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Be Your Own Sous Chef

This is the follow-up post to my guest contribution on Be sure to check out my original post on her site, Capsule Menu Planning!

I’ve been working very hard lately to streamline my housework and do things as efficiently as possible. One of the ways I’ve done this is to prepare my ingredients for the week’s recipes in advance. I can’t take credit for this idea – in fact, it was my husband (the engineer, of course) who made the suggestion.

I love making kind of intensive dishes – things that involve lots of ingredients, steps, stirring, etc. etc. However, those types of dishes aren’t exactly the easiest to compile when there are cloth diapers to be washed, a little mouth to be fed and 18 loads of laundry to be folded. (And I only have one little mouth to feed – I don’t know how those of you with more handle it all!)

This little predicament is what prompted me to start being my own sous chef. A sous chef is an assistant to the executive chef in a restaurant. Typically, she is the one who prepares the ingredients for the dishes and shadows the head chef to prepare for later becoming the head honcho.

How does that translate to my personal kitchen? By being my own sous chef, I take some time (an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon, usually) to get all my ingredients chopped, washed, measured, etc. and put into plastic or glass containers in the fridge. That way, when my husband gets home from the gym on Wednesday night and is READY TO EAT RIGHT NOW, I can just throw a bunch of already sliced peppers and onions into a frying pan…and Voila! Fajitas! (Or whatever. )

Or, if I’m occupied with a little human attached to my chest, it’s easy for Scott to pull out the meal plan binder (learn more at, grab the already-prepared ingredients and work on things while I’m taking care of the babe.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Prepare your meal plan and get all the groceries you need for the week. For more information on this step and some awesome, free, editable and printable menu planning forms, check out my guest post on
  2. When you have an hour or two to work on preparing your ingredients (while the kids are playing outside, the baby’s napping, etc.), grab the binder and go through each recipe for the week to see what you need. (This is why it’s helpful to have all the recipes for the week at the front of the binder as I mentioned in my original post.)
  3. Slice/dice/wash/measure all the items that you’ll need for the week. There are certain easy tasks that I don’t do in advance like grabbing a handful of cilantro to throw into a dish. I don’t like to cut up things that tend to wilt or go bad quickly. More obvious and easy things to knock out are things like cutting up bell peppers or onions or washing mushrooms.
  4. Put the prepared ingredients into sealable plastic or glass bowls, and toss them in the fridge.
  5. If you have kids who take their lunches to daycare or school, you can go ahead and prepare their meals, too. Put apple slices into containers, grapes into baggies, etc.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a bunch of expensive containers. You can also use upcycled Indian takeout containers (like I used above for the peppers) if that’s all you have.

If you ARE in the market for some snazzy new containers, opt for ones that are BPA-free and have measurements on the side. This makes getting the right proportions super easy while you’re cooking!

Ahhhhhh. Isn’t it nice to have everything ready-to-go? It’s like pre-made meals…only, you made them. And they’ll taste good. And be good for your family.

Another great thing about preparing your ingredients in advance is that you only have to clean up the mess once. Just one big pile of stuff to go into the compost, just one time scrubbing the cutting board and just one time wiping down the counter. It makes cleanup much easier on the nights when you’re actually cooking the meals.

Now, I am a total over-achiever and like to make my family’s sandwich bread from scratch. Crazy, right? (It’s actually quite easy, especially if you have a stand mixer.) I like to get my dough rising while I’m preparing all my ingredients so I can sit back and enjoy the amazing smell of the bread baking when I’m done. I do two loaves at a time so I can put one in the freezer and not worry about bread baking for a couple weeks.

If you are one of the lucky people who has a deep freeze (I am not one of them), you can take this idea to a whole other level. You can actually prepare many meals in advance and freeze them. Then, when you’ve had a long day of shlepping the kids around and taking care of the house, you can easily pull something out and have a gourmet dinner in the time it takes to warm the dish. Even if it’s something like lasagna that needs an hour in the oven, you just pop it in and go do something else while it’s cooking.

(The paragraph above was a hint to anyone…Scott…ahem…who might be wondering what to get me for my birthday this year.)

Finally, if you have any veggies left over at the end of the week, toss them all into a wok with some brown rice and soy sauce for a tasty (and easy! and healthy!) stir-fry. ISN’T BEING YOUR OWN SOUS CHEF GREAT?!

There you have it! Oh…one final note…

I cannot stress enough how much it helps to have a cute, one-socked assistant. It is totally optional but highly recommended. :)

What do you do to make your family’s meal preparation easy? I would love to hear your ideas!

  • heidikins

    Love this. I tend to spend most Sunday’s cooking and chopping and making meals/lunches for the week as well. It absolutely saves me. :)


  • none

    Looking to try something like this… maybe on a Thursday during the day.  Maybe I can make a big meal Wednesday and eat leftovers on Thursday that will give me the time I need. 

  • none

    sorry for the gross picture on the post below – that auto populated and it won’t let me change it (you can delete my comment to get rid of it if you want!!!)

    • Lauren Dahl

      Hahahah! That’s my default photo. It’s Sean Connery in Zardoz. A couple people have mentioned it, so maybe I should change it. :)

  • Michelle Jones

    What recipe do you use for baking your own sandwich bread?

