In a perfect world, meal prep would be stress-free and family menu planning would be a piece of cake. While it would be a dream to have a professional chef cook for you every day, it’s likely not in your budget.
Cooking for yourself and your family can be rewarding and healthy. It also keeps your budget in check. With all your savings from cooking a few more meals at home, you’ll be able to enjoy more guilt-free nights out at fantastic restaurants.
While you might not roll out as many multi-course meals as a professional chef, you can learn how to source great ingredients and build satiating meals to please your palate. Simple tricks and seasonings will elevate what you can do in the kitchen.
Regardless if you’re new to cooking or a seasoned pro, you can learn a few tips from these OKC area professional chefs.
Start with a Menu
Developing a menu is a great way to keep from wasting groceries. Just ask Grant Johnson, a professional chef who works with OKC’s Good Egg Dining Group.
“The best way to keep food from spoiling is to plan a menu and stick to it,” said Johnson. “Whether you’re meal prepping for meals away from home or just cooking for the family at home, if you stick to what you’ve planned, you shouldn’t have anything going bad.”
Need to mix up your weekday menu? Take inspiration from Pinterest or recipe videos from Facebook if you’re stuck on the same meals week after week. Also, take a cue from what’s on sale at your grocery store and incorporate those items into your plan.
Buy Items in Bulk
It’s tempting to load up on a lot of groceries all at once, but this can lead to waste. When it comes to fresh fruits and veggies, it’s not wise to buy more than you need for the week. However, while produce isn’t ideal, dry goods are perfect for buying in bulk.
Johnson believes in buying certain dry goods, like rice, in bulk about once a month. Grains and dried beans are safe bets to last longer on your shelf. They can also be used as the base of many different meals.
Rhi Roesler, also a professional chef at Good Egg Dining and chef de cuisine at The Drake and Republic Gastropub, suggested buying meat and fish in bulk. Her tip is to freeze it in portions and defrost as needed.
What to buy in bulk
- Grains (rice, quinoa, tabbouleh, etc.)
- Dried beans and lentils
- Meats (to freeze and portion)
What to avoid in bulk
Roesler also suggested buying fruit slightly under ripe. It will give you a few more days of shelf life.
Spice Up Everyday Meals
You might think cooking for yourself will result in bland meals. Don’t fear–you can save your cooking from a flavorless fate. Simply flavor with different combinations of spices, sauces, and dressings.
“The best way to dress up a simple meal is with seasoning. Don’t be afraid to play with your food,” Johnson said.
Herbs are fairly cheap in bulk and can be spread over many meals. Johnson recommends growing a few of your favorite herbs in a garden or on a windowsill.
He also recommends making your own dressings. His rule of thumb for a simple dressing is a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. He says to experiment with different kinds of vinegar and acidic elements like lemon or lime juice. Salt, pepper and herbs round it out.
Rhi likes to add sauces to spice up her meals.
“I am a huge fan of sauces. I will make entire meals based on a sauce I’m craving,” Roesler said. “They are a cheap way to dress up any protein or center of the plate item.”
She keeps chicken and beef stock as staples in her kitchen. They’re easy to use in sauces and incorporate tons of hearty flavors.
Freeze Meals for Easy Dinners
When you have a heavy work schedule or a crew of hungry kids at home, freezing ready-to-eat or cook meals save precious time. The chefs love getting ahead of meal prep at home.
“Casserole or one pot meals tend to freeze well, and for a few hours of work in the kitchen, you can make 4 or 5 family size portions of the same meal that can be popped in the oven later when you don’t have time to cook a full meal,” said Johnson.
Roesler uses herbs to get ahead of meal prep by freezing large batches of pesto and herb butter in ice cube trays. When she’s ready to flavor a meal, she takes a cube and melts it into her recipe.
Keep a few essential gadgets around
A craftsman needs good tools. Chefs have their tried and true gadgets to help them elevate simple ingredients. Rhi loves her immersion blender for its many uses.
“The one gadget I use more than anything else is my immersion blender,” Rhi said. “It’s great for making anything, from your own salad dressings or sauces to a quick homemade pancake batter for the kiddos.”
Johnson promises that a rice cooker and slow cooker Crockpot can help stretch a dollar.
Of course, all chefs need to invest in a decent set of sharp knives. A dull knife will frustrate and make meal prep a pain. Plus, it can be dangerous and lead to injuries.
Homeland has what you need
We help feed you and your family quality meals. From fresh produce to quality meats and dry goods, we’ll make sure you have everything you need no matter your budget.