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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Meal Prep: How I get it done

My Favorite Way to Meal Prep
(Without a Ton of Extra Work)

     For a lot of people, preparing meals for the week can be an overwhelming and daunting task. It's difficult to know where to begin, and it's hard to find several hours to devote solely to pre-cooking meals and packaging them up. While that method works for many, there are some of us who just aren't into the idea of setting aside huge chunks of our busy schedule in that way.
     In this blog post I'm listing some of my favorite ways to efficiently utilize your time in the kitchen, to take just a few minutes here and there throughout the week, and have readily available food all prepped and available to eat when you need it. I use some examples below that might include ingredients you don't eat, but they are just sample ideas, take the basic concepts and apply them to your own food plan however it works for you.  By minimizing your workload, you'll be more likely to stay on track and keep up with your healthy lifestyle. It just takes some careful planning and  new habits, but once you start thinking ahead, you'll begin reaping the benefits immediately. Read on to find out more:

1.  First things first, this is probably the most important part of healthy eating: Always keep your house stocked with food that you really enjoy! For me, this is beans, rice, salsa, fruits and veggies, quinoa, tomato sauces, and then extra fruits and veggies

2. Set aside a 5-10 minutes each day for food prep. You don't have to do a whole week's worth of prep in one day! Take 10 minutes after the baby goes to bed, or 5 minutes after breakfast. Do these types of things a few times a week, and you'll have a fridge stocked with home prepared goodies in no time! Ideas of things that take only a few minutes to do:
-Dice some veggies for tomorrow's dinner and put them in a container
-Season a few chicken breasts and pop them in the oven, when they are done, shred them up to have on hand as a salad topping, burrito bowl mix-in, or just a quick post workout snack.
-Pre-mix your hamburger patties and have them ready to go for later in the week.
-Fill your crockpot with beans and water, turn it on before bed, and when you wake up, take a couple of minutes to rinse and store the beans in the fridge.

3. Know what you're prepping for. Have your meals mapped out and written down, with the ingredients list near by. Keep it on the fridge. This way, when you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, you won't spend it browsing the internet for meal ideas. Go to your list and find one thing that you can do to prepare for a meal later this week. Dice some veggies or whip up a salad dressing and stick it in the fridge. Done.

4. Prepare individual ingredients separately. There is a time for prepping entire meals (see tip 5), and a time for prepping "ingredients." My 5 minutes a day method usually applies to ingredients. When you're making dinner, most of the work and time is spent on preparing the ingredients that go into the meal. The actual cooking has little to do with you, the oven or stove does most of the work. So the idea here is to have your ingredients ready to go, so at meal time all you have to do is cook them.
     If you're making spaghetti sauce later this week, you can pop all your veggies into the food blender, pulse a few times, and then store them in a container for later use. When it comes time to make your sauce, you can dump your prepared veggies into the pot, sauteĆ© them, add your tomato sauce and spices, and let it simmer while you give baths to the kids, fold laundry, get in a quick workout, or do anything else that needs to be done around the house.
     Another example would be; if you're making cornbread or zucchini bread to have with dinner, take a few minutes in the morning to make the batter and keep it in a jar in the fridge. When it's time to bake it, just preheat the oven and pour the batter in a pan.

5. When preparing full meals in advance, especially useful for freezer meals, double your output, without doubling the work. In other words, do what you're already doing for tonight's dinner.. but double the batch. Making lasagna? Make 2, freeze one. Making chili? Double it, freeze half. Making hamburger patties (or veggie patties, or turkey burgers) make twice the amount, freeze half. Making tacos? Double the meat, freeze half. See where I'm going here? You'll already have the ingredients out so you're not adding on much time or work to make twice as much. You'll have the same amount of mess and dishes to clean up afterwards as if you were making a single batch. Might as well have a meal in the freezer for Sunday to boot.

6.  Always be thinking ahead. If you just made rice for stir fry and you're getting ready to sit down and eat dinnner, ask yourself what else you can use that rice cooker for before putting it away. You already have to wash it after dinner so you might as well rinse it out and let it do some work for you while you eat. Set the rice cooker up with a different kind of rice or some quinoa. Let it cook while you enjoy your dinner. When you're finished eating, you'll have a nice fresh batch of grains ready to go in the fridge, and you can eat from the container all throughout the week. Same thing goes for pots and pans. If you just used a large pot to boil water for pasta, why not give it a quick rinse and then use it to boil some eggs? You're already in the kitchen, the pot is already out, use it. Now you have freshly boiled eggs to pack into lunches, slice and eat on top of salads, make egg salad sandwiches, or eat as a protein snack on the go.

7. Keep your meals SIMPLE. One of the biggest mistakes we make in our modern world is trying to replicate all the pretty things we see on the internet, finding out how unrealistic (and expensive) most of it is, and then being disappointed and unmotivated to keep trying. If this is you, try taking a break from Pinterest. Get back to basics. Have containers of beans, rice, chopped veggies, and shredded or diced meat ready to go. At meal time, take a scoop of this and a little of that, throw it in a pan with some seasonings, and ENJOY eating a delicious, nourishing meal that took 5 minutes to throw together.


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