6 Shorttcuts for Speedy Weekday Meals
Back to school means back to the busy weekday routine – when activities start piling up, and there are more things to do than time to do them! To prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed, I use all my culinary school tricks – and Mom Multitasking Skills ™ – to make meal preparation as quick and easy as possible.
Here are my top 6 shorttcuts for weekday meals:
1. MASTER THE PLAN
It all starts with a plan! Making a weekly plan (and a shopping list at the same time) means never having to wonder what’s for dinner. If the thought of planning a week’s worth of meals seems daunting, take a few minutes to brainstorm a “master list” – a list of all the dishes your family enjoys for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Think of it as a cheat sheet for your meal plan!
I limit trying out new dishes to one meal per week. Sometimes I’ll play the “Yum or Yuck” game with my boys; I’ll give them each a cookbook to look through, and every picture gets either a “yum” or a “yuck”. I’ll bookmark the yums for “New Dish Night”.
2. CONQUER THE PREP
Why pull out the cutting board every day when you could just tackle everything in one go? Put on some music (dance hits keep me going!) and wash/peel/cut your carrots, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, cantaloupe, pineapple, berries, etc. I put the veggies in one large sectioned container, while the fruit goes in another. While I’m at it, I’ll often chop onions, mince some garlic, etc. that I’ll need for the week’s cooking. Come Monday, I’ve got everything ready for cooking, lunches, and on-the-go snacks.
3. THINK BIG
When it comes time for the cooking, never just make one meal at once! For instance, meatballs are always a big hit at my house (on their own, in spaghetti, in subs), so I’ll make a triple batch and freeze them in portions. I’ll cook up 3 or more pounds of bacon (in the oven – if you haven’t tried this, you need to!), and boil a dozen eggs at once, then tuck them in the fridge. Lunches get packed 2 days at a time. And stashing a double batch of muffins in the freezer means I’ll be stocked up for quick breakfasts and snacks (and any “Oops, there’s a bake sale today” emergency!).
4. TACKLE YOUR PANTRY:
There’s no point in having your prep work done if you can’t find what you need…when you need it. I label my pantry storage bins: the “sweets” bin contains granola bars, apple sauce and dried fruit snacks. When the bin starts running low, I add to my shopping list. I toast nuts in large batches, put them in snack size ziploc bags, and store them in the “snacks” bin, along with small bags of crackers and munchies. Before running errands with the boys, I’ll tuck some snacks in my bag, so I’m ready for the inevitable:”Mom, I’m hungry! I want…”.
5. CUT DOWN ON CLEANUP
Why use two pots when one will do? On pasta night, once I’ve cooked and drained the pasta, I’ll use the same pot to saute some veggies (which are already prepped in the fridge!). Once they’re soft, I’ll add my favourite jarred sauce to the pot and the cooked pasta, warm and serve.
When roasting meats and vegetables, I always line baking sheets with aluminium foil (and then with parchment paper if I need a non-stick surface), so cleaning them is a breeze.
6. LIFE HAPPENS – SO HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
Even the best laid plans can fall apart (and they do…often), so I always keep some good quality prepared meals in the freezer for emergencies. DSG Mac + Cheese and Southwest Chicken Casserole are family favourites, so I always have some on hand for a special treat. The real treat is a break for me, and fewer dishes to clean! Having something set aside means I don’t need the pizza delivery-person on speed dial, or guilt-ridden doubts about whether or not fast food chicken nuggets actually contain chicken. Having a backup plan means peace of mind, and it’s absolutely worth it!