Whatever your kitchen routine (or lack thereof) looked like during quarantine, give yourself a pat on the back. One way or another, you got meals (and probably lots of snacks) on the table; you got creative with random pantry items; you kept your grocery runs as minimal as possible.
If you were an avid meal prepper pre-pandemic—or are craving more structured eats post-quarantine—the easing of restrictions makes getting back to routine easier.
In fact, what you learned about food shopping and cooking during the pandemic may actually make meal prepping even easier. “During the quarantine, folks stocked up on food for up to two weeks at a time,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook and Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. “You can use the same meal-planning skills to put together weekly meals and prep them in advance.”
As we gradually return to a world in which we leave the house most days, meal prepping ensures we’ll have meals ready to go when we get home, Amidor says.
Ready to get back in action? These three tips will put you in prime meal-prep position.
1. Make A List For Groceries And Tasks
As trips to the grocery store start to feel less stressful, food shopping once a week can make planning and prepping your meals feel less overwhelming. This way, you’re only thinking about the next seven days, not trying to map out the next few weeks.
After you plan what you’ll be eating for the week, make a grocery list and write out some of the basic prep steps you’ll get done after shopping.
There’s no rule that says you need to make the whole meal in one shot, so focus on small, manageable steps, if that feels easier. Could you chop your vegetables? Wash and dry any greens? Cut and roast potatoes?
Then, think about how you can layer these tasks. Maybe you boil some eggs while you chop your veggies. Maybe you roast your potatoes while you do dishes.
Figure out what steps will help you get food on the table quicker throughout the week (but still feel doable!).
2. Make The Most Of Your Freezer
Stocking up during quarantine meant using your fridge and pantry wisely. As a result, your freezer finally had a moment to shine, housing frozen vegetables, meat, and even extra butter for future baking adventures.
Now that you’ve seen how much your freezer can hold, make it a mainstay of your meal-prep routine.
“I like to prep freezer-friendly dishes and place leftovers in individual containers. That way, I build up a stash of meals that is always there,” says Amidor. “I also like to cook double batches and freeze the second batch, so I have it for really busy weeknights. Lasagna, stuffed shells, chili, and meatballs are all family favorites.”
Stock up on frozen, pre-chopped veggies (whether store-bought or prepped) to use in soups, stir-fries, and grain bowls. You can also load your freezer with cooked grains to heat up, as well as sliced bread to pull out and toast as needed.
3. Enjoy—and Utilize—Restaurants
Though dining out will continue to look different as lockdown policies lift, take advantage of the chance to appreciate hospitality and the bone-deep joy of being fed by others. Plus, you can also use restaurants strategically in your meal-prep plans.
“If I know a restaurant dish will last me for two meals (or in some cases, three meals!), then I will calculate one or two fewer meals in my meal prepping,” says Amidor.
Incorporating some restaurant meals into your weekly meal plan can save loads of time and effort. Even if you aren’t left with a full second portion, you can likely stretch leftovers with a few added vegetables, eggs, or noodles.
Another strategy to consider: Ordering an extra veggie side dish strictly for takeout so you don’t have to prep something. The carry-out-friendly menus or even grocery components that many restaurants now offer provide just what you need to augment your meal prep.
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