What’s for Dinner?
Don’t you love that question?
Well, if you learn to prep ahead, you can have a quick answer, and a quick dinner on the table in no time. You can even make it healthy!
The key to all of this, of course, is preparing ahead of time.
It isn’t that hard, and it really doesn’t take a lot of extra time.
You can choose to do it when you get home from the grocery store, or set aside an hour or less another time.
One of the things that you want to remember if you really want to prep ahead, is to begin with your meal plan, and then follow through at the grocery store.
Start with a Plan
Meal planning is something that can really save you time, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. There are a lot of sites online that offer meal planning. One of my favorites is Skinny Taste. She does a full week of meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – along with Weight Watchers Points or calorie count for the day, and a grocery list!
One of our favorites is her One Pot Cheesy Turkey Taco Chili Mac. Hard to say, but it is delicious!
So, anyway, you start with a meal plan. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, check Pinterest; that’s what I do. Or keep track in your planner of what you eat for dinner every week. Painless meal planning!
Then write your list and head to the store. Or if you’re super smart, do your shopping online and just run by the store and pick it up later. My daughter Sarah, who works full time, has a family, and goes to school, does this all the time and she loves it.
Here is an old post of mine with some good tips in it about prepping dinner.
Some Tips on Shopping
Some things, like ground beef and chicken, seem to be staples in everybody’s house.
Even if you’ve got a small household, like I do, look for the family sized packs. They’re better deals. And put some freezer bags – gallon and quart – on your grocery list.
Ground beef is really versatile – you can easily get 2 or 3 meals from a good sized package. And 80/20 is your best bet for flavor.
Chicken thighs always seem to be a good buy. Boneless, skinless are quicker to cook, but will cost a little more. Plus the bone and skin will give added flavor and juiciness. Your call. I don’t happen to care for them at all, but my husband loves them, and my son will eat anything!
Then look for a good sized package of chicken breasts. I know; they can be expensive, especially the boneless, skinless ones. You might find a better price in the freezer section – either pre-cooked ones, or just frozen.
Don’t go for chicken tenders, or thin cut breasts. Those will cost you, and it’s easy enough to do it yourself.
Finally, a good price on a whole chicken or a roast is always a good idea. They’re pretty much hands off as far as cooking goes – through them in the oven or slow cooker and you’re set. And you can almost guarantee leftovers.
Add some fresh or frozen vegetables, and you’re pretty much set. Another hint: they cost a little more, but pre-chopped frozen onions are worth it in my book. You can sometimes find other combinations, too. A real time saver!
And if you want really easy, always keep frozen cooked meatballs, spaghetti sauce, and spaghetti on hand.
Begin Your Prep
Divide your ground beef according to portion sizes per meal. You can freeze as is, or you can take it a little further.
- Make burger patties, and store between sheets of waxed paper or parchment.
- Throw some of those frozen onions in and brown part or all of it. Now you have the beginnings of tacos, spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna, or chili.
- Chicken thighs can be braised (cooked with liquid in a pan) or roasted. Throw some vegetables on a cookie sheet with the thighs, add olive oil and seasoning, and roast for 20 – 30 minutes until done. The thighs also season the vegetables, making them extra good.
- Chicken breasts can be frozen in a freezer bag with a marinade, like Italian dressing or honey and mustard with some apple cider vinegar. They marinate as they thaw out, giving them plenty of flavor. And you can use either bone in or boneless.
- If you have a package of boneless skinless breasts, you can easily cut them into chicken tender size, or you can pound them thin to help them cook faster. I use the bowl from my mortar and pestle, but anything heavy will do. You can also butterfly them, which is simply cutting them in half so you have two thinner cutlets. It’s not hard with a sharp knife, and it doesn’t have to be exact. If you mess up, then cut some more and they’re chicken tenders!
If you purchase fresh vegetables, you can prep those ahead too.
- Wash your lettuce and tear it into pieces. Cutting it will make it turn brown. Add some paper towels to absorb extra moisture and store in a freezer bag that’s been left slightly open. Or just buy the ones already done.
- Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower can be washed and cut into bite sized pieces, ready for steaming in the microwave.
- And once in a while, try a vegetable tray instead of making a salad or side. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my family liked it as a change of pace. Baby carrots, some cut up celery and cucumbers, baby tomatoes, that broccoli and cauliflower you cut up – just add some ranch and you’re done!
Prepping Saves You Time in the Long Run
I know this sounds like a lot to do, but you don’t have to start out doing it all.
And really, taking an hour or so when you have the time is worth it if it saves you time when you get home from work, tired and ready to call it a day.
Put on some music or your favorite TV show while you prep. Get someone to help. Add a new skill each week.
You’ll be glad you did.