In an ideal world, we would grow our own produce and lovingly cook a week's worth of meals at the weekend to freeze. And probably photograph them and pin them on Pinterest whilst we are at it. But unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. By not having quick and easy meals to hand, you may find yourself opting for a pricey takeaway, eating out more or consuming a dinner of chocolate and crisps. I'm guilty of all 3 – and this time of year, with cold, dark night doesn't exactly motivate me to do anything, never mind cook. So here are some great ideas to save you time without blowing the budget.
If you have the time, and you are so inclined, you can cook a batch of meals to freeze and enjoy at a later date. To start batch cooking, you will need:
- A list of meals you plan to prepare.
- Ingredients for each dish.
- Containers to freeze your meals in – you can typically get 8-10 for £1 in pound shops.
- A permanent marker or sticky labels.
- A couple of hours spare.
- Motivation to clean the kitchen after cooking 5-7 different dishes.
Batch cooking is a time consuming task, so below are more ideas that don't involve batch cooking.
If you have the storage space, such as a freezer, then when you are cooking your meals cook twice the amount and freeze half. This takes just a little bit more effort and you will just need to defrost and reheat to enjoy. Some foods, curry in particular, taste better reheated. If you don't fancy the same meal again, or you don't have the ingredients to make double then you can always cook double of a part of the meal e.g. marinated chicken.
Planning ahead takes away that chore of thinking about what to eat when you are already hungry and tired. If you have already meal planned for the week ahead then you know you will have the main ingredients to make your chosen dish. Having to think about what to cook for dinner can be half the battle – after a long day at work do you really want to go trudging through your freezers? Planning ahead also means you know whether you need to lift something out of the freezer or buy something on your way home.
Changing the things you buy can help you to prepare meals in a few minutes.
- Boil in the bag rice is my new lifesaver. Aldi sell a box with 4 x 2 servings for just 59p.
- A pizza is a great staple to keep in the freezer – it has fewer calories than a take away pizza (half a Domino's peppeoni pizza has a massive 1,560 calories, compared to half a pepperoni pizza from Tesco which has 409 calories) and costs a fraction of the price. My favourite pizza is just £1.50, and I prefer it to any take away or restaurant pizza.
- Frozen vegetables offer both a cheaper and a more convenient alternative to fresh vegetables.
- Passata can be jazzed up with a few herbs and spices – serve with some pasta and you have a meal in minutes.
Have some go to meals
Whether you have meals that you have cooked and frozen, a pizza in the freezer, Pasta N Sauce packets or tins of soup – have something on hand to make a filling meal without resorting to takeaways.
Do you have any tips for creating meals quickly, but on a budget?