By Tana J Duncan
As the wise gentleman Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” And although he was never a new mother in the throes of juggling life, babies, nursing, children, heading up a household of responsibilities, and perhaps a career to boot, his words ring true.
Especially when it comes to feeding a family. I have been a personal and private chef in the Bay Area for nearly a decade, working mainly with families to stock their fridges with dinners, lunches, and even breakfast items for the work week. You don’t have to be a professional chef to use some of the same plans I do, and the payoff is so worth it. Home cooked and prepared meals are the healthiest way to feed a family. They give you complete control over what goes into them, which is nourishing for everyone but is especially important if anyone in your family has any sensitivities or allergies.
Having nutritious meals ready to go three times a day can seem like a daunting and sometimes impossible-to-manage task. But fear not—with a bit of organization and time management, feeding the family can be easier and more rewarding than you ever thought possible.
- Start with a meal plan, whether it’s the specific dishes you’ll eat each night, or a list of items you can pick and choose from as needed. I find that four “entree” meat dishes (if meat’s part of your diet), two hearty sides, two vegetable sides, and one breakfast item is plenty to supplement the week of dinners and lunches, with one meal out or leftovers.
- Make the grocery list for those dishes first, then add the other regular items you need (e.g. eggs, flour, apples, almond butter, etc.).
- Set aside five hours for planning, shopping, and prepping. I know this seems like a lot, but by taking five well-planned hours—1½ for the planning and shopping and 3½ in the kitchen—you’ll actually be saving yourself time in the long run. And if you are making things you are comfortable with, it will go even faster. Spending this time once a week, plus 15-20 minutes of reheating, is much preferable to 2-3 hours of meal prep per day.
- Make sure you are not starving when you go to the store...we all know how that ends ($$!).
- Once you’ve finished your shopping and are back in the kitchen, lay out all of your items and get to cookin’. You can make this as simple (say, roasting broccoli and chicken thighs with a light sprinkle of salt) or complex (like slow cooking Korean short ribs) as your skillset allows.
I suggest making multiple items simultaneously. Start some quinoa and rice at the same time, then boom! Twenty minutes later you have containers of both ready to go into a stir-fry, be served with meat, or offered up plain with a little bit of butter as some pickier palates may prefer. Throw salmon steaks and chicken cutlets into the oven; 25 minutes later you have protein for the week.
- Put all your finished items in containers or in their serving dishes, labeled with the date to make sure you don’t keep anything past the 4- to 7-day window of quality, depending on the item.
Sample Meal Plan
These easily prepared dishes require minimal kitchen skills and can be flavored with a variety of sauces or spices:
- Roasted wild salmon filets
- Baked chicken cutlets
- Marinated skirt steak (prep these for the grill by portioning and sealing in a plastic bag with your favorite teriyaki or BBQ marinade)
- Turkey meatloaf
- Chili in a slow cooker
- Wild rice with broccoli
- Caprese salad
- Sliced mixed vegetables (a staple in my home—easy to grab a handful and sauté for a side dish or add eggs to)
- Sliced mixed fruit (to top with yogurt or have on hand for smoothies and grab and go!)
A More Complex Sample Meal Plan
- Slow cooked Vietnamese short ribs with Asian pear
- Hoisin beef and broccoli
- Roast chicken thighs with creamy Dijon sauce, parsley and dill
- Chipotle lime prawns
- Lemongrass coconut basmati rice
- Teriyaki quinoa and garbanzo beans
- Lemon and garlic stir fried “rainbow” mixed vegetables
- Arugula salad with watermelon, feta, and mint with lemon vinaigrette
- Gluten-free peach crisp
One or two days a week of food-focused time can easily save you time, money and the headache of feeding your family. If you need more inspiration, my weekly food prep menus can be found on my website and videos are located on my Instagram stories.
Chef Tana J Duncan is a natural foods personal chef residing in Santa Cruz, CA. She also owns Bay Area catering company Salt & Stone Catering. Along with her love for cooking with natural foods, she has an incredible passion for pregnancy, women’s health, and the value of nutritional meals. In her spare time, you can catch Chef Tana cooking up something hot for her clients, adventuring in the city with her best friends, or hanging out with her son Zenovio.