Heidi’s Hints: Time-Saving Meal Tricks

image credit: ilovebutter, Flickr

image credit: ilovebutter, Flickr

I hope you’ve been using the tips from last time, and you’ve been joyously saving money at the grocery store. Today I want to talk about something I find extremely valuable: time!

As parents, I think one of the biggest struggles we have when it comes to meals is time. Let’s face it: Finding the time to plan, prep and prepare a healthy meal can be quite a challenge. This means that many times the easiest and most accessible option is a drive thru, carry out, or some other fast option that’s costly and not necessarily very healthy. I’m not saying that these options should be avoided completely  (I know I’ve got a few favorite places for carryout when I feel like a night off!), but hopefully these time-saving tricks will make these nights more of an exception than the rule.

  • Organize your shopping list according to your grocery store’s layout. This may seem a little over the top, but I promise this will save a ton of time at the store. You’ll be less likely to forget an item when you have everything from one section grouped together on your list. You’ll also spend much less time wandering/searching for the items on your list. This especially valuable when shopping with kids. Have you ever tried to walk a 3-year-old from one end the grocery store to the other and back again because you forgot one item? Not recommended!
  • Plan your meals and shop once. On the day of your choosing (I like Mondays), plan out your menu for the upcoming week and make your list according to what you need for those meals. Don’t forget to check your freezer/pantry for ingredients that you already have. Once you have your list, go to the store with your list in hand and shop for the week. It may take a little extra time up front, but I guarantee that it will save time and money throughout the week.
  • Clean & cut veggies/fruit when you get home from the store. Prepping all your produce at once means it’s already ready for when you need it. It also saves time because you wash the prep materials (cutting boards, knives, etc.) once a week instead of everyday (5 minutes in clean up every day = 30 minutes extra every week). Store the prepped produce in plastic containers in your fridge. If you don’t use up all of your fruits or veggies before they are ready to go bad, toss the prepped produce in your freezer and pull it out when you need it.
  • Batch prep/cook and freeze. I recommend prepping a few (or many) meals ahead of time that you can store in your freezer for those nights when you don’t have time or simply just don’t feel like making a meal from scratch. Once a month, I prep 10 meals to keep in my freezer. This only takes me about 2 hours, once a month. (I don’t cook the meals and then freeze it because this takes too much time and I don’t think the quality of the food is as good the second time around). I prep my meals by seasoning my proteins before putting them in the freezer. I also make a few meals that can easily go into the slow cooker. (Talk about a time saver; I love that thing!) I’ll season some meat for tacos/fajitas, marinate a pork loin, make some type of burger, etc. These meals are prepped and waiting in the freezer. Then on Mondays when I plan our meals, I look in the freezer, pull out the meals I want to make that week, and add the few additional items that I need for serving the meals to my grocery list (e.g., taco shells and toppings, side items, etc.). Another tip: Starches such as rice and quinoa freeze well even after being cooked so if you’re cooking rice for one dinner, cook the whole box. It doesn’t take any more time to cook 4 cups of rice than 1 cup, and you’ll save yourself time the next time you need it.

These are just a few of the tricks that I use to save time. Next time, we’re talking about meal planning! Stay tuned. Questions? Recipes? Resources? Meal Planning Advice? Feel free to call me at (248) 259-9634.

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy

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