By now most of you are completely on board with the fact that what you eat is an essential component of how great you feel, and you know that means high quality foods, mostly prepared at home. But there's a big problem: who in the world has the time to make photo-worthy meals every single day of their lives? I'll tell you - no one.
That said, 95% of what I eat is good quality and home-cooked (only about 1% take Instagram-worthy pictures, but that's okay). So what's the secret? Meal prep parties! The party is optional, but setting aside a couple of hours only one day a week is all it takes to be able to eat as soon as you get home most nights, no muss no fuss. Meal prep works because, as it turns out, it's the planning, chopping, and cleaning that takes up most of the time in cooking. When you do all of that only once, you save a TON of time and knock out most of the week's kitchen work in one swoop.
Here's what you do in advance:
1. Pick your day. It needs to be a day you can reasonably spend 2 hours in the kitchen, and ideally go the grocery store the day before or that morning.
2. Choose your recipes. I use Evernote to save recipes I find online and browse for inspiration, and I have my favorite cookbooks. Don't pick things with a thousand complicated instructions. Select one soup/stew/chili, one vegetable dish, one meat/fish, and maybe one salad-in-a-jar. It helps if you have an ingredient theme, say sweet potatoes, cilantro and tomatoes, so you can buy less. Remember everything you make doesn't have to be an actual recipe; you can just "make food" (hard-boiled eggs, for example).
3. Know your basics. In my house, it's white rice, bacon, chia seed pudding, seeds/nuts, and eggs (sadly the eggs aren't for me anymore).
4. Make a list and go grocery shopping. I put the list on my phone so I never get to the store and realize I'm without it. When you write quantities, be sure to double anything you chose that will freeze well (soup and burgers especially!). You'll make extra so there is always something on hand.
5. Prep rice (if you like it/can eat it). The night before food prep day put 1.5 cups rice in a bowl covered with water to soak. See below for instructions on what to do to actually cook the rice on food prep day.
What to do on food prep day:
1. Set the scene. Put on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine if you're so inclined, and have your recipes at the ready. Reread the recipes and take out all the ingredients you need for everything (spices, herbs, vegetables, etc.), a large and small cutting board, a well-sharpened chef's knife, and a bowl for food scraps so you don't have to run to the trash can constantly.
2. Think about the timing. I usually start with the soup because it usually takes the longest (bonus points if you pick a crock pot recipe). If you're making steel cut oats for breakfast for the week, that's something you'll want to put on first because it takes awhile. Anything that needs to bake should go early as well, so you can work on other things while it's in the oven (remember a timer is your friend when you're doing so many things at once!).
3. Cook. I can't break this down without knowing what you chose to make, but I can give a few tips. Chop everything at once; if you need an onion in several recipes, just knock out all the onion chopping in one go and portion it in small bowls. Use a bowl for scraps and only go to the trash can when you need to dump the bowl. Be sure you have enough containers to put all of your prepared food in as you finish. Wash pots and pans immediately after using them (try to keep the sink as clear as possible; Gwyneth is right about cleaning as you go). Don't take things too seriously - if something fails, something fails! Always make extras whenever possible so you can freeze them for later (be sure to label and date everything you put in your freezer). Finally, try to have some fun!
If you're new to cooking, at first it will take longer, because new recipes ALWAYS take longer. There's just something about reading and re-reading that gets in the way of the flow. Just march through the learning curve and give yourself an extra hour of prep time for a few weeks. Once you have a few staples in your recipe repertoire, only commit to trying ONE new recipe every week. That keeps your arsenal growing and prevents the dreaded food-rut, while getting you out of the kitchen faster.
You're probably thinking that isn't enough food to last a week, and you may be right at first. But after a few weeks, you'll have a freezer full of meals you just have to reheat! And as you figure out your individualized needs you'll have a better idea of what to toss together on meal prep day. Getting started with 3-4 things is a HUGE step, and you'll thank yourself for it!
Don't know what to prep? Here are some ideas:
- Bacon for the week (save the grease for cooking)
- Hard-boiled eggs (easy to grab for a quick lunch or to toss on salads)
- Chopped up peppers to eat with hummus for snacks
- Chia seed pudding
- Beef or bean burgers
- Mason jar salads
- That perfect rice I've been going on and on about...
3 steps to perfect, individual grain, not-at-all-sticky, restaurant-worthy rice:
1. The night before your food prep night, measure 1 1/2 cups rice into a bowl and cover with water to soak.
2. Drain and rinse your rice and, using your favorite oil (olive oil, ghee, bacon grease, etc), sauté the rice until it's completely dry and a little toasted/fragrant.
3. Cook rice with 3 cups water in your rice cooker. If you don't have a rice cooker, cook in a pot on the stove by bringing to a boil, then cover and lower to a simmer until all the water is absorbed (usually about 20 minutes).
I eat white basmati rice (Trader Joe's is my favorite) because I prefer it and don't think brown rice adds enough health benefits to be worth it. Unless you're diabetic (in which case you probably shouldn't eat rice at all), choose whatever kind of rice you simply like best!
If you have any food prep tips you'd like to share, please write them in the comments below. I'm always looking for new ideas!