Life has been incredibly busy lately and I am looking forward to a break before it becomes very busy again. I'm looking for a ways to simplify the next few week's meal plans so that I can thoroughly enjoy it with my family. Here are some of my favorite tips. 


1. Have a (meal) plan

I know that this is a really basic concept, but it is one that I often can't do with all of the recipe testing I've had to do recently. I think that many of us ironically tend to drop planning meals when busy — which is when we need it the most. Without a meal plan, dinner time can be stressful, and we are much more likely to order out.


2. Plan simple

Not everyone does this, but I start gathering all my Pinterest pins, and thinking of all of these beautiful dishes I want to make — and then my menu plan can quickly get either over budget or become too time-consuming. So I always tell myself, "Plan simple." I purposely hold myself in and jot down simple meals.


3. Work once, eat twice

Many dishes are easy to make as a double recipe. It can reappear as lunch or a dinner in a couple of days. I do this especially with dishes that don't require double the work to make double the amount. Chili, soups and other one-pot meals fit the bill nicely.


4. Do vegetable prep ahead of time

For me, this is going to mean peeling carrots in preparation for juicing (perhaps during home movie time?) during the week. We don't juice all the time, but we will be this upcoming week or so. You can also prep stir-fry vegetables. My mother-in-law liked to prep large bags of various vegetables so that she could create a delicious stir-fry in a couple of minutes. It worked really well for her. You can also prep lettuce and other vegetables for making large salads.


5. Slow cook dishes

Whether you use a slow cooker or you like to braise in the oven or stovetop, many dishes that rely on slow cooking are quick to throw together, and these are also good dishes to come home to when you are out and about. I am planning on a couple of dinners coming out of my slow cooker.


6. Pre-make breakfast

If you are wishing to avoid cold cereal, then breakfast can take a little time to make. This isn't really a problem, but it can make breakfast stressful if you have hungry young ones when you get back from a quick jog (my brand new habit). I am thinking of pre-making large pots of oatmeal, congee (a traditional Asian breakfast), and other breakfast foods so I don't have to worry about it every morning.


7. Soak and cook grains/legumes in large quantities

I like to soak all of my grains, which can mean a lot of thinking ahead. Once again, not necessarily a problem, but I want to think about meal planning the least amount possible right now. So, why not soak and cook a large amount of rice, quinoa or whatnot, and then simply reheat as you need? Chilled grains are delicious when added to salads, yummy when added to homemade stock, and are easily fried up for a delicious side dish. You can do the same with legumes too! I love having plenty of cooked grains and/or legumes in the refrigerator ready to simply reheat to eat.


8. Ditch baked goods

I love making muffins, breads and others delicious treats. However, for the next week, I'm going to be keeping that at a minimum. I can either buy high-quality sourdough at the store, or simply plan my menu around whole grains rather than bread. If I do make baked goods, it's going to be very purposeful, such as special project to do with my daughter. 


9. Re-make leftovers

Leftover pot roast can be shredded and made into beef tacos, leftover roasted chicken can be made into chicken curry, chicken salad, and a wide variety of main dishes. Leftover grains can be made into fried rice-type dishes. There are endless ways to remake leftovers. It not only saves time, but done right, it can save money too.


10. Use fast cooking meats and fish

If I don’t want to slow cook something, it is nice to have meat or seafood on hand that cooks quickly. Clams (for Bistro Clams), wild salmon, ground beef and certain (grass-fed) steaks can cook really quickly, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen. If you already have cooked grains to reheat, then you only need to steam some pre-prepped vegetables, and dinner is ready within minutes.


I hope to share in more detail how these concepts actually work out in real life in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! What are your timing-saving kitchen tips? 


Related food story on MNN: 5 recipes for the busy house


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10 ways to simplify a healthy menu
Life is crazy enough without an elaborate meal plan. Here are some tips on simplifying your menu plan for the week while keeping the food healthy.