Do you remember watching Rachael Ray on the Food Network when her first show debuted, 30 Minute Meals? How awesome was it to watch her whip up amazing meals that looked so easy and so yummy, in her fun and funky kitchen? I was so excited when I found an amazing cookbook with many of her favorite recipes in it. That was, until I tried to make something for supper, on a night after a full day of work, only to have a dirty kitchen and 5 very hungry people. Supper was not ready in 30 minutes. It ended up taking 60-90 minutes.
What the heck? What was her secret other than her show was nicely edited to fit into her 30 minute time slot? Remember how she would walk and talk over to her funky refrigerator? What was she getting out other than a glass bottle of milk and butter, lots of butter? Zip lock bags. Zip lock bags with herbs and precut vegetables. She did her prep. That was her secret. Now, 10 years later it is my secret too.
I like to food prep. It does take some planning, shopping and being organized, but it is worth it. Not only does it help my family and I to eat healthy meals, but also I spend less at the grocery store and there is tons less stress.
The definition of food prep: spend some time on a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, cutting and chopping. Trust me it works. I personally resisted this aspect of healthy eating for a long time. I would meal plan but not prep. When I decided to focus on food prep, things changed. I truly believe that prepping food on the weekends was a game changer for me! It plays a major part in my ability to eat healthy during the week. If I have lunches prepared, I save money when I am at work. If I have parts of dinner prepared, I have more time and less stress when the kids are hungry or running out the door to an evening activities.
When we plan and food prep, there are fewer calls for pizza delivery or trips through a drive-thru. Healthy eating for our family really comes down to being prepared.
On the weekend, I like to prepare options for healthy snacks, lunches and things for quick and easy weeknight meals. Every week is a little different. If I am really short on time I just focus on getting veggies chopped. A little food prep goes a long way as it will save time during a busy week. When I prep for the week I think about veggies, plenty of protein and a few complex carbs.
First, veggies. I love to roast some up in the oven… especially Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. Roasted kale chips are a fabulous snack and super easy too. For my roasted veggies, I wash and cut the broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower into small bite sized pieces. Make sure to peel the outer layer off the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. I drizzle melted coconut oil on the veggies (or a combo of olive oil and balsamic). If you wish for the broccoli to stay crisp, do not put anything on it. Then I roast them in the oven at 400F for 30 minutes – flipping them around halfway through.
I also like to make roasted sweet potatoes. Simply pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork (I also like to rub some coconut oil on the outside), place them on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 400F for 30-45 minutes – depending on the size of the potatoes, checking to make sure they feel soft but not mushy. Allow to cool, peel and then dice them into cubes for easy meals.
One more sweet potato option: steamed sweet potatoes. Peel the sweet potato with a vegetable peeler and then cut into halves (or thirds). Put a vegetable steamer in a pot and fill with water (just until it begins to flow through the steamer). Add sweet potato pieces and bring to a boil. Depending on the size of the sweet potato, the cooking time will vary between 15-20 minutes… just poke it with a fork! Sweet potato fries, sweet potatoes hash…so many things you can make with a sweet potato. It is truly an under-utilized starch in my opinion.
Other veggies that are easy to prep: red, green, orange bell peppers, celery, carrots, cucumber; roasting asparagus; making cauliflower rice. Pre-cooked/chopped veggies should stay fresh for 5-7 days in the fridge in sealed containers. Always allow the vegetables times to cool before storing in air-tight containers.
Next, protein. Chicken is an easy protein to prepare in larger quantities and is very versatile. Depending on the season, I will grill 4-6 larger chicken breasts to cover meals for 3-4 days. Often if the family is having a meal that requires grilling, I will use that time to make extra portions. (Saving time and resources…the gas is on, might as well use it!) I like to marinate the chicken with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, low fat/low calorie salad dressing, or lemon juice. During the winter, I use the crockpot often to prepare large batches of lemon pepper chicken or salsa chicken.
We also eat a lot of eggs. I think many people forget eggs outside of breakfast. To make hard-boiled eggs I place 6-8 eggs in a pot then add water until it just about covers the eggs. Then put it on the stove, bring to a boil. Once boiling set a timer for 10 minutes. Then your eggs are done. Immediately run cold water over the eggs and then remove from pot, run some more cold water on them and then peel. (Keep peeled eggs in sealed container in the fridge for 5 days).
When there is time and I have the resources, I also prepare another big-batch-meal. I have been making a ground beef/ turkey thing with green pepper, celery, onion and a can of tomatoes with some seasoning.
Some other big-batch-meal ideas: chili, stews, shredded chicken, fajitas, and baked chicken.
As I’ve mentioned, I keep everything I prep in separate containers in the fridge – I think it stays fresher this way. Then the night before, I assemble the meals I need for the next day.
Obviously I still need to cook throughout the week but having food made beforehand makes a world of difference if you are trying to eat real and delicious food. Whatever I can do to be remotely as awesome as a Food Channel star, feed my family, and save time, I will do it, and food prep has worked for us!