… Making Busy Weekdays, and Nights, Less Hectic!
With back-to-school schedules now in full swing – you know, the sports, music lessons, homework, etc – making sure there’s a healthy, gluten-free and dairy-free meal in the lunch bag or on the dinner table can be challenging. Don’t you wish sometimes that you could just wiggle your nose like Samantha, or cross your arms, nod your head, and blink like Jeannie, and everything would be prepared, on the table, celiac- or allergen-friendly, and delicious? I know I do! But those gals got stuck in the 20th century, and they definitely weren’t sporting the gluten-free meals deal, right?
While I can’t promise you that these tips will magically make the world right, I can assure you that they can reduce the food planning and prep process in your busy kitchen. And what I love about these tips, too, is that they’re applicable to anyone, not just to those who create gluten-free, dairy-free recipes or meals. So be sure to share with your gluten-loving, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, friends – and any busy mom or dad you know.
Now I’m sure you realize making meals on the weekend (so they’re ready to go at weeknight dinnertime) is definitely a timesaver, but I’m not suggesting delving that far into the planning-ahead mode – unless you want to, of course. If you’re already there, then you’ll probably find you already practice many of these suggestions. But, if you don’t want to make your entire week’s meals ahead of time, these simple steps can make your hectic weeknight, and morning, routines, well, less hectic. I’m sharing tips on how to make dinner prep, and morning lunch box packing, easier, faster, and much more smooth, especially during those “crunch” times when everyone is hungry, tired, and needing to get quickly on to the next responsibility, i.e. school, homework, laundry, planning outfits or lunches, bathes, etc. So let’s save time here, too, and get right to the tips …
- Make nutritious smoothies or shakes ahead of time for lunchtime or after school snacks. Simply blend, divide into portions, and freeze in freezer-safe, resealable plastic bags. If you lay the bags flat, many portions can be stacked on top of one another. Then transfer the frozen smoothie to the fridge the night before you want to use it. In the morning, simply give it a good shaking to mix well. Transfer to a thermos to keep cold for lunch (shake again before drinking), or pour into a go-cup for your morning commute. Perfect way to enjoy coffee-flavored shakes too!
- Premix all dry ingredients for your favorite gluten-free, dairy-free pancake, muffin, brownie or cookie recipe, then store in a labeled, resealable plastic bag. Label the bag with peel and stick mailing labels and write what wet ingredients need to be added. Include the baking time and oven temp. Then it’s easy to whip these up in the morning, after school, or evening. Just add liquids/eggs and bake. I like how this process reduces the mixing mess and clean up, too, when you’re in a hurry, tired, or have already done the dishes.
- Make Sandwich Pockets ahead and freeze. They thaw by lunchtime.
- If you do choose to make complete meals ahead and freeze them, place them in the refrigerator the night before your anticipated meal night. This way no defrosting time is required during dinner prep. Just heat and serve. Works perfectly for frozen leftovers too.
- Wash and pre-chop salad ingredients and store in glass jars or resealable plastic bags for easy, kid-friendly salad-fixing help at dinnertime. If you place a damp paper towel in the container with the veggies, they’ll stay moist and crisp without spoiling. Veggies such as carrots, celery, radishes, beets, etc. should stay fresh about a week. Lettuce, spinach leaves, and more tender veggies (rinsed by not cut) should be fine for 4-5 days. (I know some will say that chopping veggies ahead of time causes more vitamins and nutrients to be lost, but my philosophy is this … it’s better to get the veggies into the meals, even with a slightly lesser nutritional value, than to miss out on them altogether due to lack of time.)
- When you’re cutting your veggies for the week, or baking a batch of cookies or muffins, wrap in individual portions for quick lunch packing on school and work days. Muffins and cookies can then be frozen to last longer. This makes it easy for kids to help put their lunches together, or grab an after-school snack, with portion control (No, I’m not “food policing”, I just know it works for me so I don’t exceed my sugar/sweets intake.)
- Make brown rice, white rice, sushi rice, quinoa, and/or millet, even gluten-free pasta, all at the same time (different pots of course), then cool and store in airtight containers in fridge for quick meal prep or lunchbox additions. Cold, these are delicious in salads, or served reheated they quickly add nutrition, protein and healthy energy carbs to soups, stews, stir fries, and rice-based one dish wonders.
- When bringing home meat from a grocery shopping trip, before putting it into the fridge, prep it for anticipated meals (wash and trim chicken and pork, form burger patties), divide “family-size” meat packages into quantities needed for individual recipes, then label accordingly. This way portions are ready to go in a snap, or can be easily frozen, then defrosted into ready-to-use meat.
- When storing dinner leftovers, automatically divide and package what will be needed for the next day’s school or work lunches.
- Hard boil eggs, then cool (leaving shell on) and store back in the egg carton in the fridge until needed. I mark the cooked eggs with a star, using a permanent marker. These will save for a week and can quickly boost the nutritional value of salads, or are ready for a low calorie, protein-packed after-school snack. Makes whipping up an egg salad sandwich for lunchtime super fast.
There are a multitude of tips to keep us organized and help our homes and kitchens run more smoothly. These are just ten time saving meal-planning and food prep tips to make your busy life a little less hectic. A basic step-saving tip I like to remember: The fewer times I have to deal with or touch something, the less steps I’ve used in prep, cooking, clean up, storage, and lunch-packing. Reducing extra steps increases efficiency, reduces stress from the rush, and allows for more time to be spent on other important things in my life. Nutritious meals are important – I just don’t think they should command too much of my time. Don’t you agree?
Safe food is a journey … Thrive!™