I don’t know about you, but I don’t like grocery shopping. Fun foodie outing to a specialty food store? Sure. Grocery shopping with three kids at Costco for 3 hours on the weekend? Hell no. Aside from placing smaller orders with Wal-Mart grocery pick-up or Instacart, I like to shop in bulk. Less trips to the store = more money saved (and less anxiety).
I learned a lot of helpful methods from the various kitchens that I have worked in. I got to observe not only food preparation hacks, but how ingredients were purchased and stored, and how certain dishes were cooked in a certain order to maintain utmost efficiency. I sought out to implement those same methods in my own kitchen to see how that helped at home. It certainly has! It reduces a lot of daily stress and removes the “What’s for dinner?” question from the equation of a busy day.
I try to plan my trips to Costco twice a month (I make 2-week menu plans currently). Once I’m home from the store with the large amounts of food, I separate portions out into ziplock bags and write down the date before sticking them in the freezer. This is a common practice used in all (good) restaurants. Every food item has a “day dot” sticker labeled to let everyone know when the item was prepared/frozen/etc. A sharpie and a ziplock baggie work just as well at home, but if you like the idea you can buy day dot stickers here. They’re great because they don’t leave behind residue and dissolve in water.
If you plan your meals ahead, as I demonstrated in this post, that makes it easier to see what groceries you need to buy for the next week (or two) – just like a restaurant plans their menu ahead of time and orders ingredients accordingly.
I try my best to set aside Sunday afternoons to prep meals for the week. This week wasn’t quite so successful due to illness in the home, so I did what I could and gave myself a little grace for that. Things like the kids’ school lunches are a must. It saves me an enormous amount of time in the mornings and the kids can pick what they want to pack their own lunches. I make a lot of sandwiches ahead of time, label what kind they are, and freeze them. The kids throw one in their lunchbox and it’s defrosted by lunch time. I also have a container of “lunch fruit” ready to go (sliced apples, small oranges, grapes in baggies, etc.) in the fridge along with individually bagged cheese cubes, boiled eggs, containers of oatmeal, and yogurt. For mine and my husband’s lunches, I try to prepare extra each dinner, then portion out lunches for ourselves with the leftovers. I freeze those and pull them out when needed (also, so we’re not eating the same thing 2-3 days in a row).
Other things I do for adult lunches might be baked potatoes (I do 4-6 ahead of time on the weekends), salads, sandwiches, etc.
Other things you can do to help speed up meal prep during the week would be chopping up vegetables and setting them aside in baggies or containers, grilling chicken for soups/pastas/salads, making salad dressing (quick and healthy), or portioning out pastas and rice for meals that week. We did a lot of this in an Italian kitchen I used to work in so that ticket times were as low as possible. Just make sure you know your “shelf life” for the items you prepare to avoid food waste. If I don’t know how long it will be before I use an item, I freeze it to be safe. Click here for a good reference guide to food safety and proper storage.
I know some of this can seem a little overwhelming at first, so start slow. Plan a week ahead. Work your way up and do what works best for you and your family. Eventually, you’ll have your own working system to simplify your life.