A lot of families have been adopting meal planning strategies in order to navigate their busy lives. Between work, school, household chores, errands, and maybe even some fun and relaxing downtime, there’s barely enough time to sit down and eat a healthy and nutritious meal together, seven days a week, much less make one. That is where a variety of small appliances come into play, many of which can actually help with meal planning in a variety of ways. Some speed up the cooking process, while others let you cook in a healthier way, and others, still, are ideal for prepping big batches for packing and freezing.
Multicookers, pressure cookers, & slow cookers for meal prep
Several years later and I still swear by my Instant Pot. Any multicooker/pressure cooker or slow cooker can help you cook foods quicker or with little effort. Side dishes like potatoes and vegetables can be cooked or steamed within minutes in a multicooker while a main dish is in the oven. A slow cooker might work slow and steady, but in both cases, the best part is that you can set it and forget it, as they say, going about other chores until you hear the signature “beep” that confirms the cook is done. Busy with other tasks even after the food is ready? A multi cooker like the Instant Pot has a Keep Warm function that will keep the food warm until you can get to it.
Multicookers and slow cookers are great for making big batches of food. Grab take-out containers and freeze individual servings for quick reheating on those especially busy nights. For breakfasts, you can boil several eggs at once to keep in the refrigerator for quick breakfasts or make a large batch of porridge, pre-cut fruit and store in Tupperware in the refrigerator, then assemble quick and healthy breakfasts each morning.
Many recipes are “dump and go” so the only prep you need is measuring out spices and washing your veggies and potatoes or, with breakfasts, cutting and mixing your fruit so it’s ready to spoon on top of cereal or oatmeal.
Air fryers make meal prep simple, and help with healthy cooking, too
An air fryer is another great small appliance for meal planning that has the added advantage of allowing you to enjoy traditionally unhealthy foods in a much healthier way. Cook everything from chicken wings to fried fish or homemade French fries with ease, using little to no oil. Or, if it has just been one of those nights when you don’t have it in you to make anything, the kids can pop frozen chicken nuggets and French fries into the air fryer and have dinner within minutes. (Go the extra step and prep big batches of your own homemade French fries and chicken nuggets on the one day of a week you can carve out a few hours, then freeze them.)
A stand mixer and food processor is a useful tool for meal prep
A stand mixer is a great appliance to have in general, but for meal prep, it can make things quick and easy. You can knead big batches of dough for homemade bread, pre-made pizza dough, or breakfast buns in a fraction of the time it would take to do by hand. (Note: I always do at least a minute of hand kneading after since the oils in your hand add a lot to the taste and texture!)
A stand mixer helps when making multiple meals from a single protein. Whenever we make smoked ham, for example, I’ll chop leftover slices into cubes and keep them for prep in the fridge. When I have time that week, I’ll use my mixer to knead pizza dough and whip an egg mixture for quiche. The ham then goes into homemade ham and cheese and pizza pockets as well as homemade quiche, all of which goes in the freezer for quick reheat-able dinners or lunches. Some stand mixers also work with optional attachments that can make tasks like chopping vegetables quicker and easier, too.
One of the most time-consuming parts of making meals is prep like chopping vegetables and making sauces. A food processor can help simplify this meal prep task. Make big batches of sauces to package and store in the fridge or freezer using plastic containers, Zip-lock bags, or even a Fresh Vacuum food sealer for perfect portions.
Prep and plan with small appliances
Prepping ahead of time can help drastically reduce the time it takes for a meal to go from oven or stove (or multicooker!) to table. Along with having the right appliances to make things easier, the right mindset and strategy helps. Try to find aa day of the week, like every Sunday, that you can dedicate a few hours to meal prep. Chop vegetables, puree sauces, boil eggs, slow cook porridge, even measure out spices and have everything ready for each meal. Don’t be afraid to make things ahead and freeze them like I do with quiche and pizza pockets, or dishes like lasagna and Shepherd’s Pie. If you’re going to go through all of the work to make a homemade lasagna or Shepherd’s Pie, you might as well make a huge batch, or two dishes, then cut and freeze servings. Both of these types of food freeze really well.
Meal prep just takes a bit of planning and you can have fresh, homemade meals every night of the week with little effort. But having the right small appliances in your arsenal makes a huge difference in reducing the time and effort it takes to get things done.