Wish there was an easier way to get dinner on the table every week? In just a few hours of cooking, you can make enough meals for a week’s breakfast lunch, dinners, and even snacks. We show you how.
We all know home cooked food is the healthier option, but when you come home from a long day of work, hungry and tired, whipping up a wholesome meal is easier said than done.
Having your meals ready ahead of time – or at least the bulk of the prep – has a host of benefits. You’ll save money as you won’t resort to fast food, you’ll spend less time cleaning your kitchen, you’ll eat healthier and it can even help with portion control. Best of all? You only need to set a few hours aside every week, and dinner can be on the table in 10-15 minutes every night.
Inspired by Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day on LifeStyle FOOD, we give you our top food hacks.
1. The freezer is your friend
This cooking strategy is a game changer for busy people – you can either cook large quantities of food and freeze in smaller batches – like soup - or prepare sauces ahead of time such as bolognaise and stocks.
And you can also keep your fridge stocked with portions of frozen berries, bananas and vegetables for your morning smoothie, or peas, carrots and corn for soups and stir-fries.
Recipe: Lentil Soup
2. Put together your meal plan
This is the most important step when it comes to cooking bulk – you need to put together a weekly meal plan. Include breakfast, lunch and dinner and also make room for snacks you can eat on the go. Research recipes that you can make ahead of time but can also reheat well and use the leftovers. This might be casseroles, soups, meatloaf, fish pie, sheppherds pie, spaghetti bolognaises and salads you can pre-prepare. Savoury and sweet muffins are great for breakfast and snacks. Have a look at your cupboards to see what you already have, then write a comprehensive grocery list.
Recipe: Shepherds Pie
3. Keep it simple
While it might be tempting to trial new gastronomic delights, it’s best to keep your meal plan simple. It might help at first to keep breakfast, snacks, and lunches the same all week. This might get boring, but as you get more confident, you can experiment with different versions, or switch it up with something pre-prepared in the fridge.
Recipe: Healthy Carrot Muffins
4. Maximise leftovers
Make note of any leftovers that will be available for lunches. For instance, if you make meatloaf, you can use leftovers for sandwiches the next day. Or, you may want to use leftover veggies for a delicious fried rice.
Recipe: Leftover Fried Rice
5. Grocery list
The last thing you want to do when you get home from a grocery shop is to find you’re missing key ingredients. Scour your cupboards after you write your meal plan and cross check what you already have. Then, write a comprehensive grocery list. Many find shopping the day before prep day is worthwhile so if you do forget anything, you have time to find it. Plus shopping and prepping in the one day can be exhausting!
Recipe: Italian Style Casserole
6. Set aside one day each week
Find a few hours that are going to work for you. It might be a Sunday afternoon, or a morning when all the kids are at school. Make sure you’ll have enough time to complete all the recipes, and clean up afterwards.
Recipe: Green Bean Salad
7. Get prepared
Get all your ingredients together grouping them into dry, fresh, refrigerated and frozen. Gather all the containers you’ll need – such as tupperware, plastic zip lock bags, foil, cling wrap and mason jars - and make sure there’s enough room in your fridge or refrigerator – cleaning out your fridge on a weekly basis is a good idea.
If it helps, print out all the recipes you’ll be using and stick them to the fridge for easy reference.
8. Don’t get overwhelmed
If you don’t get everything done, don’t be disheartened. Even the smallest amount of prep will be beneficial. If you start to get overwhelmed, break it down into what meal or snack is going to have the biggest impact. If you always succumb to fast food after Thursday’s netball training, then you may want to make sure that’s the first thing you prep.
Recipe: Warm Lamb Salad
9. Start with the slow cooker or oven
The slow cooker is one of the most versatile cooking utensils around and is a great investment. Meat can also be shredded for use in salads, while casseroles are great eaten as a hearty meal, then the leftovers used for pies in muffin tins or lunch the next day. Roasts are also great – there are infinite numbers you can make with a roast chicken, lamb or ham to stretch to the next day.
Recipe: Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken
10. Get your salads ready
Mason jar salads are a great way to prepare ahead of time, and keep for days. The trick is to make sure all the moisture is removed so they don’t go slimy. Keep your tougher veggies at the bottom such as beans, broccoli or capsicum, and work up to your greens. Keep dressing in a separate container.
Alternatively, cut up portions of your veggies and put in containers for a quick salad you can throw together at night, or rice paper rolls. Store these in zip lock bags or tupperware. You may want to wash and shred the lettuce, grate carrot, chop any celery, peppers, onion and garlic, or make a fruit salad for breakfast or dessert.
Recipe: Roast Pork Rice Paper Rolls
11. Prepare your raw meat
Trim and cut up individual portions of chicken, beef and mince so they’re ready to go. You may also want to marinate your meats in plastic zip lock bags.
12. Turn on the oven
Baked goods can be easily frozen and make a great grab and go breakfast or snack. Think savoury and sweet muffins, or meals that are perfect for individual servings such as baked eggs that can be loaded with veggies and cheese in muffin tins, or mini pies made with leftover mince and frittatas. Don’t forget a lunchbox treat like cookies!
Roasted veggies are also great to prepare ahead of time. These can be used in omelettes, salads or reheated and mashed for a main meal.
Recipe: Cheat’s Glazed Ham
Recipe: Egg and Bacon Pies
13. Cook your meat
Cook up ground beef turkey for tacos, burgers and spaghetti bolognese, or roast a chicken or a leg of lamb or ham that you can put in a sandwich, salad or pizza.
Recipe: Country Pizza
14. Make your snacks
Portions of nuts make great snacks, as do zip lock bags loaded with veggies. You may want to make some hummus from scratch, and boil some eggs. This could be a portion of nuts, granola bars, boiled eggs for sandwiches, and healthy muffins.
Another great snack is to use healthy breakfast cereal for granola bars. All you need to do is warm equal parts honey and butter in a saucepan, mix with your granola (add extra seeds and oats for a healthful boost) and pack down into a tin.
Recipe: Healthy Muesli Bars
15. Don’t forget dessert!
Desserts lend themselves wonderfully to leftovers, whether it’s a rice pudding, bread and butter pudding with a leftover loaf, apple crumble or just a delicious fruit salad served with custard and ice cream. You could also use leftover stewed fruit in pastry – just heat and go.
Recipe: Bread and Butter Pudding
Recipe: Coconut Sticky Rice Pudding
Finally, label all your food with any heating instructions, and you're ready to go!
Do you have any suggestions of meals you can prepare ahead of time? We’d love to hear about it!