Meal Prep and Food Hacks

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by Angela and Laura

Laura and I are chicken Salad friends. Whenever we are together we eat it. Whenever we eat it apart we txt each other when we are eating it. Chicken Salad FriendsWe eat it at special friends baby showers, on the Mississippi River, (yes I spelled it out loud when I typed it) and we have even eaten it in Wickenburg, AZ on a sidewalk picnic in front of Mc Donalds in about 110 degree weather. We heart it! ūüôā We have found some helpful hacks to make it!

We like grapes in our chicken salad. It gives it the most refreshing taste.  Cutting grapes in half is slow. We saw this Kitchen Hack and it works! Do it every time you have to cut grapes in half! Here is a video of me doing it live.

Laura taught me to shred my chicken in my Kitchen Aid Mixer! SOOOO fast. I use this to shred my chicken for chicken salad. This chicken shredding trick can translate to your pulled chicken sandwiches, and when you need shredded chicken for enchiladas. You get the idea. Don’t shred for too long unless you want smaller pieces.

Now, we have some tips if you aren’t eating Chicken Salad too!

1.  Strawberry Slices

Perfectly even cut strawberries: Use an egg slicerStrawberry Hack

2. Cut a Mango

Watch How to Cut a Mango Video– it works too. I was always afraid of Mangos until I watched this.

Great tips Angela!  I have a few too!

3.  Straining Ground Meat

When it comes time to strain your ground beef or pork, it can take a lot of work. ¬†You have to find the strainer, get it into a container so the grease doesn’t mess up your pipes, and then you have to not burn yourself while you do it! ¬†I watched my sister use a turkey baster to get the grease out, and put it RIGHT where it was supposed to go as I smacked my head and said, “how do I not know how to do this”! ¬†Now, turkey basters get a bad wrap and I’ve been through my share of leaky, irritating ones so get a good one!

4.  Butternut Squash

My husband loves butternut squash, but for years I was intimidated by it.  Where is it in the grocery store?  How do you cut through such a hard shell?  What in the world would I do with it now that I cut it up!  Well, I watched a you-tube video that made cutting it a cinch and now it is one of the easiest most delicious things for me to toss in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast up the diced pieces for 20-25 minutes.

5.  Yeast

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BBQ chicken pizza used leftover chicken from another meal that I shredded in the Kitchen Aid.

Now, if you ever want to delve into the world of yeast rising breads, rolls etc. give yourself a trial recipe.  These Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls or this pizza crust are pretty much no fail.  But, remember the following things.  Yeast needs a warm place to rise.  Put your oven on warm, close the windows that blow cool breezes in, if you keep your house cold, maybe think about turning up the furnace while you let your goods rise.  Most recipes can be frozen or refrigerated so the time it takes to mix and rise on day one, can be held off for use at a later date so the project is not so time sensitive.

6. Fresh Water Fish

My favorite way to bake fresh water fish is in a rimmed cookie sheet, on parchment paper.  This makes clean up almost non-existent, because scraping burnt on fish off a cookie sheet is a HOOT, said no one ever. If you have never cooked with fish, start with tilapia. Give yourself permission to try a few simple recipes.

My go to Tilapia Recipe is:

1 pound tilapia fillets ‚ÄĘ 2 T coconut oil

Spice Mix ‚ÄĘ 3 T Paprika ‚ÄĘ 1 t salt ‚ÄĘ 1 T onion powder ‚ÄĘ 1/2 t black pepper ‚ÄĘ 1/8 t cayenne pepper ‚ÄĘ 1 t thyme ‚ÄĘ 1 t oregano ‚ÄĘ ¬Ĺ t garlic powder

INSTRUCTIONS 1 Preheat oven to package directions 2. Mix rub and put in ziplock bag 3. Line cookie sheet with parchment and put down evoo, or coconut oil 4. Put each filet on the parchment and sprinkle each with between 1/2- 1 t of spices 5. Bake as directed on packaging, flipping once halfway through if desired.

