two loaves of pumpkin bread and the granola, grated cheese, sliced smoked sausage, chopped veggies, and mashed some sweet potatoes. Yes, there were interruptions, but because I wasn’t pressed to get dinner on the table right then, I was able to calmly respond to my children and then get back to the kitchen.
When I posted my first #lazygeniusprep picture on Instagram, someone asked how I decided what to prep and what to make. This post is in response to that question by sharing both my method and the benefits.
Take inventory. What is in the fridge that needs to be used? What could I pair it with from the freezer or pantry to create a meal? What items do I need to purchase in order to fill in the gaps? I had quite a bit left in the fridge, but not enough for full meals. However, we had meat in the freezer and staples in the pantry. When I put everything together, I found that I could get a few great meals without having to add in many extras.
Make a plan. After answering my questions in step one, I made a meal plan, grocery list, and to-do list for the items that could be prepared in advance.
The food I prepared from what I already had in the kitchen:
-bacon cooked for quiche and BLT’s
-grated swiss cheese for the quiche
-applesauce from a mushy bag of apples
-chopped squash and zucchini for roasted veggies one night
-sliced onions for a crockpot meal
–this granola recipe, which is my all time favorite
–this pumpkin muffin recipe (turned into pumpkin bread) with some frozen pumpkin and no chocolate chips
-mashed leftover baked sweet potatoes to make sweet potato biscuits
-one loaf of banana bread, using some almond milk leftover from out of town company
-diced onions and carrots for lentil stew
-sliced smoked sausage for lentil stew
Prep similar things together. I grabbed all of the veggies and chopped everything with the same knife on the same cutting board. I sliced the bland things first so smells and juice wouldn’t affect the board. I think I ended up with about five dirty dishes.
Stagger the baking and cooking. I had the granola, banana and pumpkin breads on the counter for awhile before actually putting them into the oven. I cooked the bacon in the oven so I could multi-task. It took a few minutes, but by thinking through all that needed to be baked–at what temperature and for how long–I used my oven efficiently.
Prepping my food in this way took some time up front, yes. The better part of my Monday was spent in the kitchen. But, I think the benefits outweigh the chunk of time spent preparing.
I feel prepared. There’s nothing like entering into a busy week knowing that at least something is ready. Yes, there is a time commitment to putting everything together, but because it’s been thought through and planned out well, I’m actually saving time in the long run.
It’s more relaxed. Dinner time is challenging. I’m either tired, which makes it difficult to take the time to fix a meal, or the kids are all super needy. Trying to chop vegetables while holding a baby is stressful, maybe dangerous. When I prep during calmer parts of my day I can avoid stress and irritability and it makes cooking enjoyable again.
We eat our food. The vegetables and fruit are no longer forgotten in the bottom of the produce drawers. Cheese doesn’t get moldy. We are being better stewards of our things.
Food becomes more creative. Old bread becomes croutons or french toast casserole. Leftover sweet potatoes get used for biscuits or sweet potato cake. Fruit ends up on the dinner table which makes my children happy. I eat hummus and egg salad for lunch instead of peanut butter on a spoon.
By taking my meal planning a step further and preparing things as much in advance as possible, I have reduced my stress levels, used up the food I’ve purchased, and had fun in the process. #Lazygeniusprep has been a lifesaver for me. And I think it can be for you too.
What’s your latest tip from the kitchen?