Busy Cooks Guide to Easy Meal Prep

I know what it’s like, being so busy you don’t have time to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home. Things get crazy-busy sometimes, and there does not seem like enough time to do all that we have to do.

But there are things that will help to make meal prep easy during the busier times life will throw at you, and I want to share with you what tactics I use to create quick, easy meals when life is too hectic.

Spend an afternoon preparing

If you have a few hours, it’s a good idea to prepare some things in advance. Here are a few things I do, depending on the time of year:

  • Make tortilla wraps and place them in the refrigerator between sheets of parchment paper. I find a recipe online for Paleo wraps, and use that.
  • Wash and cut up vegetables. Store in containers in the refrigerator. Use ends and greens when making stock.
  • Place fruit in bowls to grab when you want a snack or are in a hurry.
  • Prepare lunches for work or school so you can easily grab them before leaving.
  • Make a vegetable stock and store it in the refrigerator for use during the week. Any extra can go into the freezer. Use ends and greens, as well as any leftover vegetables that won’t get eaten fresh.
  • Roast a chicken, then cut it up into serving sizes and refrigerate. Freeze what you wont use in the next four days.
  • Make chocolate sauce and store in canning jars in the refrigerator. Use this with fresh fruit if you are wanting a dessert-type item.
  • Make energy balls and store three to a small container.

Buy frozen seafood

I like to check out the frozen seafood section to see what I might be able to use for meals during the week. Scallops and shrimp are easy to prepare, and can be used in many food combinations.

This week I found bags of raw, peeled, deveined, tail-on shrimp for $5.00, so I picked one up. I’ll keep it in the freezer, and take some out whenever I want to make a dish.

What will I use the shrimp for? Any number of things, including:

Make a soup

Soups are a wonderful way to add vegetables to your menu. Just throw the ingredients in a pot on the stove – or in a crock – and cook at the beginning of the week. This could be done on a prep day.

My best friend will cook up a huge pot all at once, and I just love my chicken and vegetable soup and my sausage and pineapple one.

I put servings of soup in small canning jars after they’ve cooled some, and place those in the refrigerator. They are easy to warm when you are short on time, and taste great.

Know what fruits can be stored near each other

A few medium size mixing or fruit bowls will hold a lot of fruit. Place citrus vegetables in one, apples and pears in another, and bananas and grapes in the third. One can be used as a centerpiece at the table, and the other two can be placed at either end of the counter.

School and work lunches

I usually put these together during a prep day, because I’m already doing related tasks. All I’m really doing is packing things up a little differently than in spend an afternoon preparing above.

I have a shelf specifically for work meal items, and organize the containers and other items in a way that makes things easy to grab. I work 5 shifts in four days, and will bring everything I put together on the first day.

While cutting up vegetables, I’ll have five containers reserved for work. Into each of those, I’ll put a few servings of vegetables, a few cut up berries or some grapes, and a serving of meat, unless the meat will be in soup form. In that case, the soups are already packaged as individual servings.

If I will be having wraps, I’ll also store the wraps separately.

Much of the time, to make things easy, I’ll have the same foods for all five meals, switching out different fruits or snacks. Having packets of dark chocolate covered blueberries and cherries helps with this, as does having some energy balls on hand.

Easy meal combo’s utilizing raw vegetables include:

  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced strawberries, sugar snap peas in pods, broccoli, carrots, celery, and a small amount of nut butter
  • rice, seasoned ground beef, diced tomato, corn, grapes
  • turkey slices, roasted sweet potato, mashed squash, peas, cranberries
  • veggie wraps, shrimp scampi on the side (to be added to the wrap later), strawberry slices
  • sausage and pineapple soup, carrot sticks, celery with nut butter, cherries

Quick breakfast ideas

While a box of cereal is the ultimate in quickness during our busy mornings, those types of boxed, processed things are not exactly the healthiest of choices. I like to make my own cereal, and it takes less time than making pancakes. Here are a few of may favorites:

Another ideas is to make a batch of Paleo granola to use as cereal during busy mornings. Add half a cup to a bowl, top with fruit and organic, unsweetened coconut, and add nut milk.

Quick snack ideas

Parfaits are an easy snack, and can be refrigerated overnight. Make a couple up during prep day for a quick, easy snack later and the next day. A few options include:

Trail mixes are another great snack option, and can be made up in advance and used throughout the coming week or so. Stored little canning jars, they will be easy to grab.

Quick lunches and dinners

If you have the components from spend and afternoon preparing above, you probably already have the components for a few meals. Buy frozen seafood and make a soup offer other ideas. Here are some more that can be made ahead and warmed later, or made quickly the day you want them:

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With practice, meal prep days will go more quickly and you might choose to make more options on that day.

What do you do to keep it healthy during the busiest of times?

Shannon

 

 

 

Leftover Thanksgiving Mini Casserole Cups

(For when you do not have enough ingredients for a whole casserole) Children who can use an oven by themselves will find this easy. Younger children can put the casserole together for you to bake. To make this recipe even easier, you can prepare it when cleaning up after your Thanksgiving meal, and pop it in the oven the next day. You could also put it into the freezer to save.

Ingredients

leftover turkey

leftover vegetables

leftover mashed sweet potato

water

  • Put 1/2 tsp. ¬†water in each muffin pan cup that you will fill, and then fill each one you wont use 1/3 of the way with water.
  • Put a few bite-size pieces of turkey in bottom of each cup.
  • Add 1 tbsp.¬†leftover vegetables.
  • Cover the vegetables with mashed sweet potatoes.
  • Bake at 350* until warmed through.

Tips

  • Can be frozen. Flash freeze in muffin tins. Pop out and put into gallon size freezer bag. Get out as much air from the bag as you can.

