5 Tips for Streamlining Meal Prep
Because you weren’t able to smuggle one of our chefs home, despite the fact that this idea is suggested to them often, we’re assuming you may be doing a bit of cooking at home. Remember these tips to keep that from becoming a daunting task.
Keep it simple. Not every meal or snack needs to be complicated (or cooked). Sometimes sandwiches are an easy meal or yogurt, fruit, nuts and a handful of crackers can be called lunch. A green salad with some pre-cooked chicken breast, dried fruit, a handful of whole grain croutons and a bottled dressing does work for dinner. Check out these recipes for simple super soups that start with canned soup.
Think outside the box. Pancakes are delicious for dinner. Why not sushi for breakfast? Minestrone soup for snack? Heck yeah. Don’t feel like you need to get locked into traditional foods for each meal or snack.
Variety can occur over the week/month. Our Green Mountain lunches feature three different vegetables for the three servings of veggies we recommend at each meal. But that doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Three servings of cucumber and tomato at lunch and three servings of broccoli at dinner may not be as exciting, but it still works. Pick different vegetables the next day. Vary the vegetables you buy each week. Consider this when selecting foods from the various food groups; mix it up, but give yourself time to do so. It’s okay to eat the same thing for dinner three days in a row sometimes.
Get help if you need it. This could be from friends, family members, local restaurants, the grocery store down the street, a meal-prep store, or a personal chef. Not each bit and piece of a meal needs to be prepared by you.
Do it in advance. Prepping items in advance can make your life easier.
Here are some easy pre-prepping ideas:
|Vegetables||Wash and spin lettuce for salads or sandwiches in advance. Store in an airtight container with a paper towel or cloth napkin to soak up excess liquid.|
|Prep crudite at the beginning of each week using veggies that last a while: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery sticks, grape/cherry tomatoes (keep tomatoes at room temp). These can easily be incorporated into a salad, stir-fry or just veggies and dip.|
|Roast a sheet pan of mixed vegetables like onion, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, etc., and portion out ½-cup servings into muffin tins and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to a closed container and store for future use. Then microwave the veggies for dishes such as pasta salads, wrap sandwiches, soups or to top an open-faced burger.|
|Make vegetable soups and freeze in muffin tins as described above, or freeze in larger portions to serve more than one.|
|Fruit||Wash whole fruit as soon as you get it home from the store and keep it in a large clear glass bowl either on the counter or at eye level in the front of your fridge. Some people think fruit tastes sweeter when it’s cold, but fridge space may be limited and your counter may be more visible.|
|Prep smoothie bases and freeze for future use. In individual containers freeze any combination of chopped fruit (banana, pears, mango, berries, peaches, etc…) with 1 tablespoon flax seed and 2 tablespoons nut butter. When ready for a smoothie, throw this base into the blender with milk or yogurt.|
|Toss together a fruit salad as soon as you get fruit home from the store versus letting it rot in your crisper drawer. Put it in a clear glass bowl in the fridge in plain sight.|
|Starches||Pre-cook large amounts of whole grains or mashed potatoes and portion out onto a sheet pan with a standard-size ice cream scoop (1/2 cup). Freeze, then transfer to a large airtight container for future use. To serve, microwave uncovered for 1 ½ to 2 minutes per serving.|
|Pre-cook hot cereal and freeze as described above or doctor it up before freezing. Stir nut butters into the hot cereal, then mix in chopped nuts/seeds & dried fruit.|
|Bake several sweet potatoes, transfer to a cold sheet pan and freeze. Once frozen, store in an airtight container. To reheat, microwave uncovered until heated through.|
|Freeze muffins, French toast, pancakes or waffles. Revive them in the toaster oven (best for waffles and French toast) or microwave (pancakes & muffins).|
|Dairy||These foods don’t require much pre-prepping, but for portion management, it can help to cut blocks of cheese into 1-ounce pieces.|
|Protein Foods||Buy a variety of nuts and seeds. Toast them, if preferred, then mix together. Store in mason jars in your fridge or cabinet. Then use as snacks or in cereal, yogurt, salads, cooked grains, etc.|
|Cook lentils, split peas, pinto beans or other legumes and freeze. Lentils and split peas may be best frozen in muffin tins. Beans freeze well if spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, crack the sheet pan like you would an ice cube tray and the beans will all be loose. Store in an airtight container. Canned beans and peas are good, too. Just rinse before using.|
|Consider a crock pot for soups, stews, chili, baked beans, etc.|
|Prep rubs, pestos, dressings or salsas in advance to be used for seasoning meat, fish, poultry, tofu, tempeh as well as grains and cooked vegetables. Pestos can be frozen in ice cube trays.|
We could go on forever, but then you’d need a bigger freezer. So pick a few of these to try; they may make your life a little easier. Start with the food groups from which you feel you need to eat more.
Have fun cooking!