If I didn’t like my middle name so much, I would change it to efficient.
My whole life is based on doing everything as efficiently as possible. Whether it has been ingrained in me by my technical communication classes– where we learn the world should be completely clear and concise– or the constant time demands incurred at Crossfit; I basically live my life as a WOD. Every task begins with a 3..2…1…Go and must be completed with precision and with the clock always in mind. One area where I’ve implemented this WOD life mentality is with meal prep. Now, while some absolutely abhor meal prep, I love it! Not only do I enjoy spending the day cooking, but then there’s nothing better than having all of my meals ready to go throughout the week, right when I need them, eliminating the urge to snack and keeping the Hangry Monster at bay. I have become so efficient in my meal prep process that I have managed to shop, cook, and clean all under 3 hours! Three hours for an entire week of food. I scoff at those who claim they don’t have time to cook healthy meals for themselves. I’ll admit, it has taken some trials and tribulations to achieve this level of efficiency; however, lucky for you, I won’t be greedy with my amassed knowledge. Here are my ten tips for the most efficient meal prep possible:
- Plan it out. Before I step foot into the grocery store, I already have a game plan. I have researched my recipes and made a list of everything I need. Although I typically buy the same ingredients week to week– eggs, chicken, lettuce, etc— I always write it down. This step ensures that I don’t accidentally forget something, forcing me to retrace my steps in the store, or worse, return for a second shopping trip.
- Navigate the store like a pro. We frequently hear the grocery tip of sticking to the perimeter. The perimeter of the store holds all the fresh produce, meat, and eggs, while in the inside aisles lurk the tantalizing bright colors and amusing characters on the boxes of processed provisions. Not only will sticking to the perimeters make your trip faster, but it will keep you much healthier. When journeying to the inner rings of the store to grab items like brown rice and oatmeal, check the aisle names and avoid the distraction of the unhealthy sirens. They are not your friends. No store makes quick navigating easier than Aldi. Aldi stores are quite small but carry all the essentials for your meal prep. The size and strict aisle flow of Aldi allows you to maneuver the store swiftly. Also, their produce prices absolutely cannot be beaten. Bananas for 29 cents/pound and 45 cent avocados?! Hell yeah!
- Don’t delay. As soon as I get home from the store, I get going. This saves time, because instead of putting everything away just to break back out later, I lay everything out, ready to go.
- Heat it up. Once my goods are laid out, I flip on the oven. This allows it to preheat while I prep everything to feed into it.
- Cut veggies then meat. To minimize clean up and contamination, I always cut and prep my vegetables and then my meats. The process allows me to use one knife, so later I clean one knife.
- Throw as much as possible in the oven. The oven is my meal prep bestie. Since it’s
already nice and hot by the time everything is prepared, I place as much as I can in there. Usually my racks contain two sweet potatoes, chicken breast, ground turkey, and tilapia. Sometimes I’ll even layer some veggies like zucchini or asparagus under the chicken. It allows the veggies to cook at the same time and gives them great flavor. Just be sure to keep an eye on everything, because they will cook at varying times.
- Minimize pots and pans. I own two pots. While the meats cook in the oven, I begin my rice in one pot and beans in the other. When these are done, I dump and store the contents and immediately throw in broccoli or zucchini. I use the same concept with pans, if stir frying veggies or making pan seared tilapia, I simply do one food, remove and store, wipe, and throw in the next. Not only does this method cut down on cleanup, but it also adds a nice flavor to the next items. Just be sure to save the fish for last.
- Give foods their own container. You may have seen the pretty pictures of others’ meal preps where their tupperware is filled with a complete meal of chicken, broccoli, and rice. I don’t go for that. Instead I put all the chicken in a container, all the rice, all the veggies– you get the picture. This method saves time, because I don’t have to wait for everything to be done to start putting it away. As soon as that item is ready, it goes into it’s container. Also, this allows me some variety when plating my meals- do I feel like rice today, or beans?
- Start cleaning as you go. Nothing is worse than completing the amazing feat of preparing a week’s worth of healthy meals than glancing over at a mountain of dirty dishes. To avoid this, I like to clean as I go. Usually, I have a large used bowl early in the game. I fill this with soapy water and as I use small tools, like silverware or measuring cups, I toss them in there to soak. Then, when I have a free moment, I rinse and set them up to dry. Using the bowl instead of filling up the sink ensures that the sink is free for rinsing veggies or washing my hands.
- Enjoy the prep. I wouldn’t be able to get through my meal prep as quickly and efficiently as I do if I didn’t enjoy it. Sunday mornings are my me time. I take pleasure in having this time alone– just me and my kitchen. I play some music, sing along, and dance around with the enticing aromas the food produces. The experience is only as stressful as you make it.
Well, the master has spoken. I hope you utilize some of these tips in your meal prep, and who knows, maybe one day you can be as efficient as I am. Good luck, young grasshopper.