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I wish I had better news for you, but the truth is that getting healthy meals on the table takes time.
Time to plan what you’re going to cook, time to shop for the ingredients, time to do the actual meal prep and cooking, and (ughh) all the clean-up.
When you’re rushing to get out the door in the morning or get dinner on the table at night and everyone is exhausted or having their own meltdown, pulling together healthy meals can seem next to impossible.
That’s where meal prep comes in.
With some simple strategies, you can plan ahead of time and have a system in place to get breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table every day.
Here are 10 simple meal prep hacks to try.
1. Pull out the iPad
When you’re trying to get something done like make an important phone call or make dinner, do your kids swarm to you like a hive of bees?
I hear you. In my house, dinnertime is prime time for meltdowns, siblings fighting and bad behavior.
Although I try really hard to limit my kids’ screen time, I’ve come to realize that strategic use of the TV and the iPad can come in handy especially when I’m cooking.
My kids get to decompress after-school and have some fun, while I’m able to get dinner on the table without feeling totally stressed out.
2. Store food in airtight containers
Clear glass, airtight food storage containers are your secret weapon for meal prep.
They not only keep all of your produce fresh and in clear sight but they help prevent food from spoiling, drying out, getting soggy or absorbing odors from other foods in the refrigerator.
Glass containers also cut down on time because they go from the fridge and the freezer to the microwave or the oven which makes cooking dinner a breeze.
Carve out some time on the weekends—or whenever you can—to wash, cut up your fruits and vegetables and store them in individual containers so you’ll know exactly what you have on hand.
Cut-up veggies also do double duty for quick meals, after-school snacks and school lunches.
3. Use ice cube trays
To prevent food from spoiling and make cooking quick and easy, freeze small portions of leftover ingredients in ice cube trays and then re-heat them when you need to.
Store homemade baby food purees, leftover stock, smoothies, pasta sauce, pesto and herbs—even coffee for a quick and easy cup of cold brew.
4. Make overnight oats
Mornings are hectic whether you have little ones you need to get to daycare or big kids who have to catch the bus.
Instead of serving cereal or instant oatmeal which are usually low in fiber, high in sugar and highly processed, fill mason jars the night before with oats, fruit, nuts or seeds and milk for a quick and easy breakfast.
5. Cut, then wash vegetables
Washing vegetables before you cut them up makes sense, but you might discover hidden dirt on the inside of produce like mushrooms, celery and broccoli and end up re-washing them again anyway.
Instead, chop everything first, then give your fruits and veggies a vigorous wash under cold, running water.
6. Slice it thin
The thinner you slice vegetables and protein sources, the quicker they’ll cook whether you’re sautéing or roasting them.
I slice foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and tempeh super-thin and they cook in minutes flat.
7. Offer an appetizer
Your kids may refuse to eat all day but right before dinner is when they’re most likely to ask for a snack—so give it to them.
Offering an appetizer won’t spoil their dinner and if it’s a healthy choice, it can be a great way to take advantage of their hunger and get them to eat more vegetables and try new foods.
Letting them munch on something small can also help you buy some time while you’re getting dinner ready.
Serve roasted root vegetables as “fries,” hummus or a bean dip with cut up raw vegetables, or kale chips, for example.
8. Pre-heat your pan
Sheet pan meals already make dinners quick and easy, but you can save even more time by heating up the pan while your oven is pre-heating and you’re finishing up any meal prep.
Pre-heating the pan will cook everything evenly and speed up your cook time.
9. Pre-portion smoothie ingredients
Smoothies can be a quick and easy breakfast option for you and your kids, but the key is that it’s simple.
After you go to the grocery store or at the beginning of the week, wash and prep all of your fruits and vegetables and store them in individual Ziplock bags. In the morning, you can pop everything into your blender for a no-brainer breakfast with minimal clean-up.
10. Use your appliances
Chopping, slicing and dicing are seriously time-consuming especially if you’re using fresh garlic or cutting up vegetables that need to be peeled and sliced like butternut squash, for example.
If you don’t own a basic food processor, consider purchasing one that can do all the work for you and slash some serious time off your meal prep.