Growing up in a Southern family, food has always been more than just the substance that keeps me living. Food is love. Food is family. Food is community. So naturally, now that I have my own family, I see cooking for them as an act of love. I think that’s one of the reasons why it took me a bit to embrace meal prepping. I mean, cooking a whole heap (that’s Southern for a lot) of food and warming it up all week, can’t possibly transmit my heartfelt affection to my family as well as a freshly made meal, can it? But what I have learned since then is that meal prepping can be a tool to give me more time with my loved ones and reduce my stress and anxiety during the week…and in my world, anything that reduces stress is more coveted than a whole batch of warm, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (which is very hard to top!).
Here’s the stages my meal prep went through:
Stage one: cooking every night with leftovers for lunch
So at first I literally cooked every day. Now that I look back on it, I’m like “How did I have the time?”. I did make enough to bring lunch to work the next day, and I tried to loosely plan meals out for the week. However, I still ended up making multiple trips to the store for things I forgot or if I changed my mind. I can be quite capricious in the absence of a solid plan.
- Pros: variety, flexibility (ability to be capricious), nightly fresh, hot meals
- Cons: takes up a lot of time each evening, multiple trips to the store when plans change or I forget something
Stage two: cooking some things ahead
After doing a few “challenges” (vegeterian, paleo, etc.), I got used to batch cooking certain things. I’m no good with following meal plans- told you I crave variety- but it did help me realize that having some routines helped me be more efficient. I started boiling eggs ahead of time for breakfast, making sheet pans full of roasted veggies, and having some cooked chicken or freezer bags of soup for faster dinner prep.
Side note: challenge diets aren’t for everyone, but I am a firm believer that if you have trouble staying disciplined or just need a reset, setting a time limited goal can jump start your motivation until it becomes a lifestyle. I noticed that with my husband and me, each time we did a challenge, it got easier to cut out sugar, processed foods, etc. without missing a beat. I suppose that’s because that goal forced us to explore new, healthier options and find new favorites so we didn’t miss the other stuff quite as much.
- Pros: more time in the evenings, fast breakfast options, shortcuts that cutdown dinner prep time
- Cons: I was still cooking my protein/entree nightly, which took 30 minutes-1 hour
Stage three: cooking all my meals in advance
One day, my husband suggested that we start getting takeout a few times a week to save time. I was initially shocked and appalled…how dare he request take out when I’m willing to cook fresh food at home?! I also had my reservations about how eating out more would affect our budget, my energy and performance in workouts, and my overall digestive health…I’m used to eating a lot of vegetables after all! But once I simmered down, I heard the gist of what he was really saying. He was giving me permission to take something off my plate, which I desperately needed but have a hard time doing on my own. I suggested meal prep instead, and I was surprised at how receptive he was to the idea. I tried it the next week, and we haven’t looked back since!
- Pros: no daily cooking! more time after work for time with kids and the hubs and my workouts
- Cons: several hours of my weekend dedicated to shopping and cooking
Now, if I can get my life in order to the point where I have my snacks packed and neatly organized on Sunday, I will have transcended to the highest level of meal prep nirvana. *Sigh* one step at a time…
Enough of the tips. Here’s what I ate last week:
Surf & turf stir fry with sauteed kale
The mister says this is one of his top three meals that I make. Simple, yet flavorful and done in about 20 minutes! I use turkey kielbasa in mine, but you can use a smoked sausage of your choice. This week, I added carrots to mine and used the veggies I cooked for this as a side for other meals as well.
Honey mustard chicken thighs with mustard roasted Brussels sprouts and cubed sweet potatoes
Don’t be surprised if chicken thighs are on my menu every week. They’re versatile, inexpensive, and so much more tender and juicy than white meat. I used to always default to breasts, but life on the dark side is soooo much better! I love the flavor and texture in this recipe with Dijon and whole grain mustard. The Brussels sprouts tie in the mustard theme and the roasted sweet potatoes add a sweet and savory contrast. For the sweet potatoes, I just peel and cube the potatoes and toss them in olive oil, cumin, paprika, sea salt and pepper. Using a large zip top bags works well for this task. Roast on 400 for about 40 minutes or until soft and desired brownness.
Mini Mexiloaf over cilantro rice with veggie mix
My first experience with this was when doing a Paleo challenge with my Crossfit gym. I would deprive myself of dairy and rice all over again if it means getting to know this dish! I didn’t think I cared for meatloaf before my clandestine meeting with the Mexiloaf, but I figured anything with cilantro and tomato sauce couldn’t be all bad. Again, this recipe is easy to make and won’t break the bank…particularly when I can find grassfed beef on sale! I play around with different versions on cilantro rice, but so far this is my fave. The kind a made this week seemed a bit dry to me, so I won’t link that up 😉 I used the veggies from the surf and turf with this.
White chicken chili with Waldorf jar salad
Depending on how much time I have, I may use shredded rotisserie chicken or crock pot fajita chicken for this soup. Boiled chicken can work in a pinch. If I used boiled chicken, I mix the seasonings in with the chicken and let that sit for a bit to absorb the flavors. No matter how I get around to having shredded chicken, this soup has never disappointed.
My favorite jar salad to date! I love the mix of tangy arugula with the sweet and sour cranberries and creamy feta. Here’s how I layered these
- About 3 Tablespoons salad dressing
- 1/4 diced Gala apple and 1/4 diced pear
- Handful of crushed walnuts
- Handful of feta crumbles
- About 1/2 cup of arugula
- Fill the rest of the quart sized jar with spinach or mixed greens
I like to chop my greens up before filling the jar with them, just because it’s easier to eat that way. There’s nothing cute about fighting your salad and ending up with sprigs of greenery cascading down your chin in the company break room. IJS.
Salmon cakes, cubed sweet potatoes, and veggie mix
I know, I said I make four meals, but this week I made 5. One of my lovely meal prep customers doesn’t eat beef or pork. This gave her another option, and I made enough to have a few salmon cakes to snack on through the week. My mom gave me this cast iron skillet for Christmas, and I love it for stuff like this. Practical gifts are the key to my heart! Added the sweet potatoes and veggie mix with this.
- 2 cans of salmon, drained
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c. diced onion
- 1/8 c. diced celery
- About 1/4 c. cooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- Olive oil
In a large bowl, combine salmon with egg, onions, celery, and spices. Add quinoa and 1/2 cup oats. Add more oats, if needed, to hold patties together. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in your skillet on medium-high. Cook salmon cakes until slightly browned on each side (3-5 minutes)…resist the urge to turn it over before it starts browning if you want them to stay as a single unit!
And as treat, I made Spinach Muffins…because they’re green, and it was almost St. Patrick’s Day, and I like to pretend I’m Irish. I’ve allowed myself to appropriate a culture of my choice until I cough up the money to trace the ancestry of my white ethnic relatives. After all, my hair is kind of red. I have a short temper. Don’t judge me.