Now that you’ve got your meal plan all figured out, it’s time to start prepping. Prepping includes preparing ingredients and meals ahead of time and consuming them when needed.
This single step will make your life so much easier. Think about any TV cooking show. What do they all have in common? No on the spot measuring, slicing, dicing, etc. They all have those little glass bowls with all the ingredients pre-measured, pre-chopped, ready to go. It seems extremely frivolous, doesn’t it? I thought so too, until we did it. It makes a WORLD of difference. How many times have you been halfway through a recipe, and OH NO, the next ingredient needs to go in the pan in 5 minutes, and it’s diced carrot. You haven’t washed the carrots, nor begun chopping them. Now it’s a mad dash to get that done, all while keeping an eye on the stove to make sure it doesn’t burn or get too cooked in the mean time. Yeah. I know. I’ve been there too. You get all mad at yourself for not being prepared, yet next time you go to cook, you do the same thing. I promise you, once you try having everything prepped and ready to go, you’ll wonder how you ever let yourself get so upset while cooking. You don’t need fancy glass bowls. Just grab some of your Tupperware and use that. Thank me later.
Next, prep all of the ingredients you can. Do the carrots and celery get added at the same time? Great, take the guesswork out of it and put them in the same bowl. Pre-measure all your spices. Need something for garnish later? Prep it now. Prep, prep, prep, until the only thing you need to do is combine the ingredients. Maybe you’re making chicken pot pie this week (I really like the chicken pot pie example I guess). The day you are cooking, you only have an hour, but today, you’ve got 30 minutes to kill – great, cook up the chicken and chop up the veggies. Save yourself time on your cooking day by doing it now. Pre-chopped carrots and celery will last a few days in the fridge just fine.
Once you’ve got all your ingredients ready, go ahead and cook them up! If you’re cooking more than one meal in a day, try to overlap them if possible to save time. For example, maybe two items need to go in the oven – if they are close to the same temperature, split the difference and bake them together (enjoy the energy savings, too!). Maybe you’re making a soup that needs to simmer for 30 minutes. Don’t just watch it simmer, get to work on the next meal! Or, maybe do some dishes in the down time. Find small ways to be efficient so you can knock out that cooking for the week.
When it comes to refrigerating your meals, we have found two methods that work well: Prepackaging meals into individual servings (great for grab-and-go lunches for work) or keeping the meals in their original baking vessels (soups in the Dutch oven, casseroles in the casserole dishes) and serving as needed. Both work great depending on the situation. Now that we are working from home, we typically do not prepackage meals into individual servings. However, if you are making anything to freeze for the future, it may be nice to pull it out of the freezer one meal at a time.
When it comes time to eat, remember that presentation does matter. You eat with your eyes first. Ever wonder why mac n cheese at a restaurant just tastes better than the one you made at home? It probably doesn’t! But you probably didn’t make it in a little single-serving sized cast iron ramekin with a lid propped up on the side. You probably didn’t garnish yours with just a little bit of parsley – so little you can’t taste it, but look at that fresh green color it adds. For real – take some time on your presentation, and your food will taste better. Plus, when it looks nice, you can share a picture of it with us on Instagram using hashtag #economicaleats and we can like and share it with everyone else! Go make pretty dishes that don’t make your wallet sad!