There are some hacks that go beyond specific foods and help us as we prepare for whole meals!  

 1. Prepare as early in the day as you can

After the breakfast dishes are in the dishwasher, the morning routine is done and the middle of the day is about to begin, go play with your kids.  Yes, really!  Let me delicately explain one trickle down benefit from spending time playing, coloring, or reading to your children for 15-30 minutes.

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Eva and I reading a Carl book one Sunday after church.

As you spend time you show love and value to them, and you make them feel safe, secure and… here’s the trickle down: it provides you time later to work independently of them because you have invested in that play time. ¬†Now, I would never say, parents play to get independent time. ¬†We play because we love. ¬†But, I do believe my children are able to allow me 15-30 minutes of work because of the time I spend with them.

Back to this tip.

The earlier in the day, the more energy you have. ¬†So I tend to do some dinner prep in the morning or during a kid’s afternoon nap. ¬†If there are veggies to chop, potatoes to boil, chicken to trim, I get it done. ¬†I might tell the kids, “Mom is doing her kitchen chores, I’ll set the timer for 30 minutes and then I’ll be done!” ¬†Then I go go go as fast as I can and get as much done as I can.

When it comes time to put the meal together in the evening, there are less dishes, less work, less mental strain, and dinner can be at the table in a more timely manner. ¬†We are also less likely to eat out since I’m halfway invested!

Now, if you don’t know what you are going to eat for dinner this will be a little difficult. ¬†Go peek at our Weekly Meal Plan and gain some inspiration for a week of think free meal planning!

If you work outside the home, you might need to decide to get up 30 minutes earlier, or do your prep at night to relieve the post work rush to put food on the table.

2.  Prepare WITH your children

Your kids can participate with you of course. ¬†Fussy babies go in the wrap, toddlers eat Cheerios in the high chair next to you and older children…well because you start in the morning and aren’t in a rush to get dinner on the table, you can take your time helping them dump ingredients in, holding on to the knife while you chop, etc. ¬†What a sweet memory maker. ¬†And, soon your children will be able to work along side you-they tearing lettuce for salad, and you saut√©ing salmon.

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Princess Malachi unloads the dishwasher. Every thing except the knives. He’s 2.5 years old.

Or maybe they work next to you.  Emptying the dishwasher while you prep, or give them a dry mop to sweep the kitchen while you do it together.

3.  Control your Meal Prep time

If your family evening is usually consistent, try to determine a dinner time. ¬†I know most families are going this way and that, so you can make your dinner time variant every day. ¬†But, this dinner time tells you when to start making your meal. ¬†For me, I try to spend between 45 min.-1 hour making a meal. ¬†So we aim to eat at 5:00 and I know that I need to start my prep at 4:00, (if I didn’t do any that morning eh?). ¬†Or, if there is a long baking time, I can easily count backwards and maintain my prep time constraints but just bump it back earlier.

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I mixed up the meatballs that morning, boiled the potatoes that morning. So all I had left to do before dinner was cook the meatballs, warm the potatoes, and slice the avocado.

I choose meals that stay to this time frame. I have a few more complicated meals, so maybe once a week I’ll do a special meal that takes longer.

4.  Keep it Simple

As a mom with small children I have gone from our life before kids; preparing a wonderful protein, grain, vegetable and chopped fruit, to a new evolution.  Today we do many frozen or steamed vegetables, shorter versions of the yummy proteins I used to make, and easy to prepare fruits and applesauce.

Love lasagna?  Great! My favorite lasagna takes a béchamel sauce, and forever to prepare.  So I save that for 1-2 times a year and make a simpler lasagna when I am craving it.

This has greatly reduced my time investment, and we still eat well, delicious food, healthy food.  I make about one meal per week that takes more time, and tastes more gourmet.  So, allow yourself some grace in your self-expectations for dinner.

We hope these hacks lighten your load!

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