How To Prep 2 Months of Dinner in 1 DAY + SOLVING MY BIGGEST PAIN POINT
The smoke alarm was ear-piercing, Ruby was doing her Shiba Inu howl and I looked like a contestant from Survivor. My kitchen looked like that scene in every Tidying Up with Marie Kondo episode where the family cries while empting their closet into a massive garbage pile, except for me there were no tears and it was my kitchen that was being turned inside out.
But here’s the thing: I was making progress!
Meal prepping as many dinners as humanely possible in 5-7 hours (or as long as I can get a babysitter to take care of my children) may look insane in the moment but the payoffs are marathon long.
What got me here? And why as a photographer am I writing about this here? Because I’ve figured out a solution that gives me hours back to do stuff I enjoy doing like photography and I want to share that with you.
This pain point happens between the hours of 5-7 PM. I’m grouchy and tired. I’d rather clip a stranger’s toenails than make dinner. Ok, maybe not that bad but you get my point.
And with kids, that time of night is THE WORST. If you are a parent, no further explanation is needed. You get me.
So please welcome meal prep cooking to the stage, here to make your life a little easier!
Here’s the general gist:
I take a chunk of time, 5-7 consecutive hours and make as many meals as possible, usually 6-7 meals
Each meal has roughly enough portions for 2-3 evenings (2 adults, 1 toddler)
I stock my freezer and use these over 4-8 weeks
I generally use the meals for Monday-Thursday dinner (eating out, take out 1 night, easy food like chicken nuggets and salads makes up the other nights)
Why don’t I just go to Trader Joes and get a bunch of food like a normal person? I’ve done that! I found that it didn’t make a complete meal. I’d end up with a bunch of random bags wondering how to make anything into a dinner. This way everything is DONE. If you are feeling energized, add a salad or veggies to the side. Extra ambitious? De-thaw a roll from the freezer.
It’s hard for me to stress how much of a time saver this has been for me. 5-7 hours of cooking sounds like a lot but it’s really a time saver if you think about it over the long haul.
Here are few of the highlights: 1- I spend less time (obviously) cooking in the evening 2- I’m grocery shopping less. Usually just once a week for our fresh fruits and veggies and toppings like avocados and cheese 3- The biggest, surprising gain? There are no “big” dishes to wash in the evening. So I’ve found an extra 30 minutes or so in the evening to go shoot the sunset or whatever else I want to do!
So if you want to try it out, and because I love a good list, here are a few things that I have found helpful:
1- The Containers
I like glass containers that are oven, dishwasher and microwave safe. I also like being able to pop these directly from the freezer into the oven. If I think of it earlier in the day, I will defrost the meal on my counter top so the cooking/oven time is shorter. Here are the ones I like.
I’ll store soups, stocks and sauces in quart sized plastic freezer bags. I’ll also store a very big portion of something, like beef chill or pulled pork in a gallon freezer bag. You’ll need to pull these out of the freezer 2-5 hours beforehand before eating.
I try and label everything with item’s name and freeze date. It just makes life easier. But sometimes I’m lazy. It’s ok.
3- Freezer Details
It helps to have a second freezer. If you don’t have a second freezer, you can save space by freezing things lying flat. This way you can stack the frozen bags flat or vertically. It also keeps things nice and tidy!
4- The Meals
I stick with recipes that I know my family will love. It’s really discouraging when I’ve made something, gone to the trouble of freezing it and then my toddler says, “that brown stuff looks yucky!” So there’s a strong vetting process for things to graduate to a freezer meal.
5- Food Shopping
I have found it’s too much to go grocery shopping and cook in the same day. I’ll use Whole Foods delivery or food shop 1-3 days before. I’ll go after the kids are in bed or sneak out while my husband does bedtime (with his knowledge of course, I’m not a monster).
6- Batch Cut Your Veggies
Check out your recipes before you start cooking and see which ones call for the same veggie ingredients. Then, I’ll cut all onions, peppers, ginger, etc. at the same time. I also start my cooking day by prepping all of the veggies. I use this gadget to save on time.
7- Parchment paper
Rather than having to rinse off baking sheets, I’ll often use parchment paper. I might use the same sheet for multiple batches of veggies and compost/toss it when it gets gunky.
8 - Extra Bowls
Maybe you already do this when you’re cooking but I have one bowl for trash and one bowl for compost. If you don’t compost, then just one bowl. It keeps your workspace cleaner (hey mise en place!) and saves time.
9- The Equipment
10- Other time savers
Veggie chopper (as mentioned above)
Metal sink strainer (where I wash all my veggies)
Instant Pot lid (helps to cool things in fridge before bagging)
Rice Cooker (set it and forget it)
Alexa or Iphone for timer
A Few Recipes
Here are a few of my favorite recipes. All of these have been frozen with great success!
Chicken with Shallots and Balsamic Vinegar- I use my Instant Pot and don’t bother with making an X on the bottom of the shallots.
Grain Bowls (Tasty)- I really like the Maple Soy dressing and just sub in different veggies that I like better
Indian Butter Chicken- This makes a lot of food so just beware.
I would love to hear what recipes you make and whatever else you have found to make the process helpful. Good luck!