I really enjoy cooking, but I can't commit serious time to it seven days a week. In additional to cooking large batches of food, what tips can you offer to help save time preparing meals? I'm only feeding myself, for what it's worth.
I think a combination of techniques works great. On the weekend cook up a batch of food that keeps well in the fridge and takes a couple minutes to heat up, such as chicken, broth, meatloaf, curry, stirfry, etc. You can also cook up egg-muffins for quick breakfasts/snacks. Then also have some meals that are decently quick and easy to prepare. I really like eating ground beef sauted with kale, so in the morning I cook one pound of ground beef and one bunch of kale in one pan, dish up half for breakfast and put the other half in a container to have as dinner the same day, and then I give the pan a quick rinse to clean up. It gets me two meals in about 15-20 minutes of cooking and super easy cleanup. Lunch is often a bag of spinach and half a can of wild salmon, also super quick. By having ready-made meals and also quick-to-make meals at your disposal, you can choose the food each day based on your needs: whether you need to rush out the door with lunch in tow, or whether you have some time for cooking in the morning, and it prevents boredom from eating the exact same meal all week (which is what happens when I rely on batch cooking over the weekend). It also allows more fresh foods. I have a low tolerance for leftover meat in the fridge. It often tastes bad to me after just a day or two.
I also find it convenient to boil or roast a few tubers at once, and keep them in the fridge to toss into whatever I'm eating, since they take a while to cook.
Other ideas: when you have a little more time on the weekend, caramelize some onions. Then you can toss them into what you're cooking during the week to get the yummy flavor without having to wait forever for them to caramelize. This one has worked really well for me.
Other quick meal ideas: frozen shrimp/squid/scallops are quick, especially if you defrost them in hot water very quickly (which is safe because it's very short). They go nicely with the caramelized onions, too. Greens boiled in coconut milk is fast. You can add frozen fish to it and it cooks quickly. Lettuce wraps are also a quick meal if you have protein on hand, like chicken roasted on the weekend, or premade filling, or frozen shrimp.
Cook more than one dish at a time. You're already in the kitchen, it really doesn't take any more time to pay attention to more than one pot.
Prep things ahead of time. Cut and wash produce. Cook things that will get added to dishes later. Portion out ingredients.
Try fasting. Seriously, once I realized that fasting was an option for those times when I don't have time to make anything or I'm out somewhere with crappy options, it's like a lightbulb went off in my head!
I use my slow-cooker to make a great bone broth stew. For meals, I make a salad and a portion of stew is re-heating while I eat the salad.
My 24-hour cycle is to start a batch of bones and water in the evening; bring to simmer on High, then shift to Low for 10 hours.
The next morning, start another 10 cycle and keep cooking. At late morning, most bones should be clean and can be removed while vegetables (celery, fennel and/or onion, carrots, rutabagas, brussels sprouts, etc.) are added 3-5 hours before desired eating time.
I then refrigerate the cooked stew overnight and the next day I portion it into glass keepers. When I'm down to 1-2 portions of stew in the fridge it's time to start another pot full.
I also eat other meals, of course, but my convenience food is the stew. If a keeper of stew stays in the fridge for more than 4 days I usually re-heat it then cool and put it back in the fridge.
I do a lot of cooking/prep on the weekends, mostly sunday, while I'm at home doing chores anyway: batch of bacon in the oven; batch of chicken thighs/legs in the oven (thighs are a meal each, plus 2 legs makes 3 meals for me); wash and trim spinach and chop mushrooms (both I sautee for breakfast with eggs in the bacon fat I collected from my bacon bake-off); wash and chop chard for dinners; make a batch of white rice; sautee some ground lamb or beef with spices; roast up a big pan of tubers.
So most of what I'm doing during the work week is just re-heating and assembly, and then if I'm having steak or something, just grilling that.
I make all my sauces in bulk and freeze them in smaller portions. The sauces are what takes the longest to make. I don't just make sauces, but if I am making say panang curry paste, instead of making just enough for the meal, I will make a big batch, since I am already making it. The If I want a quick meal I can take the sauce out of the freezer, take out some shrimp and thaw them in cold water, then just saute it in the pan. I also only cook a big meal for dinner and make sure to make enough for lunch so that is taken care of too. If I know I have a busy week I might make enough for 2 days, so I am only cooking every other day.
