Bizarro Meal Prep That Changes the Game
If you follow me on Instagram, this is a repeat message. But when something is true, it's worth repeating.
Are you tired of throwing rotten produce in the trash?
Are you baffled by these people who always seem to have dinner pick-me-up ingredients in the fridge with zero planning?
I mean, when do they find time to make onion jam? Who makes onion jam?!
You can. It's actually quite simple and mega delicious, but that's not why we're here. Our goal is bigger, broader, more life-changing than a single condiment. Y'all, we're about to turn meal prep on its head.
In Meal Planning World, you probably see meal prep as step three of four: plan, shop, prep, and cook. That's only a little bit right because here's what tends to happen when you follow those steps. You plan and shop for the week, only cook four of the six meals you shopped for, and you're left with two meals' worth of fresh food abandoned in the crisper drawer. But who has time to check the fridge before we plan the next week's meals? So you plan six more meals, shop for them, only cook four, and the cycle continues. Before long, you say to yourself, "Man, I need to clean out the refrigerator," and throw away more food than you knew was there.
Don't sweat it. We all do it. But here's how you stop.
Before you plan and before you shop, prep.
Here's our bizarro meal prep blueprint:
- Assess. Every week around the same time (Saturday mornings work best for me), pull out everything from the fridge and pantry/breadbox/counter that looks like it might not last another week. That's the test: will this be good next Saturday? If the answer is no, it becomes part of meal prep and hangs out on your counter with all the other rejects until you go all Stacy London on their rotten butts and transform them into magic ingredients.
- Chop. Cut up stuff that has a shield that keeps you from knowing if it's bad - cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, etc. Now you have cut fruit for snacks!
- Roast. Do you have vegetables that are on their last legs? Fire up your oven to 425, line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper (no dirty dishes!), cut the vegetables into your preferred size, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and cook. Most vegetables take 20-35 minutes depending on what they are and how they're cut.
- Blend. Whip out your food processor or blender, and make pesto (practically anything can become a pesto), smoothie booster cubes, or an herb dip with all that parsley and lemon that's about to peace out.
- Google. Do you still have some items you don't know what to do with? Google it: how to use old citrus, how to cook green beans, how to make onion jam... if something doesn't immediately come to mind, the Internet is your friend.
- Cook a grain. While you're in the kitchen, you might as well cook a pot of rice, quinoa, or barley since it requires close-to-zero attention. That way you have a dinner base ready in the fridge, or you can cool the cooked grains and then freeze them in freezer bags if you need to make something in a panic.
- Package, label, and list. Put everything in containers (stackable tupperware is an investment in your sanity), and label it. Yay! A chance to use the miles of washi tape you bought but don't know what to do with! Then grab a magnet and stick a list of your foods on the fridge. You've spent an hour or two saving this food from the garbage; don't abort the mission by forgetting what you have to work with.
- Eat. Cut fruits and vegetables are ready for lunch boxes. Roasted vegetables can be heated up as a side at dinner, thrown into omelets, piled on flatbread pizzas, stirred into pasta, or tossed in salads. Pestos can be dolloped, stirred and spread on to the same omelets, flatbreads, and pastas, not to mention stirred into mashed potatoes, polenta, or rice. Pesto is also a killer base for a salad dressing.
You can look at your fridge list when you make your week's meal plan, or if you're not much of a planner, wing it. It's such a lazy genius time saver to have flavor bombs and produce pretty much ready to go, not to mention saving the actual food from the trash. Double win.
Here's my meal prep from this week to give you an idea:
- fruit compote: I cooked down a bunch of soft berries with a little sugar until it got thick. I'll stir it into yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, and ice cream.
- applesauce: Too many brown spots for raw snacking, so I cut some apples down and cooked them on low with a little lemon peel and sugar.
- cantaloupe: It'll never get eaten if I don't cut up the dang thing.
- quinoa: I cooked a big pot, packed up some to throw in lunch salads, used a little more for my lunch that day, and froze the rest.
- quinoa lunch: I added roasted corn (an ear was lonely and needed attention), some cooked sausage from the freezer, and fresh arugula and basil from that morning's trip to the farmers market.
- pickles: My mother-in-law generously drops off produce all the time, and I have no idea what to do with it all. This week is a bag of cute Kirby cucumbers turned into pickles. Vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. No special time or equipment required.
- roasted green beans: It's my current favorite snack but also easy to zap in the microwave and serve alongside some chicken and rice.
My prep this week isn't as dinner heavy as other weeks, but it makes lunches and snacks way easier, saving me brain cells when dinner does roll around.
So give it a try! Save that food! Protect that bank account! Three cheers for making meal prep number one!