Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Guidelines for Food Prep Days

Photo Credit: kaex0r
I use food prep days to cook and prepare foods so that my actual time spent in the kitchen after I've spent the day working is reduced. When I have less to do in the evenings, I am less stressed and have more time to spend with my family. My kitchen is pretty small, so when I'm in a rush to get dinner on the table, having the kids in there can be a detriment. But when as much of the food as possible is prepared ahead of time, there's less rush, so I don't mind as much when they are there. In other words, my food prep days keep me sane in the insanity of my other days!

Your food prep day starts with your meal plan. If you don't know what you're cooking, it's hard to have things prepared in advance. I do my meal plan for the following week on Wednesday, and my food prep on Friday. Food prep is generally done with pantry staples, so it works that I don't go shopping until Sunday. If I find myself regularly wishing that I had prepared something earlier, then I include the ingredients for that item in my staples list (see A Well Stocked Pantry) and then add it to my food prep list.

Photo Credit: Rochelle, just rochelle
The next step in your food prep day is a clean kitchen. If you clean your kitchen thoroughly before you get started, you're doing yourself a long term favor. Not only do you have a clear work space to prepare your food, but you have a sink with no dishes waiting to be washed, so you can wash your bowls and measuring cups quickly to use them again later. Plus, once your kitchen is completely clean, keeping it clean during the work week is easier. I know I've had days where I've walked into my kitchen and looked at the chaos and thought "Can't we just order pizza tonight?".

Next, you need a list of what you're preparing. I include mine on the bottom of my meal plan. The day before my meal prep day, I review the list, and take out anything I may need to thaw, like eggs or fruit.

Every week, from September through May, I make six loaves of bread and enough waffles for two breakfasts. Three loaves of bread and the extra waffles go into the freezer. I use these on a rotating basis (the best freezer time for both of these items is about three months). So by December, I'm putting everything I make into the freezer, and pulling out older items to use in the current week. This way I have extra if I need it, and I'm not heating up the kitchen in June, July, and August to make bread. I use several loaves every time I make stuffing, as well, so that makes up for the fact that we use less bread in the summer. If you have a bread maker that bakes fast enough that you can use it after work, then you don't need to do that particular prep. I use my bread maker to make specialty breads like garlic and herb for when we have pasta, or piza dough.

The weekly prep does vary, depending on what I'm cooking and what I need. When I make something like a Make Your Own mix, I try to make enough to last awhile. When I do packets of the seasonings for Ranch Dressing Mix, I make four in the winter, and six in the summer, when we eat much more salad. I make big batches of granola and tortillas once a month or so, because they will last for quite awhile in the freezer.

Once you have your list, you need a plan, to make efficient use of your oven and time. On my food prep days, I turn on the oven, then start mixing my bread dough. I set the dough near the oven to rise, and then move on to mixing the first thing that will bake in the oven. This way, the oven is preheated by the time I'm ready to put the first dish inside, with no waiting around. Once I have the oven full and timers set, I move on to preparing foods that I don't need the oven for, such as making cornbread mix or seasoning packets. I move the bread from the bowl to the loaf pans, and start doing some clean up. Once I've pulled everything out of the oven, it's usually time for the bread to go in. It really helps me to look at my list, estimate cooking or prep times, and write things down in the order that I need to do them. This way I don't get distracted doing something else and lose track of things. And if I do get distracted by the kids, I can get back on track easily.

I've told you how I do things on my food prep day. This is meant as a starting point or idea generator for you. What works for me, may not work for you, and that's perfectly alright! I want to make things easier for you, not stress you out. So if you do things differently and it's working for you, then go forth! But if you feel frazzled every day because you're spending more time in the kitchen than with your family, a food prep day might work for you!

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