Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Strategies for Meal Prepping

It is no secret that planning meals and prepping them ahead of time will set you up with a successful number of healthy meals and snacks ready, give you time during the week with your family, and even save money. However, it can be very daunting to get started and commit the time and work right away. But there is no need to be intimidated. I am going to share with you my strategies to help set you up for a successful meal prep session. 



#1 Make the time


You are going to need to set aside the time to cook for about 3-5 hours straight. If that means sending the hubby away with kids, or blocking out an afternoon, do it. It will save you a lot more time throughout the week from cooking and give you the time back to spend with your family. If you are unable to cook for a longer session (4-5 hours) then you can divide your time into two smaller (2-3 hours) sessions. During longer sessions, I am able to make 4-5 different meals with maybe a snack or two (for my toddler). For a smaller session, I would likely make 2-3 different meals. 


# 2 List, Plan, Shop


List: First, take stock of your kitchen (fridge, freezer, and pantry) and write down all the ingredients you have in your house.

Plan: Using first the ingredients you have found in your house, begin to plan your meals and snacks. As you plan your meals you will also begin to create your shopping list, including those items you are missing to complete a dish. This part is key if you are looking for ways to save money.
       
        Shop: Now that you have a list of exactly what you need you will be less likely to get things you don’t need because you already have the meals planned. An additional money saving tip: depending on what items are on sale, you can make adjustments to your menu should you have a meal(s) where there is a little flexibility. For example, you could  swap veggies (carrots vs squash) or even a protein (ground beef vs ground turkey for instance) that could be used in a recipe.


#3 Start with a Clean Kitchen


Do you ever notice how on cooking or baking shows and competitions their kitchens are always clean before they start? It is not just for appearance’s sake, it really does help set you up for a good cooking session when you start with a clean kitchen. How do I define a clean kitchen? This means an empty sink, cleared counters, an empty (or close to empty) dishwasher, and a floor cleared of toys (ok maybe that one is just for me). 


#4 Set the Schedule


This one changed my meal prep game completely. It may seem a bit odd to do this the first time, but once you do it, I promise you will notice a difference in your meal prep session. The concept is to plan out your session, as in make a tentative timeline of your prep/cook schedule. What does this look like? Here is sample schedule of a cook timeline for a meal prep day. I plan to make one oven meal, one Instant Pot meal, two stove top meals, and baked veggies.

Cook day schedule

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Prep meal #1 and place in oven.
  3. Prep meal #2 and place in Instant Pot.
  4. Prep veggies for oven, place on cooking sheets, and set aside.
  5. Prep meal #3 and #4 (chop veggies and/or prepare meat)
  6. Pull out meal #1 and allow to cool on table. 
  7. Turn off Instant Pot and allow it to depressurize.
  8. Drop oven temp to 350 F and place veggies in oven.
  9. Begin to cook meal #3.
  10. Clean up dishes from prepping.
  11. Remove meal #2 from Instant Pot and pack away, place pot in sink to soak.
  12. Finish meal #3 and pack away.
  13. Remove veggies from oven and turn it off
  14. Pack away meal #1.
  15. Begin to cook meal #4, clean dishes while it cooks.
  16. Finish meal #4 and pack away.
  17. Pack up veggies .
  18. Clean dishes and kitchen.


#5 Mise en Place


A French cooking phase meaning “everything in its place,” mise en place is a strategy you can use in any cooking session, beyond just a large meal prep session. In the template schedule above, you will notice I set aside to “prep” each meal. In order to keep things moving during cooking, you should pull out all the ingredients you need in a meal before starting. Additionally, chopping up all the veggies and pre-measuring ingredients before you start to cook, helps you move swiftly through a recipe. This is just one reason starting a meal prep session with a clean kitchen is so important.


#6 Clean as you go


Cleaning up as you go is just as important as starting with a clean kitchen. When you are finished with an ingredient or a cooking utensil, put it away or in the sink/dishwasher. If you are at a point where you have a number of things cooking and your kitchen is crazy, take a second and wash a few dishes. Once you pack up a meal, take a minute and soak or clean the dish it was cooked in. The more cleaning you can do along the way, the less you have to do at the end. This will save you from when you hit that wall near the end of cooking and you just want to be done. If you can clean as you go, you will have one to two things left to clean vs an entire kitchen worth of dishes.



#7 Hydrate and Feed the Chef


Last but not least, keep a bottle or cup of water in the kitchen with you and drink some as often as you can. Also, have some snacks on hand or even sample some of those delicious meals you make. Remember, you are going to be prepping, cooking, and cleaning for 3-5 hrs. That is a lot of time on your feet, and a lot of going going going. You will need to keep yourself hydrated and fed to keep your energy up while you work in your kitchen. 





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