If you’ve ever tried meal planning then you know that the amount of time you have in the evening to cook will directly affect the kind of food you are able to make. It’s no good rushing in from work at 7pm only to start on a new recipe you’ve never cooked before, or putting something in the slow cooker when you need it NOW. I believe that there are four types of meal preparation and that by understanding when each type should be used, you can make your job of food prep and cooking much, much easier.
So here’s my rundown of what to cook, and when.
1: Low and Slow
The best thing about a Low-and-Slow meal is that you do all the work upfront and then reap the rewards later. Whether you have a slow cooker/crock pot and put something on before you leave the house for work to eat when you return, or you make a casserole on a Saturday morning to share with friends that evening, you’re going to end up with hearty and delicious home-cooked food – without being frazzled at the end. Dishes that benefit from slower cooking include:
- Beef stews – bourgignon, goulash, curry.
- Pulled pork, slow-roasted lamb like this easy tagine – or any meat that falls off the bone when cooked for longer.
- Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, bean casserole and burritos.
- Crock-pot soups such as French onion.
- Chicken casseroles – Spanish chicken, chicken chasseur.
2: Quick and Easy
Some nights you’re happy to stand at the stove and cook, but you still don’t want to work your way through a page of complicated ingredients that take an hour to prepare and the same to cook. That is when Quick-and-Easy meals come in. Simple dishes with few ingredients, that you can put together in 30 minutes or less (and without using every pan in the kitchen!), should be your best friends on nights like this. Some examples include:
- Stir fry and simple curries like this Thai green prawn curry which takes just 15 minutes.
- Baked potatoes
- Pizza like this posh prosciutto variety.
- Gnocchi and pasta like this one-pot asparagus cream pasta.
- Omelettes and frittatas
- Beef steaks
3: In Advance
Preparing meals In Advance is about as organised as you can be when planning your meals. If you’ve got food already there to eat, be it half a meatloaf from the night before or something that you pull from the freezer, it means that you free up your time to do something else. Perhaps you’ve got some spicy chicken left from yesterday so you’re going to turn it into a salad tonight. Perhaps you dig a meal out of the freezer and put it in the oven to cook while you help the kids with their homework or play a quick game with them. Either way, you’re not tied to the chopping board and stove all night.
Furthermore, if you dislike the stress of having to cook from scratch every evening, then choosing an In-Advance meal means that you don’t have to. Here are some of my favourite kinds of In-Advance food:
- Freezer meals – meals you have cooked or bought previously and stashed away for nights such as this or elements of meals that you’ve prepared and frozen. You’d be surprised what you can freeze.
- Batch cooking – the art of spending a few hours preparing a whole host of meals to keep for another day. Read more about Batch Cooking for Beginners.
- Repurposing – if you roasted a chicken this week, then why not use some of the meat to rustle up a quick salad/sandwich or pasta bake?
4: No Cook
Hallelujah for no-cook nights! Sometimes, despite your best intentions, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to cook dinner.
I hear ya.
And on these nights, you’ve got two choices: go without, or choose a no-cook meal.
No-cook meals do exactly what they say – they do not require you to cook anything new at all. Isn’t that wonderful? And before you think they must be boring, then read on. No-cook meals include:
- Salads and sandwiches – perfect for light suppers and warmer weather. Think: protein-rich salads, luxury wraps, coleslaws and pre-cooked noodles.
- Sharing plates – such as antipasti or a cheese board; things you can get in the deli like this antipasti platter.
- Rotisserie chicken and smoked salmon – and the many things you can make with them.
- Cold soups.
- Cold rice, pasta and pulses, using pre-cooked ingredients.
- Leftovers – did you cook too much yesterday? Brilliant, eat it tonight, too!
- And finally…takeaways! Yes, even food bloggers have a night off 😉