Meal prepping is a key part of my week that I always make time for. Without it, I find myself rushed after work, eating poorly, and spending too much time and money on my meals. Though it may seem that a couple of hours spent each week is a big chunk of your time, meal prepping actually saves you time (and money) throughout the week.
I am guessing you have had more than one occasion where you have been driving home from work and realize you have nothing for dinner. Maybe you head to the drive-thru and pick up something to bring home. I haven't been to a drive-thru in ages, but I have seen long lines in the morning and evening. I can't imagine how that saves anyone time. Then the cost! Yes, I know there are dollar menu items, but I also know that some of the "meals" can cost $7.00 - $8.00 each; leaving your wallet about $15.00 lighter if you are feeding two people.
You have spent your time and spent your money and fed yourself junk. Highly processed, high fat, high sodium and high calorie food rather than a nutrient-dense, energizing, budget-friendly meal. Did you really save any time? Most often not. How about money? Nope - you can certainly feed 2 people a healthy meal for much less than $15.00. And, how about your health?
Food prepping can seem intimidating and extremely time-consuming if you don't have a plan. I have written before about meal planning, and that really is the first step. Without a plan, how do you know what to prep?
Once you have a plan, prepping becomes much easier. For instance, you know for breakfast, you will have the following: overnight oats two times, yogurt parfaits 2 times, egg cups 2 times, and a breakfast wrap one time. With that plan, you can portion your oatmeal into jars, spoon your yogurt into bowls, prepare the fruit you will use on your parfaits, and make your egg cups. If you have all of your ingredients and supplies on your counter, this prep should take you about 15 minutes - with a little extra time needed for the egg cups to finish cooking.
Six meals prepped. Time - 15 minutes. Cost - honestly, none of them should cost more than $2.00. Health - a nice variety of nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals without all of the added chemicals and ingredients in fast food.
With your plan in place, gather all of the tools you may need and set them out. My counter space is limited, so I grab a TV tray and put everything on that. Knives, cutting boards, my food processor, mandoline, jars and storage containers are all placed together in easy reach. I also bring my garbage can close to my prep area, as well as a clean wash cloth to wipe up spills and messes as I go.
Safe food handling is imperative to prevent cross contamination. I disinfect my counter before I begin, and I prepare all of my fruits and vegetables before I even pull out meat or eggs. I keep one cutting board designated solely for meat. Of course, frequent handwashing is a must.
Once I am ready, I grab all of the produce I am going to prepare and wash it. I like to use cookie sheets to hold the washed produce until I am ready to process them. I line the cookie sheet with tea towels to absorb moisture and, since I have very little counter space, set the sheets on my stove so I can easily grab what I need.
I use my food processor for almost all of my veggie prepping. It can slice, shred, and chop in a matter of seconds. I get everything cut the way I want it in just a few minutes, and I only have to wash the bowl once! I slice tomatoes and other fragile vegetables with a knife as needed, but definitely get a lot of work out of that food processor!
As each ingredient is prepped, I place them in separate piles on a platter or in individual containers. I will use the veggies from the platter to assemble salads for the week, to combine into salsa, or to roast. Some may be thrown into a pan for a sauce, soup, or to stir-fry, depending on my meal plan. The rest get stored in the refrigerator for later use.
Because my space is small, I make a point of cleaning as I work. Not only does this make my prepping easier (as well as the clean up later), but also ensures that my work surface stays sanitary. It really only adds a couple of minutes, but saves me a ton of time later.
As I am preparing my vegetables, I also cook grains, beans or sauces I might use the following week. Marinara is quick to prepare when the peppers, onions, and celery are already chopped. Add some tomatoes, seasoning, tomato sauce and let it simmer. Done!
Quinoa, brown rice, and other grains can be cooked and cooled and stored in the refrigerator for use later in the week. Use them as the base of a salad, a "bowl", or as a side dish. They require little attention from you (just watch to make sure they don't boil over in the beginning!) and you can cook a large batch with almost no hands-on time. Just measure, bring to a boil, pop on a lid and simmer.
Grains, beans, and sauces get portioned into containers based on what I am using them for. I usually cook plenty extra to stash in the freezer and keep only what I will be using during the week in the refrigerator. I try to package in the portions I will need to avoid waste, but I usually add a little extra for unexpected company or schedule changes. Generally, whatever is left at the end of the week gets turned into an omelette, stir-fry, or my "clean the refrigerator" salad.
Meat and eggs get prepped last to avoid cross contamination. All of the veggies have been put away, sauces stored, and the grains might still be simmering or cooling. I then pull out the meat and eggs and begin to prep. I might boil some eggs, make baked eggs, or whip up some egg wraps for the week.
I buy most of my meat in bulk and try to prep it for the month. However, I keep it simple by prepping one type of meat per week. For instance, I will buy enough chicken for the month at one time. I trim and portion the boneless chicken breasts, repackage any bone-in pieces into meal-sized portions, add marinade to some and freeze what I don't need for the week. I prep enough that I have 3-4 servings per week for the next month. The following week I may do the same thing with pork. My husband likes burgers, so one week I buy ground beef and portion it into 4-6 burgers for the month.
This method saves time and I buy when the meat is on sale, so I also save money. If an unplanned event comes up or I invite someone to dinner at the last minute, I always have some extra meat in the freezer to prepare.
This may all sound like a lot, but it really isn't. Once you have your routine, you can prepare many healthy, delicious meals in just a couple of hours. I schedule my kitchen time for 2 hours, pour myself a mimosa, crank up the tunes and prep away.
I wake up Monday morning, grab my overnight oats, fill my cooler with the salad I prepared for lunch, as well as a couple of snacks, and head out the door. When I get home in the afternoon, I grill the meat that has been marinating, mix the quinoa with some chopped veggies and a simple vinaigrette and dinner is served, leaving me plenty of time to sit on the deck, enjoying a glass of wine! Cheers!
Want to learn more? I offer in-home prep classes for individuals or small groups. Check out my website for more details! https://www.cinergydynamics.com/promotions