Making time to cook one or two larger meals on the weekend can feel daunting, especially if you have recurring events like kids’ soccer games or church. However, meal prep can be a great strategy for buying yourself more time during the week!
Meal prep, or batch cooking, can be done two different ways, depending on what works for you.
Strategy 1: Make extra servings of whatever you’d like to eat. This enables you to pre-pack healthy lunches for the week, freeze dinner for future weeks, or have dinner ready to go for the next few nights. This works well with homemade pizza, stir fry, Buddha bowls, mason jar salads and bigger projects like lasagna, enchiladas or soup. If you need snacks, pre-cutting vegetables or making fruit salad counts, too.
Strategy 2: When chopping or cooking meat or vegetables, make extras of certain ingredients and fold them into future meals. This works best with mixed vegetables or meats like ground beef – pre-cooking them can mean just heating them up later and having tacos on Tuesday! If you’ve pre-diced tomatoes and shredded cheese on Sunday, it’s even easier to put your taco bar together quickly.
Meal prep can also be a great way to start cooking healthier meals. When time is short during the week, it can be tempting to go to a drive-thru or call for pizza. However, if you’ve done your meal prep, dinner just needs to be heated and served. Whether you’re a household of one or have many mouths to feed, batch cooking can help curb the takeout urges by keeping healthy, family-friendly meals in the fridge and freezer each week!
If you’re still not sure about spending extended time in the kitchen one day per week, pair meal prep with something you enjoy! Having a comedy show or your favorite music on as background noise can make it more fun. If you like listening to audiobooks or podcasts, meal prep is a great way to power through a few chapters or episodes. For lots of healthy, budget-friendly recipes for your family, check out OSU Extension’s Food Hero resources: Quantity Recipes.
Tips and Tricks
- Make some room in your freezer. This gives you the ability to prevent food waste and prepare food for future weeks.
- Devise a plan for food storage. Glass containers won’t take on the smell of your food, but they weigh more. Plastic tubs and bags are reusable but can’t be heated in the microwave.
- Label tubs with the cooking date before you pop them in the freezer.
- Freeze portion sizes before storing food the freezer. For babies, you can use ice cube trays; for older children and adults, use muffin tins. By portioning out food, you can easily thaw just the amount you need later.
- Remember: you don’t always have to make the whole meal. Precooking certain items, such as rice and vegetables, allows you to just worry about cooking chicken or tofu to make a stir fry. Alternatively, you could add a protein and/or beans to make burrito bowls.
If you’re willing to try meal prep, please let us know how it goes in the comments section!
Resources and additional reading:
Cilantro Lime Chicken with Avocado and Salsa (pictured) – Yummy Easy Delicious
9 Rules of Batch Cooking – Huffington Post
Guide to Batch Cooking – Frugal Family
Batch Cooking 101 – Living Well Spending Less
How to Meal Prep Like a Pro – Phoebe Lapine
Meal Prep Recipes, Including Vegetarian and Vegan Options – OEA Choice Trust
33 Healthy Mason Jar Salads – One Little Project blog