Planning is everything. If you preplan your meals you can make one trip to the store/farmers market, then wash and cut up the non-leafy veggies in advance. (greens tend to get icky if you cut them up too far in advance, but you can totally prewash) It's great cause you can cut all the onions, garlic, peppers, cauliflower, whatever, that you're going to use all week and you don't have to do it again.
I find that one-pot meals tend to be quicker and easier, with and without a crockpot. Curries and other sauces that can go over both are nice, but also think about ways to make your veggies into your sauce, like a sagg paneer with some shrimp or chicken in addition to or instead of the cheese. Or even using jarred salsa as a braising liquid.
Batches are good, but also you can freeze individual servings to defrost later so you don't get bored.
when all else fails, brown ground beef, throw in a couple handfuls of bagged baby spinach, add seasonings to taste and chow down. (add scrambled eggs and onions for a san francisco classic, Joe's Special)
I go to this freezer-meal prep place. You follow their recipes and pay for the meals, but they have the assembly stations set-up so that you can customize your meals. So that means I can leave out the dairy or breadcrumbs for a particular dish. (I usually do half and half, since my husband eats grains and dairy). You can also package the dishes in whatever portions you prefer. We do 3-person potions, so I have leftovers for lunch. Total prep time for 12 meals takes an hour, and has saved us about $280 per month. I just pop the dinner in the oven, and voila! No dishes, no prep clean-up, no wasted food. Now mind you, not everything is grass-fed organic, but we supplement with organic greens and eggs from the farmer's market.
i carve up a weeks worth of butternut squash in cubes and place the cubes uncovered in the fridge. then when i want ,i boil for five minutes and i have a fast food. the old stand by big ass salad takes longer just to slice. my meal of fruit is the fastest. im pretty sure paleo man ate fast food. no point in standing around too long or you become the food for some other creature to eat. dont get me wrong, i cook some wonerful things. most of the time i just eat tasty fast.
1. Chop veg
Chop veg the day before using it and store in the fridge, so you only have the cooking to do on the day. If you’re worried about losing vitamins, take off stalks and ends in advance so it’s only the last bit of chopping that remains.
2. Make batches
On Sundays make batches of sandwich fillings, like tuna and sweetcorn or egg mayonnaise. Keep it tightly covered in the fridge so you can bung it into sandwiches during the week in a flash.
3. Freeze fish individually
Keep fish individually wrapped in the freezer, so you can cook it straight from frozen when you’re short of time.
4. Weigh out ingredients
Weigh out ingredients for a recipe and grease any dishes you’ll need a day in advance, to save time when you actually make it. It’ll give you time to notice if you’re short of anything, and give you a head start on the recipe because you’ll already know what you’re doing.
5. Wash fruit in bulk
Wash fruit in a colander altogether on the day you buy it, to save time washing individual pieces during the week.
6. Prepare sauce bases
Sauce basics like onions can be fried and kept chilled, ready for when you’re going to use them. Cook in advance so it’s only the meat you’re adding on the day.
7. Plan meals
Plan the meals you’re going to cook a week in advance. Check what ingredients you need for the recipes, and put them on the shopping list. This way you’ll avoid food waste and time-consuming trips to buy items you’re missing. Here’s a meal planner with some cheap and easy recipes from MyFamilyClub.
8. Smart fridge storage
Store items in the fridge by category for easy access, like keeping jars on the top shelf and sandwich fillings on another. Things you use less often can be kept at the back, to save hunting through everything when you’re in a hurry.
9. Make double batches
Pasta sauces can be made in double batches and frozen, so it’s only the spaghetti you have to cook on the day. Defrost sauces the night before.
10. Freeze basics
Keep items like bread and milk in the freezer, to save time stocking up mid-week. Take them out the day before you need them. Follow these smart freezer usage tips for other items too.
12. Microwave to avoid mess
Microwave messy items like sauces, custard, porridge and rice. This will avoid burnt on saucepans, or having to constantly stir things as they cook. Make sure you use extra large bowls though, as things can bubble up a lot more than you’d expect.
13. Season meat in advance
Season meat when you have time and store in the fridge ready for cooking. Not only will the flavour soak through, but it’ll keep the meat fresher for longer too.