I am a huge proponent of meal planning. I used to think it wasn’t really something that applied to smaller families and we used to be a fly by the seat of our pants kind of family when it came to the ultimate question of, “What’s for dinner?” Then, I gave meal planning a try and I couldn’t believe how much stress was released and how much easier it was to budget for groceries and shop for them. I really started seeing where our grocery budget ‘leaks’ were, too.
Then came the idea of batch cooking. Being a chef in my former career, I knew the value of cooking large quantities for serving later but never thought to apply it to my home cooking life. If you are a meal planner like me and looking to save even more time, here are some tips on how to save time in the kitchen with meal planning and batch cooking.
How to Save Time in the Kitchen When Meal Planning
Batch cook ahead of time. I started batch cooking when I read Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch by Alea Milham, Writer of the blog, Premeditated Leftovers. If you are new to batch cooking, the basic concept is you cook large, unseasoned portions of meal components like ground beef or rice and separate them into usable portions so all you have to do is assemble and season as the week goes on. This book makes it so simple to do as she has it broken down into categories of types of meat and many vegetarian options as well with the chapters on vegetables, beans and rice. Since I started prepping meals ahead of time, it makes things unbelievably simple.
Keep a master list of recipes that your family loves so all you have to do is rotate them out. I have an old school notebook that I keep a running list of recipes that my family loves. Every month, I find new recipes to try out and see if they can be added to the list. Then, all I do is just move them around. My list has about 45 or 50 recipes on it, so we never eat the same thing in one month.
Cook what you already have at home. Before I go to the store for my weekly grocery shop, I check at home to see what we have on hand and what can be batch cooked for the next week’s menu and then build my weekly meal plan from that. This keeps food waste down and it cuts my time in the grocery store, too.
Make sure the meals you plan fit your lifestyle. I like to keep things super simple here for the most part. That’s another reason I love Prep Ahead Meals from Scratch. There are so many simple meal ideas and recipes in there that I never run out of ideas or find myself in too much of a food rut. I find that if I try to get too complicated, I end up ordering pizza because it seems that the night I planned something more elaborate is the same night I am not feeling well.
Choose a theme for each night of the week during the month. Alea’s book makes it super simple to choose a theme for each night of the week. Since her book is broken down in chapters for each protein, I can easily say Monday is chicken night, Tuesday is a vegetarian night and so on. Then it’s as simple as plugging recipes in that fit that theme. Plus, it’s easy to know what to batch cook for the week and leaves me a little wiggle room to plug any recipe in that loosely fits the theme.
I decided when I was looking through Prep Ahead Meals from Scratch that I was going to make the Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole and although I was able to get some great shots of the food while I was making it, it was gone in a flash so I was unable to get a finished picture. That should tell you something about how good it was!
If you want a simple meal to make from scratch this week to add to your rotation, check out these simple Honey Mustard Chicken Wraps. The best part is, if you have gluten sensitives, this recipe (as is all of her recipes in the book Prep Ahead Meals from Scratch) is easily adaptable.
Honey Mustard Chicken Salad Wraps
By Alea Milham, Used with Permission from her book, Prep Ahead Meals from Scratch
BEST BATCH COOKING METHOD: Any
PREP-AHEAD TIP: I make this chicken salad 1 – 2 days ahead of time, so all I have to do is add the chicken salad to the wrap and fold it closed. No cooking or reheating required.
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 cup diced apple
1/4 cup red onion, diced
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 celery stalk thinly sliced
Honey Mustard Dressing Ingredients:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons mustard*
3 tablespoons honey
8 medium tortillas or wraps*
1. To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, and honey in a small bowl.
2. Add the chicken, apple, onion, almonds, and celery to a medium bowl.
3. Pour the dressing over the chicken salad. Stir to thoroughly coat.
4. If you have time, place the chicken salad in the refrigerator for 2 hours to let it chill.
5. Heat the tortillas in the microwave if necessary to make them more pliable.
6. Place ½ cup of chicken salad in the center of each wrap. Fold the bottom up to cover the chicken
salad. Fold one side of the wrap over the chicken salad, then roll to close up the wrap.
*Use gluten-free mustard and tortillas to make this recipe gluten-free.