As a continuation of my previous blog, here is part 2 of the home cooking series. As a refresher, my goal with this blog series was to provide ideas and suggestions that can help save both time and energy while still keeping your home cooked meals healthy and tasty! Planning your meals 1 or 2 weeks at a time and preparing ingredients for those meals ahead of time takes the stress out of cooking at home. You can schedule your "meal prep time" on the weekends or on a day of your choosing based on these 2 factors:
- Assess what's available at home: in the fridge/freezer/ storage/pantry
- Assess what you need, make a shopping list & get your groceries!
In my practice, there is chart that patients receive in their initial few visits that helps them write out their meals for the week. It also allows them to complete both 1 & 2 listed above in relatively short time. Though it sounds very intuitive, you may be surprised at your own efficiency when you write/type your grocery list before you venture into the stores! A side- benefit of this exercise is that you are less likely to spend money on items that are not on your list (impulse purchases are more likely to happen if you are at the grocery stores and "planning meals as you go"!). This chart is nothing fancy, but a great organizational tool that helps you visualize the number of meals that you need to prep for & therefore, shop accordingly. I generally recommend that you only prep for one week at a time, as this is generally how long fresh groceries tend to remain usable. Of course, you can prep for 2 weeks at a time, and use the freezer as part of your battle plan...I mean meal plan :)
The meal planning chart has all of the following information:
- Number of people in the household
- family member/ friends/ roommates
- Kids/ adults/ seniors with special needs
- Days of the week
- All the meals you are prepping, i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks
- Include names of recipes on the chart
- Foods to exclude for allergy, sensitivity, religious or philosophical reasons
Once you have written down your meals and have the ingredients you need, start the meal prepping process! Essentially, your meal prepping strategy will belong to one of these 3 categories:
- Prepare ingredients & store them for cooking on the day the meal(s) will be eaten
- Prepare the actual meals and store appropriately in the refrigerator or freezer & heat/defrost when ready to eat
- A combination of 1 & 2
Your strategy may vary between these 3 types based on your assessment of each week's schedule.Let's discuss each of these in detail below where I have included my suggestions to optimize efficiency:
1) Chop/cut/marinate/prepare ingredients & store them for cooking
- In Part 1 of this series, I recommended a food processor as a 'must-have'. You can choose to use a food processor or cut/chop all your veggies with the old-fashioned knife & cutting board. Though I know the food processor saves time & energy, I do enjoy chopping my veggies and fruit manually when I have some extra time. This is a great activity to do as a family!
- Reduce the amount of chopping by buying some of your vegetables & salads in the pre-cut packages available in most grocery stores. Watch out for added ingredients such as sulfites that are sprayed on vegetables to increase shelf life! Added sulfites can especially be a problem for people with skin conditions such as acne & psoriasis.
- Make the marinades & marinate tofu, tempeh, meats
- Be mindful that some veggies & fruits can brown or spoil easily once chopped. Some examples include potatoes, bell peppers, apples. Use these in the earlier part of your week. Sprinkling lemon juice on apples will lengthen the time for browning & storing chopped potatoes in water will keep them usable for up to 2 days.
- DO NOT wash spinach, kale, cilantro - these veggies need to be stemmed & stored wrapped in paper bags or kitchen paper towels for best storage life. Wash & chop right before use.
- Soak your beans! And throw out the water before you use them in your recipe. This simple procedure decrease the gas-causing properties of beans by altering some lectins. Sprouting is another way to get the most nutrients out of your beans- the Air fryer can be very useful in sprouting your beans overnight! Or use the old-school way - wrapped in a wet cheese cloth & left in the oven (ensure the oven is not on!)
2)Prepare the actual meals and store appropriately
- This is my second choice in meal prepping since this method invariably leads to over-use of the microwave oven, plus, the food storage science needs to be followed accurately to avoid bacteria/ fungi growing in your foods! That being said, pick the option that's best for yourself & your family. And try to make at least some meals on the day that they will be consumed.
- If you choose to prepare ALL your meals ahead of time, you need to have plenty of containers to store them plus adequate room in your fridge/freezer.
- It is best to cool cooked foods to room temperature before freezing them otherwise the condensation from the steam will freeze to ice & add extra water to your meals when you defrost them - leading to a soggy entreé!
- Be vary of texture changes in some foods when you re-heat before eating. This is especially true of beans & green leafy vegetables.
- If you have leftovers from a previously frozen meal, it is best not to re-use this especially when meat is part of the ingredients. Food wastage is another reason this is my second choice of meal prepping!
I hope by now you are excited about starting to cook at home! By using both meal planning, meal prepping and time-saving cooking gadgets, you will be dishing out delicious meals that you can enjoy in the comfort of your home. Do not be afraid to experiment with new recipes! I often look at recipes in books and online but end up using them as inspiration, ultimately modifying the recipes to meet the criteria that I consider most important in a meal: packed with nutrients, free of additives & unnecessary chemicals, tasty, can be made in 30 minutes or less!!
If you have enjoyed reading this series, please send me a note or add a comment to let me know! Until next time....hope you enjoy your home-cooked meals!