Bust Holiday Stress with your Home - Part 1: Food Prep Zone
While the holidays are often a time of hectic schedules, planning, and gatherings, there are some great options for your home to help cut down on the stress. Since the kitchen is often central to your home activities, we are sharing tips based on our 30+ years of remodeling experience that you can use to make your holidays easier.
Part 1: Make a Food Prep Zone
Why Make a Food Prep Zone
The Food Prep Zone is the perfect place to launch meal preparation efforts for yourself and your family. A food prep zone saves a lot of time because it gives you a dedicated space to prepare a larger quantity of items at one time, whether for multiple meals or packing food for lunches. It allows you to accept help from spouses and children in making meals; they can prepare the vegetables or fruit while you work on another task in the kitchen.
A food prep zone can also save you money. Rather than spending more to get pre-cut fruit and veggies, you can quickly and efficiently pre-cut your own and store them in the refrigerator for quick addition to meals, snacks, and packed lunches. You can also use your food prep zone to separate family-sized packages of meat, which often cost less per pound, into meal sized portions. For example, if you buy a large package of ground beef, you can separate the meat into one pound portions (a common amount used in many recipes) and freeze them in freezer bags to then add to meals later in the week. You could also brown the beef ahead of time and separate into baggies for the fridge or freezer to be used later that week or month in meals. There is no need to weigh the meat, just estimate. So, if you buy three pounds, just separate into about three equal portions before putting it in the bags. Since you are preparing multiple portions of meat at one time, this will save you time on those nights when you need to whip something together quickly – and help you cut down on unplanned eating out.
Selecting Your Space
The ideal food prep zone is a long, uninterrupted counter or island located near a sink, refrigerator, and/or cooking surface. Once you’ve decided where you want to make your food prep zone, gather the materials you use for food prep, packing, and storage. Commonly used items include plastic wrap, plastic baggies (zip and/or tie), aluminum foil, disposable foil pans, lunch containers, and glass or plastic food storage containers. It is also helpful to have cutting boards, knives, and bowls of various sizes to hold food. If you pack lunches, napkins and other non-perishable items can also be kept close to save time.
Organize Your Food Prep Zone
Store all your supplies close by for easy access. For example, you could collect similar items and store them in a decorative basket on the countertop, use a cabinet drawer for all your smaller food storage items (such as baggies, foil, and plastic wrap), or stash everything in an easy access cabinet under your countertop. You could also put smaller and high demand items in an upper cabinet, and then put the larger and heavier items in a lower cabinet. These are just a couple ideas from our own experience in designing useful and efficient kitchen spaces.
Think about the items you use, or would like to use, and how you can get to them quickly and easily to save yourself time. The exact storage methods you use are less important than the function they serve – which is to make your life easier!
As you use your new food prep zone, you may find that you want to move things around to increase your efficiency. It is great to feel like you can experiment with your space to find what works best for you!
Let's Get Started!
Once your food prep zone is set up, have fun with it! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Are you planning to make cookies over the holidays? Make a double batch and put the extras in the fridge or freezer. It doesn’t take long to double a recipe and it saves you a lot of time later.
- Do you need to bring food to several social gatherings? Make multiple batches of the same dishes and store the extras in the fridge, then reheat (if needed) before leaving.
- Bag up lunch and snack items ahead of time, such as cut veggies, fruit, nuts, granola, or other favorite snacks to help keep up your energy while you are constantly on the go during the hectic holiday season. It can take less than five minutes to prepare many snacks and will save you a lot of time when you don’t have to stop at the drive-through when shopping. Keep a couple non-perishable snacks, like nuts, crackers and granola bars in your purse or car for quick access.
- Double a meal recipe and save the extras for lunches that week or in the freezer for later. It takes just 5 to 15 minutes to pull out a frozen meal and get it warmed up for the family, rather than the usual 20-40 minutes.
- Brown several pounds of ground beef at a time, then freeze or refrigerate the extras for other recipes. For example, if you are having taco night, brown an extra pound or two for chili later in the week. This adds just a couple minutes to your original prep time, but saves you 5-10 minutes or more later in the week!
Other articles in this series:
- Make a Food Prep Zone (you are here)
- Part 2: Optimize Your Pantry
- Part 3: Home Planning Center (coming soon)