Balancing work and family is not easy. Aside from the emotional battle that I face daily as I drop my kids off at day care and how much I miss them when I’m at work, I still have the same responsibilities at home. I still have to get dinner on the table, lunches packed, laundry done and groceries in the pantry. My time with my kids is limited and I don’t want to spend any more of that precious time trying to figure out dinner than necessary. On the other hand, I don’t want to rely on highly processed convenience foods either because I know I can provide more sustainable meals that are healthier and more cost-effective.
The solution that I’ve come up with is to prep as much food as I can in advance of Monday morning so that we can have a “grab and go” lifestyle and still be budget and health friendly. When I’m on the ball, it’s been working amazingly well for us. When I’ve gotten lazy…well… we’ve eaten a lot of grilled cheese.
Things that I do in advance that have made all the difference include:
- Wash, peel and chop up carrots and peppers and put them in containers. I put a layer of water on the bottom of the carrot container to keep them crisp and hydrated (tip: don’t do this with peppers, they’ll get soggy). For my lunches, I fill two containers with veggies and dip and set aside in the fridge. When dinner comes, I just grab some containers and throw them on the table. If I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll throw them on a plate (I don’t feel fancy often). I can also throw them in a quick stir-fry as well since they’re already chopped and ready to go. On my day off (Wednesday) I do a quick grocery trip and repeat to refill any containers that are empty.
- Make a batch of rice, quinoa, or roast up some potatoes for easy re-heating. It’s not the greatest when it’s re-heated but when I have a table full of hungry mouths melting down, it’s golden. I also use the leftovers for lunches for me the next day.
- Soak, rinse and cook beans to be used for salads and dinners. Chickpeas take very little time to cook and I will cook a large batch of black beans in the slow cooker, portion and freeze what I don’t need. They are easy to add into any meal for a protein boost.
- Menu plan at least a week in advance. Don’t try to menu plan in your head at the grocery store. You’ll end up with more food than you need and not enough ingredients to throw a decent meal together. My grocery list always has what I’m planning to made and what ingredients I need to make it. Sometimes, I have to improvise if the produce I need isn’t up to par. For example. My typical stir fry will have peppers, mushrooms, onion and zucchini. Sometimes I can’t find what I need but knowing that stir-fry is on the menu, I can change it up and make it more of a mexican stir-fry with beans, rice and corn with home-made taco seasoning or use carrots, celery and sugar snap peas instead.
- Always have a back-up meal ready to go. Every now and the, something doesn’t turn out (shocking I know) or I burn the crap out of something and dinner is ruined. I always have a couple of quick back-up meals that can be prepped in 15 minutes or less to throw on the table in the event of dinner disaster. Pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches with yogurt and fruit, scrambled eggs. All stuff that’s in our house, quick to throw together and a life saver for those times when I accidentally smoke us out of the kitchen.
Your Turn: How do you prep your kitchen for the week ahead? Do you plan in advance or are you more of a last minute person? What are some of your go-to meals that are quick, easy and cheap to make?