Food Prep for Success – Going Beyond Chopping

I have a confession to make: I love food. I love eating it, I love cooking and baking, I love making healthy choices, I love planning out what I am going to make, and I love being adventurous and trying new things. I even love to prep….sometimes….if there is time. Okay, the difference between the ideal world where I am super organized, on top of my game, and one step ahead is not always reality. But it is good to have goals, isn’t it?

I do find, however, that being prepared plays a huge part in how my week turns out. When I don’t plan and prepare I am constantly running behind, making poor food choices (tea and toast for supper anyone?), lacking energy, frustrated, spending more money than I can afford, wasting food, and feel like I am on a merry-go-round and can’t get off. A little time and effort in advance goes a long way – the ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Being prepared is going to mean different things to different households, and it is something that you might have to alter and play around with for a bit to see what works for your household and lifestyle. Here’s what I take into consideration:

  • My budget – how much do I want to spend on groceries, eating out, coffee, snacks, package of gum, etc. in a week? Remember it all adds up. Budget for it, and don’t go over your limit. If you have money left over one week, save it for the next – there will always be times you’ll need a little extra for a special ingredient or stocking up on a sale item.
  • Dietary restrictions and food goals. If I’m looking to make healthier choices, or working around my food allergy, or I want to branch out and try new recipes and ethnic cuisines, or maybe I want to try out a new restaurant every week. Whatever my goal is, I will need to be prepared.
  • Time. How much time do I have to cook each day? 20 minutes? 1 hour? What about making lunch for the next day? Breakfast? Is there a time I can set aside during the week to do extra for the days I have less time?

Meal Planning

I believe the key to success is planning meals. I set aside time each week to pick out what I am going to make. I choose 4-5 large meals for the week, counting on left-overs for the rest (I take leftovers to work the next day for lunch, and freeze extra individual portions in containers for days when there isn’t much time.) I usually base the recipes I choose off of the weekly sales at my local grocery store and food market. I also take into consideration what I have on hand in the freezer or pantry or fridge that needs to be used up before it goes bad. If one recipe calls for 2 cups of cabbage, what am I going to do with the rest of the head I bought? Can I find recipes that will use up the rest of it, or maybe share it with a neighbour, or maybe I can make something extra and freeze it for another time so I don’t get tired of eating cabbage. I use a combination of cook books for ideas, or the internet when looking for recipes with specific ingredients. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup of canned pineapple, I will Google more recipes with canned pineapple so I can use up the rest of it, or else freeze the remainder.

Grocery Lists

These keep me on budget and saves valuable time. I try to only go to the stores and run my errands once a week, meaning I have more time to do other things (it is incredible how much time it takes off your day if you decide to pop in to the grocery store to pick up 1 or 2 items on your way home from work). I don’t have the greatest memory; if I don’t write it down on a list, I’ll never remember every item I need at the store. Sometimes I leave the store without an item, even when I do have it on my list.

Now that I know what I’m going to make, I look through my fridge, pantry, and freezer to figure out what I already have on hand and what I need to buy to make the recipes. I keep a magnetic white board on my fridge, too, so if I’m running low on everyday items like sugar, or a spice, or oatmeal, I can jot it down during the week.

Don’t forget the snacks!

Sometimes it is easy to focus on what I’m making for supper that I forget about other things I need. If I am going to eat healthy and stay on budget, I need to plan and prepare my snacks as well. Otherwise it is too easy to buy a bag of chips, or come home from work and start searching the pantry for something quick and easy to eat right now. A benefit of having a food allergy is that it limits what I can reach for when I am at work or running errands (I can say no to the baked goods being shared at the office keeping me on track with my diet). I look for nutritious snack ideas to take with me to work; carrot sticks and hummus are my favourite combination. Likewise, breakfast items are another thing to remember to plan for. Do I have enough eggs, oatmeal, or fruit?

Taking time to chop

I tend to underestimate the time I need to prepare food. Some recipes tell how long it will take to make them, but don’t factor in the slicing-and-dicing and gathering-your-ingredient element to the process. And there always seems to be interruptions. The phone rings, or you suddenly remember you need to close the lid for the washing machine to start. 🙂 I have started keeping a basket in my pantry where I put what I’m going to need for that week. My list of what I’m going to make also goes in it, along with any recipes I’ll need (or if it is online, where I found it and saved it), and non-perishable ingredients.

I try to set aside prep time for my snack and breakfast items so I don’t forget something in the morning with my pre-coffee brain. Wash, chop, and portion veggies and fruit after buying your groceries. Make muffins and freeze, or make hummus and portion into small containers. Boil a few eggs, or divide a larger container of yogurt into smaller containers. Prepare overnight oats or chia pudding for the next few days. There is enough to do in the morning without leaving it all for the last minute.

Looking ahead

Every evening take I take a glance at my list of meals to see if there is something I could be doing in advance. If there is an ingredient in the freezer that I will need over the next day or 2, I put in the fridge to start thawing. If I am peeling and cutting up carrots for 1 meal, I might as well do up a few more for carrot sticks for a snack. If I’m boiling potatoes, I can make a little extra for my potato bread recipe for the bread machine.

Don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult to change your habits. It may take awhile to find what works best for you, and healthy habits take a while to build. The main point is to keep on trying.

If you have any favourite hints or time-savers, please feel free to leave it in a comment below!

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