23 Ways to Make Dinner Prep Faster and Easier
1. Make a plan!
The first step to successful meal prep is to plan out what you are going to eat. Taking the time to sit down and think about the foods you want to eat for dinner throughout the week will help you get a better idea of how much prepping time you need to set aside. Prepping menus in advance ensures you can control what you eat and makes sure healthy foods are a high priority on the list. Here is a simple grid for five weeks from one of our favorite blogs Picklebums that you can download and use to plan out your weekly dinners: Monthly Menu Planner
2. Make a Grocery List!
Going to the grocery store without a shopping list can be a risky move that usually leads to splurges in the ice cream aisle. Make sure that your grocery list only includes the foods that you need to make all the meals throughout the week. Here is a list of great phone apps to simplify grocery shopping: 15 Grocery List Apps to Simplify Family Meal Planning
3. Start using your slow cooker!
I call this the “magic pot” and nothing is better than coming home from a long day and dinner is done and simmering away. Here is a great collection of 25 delicious slow cooker recipes for busy weeknights from The Kitchn blog: 25 Delicious Slow Cooker Recipes for Busy Weeknights
4. Start collecting recipes!
Having a stash of recipes will make it easy to know what ingredients you need to pick up during your weekly market haul. Don’t forget to buy enough for “double duty” lunch leftovers. Get creative with recipes and find new dishes that your family loves!
5. Chop or Spiralize raw vegetables in advance!
Cut veggies in bulk ahead of time to avoid wasting precious minutes chopping on busy weeknights. You can make this step a breeze with a simple Spiralizer (around $30 apiece). Zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) and butternut squash noodles will stay fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days, and chopped vegetables like carrots, onion and pepper will last a week when refrigerated properly in a sealed plastic bag or container.
6. Make a “day” of it
Do your meal prep on the same day as your main grocery haul. For most people, Saturday or Sunday are the easiest days to do this. I love doing this on Sunday so I can get lunches done for the next day easily!
7. Roast different vegetables with same cooking time!
Roasting vegetables is a great way to bring out their natural sweetness, but waiting 30 to 40 minutes for each pan of nutrient-rich goodness to cook can be time-consuming. To prep a large batch of veggies, try pairing them based on roasting time. Fast-cooking vegetables that can bake in the same pan include asparagus, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes; slow-roasting vegetables include carrots, cauliflower, onions, potatoes and parsnips.
8. Grill or bake 3 flavours of meat all at once!
Season pork, chicken, steak or fish with 3 different flavors such as Cajun, Asian or BBQ seasoning and separate with aluminum foil when baking. Add to salads or have ready to go for dinner on busy nights. I do this almost every Sunday. Sometimes I will crock pot a pork loin while I grill several chicken breasts all seasoned differently. Cooking meat ahead of time in bulk like this is so easy and it’s convenient to have lean meat for burritos, wraps, sandwiches and salads ready to go.
9. Prep and freeze grains!
Brown rice or quinoa can be made in advance. Simply make a double or triple batch, then portion it into single serve or family size portions. Once cooled, freeze. When you want to use it just defrost in the microwave and then reheat until steaming.
10. Organize your frozen leftovers!
Another important way to take full advantage of your weekly meal prepping is to label and date your frozen items. Once labeled, you can organize your freezer so that the foods set to expire first are in front and on top! We love using the Date it Labels from where else but Lovable Labels! You can use them to date and write in food descriptions for freezer items and they’re even rewritable!
11. Cook everything in Bulk!
Make double what you think you need. If you’re cooking for one, cook for two; if you’ve got a family of four, prep for eight. Cook the entire bunch of carrots or broccoli and prep the entire bunch of greens. Remember that the same carrots can taste very different when served alongside a piece of fish and rice than they do when served with burgers and ranch for dipping. I never cook less than 1 cup of grains and 1 pound of pasta. If I don’t get to them by Friday, pack them up in a re-sealable container and stash them in the freezer for a few weeks.
12. Make your staples–and then mix it up a bit!
Even though healthy food is yummy food, it can become a little mundane eating the same thing every day. Fortunately, there are several options to help keep your prepared food enticing all week: adding different spices, herbs, and good oils or fats with each meal; eating your prepared meals at different times on different days, and throwing some of your prepared meat or veggies over fresh salad greens or scrambled eggs.
13. Keep a meal journal!
One of my best inspirations is my own record of things I’ve cooked in the past. It’s a good way to remember things you used to cook and your family raved about. Keep a binder in the kitchen for easy access when you get a “cooking block”.
14. Keep a well-stocked pantry!
Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Have spices ready to dress up chicken and beans quickly. Keep a lemon and a sheaf of fresh herbs in the fridge at all times
15. Choose quick-cooking proteins!
Sauté a piece of fish in minutes and serve it over quinoa, which is a complete protein and takes only 15 minutes to cook. Or quickly thaw and cook some shrimp and roll in tortillas with coleslaw and a dressing of your choice. Here is a great recipe to try: Super-Quick Shrimp & Green Chili Quesadillas Recipe
16. Make one night a “sandwich night.”
Lay out a spread of hoagie buns, favourite fixings and paper plates and let the crew help themselves. Cleanup should be a breeze — just close up the bags, seal the jars, toss the plates and wash the utensils. Here is one of my “go to” favourite sandwich night recipes: Quick Turkey Focaccia Club Recipe
17. Get out your skillet!
Have a few one-dish skillet recipes in your weeknight arsenal. Dinner will cook faster, and you’ll only dirty one dish. Win-win. Here is an example of a great one-dish recipe that your family will love: Sausage & Vegetable Skillet Dinner Recipe
18. Batch Cook your Proteins!
The benefit with grilling a dozen chicken breasts, slow cooking an entire pork shoulder, or broiling a bunch of steaks is the ability to freeze. Unlike starches, proteins do a remarkably good job of keeping fresh in the freezer, even after being cooked.
19. Use Pre-Chopped Garlic!
Why waste your time chopping garlic when you can buy minced and grated versions at the store? Seriously worth it, not only for the time saved, but also so that you don’t have that lingering garlic smell on your fingers.
20. Plan Themed Dinners!
Regularly themed dinner nights give you a way to structure your meal prep planning and add variety. Got a Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday? How about a grain bowl night? Or an egg night? That takes you all the way to Friday when we say go ahead and order pizza!
21. Use Frozen Produce!
Keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables and you’ll save yourself countless trips to the grocery store. What’s more, studies have shown that frozen produce is often more nutritious than fresh produce, since it was frozen at its peak.
22. Use Your Microwave!
Microwaves are your reheating and popcorn-making workhorses. But, there are also some great microwave recipes out there (and not just circa the 1980s). Pop items like potatoes into the microwave to cut down on cooking time.
23. Rally the Troops!
Now that you’ve got your food items in check, here are a few ways to make dinner preparation a family affair. Call in the kids and your partner, and decide who will be responsible for what. Even the least culinary inclined family members can help set the table or take items off the stove top or out of the oven when the buzzer sounds.
Have any tips you would like to share? We’d love to hear them!