Dinnertime can be a hectic time, at least at our house. If I had to pick one thing (other than meal planning) that helps decrease stress and calm the chaos during the dinner hour, it would be this: meal prep. The term “meal prep” is used fairly frequently in the food world these days, so allow me to walk you through my version of this.
I’ve shared how I plan our meals for the week, which makes my life exponentially easier. Meal prep takes meal planning a step further. I would get completely overwhelmed portioning out meals in square containers for the entire week, so I choose to focus on prepping meat and produce only.
Typically, I will try to find an hour or so on Saturday when Mark is free to watch the boys so that I have the kitchen to myself. Taking this time to wash veggies and portion out or prepare meat has saved me from the Little Caesar’s drive thru many times. It doesn’t cost a thing, and can be adapted for whatever dietary preferences your family has.
Here’s what I found works for us: When I find a good deal on meat (usually chicken breast, ground turkey, ground beef, or pork loin), I take an hour or so to cook or prepare a large amount of meat.
For example, this could mean I brown it , pat it out, (for burgers), or season it (for tacos or spaghetti). Once I have the meat browned and / or seasoned, I let it cool a bit and portion it out into quart sized freezer bags.
When preparing the chicken breast, I most often portion the meat out into gallon freezer bags. If I plan to grill the chicken at some point, I will pour marinade on the chicken until it is covered and freeze. Then, I can take out the evening before, place in the fridge, and the marinating process takes care of itself as it thaws. If I will be baking it, I simply toss it in a freezer bag. If you don’t already have a go-to marinade for chicken, we have a very simple favorite. It was shared by a family friend who was formally trained as a chef. I remember him dumping orange juice and Italian dressing together and mixing it up to marinate the chicken he was preparing to grill. I’ve been in love with it ever since!
I don’t have an exact recipe, but I don’t think it’s possible to mess it up. For the entire package of chicken pictured above, I used a bottle of Italian dressing and 1-1/2 cups of orange juice. Shake or swish the liquid a bit in the bag and viola! You’re marinating. 🙂
You’ll notice that bag is pretty full of chicken– I grilled it the following day. If I were freezing it, I would have split it up between two freezer bags.
When pork loin goes on sale, I will buy a couple and ask the butcher to slice before I leave the store. Most often, I request he cut two “roast” pieces, and the remaining into pork chops, which I will use for grilling or baking. I then divide it into freezer bags and put in our deep freeze for meals.Preparing the meat portion of some of our meals is a tremendous time saver. For example, let’s pretend I have tacos planned for dinner on Tuesday and lasagna on the schedule for Saturday. Instead of spending 15 minutes browning the ground beef or turkey two different evenings (and having a skillet to wash after each meal), I can save myself time and energy by browning 5+ pounds ahead of time.
Tossing the chicken breasts or pork chops in a freezer bag with marinade saves me valuable dinnertime minutes because I get the meat handling portion over with all at once (I typically buy larger packages and split them up for several meals). I am Nervous Nelly with raw meat and don’t enjoy handling it, so only having to do this once every month or so is a win in my book!
We eat quite a bit of fresh produce at our house, and I usually plan to buy what is on sale. For example, if bell peppers are 88 cents each, and English cucumbers are $1, I plan to use those on my salads for the week.
Shortly after returning from the grocery, I try to wash a portion of the produce I want to use first, cut it up, and place it in a container in the fridge.
There are times I do this with fruit as well as well with watermelon, cantaloupe, or grapes. Sometimes I will make a large fruit salad to eat on for a couple of days. I don’t typically prep apples or berries ahead of time, as I don’t want to worry with the hassle of them browning or getting soggy.
Other perks of meat and produce prep are that I have almost always purchased the food on sale, so I can celebrate the fact that I saved our family money. I also find that our crew is more likely to eat our fruit and vegetables if they are washed and cut up, ready to serve.Do you have tips for preparing meat or produce in advance? Please share! Leave your thoughts in the comments.