One of the most exhausting parts of parenthood that parenting guides fail to mention is that children expect us to feed them every day. Yes, that’s right. Every. Single. Day. It doesn’t matter how many hours we’ve worked, or whether we’re battling the flu, or if we’ve already exhausted our limited repertoire of dishes we actually know how to prepare, kids still expect us to ensure they don’t go hungry on a daily basis. It’s shocking, I know.
Thankfully, there are a number of things we can do to make this ongoing demand slightly less, well, demanding. Here are eight easy meal prep tips that should help make life more manageable for overwhelmed parents:
1. Embrace the Mantra: You Can Never Have Too Many Containers
Numerous and proper food storage containers offer a simple way to organize, re-heat and consume your leftovers (straight from the container, anyone?). I have containers of varying shapes and sizes to keep pasta and the sauce separate, for example, and refrigerate sides such as vegetables and fruit to snack on later—though I will confess to also buying many containers of the same size, similar to how I buy a ton of kids’ socks of the same size and color, to make it easier to find those oft-disappearing lids. Regardless of size and lid whereabouts, don’t forget to put the date on them once you fill ’em with food.
2. Make Too Much
That giant vat of beef stew is the gift that keeps on giving. There should be zero mom guilt when you end up serving it on Monday and Wednesday and …
3. Spice It Up with Different Spices and Sauces
Coming up with new dishes, especially if your kids have a picky palate, can be a challenge, to say the least. One solution: Prepare a variety of marinades to coat a tried-and-true dish, such as grilled chicken or noodles, in effect creating a “new dish” every time you rotate the sauces.
4. Use Aluminum Foil to Divide Pans into Sections
Look at that! Such a divider allows you to cook those differently spiced foods at the same time.
5. Make a Detailed Shopping List
Use the “Notes” app or a meal-planning app to keep a running list of ingredients you need to make sure your trips to the grocery store are productive. Also helps if you can keep the list in order of where you’ll find the items in the store—cereals, produce, meat, dairy—to cut down on the time spent in those aisles and ensure you have plenty of time to hit the wine section … I mean the kitchen!
6. Buy Key Ingredients in Bulk
There’s a reason Costco is so popular among moms—and we’re not talking about the “Chorizo I sampled, but never cooked.” It’s no secret that stocking up on items can save you money and trips to the grocery store; however, when you meal prep, it’s important to be strategic about what, exactly, you’re buying in bulk. Canned goods and dry pasta will last a long time, obviously, as will strawberries if you freeze them. Another great thing about berries is they can be employed in a variety of ways, from fruit salads to smoothies. If you happen to find a great sale on onions and peppers, you can totally stock your freezer with pre-chopped veggies for future meals. When you finally cook with them, you’ll never notice that they were frozen first.
7. Utilize the Weekend
Mondays are stressful enough without having to scramble to pull a good family meal together. Set aside some time on the weekends dedicated to prepping food for the week, perhaps while the kids are asleep and you can watch Sweet Home Alabama for the hundredth time in the background. (Netflix and chill … some lasagna.)
8. Bust Out Your Instant Pot
That being said, you needn’t slave over the stove for hours on Sunday night. Meal prepping can be as simple as tossing some ingredients in an Instant Pot. Find recipes you love and expedite the process. No shame in that game.