I absolutely love cooking, but when I have an impromptu dinner party or need to whip up something quickly after work, I sometimes wish that I could skip the steps of chopping vegetables and cooking from scratch. Thankfully, there are plenty of menu plan weekly hacks that can help you reduce the time spent in the kitchen. Whether you’re looking for tips on how to make a week’s worth of lunch for your coworkers or planning meals for more than one night at home, here are some simple ways to get out of the kitchen faster:
1. Plan Your Meals
First, make a menu plan. Write down what you’re going to cook for the week, and make sure you have all the ingredients necessary for that menu.
Make sure you have enough time to cook all of those meals. If not, make some adjustments or choose different recipes!
Plan for leftovers! It’s great having ready-to-go food on hand throughout the week—especially when life gets busy and there’s no time to cook another meal with regularity. Have fun with it: if you’re making tacos one night, see if they can be used in another recipe later on in the week (i.e., taco salad). This is where planning ahead really pays off!
2. Pick a Day to Prep
Pick a day that is best for you to do the prep work. You don’t want to start cooking at 6 pm if you have to get up early the next morning, or vice versa.
Don’t pick a day when you are busy with other things. If it’s your birthday, don’t make plans to meal prep on that particular day! Instead, plan ahead and decide what meals will be ready in advance so that everyone can enjoy their favorite dishes without having to spend hours in front of the stove or oven.
Don’t pick a day when there are family obligations/holidays/etc.. It’s better to pick an off-peak time so that nobody feels like they’re missing out on something important because of meal prepping!
Avoid hot weather or cold weather (depending on what season it is). The last thing anyone wants after spending hours in front of the stove is heat stroke from standing over boiling pots all afternoon long!
3. Buy in Bulk
Buy in bulk if you can.
Buy items that don’t go bad quickly (for example, meat and fish).
Buy items that can be frozen.
Make use of multi-use ingredients and recipe staples: for example, buy one large container of tomato sauce for making pasta dishes and other Italian recipes. Then add it to this week’s meal plan so you can save time on prep!
4. Use Fruits and Veggies that are in Season
You can also save time on meal prep by getting your fruits and veggies from the farmers market or grocery store during peak season. When seasonal produce is at its best, it’s often cheaper than other types of produce because there’s more supply than demand (and you won’t have to waste as much food). It’s also fresher because the fruit has been picked when ripe, so it will taste better and last longer in your refrigerator or freezer. Finally, fruits and vegetables that are in season tend to be more nutritious because they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that protect our bodies from diseases like diabetes or cancer.
5. Make Big Batches
Make enough for leftovers. This is the number one thing I do when preparing my meals for the week. Not only does it save me time and money, but it also helps me make better food choices at dinner, since I know that I will be reheating a healthy meal later in the week.
Make enough for lunch the next day. If you have an afternoon meeting or just a busy afternoon ahead of you, you may not have time to make another meal after dinner. It’s easy to skip lunch if there isn’t anything healthy waiting in your fridge! Plus, think about all of those prepackaged lunches sitting on store shelves that are full of preservatives and additives!
Freeze individual portions so they last longer (and don’t take up too much room). This is especially useful if someone in your family doesn’t like some foods—you can just pull out their portion from the freezer without taking up valuable space in your refrigerator with untouched meals! You can also cook double batches of meat dishes like soups or stews and freeze half of them for later use—they’ll taste just as good after freezing (if not better)!
6. Dust Off Your Slow Cooker and Instant Pot
If you have a slow cooker or an Instant Pot, it’s time to dust it off! A large batch of soup, stew, or chili can make several meals. You can also use your pressure cooker for a whole chicken or roast. This will help you cook in bulk and save time later on when you’re making something from the freezer. If you have leftovers from another meal—like leftover rice or beans—you can always make more food to freeze by using them as the base for new dishes like quesadillas or soups.
You don’t need any fancy kitchen equipment to make this happen! Your crockpot is perfect for prepping everything from meatballs and stews all the way up to pulled pork sandwiches (or whatever meal strikes your fancy).
7. Thaw Smart
Use the microwave to thaw your meat and other frozen ingredients. This is one of the fastest ways to defrost food, but it also has the potential to dry out some foods. If you don’t want to use this method, try placing chicken breasts or other meat in a bowl with cold water and covering it with plastic wrap before microwaving for about 10 minutes (depending on how much meat you’re thawing). This ensures that there’s minimal moisture loss during defrosting.
Thawing in cold water is another option if you want to avoid using the microwave, but it takes a little bit longer than microwaving does—about 30 minutes for a 1-pound portion of chicken breast or pork loin. You can speed up this process by adding 1/4 cup salt per gallon of water; this will help draw out any remaining ice crystals from your meat as well as inhibit bacterial growth during storage after thawing (and make sure all surfaces are clean). Just be careful not to overdo it: Too much salt will cause an imbalance in flavor throughout the entire meal later on!
8. Consider Freezing Everything You Can
Freeze your meat and vegetables. Freezing is a great way to save time, but it’s also a great way to preserve food. A lot of people freeze the ingredients they use for meal prep, which means that once you finish cooking, you can put everything in the freezer until it’s time for another meal. It’s a great way to make sure nothing goes bad if you’re meal prepping regularly!
Consider freezing liquids like broth and wine as well. This can help prevent waste because some foods will go bad faster than others when exposed to air or high temperatures (like cooked rice).
9. Pre-cook Grains
Cook grains in advance.
Yes, you can cook grains like quinoa and rice in advance. Cook the grains on Sunday night and store them in an airtight container or baggie in the fridge until dinner time. They’ll stay fresh for up to four days, so you’ll always be able to have them on hand when it comes time to make dinner. And yes, they’re still delicious once they’re reheated!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of meal prep. I know I was! But once you start, you’ll be surprised by how much time it frees up in your day. Meal prepping is a great way to save money and eat healthy at home without spending hours in the kitchen. You can even do this with kids around—just make sure they get involved!