Serving Suggestions

 

Thanksgiving Leftover Casserole

If you’re lucky you wont need to buy anything extra for this, making it a very frugal meal indeed. Children who can use an oven by themselves will find this easy. Younger children can put the casserole together for you to bake.

To make this recipe even easier, prepare it when cleaning up after the Thanksgiving meal, and pop it in the oven the next day. You could also put it in the freezer.

Ingredients

leftover turkey

leftover vegetables

leftover mashed potatoes (any kind)

water

  • Put 1/4 cup water in a baking dish.
  • Cover the bottom of the baking dish with bite size pieces of turkey.
  • Cover the turkey with leftover vegetables.
  • Cover the vegetables with mashed potatoes.
  • Bake at 350* until warmed through.

Tips

  • Squash could be used in place of the potato.
  • If there are varying tastes, or not enough potatoes to cover the casserole, top 1/3 with regular mashed potatoes, 1/3 with mashed sweet potato, and the last third with squash.

Serving Suggestions

Shannon

Slow Cooker Leftover Turkey and Gravy

This is an easy one to throw in the slow cooker the morning after Thanksgiving. It can be served over many things, depending on your diet goals. Try it on spaghetti squash, baked sweet potato, paleo biscuits, or brown rice.

Ingredients

leftover turkey in bite size pieces

1 or 2 cans of turkey gravy, depending on how much turkey is being used.

  1. Put turkey in the slow cooker crock, and cover with the gravy.
  2. Cover and cook on low for dinner, or high for lunch.

Tips

  • Buy gravy when on sale, preferably with a coupon for the best savings.

Serving Suggestions

Shannon

Apple Napkins

These napkins will add a decorative touch to any holiday table, as well as to every day settings, and will go with the Apple Placemats we made a last week. These can be made or decorated with minimal effort and time, and will add a certain charm to the decor. The napkins can be created with pre-made placemats, if desired, making it an even easier project.

Materials:

apple stencil

napkins, premade or homemade (Choose an off white color.)

parchment paper

fabric paints: red and/or green

2 paint brush

  1. Wash and dry the napkins. Iron if needed.
  2. Put paints on parchment paper squares.
  3. Use the stencil to paint the apple onto the napkins.
  4. Allow to dry thoroughly before using.

Tips:

  • It is okay to use more than 1 size apple stencil per napkin, to create a apple tree, basket of apples, or whatever you desire.
  • You could use different shades of the same color paints on the mats.
  • Get creative: Outline the napkins with another autumn color paint, create a grouping of mini apples placed to the side of a tree, etc.
  • Use these napkins for every day table settings, or for holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving.
  • These can also be used for Samhain.
  • Use cotton fabric.
  • This craft is easy for children to help with.

Share your apple crafts with us in the comments.

Happy crafting!

Shannon

Vegetable Jars

Vegetable jars are so easy to make. You’re simply filling small canning jars with raw vegetables, covering, and storing in the refrigerator until they are ready to use. The produce will last for most of the week this way. They can easily be grabbed as a component to a work or school lunch.

Some vegetable ideas for jars

  • Cucumber rounds
  • Celery sticks, broccoli, and carrot sticks
  • Cucumber, zucchini, and yellow squash
  • Carrots, broccoli, pod beans
  • Pod peas, carrots, and cucumber
  • Pod peas, pod beans, and yellow squash
  • Cherry tomatoes, snow pod peas, and carrots
  • Grape tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber

As you can see, there are plenty of combinations to choose from.

What other vegetable combinations can you come up with? Let us know in the comments.

You may also be interested in

Fruit jars

Shannon

 

Planning for Christmas Leftovers

Lemon Poppy Seed Quick Bread Ingredients
Image by savorytart via Flickr

I am a firm believer in planning for leftovers when making holiday meals. I simply cook extra of everything, to be used over the few days after the holiday. By using this tactic, I am able to free up time for putting away holiday items and, well, relaxing. Anything that won’t be used within that few day period, is promptly frozen for later use.

What you plan for leftovers will depend on what you want to make for the big day. These ideas will help you to plan to have quick, easy foods to prepare. The supply should last two to three days. Your first step is in determining how much each person will realistically be able to eat on Christmas, then you will have to figure out what you will need thereafter. Usually, people will consume more on Christmas day than they will each day after.

Breakfast Ideas:

  • Fruit pie slices with coffee, tea or milk.
  • Bread slices (Homemade quick breads, etc.) with juice or tea.
  • French toast using the quick breads, a piece of fruit and a glass of milk.

Lunch Ideas:

  • Homemade white or wheat bread sandwiches with leftover meat as their base, with iced tea or milk.
  • Fruit salad, quick bread and flavored butter, and milk or tea.
  • Tortilla topped with shredded cheese and leftover meat and vegetables, and a glass of milk or iced tea.

Dinner Ideas:

  • Stew made from leftover fruits and vegetables, with a glass of milk.
  • A casserole with the leftover vegetables and meat. Top with leftover mashed potato and a little shredded cheese. Serve with leftover bread and flavored butter, as well as a glass of iced tea.
  • Create a one pan meal using meat and vegetable leftovers. Serve with a side salad and a glass of milk.

If you have any ideas for Christmas leftovers, post the recipes and tips in the comments.

Enjoy the holidays!

Shannon

Candy Corn Trail Mix

Children can make these easily. They make great lunch-box add-ins, good trick-or-treat gift to hand out to the children you know, or even great place markers for guests at a Thanksgiving table.

Candy Corn Trail Mix

1/2 cup candy corn

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup nuts, any kind

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

  1. 1 mix everything together in a large bowl.

Shannon

Note: I know the candy corn is not healthy, but I don’t think it is necessarily bad to treat yourself once-in-a-while. You just don’t want to make a habit of it.