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It’d be a safe bet to state that the most common argument in every house begins around 6:00pm each night and involves food. The dreaded; “what’s for dinner?” or “what do you want to eat?” question is what starts it all!  Panic, frustration, and endless bickering inevitably ensue… the agony of such decisions! So I’m sharing a few tips that have made dinner time in our house much more peaceful and healthy! Food prep! Food prep, is the key to it all!

I’m a planner. I like things to be organized, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy food prep, or at least the result of it. Now, I get it, most people do not like it for numerous reasons… it’s takes too much time, they get tired of eating the same thing all week, they don’t know what to make or where to start. Good news! That’s what we’re going over today. So let’s get started!

Meal Planning Overview

This may be counter to what you have read elsewhere, but I don’t like to meal plan too much. Meaning, I like to prepare components of a meals that are versatile. I simply prep proteins, veggies, fruits, and starches. Sometimes, I’ll know exactly what I want and make a composed dish, like pasta or soup. Though, most of the time, I just plan out single components of a meal.

Proteins:

Chicken

My number one recommendation here is chicken. It is so versatile. You can roast a whole chicken and make 4-6 meals out of it. Not to mention, whole chickens are also one of the most economical protein choices. It’s also extremely hands off, once it’s in the oven you don’t have to worry about it until it’s done. Another alternative that I love, buy a rotisserie chicken. Don’t over complicate things, there’s no shame in pre-prepped foods.

Chicken breasts are the go to for most people and they are the healthiest option and easiest to prepare. Grilling, roasting and boiling are my recommendations there. Boiling chicken breast to shred for sandwiches, chicken salad, or tacos is one of my top food prep secrets! At the end of the day though, chicken thighs are where it’s at! Grilled, roasted, air fried, you name it, they are packed with flavor.

Ground meats

My other recommendation for those just getting in to meal prep is utilizing ground meats in creative ways. Ground turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, bison, and beef are all relatively easy to find in most grocery stores. You can make quick and simple meat balls or brown off the ground meat with base seasoning of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then when you reheat it you can add other seasoning to change the flavor profile.

I tend to lean towards an “Italian sausage” spice mix (salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seed, and crushed red pepper flakes) or a “Taco” spice mix (cumin, chili powder, paprika, cayenne, salt, pepper, and garlic) – I will typically season a pound of meat in one of those two ways and then add it to pasta, salads, or make tacos (taco salad) and so on.

Veggies: Summer provides us with endless vegetable options. I tend to lean towards asparagus, broccolini, kale, and lettuces. For the asparagus and broccolini I recommend grilling, roasting, or simply blanching it. Lettuces are super easy to make a quick salad with anything you can find, veggies, fruit, proteins, etc… Another thing I like to do, wash and cut vegetables for snacking (cucumbers, tomatoes, celery) and to cook later in the week. It cuts the cooking time in half.

Fruits: I wash all my fruits (and the containers they came in) as soon as I get home. Once washed I put them back in the containers so they are easily ready for snacking.

Starches: Quinoa, lentils, and rice are quick and easy to make in a rice cooker, InstantPot, or stovetop. These are similar to the ground meats, you can go plain and season at meal time or season the whole batch during the initial cooking process.

Putting It All Together

By prepping just components of a meal it allows you to mix and match. You could have one thing for dinner while other members of your house have something else with not extra effort. So, no more arguments about what’s for dinner!

I will share that my favorite weekend meals tend to be “hashes”. I cut up my prepped veggies and a protein and sauté them with ghee or evoo and sometimes through an egg in to bulk it up and serve it over lettuces or rice – sometimes just by itself. I’ll cut up the veggies and protein on the plate I plan to eat on so I only have that and one pan to wash making dinner time super quick!

Food Safety 101

It would be amiss if I didn’t touch a bit on food safety. Here are some basics:

  • Cooking meats
    • Poultry and game birds: (whole and ground) 165
    • Whole muscle meats (roasts, chops, steaks): minimum of 145
    • All other Ground meats: 160
  • Cooling
    • Always allow all foods to cool completely before enclosing in a container
    • Give your food more surface area to cool evenly and quickly. For example, place grilled chicken breasts flat on a plate and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator before transferring to a storage container
  • Store
    • Prepped food should be consumed with 7 days
    • If you freeze prepped food be sure to note how many days of freshness are left. For example, let’s say you prep food on Sunday (day 1) and decide to freeze it on Thursday (day 5), you’ll have 2 days left of freshness once you thaw it out again.

Read here for more detailed food handing guidelines.

 

Uh Oh You Made Too Much!

As a general rule prepped food is safe to eat for one week. So I never prep for more than 5-6 days worth of meals unless I intend to freeze it right away.

When I first started food prepping for more than just myself I created a list of prepped foods and hung it on the door of the refrigerator so we knew what was available. After we used something we crossed it off. This helped with making sure things didn’t get lost in the darkness of the refrigerator.

 

Don’t feel overwhelmed with the need to prepare every meal for an entire week. Allow yourself some flexibility in your planning. Those last minute dinner invites are important for your social wellbeing. Cooking dinner with your family can be a great way to bond; plan for a make your own pizza night. Keep it easy and keep it fun!