10 Things I Learned About Meal Prep from Watching The Pioneer Woman
For Ree Drummond, who regularly cooks for big groups on her ranch in Oklahoma, meal prep is a matter of survival. It's not surprising that I've picked up some of my own best meal prep tricks from her show.
Your freezer is your friend.
Ree loves “freezer cooking.” For her, that means putting together make-ahead casseroles, soups and other freezer meals, or stocking up on frequently used ingredients—prepped up to a certain point and frozen—so they’re ready to go in a flash.
Keep the pantry stocked
Every other prep trick rises and falls based on this one. ALWAYS have basics like flour, sugar and eggs—and know what your frequently used ingredients are and keep them handy. (For the Pioneer Woman, they’re butter, cream and bacon, which is also why I love her.)
Start with a clean work space
When I’m tackling a big meal and feel overwhelmed, it’s tempting to skip this one. But clearing the countertop makes it much easier to set out the ingredients Ree loves most. It’s also nice to have plenty of space for mixing and chopping.
Read through the recipe
It’s a recipe, not a mystery novel. You want to know how it ends! When I take the time to read the whole recipe, I’m never surprised. I don’t want to make this Lemony Mushroom Orzo Soup and find out too late I was supposed to save the parsley for garnish.
Mise en place
It’s French for “putting in place.” It sounds fancy, but mise en place couldn’t be more basic and sensible. Organizing all the ingredients that you’ll need for a recipe is another way to avoid surprises. Just measuring out things like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for spiced cookie recipes will save time later.
Break it down, make a schedule
For a holiday (or any big meal), there sometimes seems to be a paralyzing number of tasks. Break them down, and count back a couple days. You can start chopping, mixing and measuring many ingredients on Monday or Tuesday before you tackle a Golden Roasted Turkey on Thursday.
Prep veggies for the week
Whether they’re for healthy snacks or meals throughout the week (or both), washing, peeling and chopping all the veggies at once is a huge time saver. Some veggies—like tomatoes and cucumbers—won’t last all week, so you may need a twice-a-week schedule for those.
Make your own “meal kits”
Commercially prepared meal kits are time savers, but you can save time AND money by making your own. Prep and measure your ingredients and pack them in containers in the fridge. Much of the prep for a quick weeknight stir-fry, for instance, can be done ahead of time.
Layer salads in jars
Making a work-week’s worth of healthy, tasty layered salads in canning jars saves money and time and will cut way down on lunchtime trips to the drive-thru window. Learn how to build a salad in a jar the right way.
Double the recipe for half the work
Making biscuits for dinner? Double the recipe and freeze half for when you have a comfort-food craving, but no time. This should also work for your famous Chicken Pot Pie or all sorts of quick breads. You can’t have salad EVERY day, after all!