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5 Ways to Make Food Prep Fun (Eat Well, Spend Less)

I think I breathe a sigh of relief when dinner is finally served every evening. I've become more and more of a "morning person" and making and serving dinner is like my last big challenge of the day. Unlike many other things, dinner can't "wait until the next day" or just be skipped... ;)

So food prep... whether I love it or hate it, whether I'm in the mood or completely exhausted, it's something I've just gotta do most days. (Does "taking a day off" count if it means I did double the day before?) ;)

Here are 6 ways I make food prep more fun. If you have any tips for me along these lines, I'm all ears! :)

1. Food prep is more fun when you... Plan a menu!

I'll be the first person to admit that "menu planning" and "fun" don't usually end up in the same sentence for me. When I first started trying to plan weekly menus a few years ago, it was one of the most challenging things I made myself do each week!

It does get easier, though. While menu planning still isn't my favorite chore, I don't dread it like I used to, and I love the benefits of having a menu plan! :)

Some tips for easier menu planning:

Use a category for each day of the week. A category could be a meat (beef, chicken, fish, meatless, etc.) or a cuisine (Mexican, Italian) or even just something you love (like breakfast for dinner, using the crock pot, or having Friday night pizza!). Planning the week's menu would involve coming up with something from each category -- meaning less "thinking" involved (hopefully)!

I don't use categories for every day, but I do have my own habits, like making beans in the crock pot on Saturday, and using up leftovers from the fridge for weekend lunches. And unless we're really burned out on pizza, homemade pizza on Friday nights is the perfect ending to the week. :)

Balance between tried-and-true and something new. I love variety, so my menu plans usually include trying something new. But, old favorites that always turn out well and are faster to prepare help me get through busy days without spending so much time in the kitchen.

Be okay with what works for you. I do "three things for dinner" a lot, and while it's not a gourmet meal, it satisfies us and keeps us healthy. Take advantage of the convenience foods that help you (like canned or frozen items)! :)

Get help with menu planning! Sometimes when I'm really stumped (and nothing sounds good to me, at all), I ask Joshua or the kids for suggestions. They help me come up with things we haven't eaten recently, or things that sound good to them.

I'm not on Pinterest, but I've heard lots of people say they head there for menu planning inspiration! And I have scrolled through my online recipes here when planning my menu... it's more visually stimulating than my recipe box. ;)

Cooking...

2. Food prep is more fun when you... Start early!

I have a lot more fun in the kitchen when I'm not rushed and running late with a meal. Start plenty early, even the day before for some things, if you like to cook at a leisurely pace like I do. ;)

Of course, starting early is so much easier when you have a menu planned! :)

3. Food prep is more fun when you... Keep things stocked!

Ever go to bake cookies and realize that you need to refill your containers for flour, sugar, and oatmeal? :) I enjoy cooking and baking more when I've kept things refilled as needed. I don't always refill something right away, but I do leave it out on the counter so I can fill it later before putting it away and forgetting about it.

Tip: I buy my spices in bulk, so I do lots of refilling. When I run out of one spice, I check to see if any others are getting low, and if they are, I refill them too. This post shows how I label and easily access the spices in my kitchen cupboard.

Half-sheet with silicone baking mat

4. Food prep is more fun when you... Have the right tools.

Since I do a lot of cooking, we've invested in some good kitchen tools through the years we've been married. A friend recently commented, "You seem to have the right 'thing' for everything in your kitchen!" Well, yes -- for everything that I regularly do. :)

Some of the kitchen tools that make food prep more fun and a whole lot easier for me include a sharp knife and big sturdy cutting board, stainless steel mixing bowls (including large ones), my glass 9x13 and 8x8 bakeware, my bread machine, half-sheet pans with silicone baking mats, and some really great stainless steel cookware.

(You can see more of what I use in the kitchen at my Amazon "store", with notes about many of the items.)

Your most-used items could be very different from mine! But as a rule, when we consider which kitchen items to get or to upgrade, we start with the ones we use on a daily or near-daily basis.

