Meal prep and making the most of your time
Kitchen Skills - Meal prep and making the most of your time
Hands up who wants to spend two hours a night in the kitchen each night?
I love cooking, but I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen every night to get a real meal, we all have more interesting and important things to do when we get home from work.
I find the key to getting real food every day without spending hours cooking is all about managing time and planning ahead. OK, I'll admit I may have a slight advantage in the area, I plan things out for a living, but it's easy to get into the swing of planning to make better use of the time you have.
Here are the key things to managing your time and making real food easy
- Plan your meals before you shop
- Make sure the plan meets your needs
- Make the freezer your friend
- Make sure you clear a part of your day
- Make sure that you have the right tools for the job
- Plan out your time in the kitchen
- Prep lots of things at the same time
Plan your meals before you shop
This is probably the most important aspect when it comes to minimising the amount of time you are going to spend in the kitchen each week. If you intend to make 7 different things for breakfast, lunch and dinner you will have a nightmare in the kitchen and more than likely a very expensive food bill. Simple meals will minimise the time you have to spend preparing and cooking. Look at meals that can be frozen or put in the slow cooker, plan to make extra (the cook once eat twice principle) and don't be afraid to use the same ingredients.
Save the fancy meals, new recipes to try and experiments for the weekends when you have a little more time. Write out your shopping list and stick to it.
Make sure the plan meets your needs
One speed bump most of us discover is that our plan doesn't really take into account everything else that is going on. To make the plan fit for purpose, it pays to plan it around what is going on in your life. I plan our meals around our weekly activities and how much time I will have free. Here is an example on Tuesday we both work out at 5 am, I have a yoga class at 6 pm and my partner in crime has a jujitsu class that finishes at 7.15pm, we don't get home until 8ish. That means on Tuesday's I need to plan for smoothies for breakfast and a dinner that can sit in the slow cooker for 12 hours or can be reheated when we get home, that means a curry, chilli or a chicken roasted in the slow cooker with a salad.
Make the freezer your friend
This is the most critical aspect of making the most of your time, being able to prepare all of your meals for a week is dependent on you making friends with the freezer. Don't get me wrong you can food prep and store your food in the fridge but that means you have 3 maybe 4 days of food. If you only have 4 days food that means a second trip to the supermarket and another couple of hours spent in the kitchen on a weeknight. The alternative is to use the freezer, plan your meals so that you have your produce that is best fresh in the two days after you have shopped, store that in the fridge, then plan for everything else so it can be cooked then frozen or frozen when raw. That way you have meals that can be reheated when you need them or put into the slow cooker.
Make sure you clear a part of your day
Find a time in your week or on the weekend that you can block out to get your food preparation done and make it part of your routine. I have found that Saturday morning is an excellent time to get food prep done, I spend two hours slicing, dicing, simmering and portioning. I do as much as possible during those two hours, and this means that during the week our meals are usually ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Find a time that works for you, block it out so you can work uninterrupted and get busy in the kitchen.
Make sure that you have the right tools for the job
Once upon a time, I would spend an entire day in the kitchen on the weekend preparing food for the coming week, God I am glad that is not the case now. Having the right tools for the job can drastically reduce the time you spend in the kitchen. At a minimum having a food processor with a grater and slicing attachment will saving you heaps of time. A real world example of this is making cauliflower rice, to grate a head of cauliflower by hand will take you at least 30 minutes and the skin of one knuckle if you are lucky, the same task with a grating attachment on a food processor will take you 2 minutes. Investing in some key pieces of kit for your kitchen can make your life easy and give you back some free time.
Plan out your time in the kitchen
You don't need to write down a plan every time you set foot in the kitchen but it does pay to have a rough plan of what you are going to do and in what order. Look at your food plan and use it as the basis for your plan, you should be able to get an idea of what the different task will be (chopping, slicing, dicing, peeling, etc.) and how long it might take you. Plan your time out, so you start with the challenging and time-consuming tasks first, that way you get them out of the way and then everything else will go quickly.
Prep lots of things at the same time
The way I figure it, if I'm in the kitchen, I want to get as much done as possible in the shortest time. Multitasking is the key. I find that dividing tasks up and grouping similar tasks together is a good way to go. If you can do two things at once, do it.
Here are some of the things I do and plan for when I'm in the kitchen
- Prep and portion your meat first, its one of the more time-consuming tasks so get it out the way first.
- Make sauces at the same time, you can often leave them simmering while you do something else.
- If you have vegetables to peel you can do them all together, it actually will save you time.
- Do specific tasks together – if you have to dice onions, carrots and courgettes do it all together, same for mincing and slicing
Some helpful tools