Friday, 15 January 2016

Family Meal Planning & Prep. Ahead tricks…


So, it’s a new year and I’m sure many new challenges await us all. One of mine this year has been how to make healthy meals from scratch after being at work all day, especially now that I’m pregnant. I really just hadn’t been bothered in the weeks before Christmas and, due to this, food has been wasted, thrown out, and meals have been fairly rubbish! With this in mind, and inspired by @domesticjules, I bought myself a meal planner – I always feel nice stationery helps in these situations! Around the same time, I also wondered how I could save myself having to get out the knife, chopping board, several pans, etc. every night when I got home. My way around it is to have one massive prep. session for the week ahead, easy if you know what you’re eating and have shopped for just those ingredients.

And so I began…first with the meal planner. I wanted a balance of one-pot/slow cooker meals that simply needed tipping into the cooker or a roasting tin and leaving til they were cooked, lighter meals with minimal extra prep. such as tortilla pizzas where you’d just need to grate cheese, add salad, etc. and meals where you still might need to do a little cooking, such as making mash, boiling veg. or rice. With this combination, some nights you’ll have nothing to do which will balance with the few evenings you only have a little to do! Plan these meals for the days you know you can be home a little earlier or you’ve had an easier day!


Once the meals are planned, go into the kitchen and make a list of all ingredients you need. Consider if you could substitute things for store cupboard / freezer ingredients you already have, e.g. mashed potato for rice. Here’s the tricky bit – do not add anything else to the list!

Go shopping and stick to the list. Make sure you hunt around for the longest use-by dates on all ingredients. Things like spinach, although they say they’ll only last until tomorrow, will often keep in the fridge for a few days longer. Meat, however, might not. Not to worry though, as most of the Prep. Ahead bags you’re going to make can be split into meat and veg. and the meat popped into the freezer and combined on the day, or, pop the whole bag of ‘meal’ into the freezer as long as there’s nothing in it that doesn’t cope well with being frozen!

Now for the prep. Because you're doing it all in one go, you'll find there’s less washing up, but a lot more ‘mess’! You’ll also save loads of time. All you need to do is chop veg and meat and pop into a suitably sized freezer bag. If you’re using things that don’t need chopping, like sausages, simply open the packet and put into the bag. Don’t forget the herbs, spices, seasoning too. I even added the wine to my Beef Bourguignon bag! If your meat and veg. are being cooked together, as a one-pot dish, then store in one bag. If you are cooking them separately, I suggest using separate bags (or leaving the meat in it’s original packaging if it doesn’t need marinating). Check you know those use-by dates for the meat and label each bag accordingly, then seal and store in the fridge, or even the freezer, just remember to get them out and defrost in fridge overnight. Remember not to refreeze previously frozen meat. I don’t tend to add peeled potatoes to the bags, unless covered with stock/wine, as they tend to go brown, nor pasta/rice. So I’d suggest leaving your carbs to cook on the night itself.

bags ready_thumb[3]

It’s really simple – plan, buy only what you need, chop, prep. and bag up. Then cook! It’s a homemade version of the expensive ‘tray bake’ type things you can buy in the supermarkets, or indeed, ready meals.

At the end of each week, you'll know what things you have leftover and can plan to use them next week. For example, I had 4 tortillas left over from making wraps in Week 1, so planned to use them as pizza bases in Week 2, using things I already have in different ways. This makes next week's shopping bill even less. The bill for my second week was only £28, which included braising steak and four free range chicken breasts. 

Now, what to put on the menu for next week?

Labels: meal, planning, freezer, meals, prep., ahead, ready made, homemade, make ahead, tray, bakes, healthy, tea, family, easy, quick, dinner, #prepahead

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Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Merlotti x

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