Kitchen helpers
Ruth (4) helping with granola bars and Eliyahu (6) having an apple for a snack

5. Food prep is more fun when you... Enlist helpers (or company)!

I have my own built-in helper team, since all four children will gladly help with just about anything in the kitchen (including things I won't let them do yet!). ;) This post has lots of ideas for things my young children like to do to help in the kitchen.

I really love it when Joshua has time to help with food prep. Even if it's just chopping a few little things, having help gets me moving faster and having someone to talk with while we work is nice (and working together is a great relationship-builder!).

If you don't have a noisy house full of little helpers, plan to chat with a friend on the phone while doing the more mundane food prep tasks like washing dishes, chopping veggies for a salad, or peeling fruit for sauce or dessert.

When the house is quiet enough for me to be on the phone while I work (a rarer occurrence as the years pass!), I like to:

  • Make a list (or get everything out of the fridge/pantry) before I'm on the phone, so my brain can run on "autopilot" and I can have a more involved conversation
  • Use a headset or other hands-free option that doesn't involve putting my shoulder to my ear while on the phone

What do you do to make food prep more fun? I'd love to hear about it!

Related: 6 tips for cooking with a baby

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This month, the Eat Well, Spend Less team is blogging about making food FUN!

For more fun foodie inspiration, check out:

Jessica at Life as Mom

Katie at GoodLife Eats

Aimee at Simple Bites

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship

Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom

Carrie at Denver Bargains 

Mandi at Life...Your Way

Shaina at Food For My Family

Comments

Fun Food Prep

One word--crockpot! It is so nice to put on a soup or roast, and smell it cooking all day! Or, to come home from errands and have a roast-smelling house!

I agree I love doing this!

I agree I love doing this! :) And so simple and easy.

My Helper

I like how you mention your helpers! :)
My 3 year old daughter has been helping me more and more in the kitchen. She's getting now where it really is a help to me! Last night she put the cheese on our salmon melts (although I noticed hers had significantly more cheese than the rest). She can put bread in the toaster, get cups filled with water, and rinse beans.

Like most other household

Like most other household chores, I find listening to music helps make it fun, especially fast, upbeat music. Just be careful dancing around with a sharp knife :-) Food prep can be a good time to listen to podcasts too, if that's something you enjoy (less chance of dancy knife wielding). I always listen to Joy the Baker while I'm doing my dishes.

It DOES get easier!

I, too, found menu planning difficult when I started ... more like surprisingly excruciating! But now that I've been at it awhile, it does come much easier... probably because we have developed those routines you talk about. Sometimes I just make a list of dinners before I plan to get myself going, sometimes I base it on what we have or are likely to get at the market... it works well now!

Great post!

Great post, Tammy! Thanks especially for the practical help about menu planning. I have tried and failed in the area of menu planning. I spent so much time planning and then never kept with my plan. I like the idea of having a theme to help me plan. I know it would make thing go more smoothly if I had a weekly plan. I will try again with some of your tips. It's encouraging to know that it doesn't come easily for you and that it gets easier the longer you do it. Maybe I gave up too soon.

Timely!

Just found your blog, and am thrilled that so many of your recipes are naturally gluten-free. Your breads look amazing though- I sure do wish I could try those too!!

I just posted about how I am learning to better prep veggies in bulk to make dinner go a bit faster during the week:
http://chickiepea.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/thursday-tip-just-grate/

I use this meal planning site to help keep all of my recipes organized. I love that it's online, so hubby can sign in from work or wherever and make suggestions or help plan if he wants, and that anyone who joins and wants to "friend" me can see my recipe box as well. The first month is free, and I've been using it for 2 years. It has definitely saved us from eating out and getting stuck in a rut with meal planning!
http://www.plantoeat.com/ref/ge7o8gh6tw

I make dinner in the morning

I make dinner in the morning after I drop kids off for school,or I do it all on the day when I purchase the food! 7 hours in the kitchen, and 20 minutes daily. So in the morning while the kids eat I make the rice in the rice maker, or put spaghetti ingredients in the crock pot. Every Thursday is baseball practice so I always make that meal in the morning. Think I will link this to my blog and post some recipes of easy make a ahead or fast meals. http://www/themochamartha.com

Cuteness!

I love you blog but that pic of Ruth and Eliyahu is so precious! I just want to reach out and squeeze them. Makes me smile.

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