I can safely say we have all been there. 6 pm on a cold January Tuesday. Fridge is empty, freezer has some lurking peas in it, there is not even an egg in the house. Meanwhile a few hungry helf sized people are keep saying:
Mummmmmmmy, what's for tea?
Hmm. The answer is, to rush out to the shops buy a packet or box of "gas mark food", try to present it on a way it looks like on the packaging.
The kids won't eat it anyway. You are feeling guilty and promise you will never end up in this situation again. Yet another week or two goes and you are staring at the empty fridge again.
I know I know it is not really the biggest problem in the whole entire world, but still, I seen grownup responsible parents crumble under the pressure in a similar situation.
There are countless of recipe blogs and websites with "prep ahead" recipes out there. You might have some saved on your smartphone. Do you ever get around to make them? Maybe. But let be brutally honest about this. You will only make something happen if one or more of the following requirements is given:
- you know the list of foods which your kids always eat,
- grocery shopping is done following a list and not a "mummy-bear hunger" delusional fairy tale,
- trying out new foods probably best to left for the less hectic moments in life
- meal preparing is not a chore, but rather an activity done with appreciation.
We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. The point of this article is to show You it is really easy. Just follow a few rules and you will be OK.
The most important thin is to remember, there is no need for long grocery shopping lists or days of preparation and planning! follow rule 1 at the very least and you will be OK!
Are you ready? Let's do it!
1. Plan for tomorrow
Yes really. Just for that one day!
OK, you do need some more time to prepare this, but once you have started following our advice, you will see how easy it is to implement into any lifestyle.
2. What do you need on the plate?
It's normally 3 things: protein, carbohydrates, vegetables/fruit.
Don't just think of a classic potatoes, meat and peas served with a gravy scenario. Every meal is consist of these things. Just think about the following list:
Good old "Spag Bol"
Veggie: tomatoes, onions, etc.
Protein: pepperoni, chicken, beef, duck etc
Carbohydrate: pizza base
Veggie: tomato sauce, peppers, pineapple etc.
Chilli Con Carne
Protein: mince and beans
Carbohydrate: rice or chips
Veggie: onions, peppers etc.
You see it is really as easy as 1,2,3: protein, carb, greens.
3. Grocery shopping: basics
The following list presents the items you always need at home. When you are going to grocery shopping, just check if you are running out of any of these and buy some more if necessary!
- Can of beans
- Can of beans in tomato sauce
- Cold cuts
- Dried cured sausage like Hungarian Gyulai or Spanish chorizzo ( well this one is a optional, but it's really insane how beautiful an omlet taste whith just a few slices added!)
- Different shapes of pasta
- Frozen chips or wedges
- Tomato passata or chopped tomatoes
- Onions, garlic
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen fruit pieces
- Few spices and herbs (even on the windowsill)
4. Use your freezer! Shop bought goods
The freezer is full with pizza, fish fingers and ice cream? Think again on this one. Use your freezer for your advantage! Do you like toast in the morning? Freeze you sliced bread and take only out as many slice as you need. Cooked too much of that ragu? Freeze it in portions! Never have time to prepare fresh vegetables? Buy them frozen. They are great for cooking! This appliance of yours is your best friend on busy cold nights!
We have the following items in our freezer, and it is always full!! Don't be afraid of it. Or overly posh about it. Unless every meal you want to make should be to Michelin Star standard you CAN use frozen food! Besides unprepared frozen foods have less added ingredients for preservation than the alternatives in a can or bottle.
- Uncooked meat
- Cold cuts
- Frozen chips or wedges
- Sweetcorn (kernels and cobs)
- Bread slices
- Pizza base
- Cauliflower and broccoli
- Berries, cherries, smoothie pieces
- Anything you like!
5. Use your freezer! Leftovers
By this I really mean meals which you cook in double the needed quantity and freeze.
We use this method a lot. Any time we actually cook something we are filling up our freezer with a few portions of pasta sauce, ragu, soup, anything that is suitable for freezing! The following list contains the list you should NOT freeze:
- NEVER double freeze anything. You can't freeze a piece of meat, defrost it and freeze it again!
- Cheese (it would be OK, if you know for sure it has not been frozen previously. Unfortunately cheeses from the supermarket is too often frozen. Which we actually don't know or expect. If in doubt, don't freeze it!)
- Milk, diary, cream, sour cream or foods containing these items.
- High water content fruit and vegetables, unless it is in a meal already (courgettes) or intended to use it as ice cubes into drinks (lemons, cucumber slices)
6. Use your freezer! Meal bases
Yes you guessed it I am in love with the freezer. Sad I know.
Anyways, the question is how to prepare precooked food items which are not leftovers but intended to make a meal out of it in minutes?
Follow this list to make up you own trusted recipes and make only the meals you will actually use up!
- Sauces for pasta: Any sauce. Just stop cooking it before you would put in any diary product or liquid.
- Hotpots: ( I mean cold pots ). Prepare this meal in a dish you can freeze and put in a hot oven as well. Make up the ragu part of the meal before you put the topping on! Wait until it's cold and freeze with a cling film on the top. When you are ready to cook it, defrost it thoughtfully, prepare the topping ( you can cheat here too, just buy ready made mash) and bake it in the oven. It practically takes the same time than a pre-packed meal, but all your cooking goodness is included!
- Soup bases: Same goes on this one. Make the soup up, just the base, before you pour any liquid into it and freeze. Uppon thawing it you can bring to the boil and add the required ingredients to make it a lash hot meal.
- Chicken/pork/beef strips: these are for sir fries, pizza toppings, sandwich fillers. Cut you meat up into strips, precook them in a frying pan with added oil and any spices or herbs. You really need just to sear the outside of it unless you are not planning to cook the further (for example sandwiches). Wait until cold, arrange them on a plate or tray and freeze. Once they are hard, put them into a freezer bag, so the pieces are separate and you can take only the required amount.
- Curries and ragus: It is the same method as with the Sauces.
7. Don't forget the fresh foods! Plan only for tomorrow...
Probably you are going to the shops once a week or a fortnight, maybe you have a home delivery slot since you remember, or just like to buy small quantities here and there. It is all OK. We are not the same therefore we all do things how it is the best for us. There is no need to change your behavior. Just to smart it up a bit! Obviously we all have our staple dishes, items, fruit and choice of shops. The one thing everyone should do at least is the planning a meal ahead for tomorrow. If you know, what will you eat the very next day, it is much easier to have those ingredients in after the school run in lunch hour at the office or eve when the kids asleep if you must. The main scenario is in our house is the following:
Step 1. What do we fancy? => Plan A
Step 2. What is in the house? => Change to Plan A1
Step 3. How much time will I have tomorrow? => Change to Plan A2
Step 4. What do I need to get to make this meal? => Consider and change to Plan A3 OR REPEAT Step 1.
Step 5. Prepare Plan A, Plan A1, Plan A2, Plan A3 or plan B