Meal Prep Shortcuts

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As a self-proclaimed food snob, I love food! And, I really do love to cook. It’s something that helps me relax (the cooking, but especially the eating.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have two hours to make dinner every night like I did six children ago. While cooking has been a very welcome activity for me this past week, I know that I have to keep shortcuts in mind. This will help me be a little more cheerful come dinnertime. ‘Cause nobody wants a crabby mom.

I don’t buy a lot of prepackaged items, but I know that convenience items can be a real life-saver. Products like grated cheese, refrigerated pie crusts, and bagged salad are very helpful. And manufacturers are producing more and more of these types of quick items. But, you may have “convenience” items in your stash already, products that serve more than one purpose. For instance:

** Frozen Potatoes O’Brian (potatoes with peppers and onions) can easily be added to casseroles, or in my case, Minestrone! What a time saver to realize I didn’t need to peel and chop all those veggies yesterday when I made soup. I had a bag of these hashbrowns to saute briefly and then add to the crockpot.

** Salsa is a staple around here. Chances are you have a jar stashed in the cupboard. But, did you know it’s great to mix into chili or soup to add some zip? You can also mix it with mashed avocados for a great tasting guacamole.

One of the tricks to Once-a-Month cooking is to maximize your time and money by making several dishes with like ingredients. The same holds true for cooking each night. Brown twice as much ground beef for two different recipes. Grate enough cheese for tacos one night and enchiladas a few nights later. Consider this idea when meal-planning and make sure to include a few dinners that can build off one another.

** Last night we had Brie-Tomato Pasta. I made twice as much pasta to make into a pasta salad.

** Tonight I’m making baked chicken, potatoes, and veggies. But, I plan to take the leftovers and immediately put them into a chicken pot pie. You can do this with any leftover meat and veggies that you might have. I purposely make extra to save myself some time. If you’re making mashed potatoes to go with your meal, make yours a shepherd’s pie.

By thinking through your meals, you can find ways to save yourself a few steps and a few dishes. That always makes for a happier mom, doesn’t it? And don’t forget to whistle while you work.

What do you do to make dinner prep go more quickly and easily? Tell us about it in the comments.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Great tips. I agree, I enjoy cooking. It helps me relax. When I am stressed out I cook a ton. I always helps.

  2. Sonshine says:

    AMEN!!! Great post!

    I do those same tips! It does make life easier!

    I just wrote a post showing some of my meal shortcuts.

  3. Krista says:

    I do a lot of the same. I try to always make extra rice. It's good for soups as well as fried rice the next day.

    If I'm chopping veggies, I try to chop up a few onions and whatever else is on hand & put in freezer (in sep bags) for soups. Celery is not popular in my house except for soups & stir-fry–I chop a whole bunch at once & freeze.

    I also cook up about 3 lb chicken breasts with 1 jar salsa in crockpot for a couple hours on low, then shred. I bag this up in several quart size bags for use in enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. Saves lots of time when I'm making mexican food!

  4. The Hunter's Wife says:

    There’s nothing like quick and easy when you’re on the go all the time.

  5. Mrs. S says:

    I do a lot of the same. Although I like Krista's idea for chicken and salsa in the crock pot! We eat Mexican once a week. Yesterday I made a big pot of chicken & noodle (we have colds and it was stormy out so it was a perfect fit!). I cooked extra chicken for Stir fry tonight. Just toss in some oil to brown before adding veggies. I also cook extra rice and freeze. Since we use brown rice this is a big time saver. I have only tried once a month cooking a couple times. I usually try to do a "prep session" once a week to get all our meats cooked and veggies chopped, muffins baked etc. for the coming week. I love to cook/bake, and this helps me to keep on loving it without the evening rush stress!

  6. JessieLeigh says:

    I agree with all your tips!

    I try to make good use of the time when I’m not in the kitchen. If I’m out running errands, there’s soup or homemade taco or pizza sauce simmering away in the slow cooker. I leave my bread/bagel/english muffin/cinn roll dough to rise overnight. I want my food waiting on me and not vice versa! 🙂

  7. Jessica, remember me the “double- twin-and-one-spare” mom? I have a great recipe for you that I thought of when you mentioned hash browns o’brien. Its a weight watchers potato soup recipe. Its potato soup with 3 ingredients (or 4 if you add crumbled bacon). Just mix hash browns (1 bag), and chicken stock (4 c) in pot and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Then take a packet of pioneer country gravy mix and mix it with COLD water (amount listed on packet). Add this to the pot. You have fool-proof potato soup without peeling anything! And its delicious especially if you add fried, crumbled bacon to the top !

  8. Valerie aka Mamalovelock says:

    Great tips!! Thanks for sharing!!

    We use a lot of onions in this house so I always chop extra for the rest of the meals that might need onions.

    When I make pasta I always boil a little extra for the kids lunch the next day and I add some veggie and some ranch dressing and I have quick pasta salad for lunch.

  9. FishMama says:

    Honey, who could forget a mom w/ TWO sets of twins? Your recipe sounds great, but is it stil WW w/ fried bacon? 😉

  10. I kick my husband and kids out of the house for 2 or 3 hours on Sundays (we’re Jewish, so it’s not the Sabbath). I grocery shop (it’s empty while everyone’s in Church :)) and then I chop and prep as much as is reasonable.

    If I’m making veggie chili, I might chop up the onions and peppers (and saute them if time permits). Then when it’s time to cook, I have the hard part done (and it’s easier for DS3 to help me cook since no knives are involved). I hard-boil a bunch of eggs for snacks and breakfasts. I chop up cucumbers and peppers for healthy snacks for the kids (we dip them, along with baby carrots, in hummus).

    It helps me a lot, especially on nights when I’m not looking forward to cooking and it makes putting out snack a breeze even when the kids are hanging on my knees.

    Another thing? I make a double batch of EVERYTHING. We’re vegetarians so there’s lots of stir-fries, curries, soups, veggie chilies, and other items that keep well for the next night, and freeze well to use in the future. Tonight we’re having beans and rice that was dinner two nights ago!

  11. Well, I guess it would depend on if you used tvp bacon or something. Haha. I would not recommend it!!! It would surely take all the fun out of it to use fake-bacon! I forgot to say, I like it because you can keep all the ingredients on hand (potatoes and bacon in freezer and gravy mix and broth in cupboard). So its one of those ah-ha meals when you think you have nothing to make. And there is a coupon out there for buy 2 Ore-Ida hashbrowns and get a free steam and mash! (I think it’s on one of the little red machines, newspaper, or maybe check website or coupon loop etc.) You wrote that post about comparing and now I am having serioous anxiety about my run-on sentences-being that your a writer and all:)

  12. TheRoosterChick says:

    Meal planning, double batch cooking, and prepping what I can the morning of helps me tons.

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