When you get home at the end of a long day, you’re probably hungry. And tired. And, well, you probably just want to crash on the couch with any food you can find. (Bonus if it’s pizza, am I right?) But we all know that it’s often healthier and more cost-effective to cook meals at home. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. Still, over the last four months, I’ve learned a couple of tricks to make it happen. Everyone does it a little differently, but here’s my approach.
Before you go to the grocery store, look at the next week in your life. Are you home early on Tuesday, but working late three other nights? Do you have a couple of hours totally free on Saturday? Take those things into account! If you have a good block of free time, plan to use that to do some meal prep for the busier times in your week (see the next two tips). If you know you won’t get home until late on a particular night, plan to make it a night for leftovers or food you prep during your free time. You might even want to pack a meal for yourself (or a loved one) sometime.
Make a plan
Once you know what the week looks like, you have some extra flexibility. There might be some days when you have extra time and can start cooking a meal from the beginning. Awesome! But there might also be some days when you’ll be busy and want something (delicious) you can just reheat or throw together. For those days, pick a few things you want to make and eat that you can make ahead of time. These include both “building blocks” for quick meals and more involved meals.
Some examples of building blocks might be:
- Roasted vegetables
- Roasted potatoes
- Batches of plain grains (rice, barley, etc.)
- Simply-seasoned proteins (chicken, beef, tofu, etc.)
- Hard-boiled eggs
Some meal ideas:
- Frittatas or quiches
- Chilis or soups
- Baked oatmeal
- Lasagna or other baked pasta
Make a grocery list based on the things you want to make and the things you already have. Don’t forget about any snack-y things you might want. Aside from my “meal prep” list, I always get apples, bananas, another fruit or two, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and snacking veggies. And aside from that I always have nuts, nut butters, cereal, bread, and oatmeal on hand. Obviously, get what you (and your family) will eat. ?
Now head to the store!
At the store
This is totally based on personal preference, but I’m going to throw in my two cents. Sometimes, convenience is worth a bit of a price difference. (Also, everything at my grocery store here is fairly overpriced and there’s honestly a very small price difference between the “convenient” versions and the ones that aren’t quite so nice. I’ve done the math.) If I’m already pressed for cooking time and I want vegetables on hand to steam, I’m probably just going to go for the microwave steam bag, especially since I don’t have a steamer. They make great pre-cut roasting veggies, too! If I want individual servings of fish, I often get a bag of fresh-frozen vacuum-sealed salmon fillets so I can buy a bunch at once and not worry about wrapping and freezing them myself. It’s just something to think about.
You knew this was coming, but I had to say it. The only way you’ll have that homemade food that’s ready to eat right when you want it is to make it ahead of time. So, do some meal prep. Find (or make) a chunk of time when you can put on some music or a good podcast and prep away! For me, right now, that’s what Saturday morning/early afternoon right when I come home from the grocery store look like. It’s actually really relaxing.
Put what you prep in air-tight containers. Depending on what items you have, individually portioning them might be convenient, but that’s a matter of personal preference. Either way, refrigerate and reheat throughout your busy week. Congrats – you just meal-prepped!
A final note…
If you still end up eating out or eating cereal for dinner, that is totally okay. Cooking at home is awesome. We’ve established that. But sometimes, you really don’t have time, you really need food, or you just really want to order pizza. Those are all totally valid excuses, and these are just some tips to make that whole home-cooking thing work a little better with your busy life – if you want it to.
Do you meal prep?
What’s your go-to meal?