I almost had to laugh when Katie asked me to do a guest post on my best mid-week meal preparation tips. I don’t consider myself much of a meal planner; my brain is too scatter-shot and my tastes too immediate to be a true planner. I am also a contrarian. Give me a list and I will scorn it. Or lose it. Basically I am a toddler who can cook a bit.
However, on reflection, despite my protestations to be otherwise, I am a bit of a planner. I like order. I like calm. I like a checklist, but I don’t like sticking to one. Like a toddler I want to break free of your hand and chase a balloon, or a squirrel. Or in the case of food, yeah I will get the vegetables in for a minestrone on Tuesday, but on the day itself I want to slurp a curry.
Thinking rather more deeply about this than I really ought, I realise that I have quite a few strategies – I just don’t label them as such. I certainly don’t just wing it. Winging it means hunger-induced bad decisions: bought pizzas, takeaways. Or uninspiring but nutritious scrambled eggs or beans on toast (which my husband loves). But mostly I make all meals from scratch – breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So how, if I am not a planner, does this happen?
1. During very busy times, stick to what you know. Keep weekends or time off for experimenting with others’ recipes, unless these new recipes are of the five-ingredient variety (see below). I make a pretty good plain pasta sauce, one that we like better than any one from a jar. It doesn’t sound much to make a tomato sauce but preparing a big batch and dividing it up and freezing to use on busy nights is real bonus. Ditto my rose harissa paste that I can use on salmon (either fresh or frozen), roasted vegetables (again, freshly roasted or even from frozen or earlier in the week), on a flatbread pizza with tempeh or other protein, or add into a quick omelette. Having a couple of key sauces or spice pastes prepared and stored is a godsend when your bus home is late.
2. Make a menu, even if you don’t stick to it. Factor in familiar meals that you can make with your eyes closed as well as ones that might be new or ones you don’t have very often because of seasonality. I like to include one five-minute meal (see recipe below) at least once in the week. Write down the menu and keep a copy on your fridge. I also like to keep a list with me as sometimes you need to get ingredients on the day – such as fresh fish if you aren’t using frozen. And the list keeps you on track and out of the store for a last minute pre-made meal. It’s also MUCH easier to eat healthily. Healthy, nutritious eating doesn’t happen by accident.
3. Factor in meals where you can use ingredients more than once. So, for a recipe that uses just a couple of carrots from a bag of them, think about roasting some and using the rest in a quick stir fry.
4. Factor in leftovers too. Make enough of something like eggplant lasagne or Sicilian caponata to have another night, with different sides, or in the case of caponata, in a baked potato, with added beans or feta cheese, or even as a pizza. You can’t do this with every meal (and nor would you probably wish to) but even having one meal a week that is basically tarted up leftovers is a definite bonus. If you don’t use it within two days, then freeze it.
5. Don’t prep everything. Do what is reasonable for you, whether it is “just” chopping vegetables for a couple of meals and bagging them up, or making batches of sauce, roasting a chicken or a small tray of salmon fillets to use in two or three meals, frying up a base of onions and garlic for use in a couple of meals. Build in just one or two time savers a week and you can streamline your daily meals.
6. Roasted vegetables are your friend. Depending on what is seasonal and what you like, roast a variety of vegetables together on trays (keep similar densities together), adding interest to soups and stews, bean braises, pasta bakes, baked potatoes, egg dishes – anything really.
7. Boil up beans, lentils and grains to store for later. These ingredients can be the basis of so many dishes that it is worth giving up a chunk of time every so often to bulk preparing them.
8. Don’t be afraid of good quality frozen. Whether it is seafood, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, peas, let frozen foods enhance and ease your meal preparation, and save you money and lessen waste, too.
9. Be flexible at the grocery store. If the store is out of butternut squash, will sweet potato do? Or if you were going to have a stir fry with green beans but the broccoli looks better, use that instead.
10. Prep the next night’s dinner while you are tidying up from the present one. Before you wash the dishes or load the dishwasher, look at your meal plan and see what you can do now. If you have the space, even just getting all of the dry ingredients like spices, out and measured, waiting to be cooked the next day can help. Chopping up the vegetables and protein choice is a huge timesaver. Prepping a slow cooker meal the night before will reward your effort the next day. If this sounds too much to contemplate, how about prepping breakfast, such as overnight oats.
11. Use a slow cooker, pressure cooker, steamer or rice cooker – whatever will make your life easier. Slow cookers are especially brilliant as you can just put everything in the cooker in the morning and come back to a meal. And the house will smell amazing. There are some great slow cooker recipe websites on the Internet to whet your appetite and give you ideas.
12. Choose one or two recipes a week that you don’t have to “babysit” by stirring or pay much attention. For example, instead of a rice risotto, make a barley one that you can bung in the oven.
13. Even if you can’t do much prep, ANY prep will make a difference.
What are you having for dinner? Did you do any pre-prep? What’s your best meal planning tip?
Kimchi and Bean Quesadillas
The kimchi is really worth making or buying for speedy meals like this. We also like kimchi in bean soups, savoury pancakes, and grilled cheese, as well as with my own style of Korean (i.e. inauthentic) recipes. xx
4 small wholemeal tortillas or flatbreads
200g cooked beans of choice – I like borlotti or black beans
2-3 spring onions, sliced
40g grated cheese, such as mature Cheddar
50-60g kimchi, lightly drained and coarsely chopped
Place a tortilla in a frying pan or skillet or a medium heat. Top with half of the beans, onions cheese and kimchi, leaving a small border. Slightly dampen the edge with water. Top with a second tortilla and press down lightly, sealing the edges if you can. Heat on both sides until golden in patches and the cheese in gooey. Cut into quarters, plate up and cover while you make the second quesadilla. Serve with a green salad.
Note: if you aren’t very hungry, just use one tortilla, folding over to a half moon shape to heat.
Originally on Whole Nourishment.
**Need help to use up your kimchi?**
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