04 September 2013

5 Essential Skills to Streamline Meal Preparation

Dear Lissy,

When I set out to write you this letter, I tried to write the whole system I use to manage the pantry, shopping, and meal prep.  Yikes!  It was a book, and very overwhelming.  I analyzed it for a couple of days, and found the five essentials that make this system work for me.  Moms make meals look effortless, but the minute we're out on our own, it's panic time.  Dial the stress down a notch by mastering these 5 essential skills.

1.  Keep a well-stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer.

Everyone's pantry looks different:  there is no one formula.  Start stocking up on items you use daily or even weekly by buying two when they're on sale.  If you run out of an item frequently or have it on the list every week, it's probably a good item to keep two stocked 24/7.  Food prices often inflate more quickly than the rest of the economy, making food a great short term investment.  I don't have to plan breakfasts or lunches because I keep the pantry well-stocked with items for both meals.

2.  Create a master list of family-tested recipes.

In a notebook or a computer document list the names of all the recipes you make grouped by main ingredient:  Beef, Poultry, Pork, Seafood, Meatless, Breakfast.  You don't need dozens of categories -- keep it simple.  Put a sticky note on the page if you want to remember to try a new recipe.  Keep the list up to date as you add new meals your family likes.  The beauty of having all of your own tested recipes listed on 1 or 2 pages is that you can quickly scan the page for ideas.  Stacks of cards, books, magazines, or recipe notebooks get cumbersome, and you'll fall into making the same things over and over. 

Beef (a mini-sample from my "beef" page)
Beef Stroganoff
Beef Pot Pie
Beef Stew
Ziti Bake
French Dip Sandwiches
Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches or Pizza
Recipes to try:
Mongolian Beef (piebirds.org)

This list will be even more useful if you include the location of the recipe and a simple list of main ingredients.  Again, that's a bonus.  All you need is the recipe name.

Beef Stroganoff:  (International Cookbook, p. 128)  1.5# Sirloin, mushrooms, 2 onions, sour cream, egg noodles

During a quiet season of life, this page will easily transition to the index page of a recipe binder.  Until that time, simply having the mental reminder that the recipe exists will be sufficient.
Credit where credit is due:  This idea is the brainchild of Deniece Schofield and was originally shared in Confessions of an Organized Homemaker. 

3.  Create a dinner menu for the week noting just main dishes.


Tutorial for this loverly board here
Our menu goes on the whiteboard after I've written in church, club meetings, and appointments.  I'll give a quick check of the weather, and then look through my lists and choose main dishes for each day.

I keep my pantry, fridge, and freezer stocked with ingredients for side dishes and desserts.  If you want to learn how to fix side dishes without recipes, see Pamela Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes and Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart which teaches how to set up and use a pantry to make cooking dinner fast and fun.



4.  Find or Create a master shopping list.

Either search "master shopping list template" to find a list that's already been made or type one up yourself.

  • Highlight the items you need to re-stock your pantry, fridge, and freezer. 
  • Don't forget about breakfast and lunch items you keep on hand.  
  • Go through your main dishes for the week and highlight the items needed for each recipe. This is where taking a few minutes to list ingredients for each main dish pays off.
  • Highlight any household items needed for the week.
  • Shop confidently and quickly.

5.  Prep and cook in found minutes.

Don't save all the supper preparation and cooking for the hour when you're tired and hungry!  I usually spend odd minutes throughout the day to begin supper prep.  I may make a salad while I talk with Aunt Debi on the phone, or mix up pizza dough while you work on a Math review.  I clean up each mini-prep as I go.  By the time dinner rolls around, most of the work and clean-up is done.
If you're working or have very small children, it's also possible to prep many foods right after grocery shopping.  Cook double meals and freeze one, or make a series of planovers, multiple meals based on a single preparation like a baked whole chicken.  Crockpots are another great choice for prepping ahead.

Putting dinner on the table every night is work, plain and simple.  If you're struggling, analyze which part of the process gives you the most trouble:  planning the pantry and menus?  shopping?  preparation?  Focus on that one area until it's mastered.  As you gain mastery and experience, the process becomes much more enjoyable.  I'll probably never love grocery shopping, but armed with a list in store aisle order, I can at least get in and out quickly without forgetting anything.

You may notice I've omitted a lot of things you grew up seeing in my kitchen.  My price book, recipe binders, menu files for holidays and entertaining, and seasonal ingredient recipe books didn't make the cut along with many others.  I tried to boil this process down to just the essentials so that you'd have a reminder if you were overwhelmed by the process when you are first out on your own.

You are essential, my Sweetie-Pie,

Linked up at Homestead Barn Hop #126 
and Raising Homemakers #139

1 comment:

  1. This is some great advice. I hadn't thought about cooking in found minutes.

    So thankful to be in the service of my King and my family

    Harvest Lane Cottage