Next to meal planning, meal prep is KEY for any household wishing to sustain the real food lifestyle. Here are my top meal prep and time-saving tips to ensure that you can prepare meals faster every day.
1. Clean and Cut Vegetables in Advance
Shortly after arriving home after my weekly grocery trip. I immediately set up for cleaning and cutting all of my vegetables for the week. Performing this meal prepping step early avoids common pitfalls like being side-tracked, distracted or discouraged from the laborious task. At our house, this step usually ends up bags of cleaned and cut cubed sweet potatoes, chopped squash, celery, onions, green onions, and bell peppers spilling out of the refrigerator. Yes, it takes time to prepare these bags in advance, but how glorious it is to just grab a bag of pre-chopped items from the refrigerator vs. having to spend precious weeknight time doing this while cooking.
2. Batch Cooking
In my experience, batch cooking comes in a few forms. One method of batch cooking is to cook all of your meals in a single day, like within 2-3 hour span so you are only reheating later in the week. Or, to some who promote batch cooking, it is a process of cooking a large batch of a single dish and creating smaller portions to be frozen for later use. Either way, batch cooking could help free up your time over the course of the week and could help you whip up dinner faster.
3. Bulk Cooking
Bulk cooking could be similar to the 2nd type of batch cooking that I described but is slightly different (at least in my mind). When I refer to bulk cooking, I am referring to cooking large amounts of a single item so that it can be used in multiple ways later in the week. This is the primary method that I use to ensure that we ALWAYS have a meal on hand – #NoExcuses. For my household, I cook extra chicken, extra veggies like green beans and broccoli every week. Each of these dishes can be eaten as-is, incorporated into other dishes like a stir-fry and re-invented as something “new”. When you have a few years of real food cooking under your belt, you start to become creative on ways to reinvent chicken so that it isn’t a boring every week.
4. Cook Multiple Items Together
This one is a quick tip and a dish-saving tip, as well. I came to realize that vegetables can be cooked together without changing the flavor. Examples of this are: I sometimes cook broccoli and cauliflower in the same pot. They have relatively the same cooking time (at least for the tenderness that I like to cook them) so I’ll put them in the same pot. I’ve also cooked broccoli and green beans together. I don’t do this every time, but it’s good to change them up sometimes. Just get creative in the kitchen. If it doesn’t work, that’s OK. At least you only dirtied one pot trying.
5. Pre-Cook Future Dishes Tonight
Game Changer! Seriously! I don’t know why I haven’t been doing this one all along. Since I am only able to get to Whole Foods once a week, I have to freeze protein. The meat that isn’t being used within a few days, needs to be frozen and cooked later in the week.
So what does pre-cooking dinner look like while you are actively cooking tonight’s dinner? While I am reheating/re-inventing tonight’s meal, I’ll put tomorrow night’s protein, which is usually leg quarters, in the oven. Since leg quarters need to cook a long while (sometimes up to 1-1/2hrs), they can continue cooking while I am eating dinner (which was ready to serve in about 30-45 min). I may even turn off the oven and let them hang out for a short while so I don’t have to tend to them immediately. Just make sure you have a timer so you don’t risk overcooking and drying them out.
This method of cooking has really helped to save my sanity about the dreaded “What’s For Dinner?” question. You already know because you are preparing it in advance and are ahead of the game! How awesome does that feel?!?
Rock Those Real Meals!
By incorporating these ideas over time, you could start to achieve your goal of eating all real foods. Real food can be your REALITY! Avoid the fast food lines. Stop cooking packaged foods. Avoid unnecessary ingredients that are robbing you of better health. Real food tastes better and you’ll family will notice the difference.
It is achievable, even for the busiest person. It may take some time out of your week, but in the end, it can be done. Real foods are better than the alternative!
Keep it REAL, folks!
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