It can be tempting to rush through putting your groceries away, especially after a big shopping trip. But if you take a few minutes to process some of your food as you unpack, you'll save so much time on dinner prep throughout the week.
Here are eight easy meal-prep tasks you can do when you come home from the supermarket to get ahead on weeknight cooking:
1. Wash and prep your herbs
Washing your herbs as soon as you buy them is a time-saving measure. But, it will also help keep your herbs fresh longer. As soon as you take the herbs out of your grocery bag, wash them in the sink and dry them off using paper towels. Use those damp paper towels to wrap the herbs and place in plastic bags. Now they're ready to go when you need them.
2. De-stem your kale or parsley
And, if your herbs need to be de-stemmed, like parsley, go ahead and do that while you're washing. Also pluck any leafy greens you've purchased, like kale or chard, from their stems and wash them. Store the greens in bags or airtight containers as well. When you're ready to cook, you'll be able to throw them right into the pan.
3. Portion out and freeze some of your meat
If you bought a large package of meat, like chicken cutlets or ground beef, portion it out into the amounts you'll need for different meals (e.g., put aside 1 pound of ground beef for burgers on Monday and another pound for tacos on Wednesday). Then, place the rest of the meat in the freezer in portioned amounts to use later on. The same goes for chicken cutlets. Place the amount you're going to cook that week in airtight containers in the fridge and freeze the rest for later use.
4. Throw meat in a marinade
While you're portioning out the meat you bought, why not go ahead and throw some of it in a marinade? That way it'll be seasoned, flavorful, and ready to be cooked.
5. Place perishable grains, nuts, flours and coffee in airtight containers
If you're living your life with a kitchen full of open paper bags of flour, sugar and grains, you're not living it to the fullest. These dry ingredients will last longer and stay fresher if you transfer them to airtight containers in your cupboard as soon as you get home from the store. Plus, containers makes everything look so much more organized and pretty. (Never underestimate the power of an organized kitchen to increase your enthusiasm for cooking — and to make you better at it.)
6. Slice and freeze half of your bread
A good loaf of bakery bread is a grocery essential — but it goes bad quickly. Freezing bread is the best way to keep it fresh — and toasting it or reheating it in the oven re-gelatinizes the starches, making it taste as good (or better) as new. So instead of leaving the whole loaf on your counter, slice it in half. Put one half aside for dinner that night and the next. Slice the other half and freeze the individual slices so you can pull them out and pop them in the oven when you're making sandwiches or serving bread alongside family dinner.
7. Pre-slice some vegetables for snacks and crudité
Slice some of your produce for snacks and quick crudités appetizers throughout the next few days. Carrots, celery, fennel and peppers are all great for this. And if you know you'll need a particular ingredient for an upcoming meal, go ahead and wash and cut that up as well. There's nothing like coming home to a fridge full of ingredients that can just be tossed in the oven, no prep work needed.
8. Take eggs out of the carton
My coworker Anna Stockwell likes to take all of the eggs out of the carton and place them in a basket or a bowl. That way, when she needs an egg, she doesn't have to take the whole carton out and open the lid, but can just grab a few quickly from the bowl. A real pro move, though, is to hard-boil half of your eggs right after you get home from the store for easy breakfasts, lunches, or snacks throughout the week. (Just make sure you put the hard-boiled eggs in a different container so you don't mix them up with the raw ones.)