  • Michelle Jones

    What recipe do you use for baking your own sandwich bread?

    • Lauren Dahl

      Michelle – I use a certain recipe off the back of the flour I use. I have some edits though. Do you think that would make a good tutorial? I have lots of little tips and tricks that I’ve figured out over a long time of making this bread…

      • Nikki

        Please a tutorial would be awesome.

  • Anonymous

    oooooh such helpful ideas!

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  • Calayesaunders

    This is so genius! Thank you for making my job as family chef that much easier…now, why didn’t I think of this before?

  • Nikki

    Have you posted your bread recipe anywhere?

    • Lauren Dahl

      I haven’t yet…but it is on my agenda for an upcoming post!!

  • Chelsea

    Oh please oh please I really want to know how to make my own bread!!!

    • Lauren Dahl

      I promise I will get this done soon!! :) (HOPEFULLY!)

  • Tammy White

    For the last month or so I have been using a site called (I’m not affiliated in any way).  I input the ingredients I have and it tells me what I can make with them.  By creating an account, I was able to upload and save the items on my pantry inventory (canned goods, sauces, spices, etc) and it tells me what I can make and if I am missing an item.  I have also been using it to help create my menu plan by inputting the items that are on sale at my grocery store that week (and for which I have a coupon too :-) ) and combined with what I already have in my pantry so I don’t have to make extra trips to the grocery store.  It helps me get out of the rut of preparing the same things over and over again.  I love the format of the planner with just dinners alone.  Breakfast and lunch are usually cereal and leftovers around here so most of the planners don’t work for me.  

  • Jess

    Can you please link the info you say was on the other website because when I try the links it says there is nothing there. 

    • Lauren Dahl

      Sorry about that! Links are fixed.

  • Incognom

    Could you send me your recipe for the lovely pictured 2-loaves of bread….Thanks so much.

    • Lauren Dahl

      I plan to publish it here sometime in the next few weeks. :)

  • Ari Show

    I am a cook book collector. I’ve been really good about limiting myself to buying any more books though until I work my way through the ones I’ve got. Each month, I pick a book, take it with me everywhere, and flag the recipes which I think would be great to try. These are the ones I make first. After I’ve found a few favorites in the book, the recipe makes it to my “card collection” (more on what I do with that later). I choose 5 – 6 recipes to make for the week. Design my shopping list around those recipes (trying to group them so I can re-use ingredients from previous nights), and then make up my meal plan and shopping list accordingly. As I’ve been doing my meal-planning and have bulked up my inventory of various spices, etc. I end up spending $180 – $200 on groceries over a 3 month period. That’s without coupons, without finding the sales, just meal planning. I buy my meat in bulk (at Sam’s club), and freeze it in portions to be used later. When I have my “meat shopping day” (once every 3 months), I prepare my marinades in advance, place the meat into the freezer bag, (after I’ve already labeled it), and then place it into the freezer to cook on a later day.
    I will also shop for veggies in bulk, then spend a long time chopping, dicing, and cutting the veggies. I freeze the veggies in 1/4 cup portions, toss them together into a freezer bag, and then I dont’ have to worry about veggies going bad. This doesn’t work for veggies you’re going to need to eat them fresh though. Only for the ones you’re going to cook, because they’re going to be tender anyways.
    Now, it’s only myself and my husband at this time, but I know that this saves us a ton of money. I will also write down each day of the week, and what meal I will be making (i.e. taking out of the freezer) to prepare. I spend about 2 – 3 days cooking/preparing/etc after my shopping day, but to have prepared meals for the next month to 3 months w/o having to run to the store to buy anything extra, is priceless. The 2 – 3 days I spend prepping, it’s straight prep-time either. It’s a few hours out of each day (1 – 3 tops) to prepare portions of the meal. Our schedules can get hectic with filming movies, random meetings, and holding down a 40 hour a week job. So to be able to pull something out of the freezer that morning, have it thawed by the afternoon is a huge time saver.
    On the recipe cards, if I find a cook book I REALLY love, or a recipe that I really love, I will write it down onto a recipe card, and then cover it with clear contact paper. The contact paper protects it from any spills I make on the card (and I spill often!), and it’s easy to pull the cards out of my note card box when I’m searching for a specific recipe.  If you’re still clueless about how to do this whole “menu planning business”, get a 1 year membership at “The Fresh 20″. They give you each recipe to make for the week, a shopping list, and an estimated cost of what your grocery list will be. You can choose a meat menu, vegetarian meu, and a gluten free menu. Sorry about the length of this response, but I couldn’t resist sharing what I do!- Ari

  • Kristen M.

    I love! I want! I want it all!!!! Can you pretty, pretty please share your cover design, too? Thank you for reolutionizing my life. Seriously. I so appreciate this post! 

  • Nina Cabardo

    Hi! I have just started to get organized around the house and reading about your meal plan binder and pre-slicing ingredients are really great ideas. I’m trying to get ambitious too with more gourmet meals so I’m definitely taking note of your suggestions :) Thanks a bunch!

    • Lauren Dahl

      I am so glad you found my ideas helpful!