Julie’s Top 10 Time-Saving Meal Preparation Tips

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With back-to-school upon us, making the most of our valuable time is critical, especially if you have a child on a special diet. While it can be easy to run through a drive thru or order takeout, kids with special dietary needs can’t always eat out successfully. And many families choose to eat at home so they can really control the foods their kids eat.

Those lazy summer days are over. So whether you are out the door by 7:30 am and in the carpool line by 3:00 pm, or you are a homeschooling family with a different weekly schedule, making the most of your time is important so that you can feed your family healthy options that work with their nutritional needs without burning yourself out in the first month.

These tips below are based on my own experiences as a wife, mom, business owner, and homeschooler. They are also some of the ideas I share with families in my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program. I feel the pinch just like everyone else so I wanted to share some of the most effective tools I personally use.

Shop with a plan:

The first step to successful meal prepping is shopping with a purpose. Knowing which meals you plan to make for the week not only keeps you on track with knowing what ingredients you need but can also help save you money. When you know what you are going to cook, you can take stock of what you already have and limit that week’s shopping list to just what you need. This also helps prevent food waste.

Use time-saving tools:

A slow cooker (crock pot) or Instant Pot are valuable tools that allow you to get things cooked without having to be home or attend to it. You can put your meat and veggies into either and start them cooking before you head out the door. They will be ready and waiting for you when it is dinner time. The Instant Pot is also great for grains like rice or potatoes of any variety. It will also keep things warm until you are ready for them. You can do easy soups and stews as well when the weather starts to turn cooler.

Batch cook:

On days with time to cook, make a meal with ingredients you can use in something else the next day. For example, cooked sweet potatoes can be sliced and pan-fried for a quick snack or part of a meal, leftover drumsticks make a good snack. Instead of roasting 1 chicken, roast 2! The time to cook is the same and it just takes a few more minutes to season and prepare 2 chickens as it does to season and prepare 1. You can eat one that night and then shred the second and store it for things like chicken tortilla soup (which you can cook in your slow cooker), easy chicken enchiladas, chicken tacos, and chicken fajitas.

Batch chop:

Chop vegetables for several days and put in containers in the refrigerator for quick addition for dinners, and as raw snacks. If you are planning a stir fry for that week, wash/chop/cut your vegetables like broccoli, carrots, celery, whatever you want in it, store them together in a container so when it comes time to saute them, you just open the container and dump them in. The same can be done for prepping vegetables for soups or stews, or even for throwing in smoothies. One of my favorite uses for pre-chopped vegetables is having them on hand for eating raw vegetables as a snack with a a gluten-free and dairy-free dipping sauce.

Double up on your grains:

If grains are a part of your diet, when you cook them, cook two days worth. Cook enough oatmeal for two days. Next day, add a bit of water and as you heat it, the texture will return. Rice can also be easily batched, as well as quinoa and millet. If you want an easy breakfast recipe that can be made on the stovetop, Instant Pot, or crockpot, check out my Rice Porridge recipe. That can be batched and eated for several days.

Pre-wash fruit:

Wash fruits so it’s ready to grab and go. This works great for fruit with a hard skin like apples and pears. And have you heard about storing fruit in a glass mason jar? Washed fruit like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries usually have a shelf life of a couple of days. But, because mason jars are airtight, they can last a week to a week and a half. I don’t know about you but I hate wasting food and fruit can spoil so quickly. When you get home, soak the fruit in water with a few tablespoons of vinegar, then rinse well. Dry fruit with a paper towel or towel. Then place the fruit in a mason jar with the lid on tightly.

Pre-grind seeds and nuts:

You can grind up things like flaxseeds or buy already milled flax seeds. Storing them in an airtight container in freezer keeps them fresh. You can also make a nut mixture (pre-grind nuts for smoothies, oatmeal, etc) and store the same way. This really can save time in the morning when there may be more of a rush to get out the door or get the day started.

Make dual-purpose sauces:

When you focus on your weekly meal plan, you can prepare for making the most out of your batch cooking. Take a classic red sauce, you can prepare a double batch with basic seasonings for pasta one night. Then, you can take the leftover sauce, add some ground beef – maybe from a previous meal that you also double batched – and use it for a lasagna another night. And similarly, what I also have done is cook a double batch of sauce and prep two lasagnas, one to eat then and one to store in the freezer for those really hectic days or for when I forget to plan ahead!

Plan dinner for lunch:

Using dinner leftovers can be a great strategy for packing a healthy, balanced lunch. Capitalize on your child’s favorite dinners and repack them as lunch for greater compliance. You can reheat foods and use a stainless steel thermos or serve some things cold. Some dinner ideas that make terrific lunch options include pasta, roast chicken, meatballs, sliders, lasagna, soups, stews, grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, potato salad, stir fry, and fried rice.

Sheet pan recipes:

Sheet pan recipes are great because like the name says, you cook everything on one sheet! I can put chicken thighs, chopped broccoli or cauliflower, and cut potatoes all on one pan and cook them together. This is made even easier when you’ve already chopped your vegetables ahead of time. And clean up is a breeze since it is just 1 pan. I line mine with parchment which makes cleanup even easier. Additional ideas with your protein include vegetables like chopped onions, carrots, red, orange, or yellow bell peppers. If you are working with already cooked protein, chop your vegetables or potatoes smaller so that everything is done at the same time and nothing burns.

If you’d like to learn more ideas like these and how to use personalized nutrition and therapeutic diets to help your child and family, join my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program for parents.

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Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant who received her master’s degree in medical nutrition with distinction from Arizona State University. She is also a published nutrition researcher and has specialized in complex neurological conditions, particularly autism spectrum disorders and ADHD for over 20 years. Julie is the award winning author of Nourishing Hope for Autism, co-author of a study proving the efficacy of nutrition and dietary intervention for autism published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nutrients, and also the founder of BioIndividualNutrition.com. Download her free guide, 12 Nutrition Steps to Better Health, Learning, and Behavior.

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