Do you know what you are having for dinner tonight? Having a plan helps you avoid the "hangries!" When we wait until we are hungry we are more likely to just try to stop the hungry feeling, than prepare a nutritious meal.
Through a recent Ditch the Stress Invitation, on our Mentoring Our Own Facebook group, I talked about ways to de-stress dinner prep and increase the regularity of dinner time through creating a menu plan and through early dinner prep. A homeschool mom asked "Do you have a good source for dinner prep ideas?" What follows is my answer.
How to Overcome the 5 PM "What's for Dinner Fog...
Begin with the end in mind, have a Plan A and Plan B
Create a Plan A and a Plan B menu for a week and use it as a road map for meal prep. "Plan B" stands for "Back-up Plan." What is the destination? A balanced, nutritional, enjoyable dinner on time! We are also more likely to save money if we plan ahead and have a Plan B." We are then less in clined to run for a fast food solution. A "Plan B" menu includes a few things that are frozen or on the shelf and quick to prepare, if an emergency did not leave enough time for cooking your planned dinner for that evening. Next, include early dinner prep in your plan. Make the salad for dinner either the night before, as an evening routine or make your salad and salad fixings as part of your morning routine. Then you pull foods from the freezer to rest in the fridge or off the shelf early in the day and bring to the kitchen. If you do this, there are no last minute surprises due to a missing ingredients! If you discover during prep time that an ingredient is missing, you have a few options:
1. You can plan a different dish using the main ingredients and other ingredients you have.
2. You can look at your day and see if you will be out and about, then you could plan to pick up what you need and one for the shelf to prevent the same issue in the future.
3. You can switch the day's menu for another day's menu, where you have all the ingredients.
4. You could select something off of an emergency "Plan B" menu.
Dinner prep makes it so I know half of dinner was prepared in the morning (or the night before) and this dramatically increases the probability of delicious, balanced, nutritious, dinner on time.
Fifteen Dinner Prep Hacks I Use:
1. I buy a six pack of Organic Romaine at Costco, I slice it length wise, do a quarter turn, slice again, then one more time. Then holding the stumped end I start cutting across the short way about every inch. I rinse and spin well. Then I put it in a wide mouth quart jar. I can tightly pack two heads into one jar. It keeps for days and comes out crunchy.
2. I chop up veggies for salad topping and put them in wide mouth 1/2 pints. I can remove the lids and pace them around the salad bowl. Left overs do great in omelets or lunch salads.
3. I use a bread knife to cut thick chicken breasts into three portions or chicken steaks. They are much more even for grilling. I lay the chicken breast on the board. I place my left palm on top to hold it in place. I then carefully and evenly slice between my palm and the counter. A pack of 10 chicken breasts will yield 30 portions.
4. Another way to cut up large chicken breasts is to lay the breast on the cutting board and cut the breast in half from top to bottom. Then do as above and cut each half horizontally to make thinner breast pieces. Cutting them this way makes for perfect sandwich sized sections of chicken.
5. I place sliced chicken breasts on a parchment lined cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, I slide the frozen chicken breast into a large Zip-lock bag.
6. When my husband is grilling, I will cut some chicken breasts and have my husband grill them. Then I will slice into strips and freeze. Why pay a fortune to buy it that way???
7. Wide mouth 1/2 pints are perfect to freeze leftovers in. To cook, loosen lid almost all the way, place in cold oven on a cookie sheet (placing frozen glass in an already hot oven can break the glass! If you are concerned about breakage, thaw in the fridge first.
8. I have baked pies, sweet quick breads, and cakes in wide mouth 1/2 pint and pint freezer jars. Then I can have their favorite dessert to pull out for an effortless dessert. I have even baked red velvet in a jar, cooled frosted, lidded and froze. These usually thaw while we eat dinner. They stack nicely in the freezer. These are freezer stable, not shelf stable.
DO NOT STORE IN THE PANTRY. THESE MUST BE FROZEN
9. Ground beef can be cooked, drained well, placed on parchment and frozen. Then the parchment can be pulled up and used as a sieve and the ground beef can slide into a jar for the freezer. Boil your sauce, open a bottle of precooked ground beef (called ground beef gravel) and dump it into the hot spaghetti sauce and it is ready before the noodles!
10. I buy meat on deep discount sales, repackage in meal size portions and freeze.
11. I freeze berries and bananas when they are cheap. Frozen Berries are great for breakfast smoothies.
12. I freeze bananas. Freezing them at their prime, they can be used in smoothies, eaten on a stick like a popcicle, or blended first then frozed into a totally unprocessed delicious ice cream. Over ripe bananas can be used for breads, muffins, and cakes.
13. I de-bone roast chicken, pork, beef, turkey and freeze for another day. Then we can do stir fry, pot pie, pulled pork, Chicken Divan, Chicken and Noodles, etc.
14. I steam rather than boil eggs. They are easier to peel, look nicer, and you cannot see or taste the difference. I live at over 4700 ft. above sea level. Bring water to a boil and place the steamer with eggs over the water with a lid on top and steam 15 1/2 minutes. (Sea Level Steaming takes less time), Then I take the eggs out of the steam and chill in ice water.
15. The most important kitchen hack is a family council, where we find out one to three foods to each family member would like on the menu. Try to include in these in the menu making process. Planning does not need to all come from you. These simple things helped me tame my dinner time conundrum.
Perhaps these dinner prep ideas will help you too!
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