Well, it took six weeks to get here but we’ve finally made it — MEAL PREP SUNDAYOHMYGOD.
If you haven’t been following along, this is part 5 in a series on meal prepping and you’ll be better off starting with part 1 – then part 2 – then part 3 – then part 4.
In this post I’m going to cover a lot of ground including what tools I frequently use, some time-saving tips, a bit of pro-style kitchen efficiency and how to store your shit. Everybody put on your culinary adventure hats, it’s time to make some food!
Why I do it on Sunday
I’ve been consistently posting these blogs on Sundays because Sunday is my meal prep day. It has been for a long time now. Several reasons, really:
- Sunday is a good get ready for the work week day in which I do other adult shit like laundry. If I’m already focused on getting prepared for the week, I’d may as well stay in the zone.
- Sundays, for me, are the least likely to be booked. Sure, there are times when I’m out of town or have something strange going on, but chances are, I’ll have a few hours on Sunday to devote to meal prep.
- I tend to meal prep my food for Monday-Friday, so Sunday is the earliest day (theoretically) possible for me to make food if I plan on eating it all week and it not taste like shit by day 4 or 5.
Sundays are just meal prep days at my house and they seem to be a common choice for a lot of folks with M-F jobs. With that said, it’s not imperative that you do it on Sunday! If you have a job with a strange schedule, you just do it on whatever day works best for you. The main idea here is that you have a day in which you do this consistently. It’s what you’re expected to do, it’s what you’re looking forward to doing and it’s what you schedule other shit around every single week. Pick your day and keep it.
I also realize folks like my parents have weird schedules where they’re not working the same shift on any certain day two weeks in a row. Consistent meal prepping on a schedule like this is challenging but it isn’t impossible. You may have to do it differently every week and yes that may require a bit of thought and effort but so does life in general. That’s just the nature of being healthy and reaching goals you’ve set for yourself. A hectic schedule is a challenge but it’s never an excuse.
“But, but, but…” I can hear you saying and I don’t want to hear it. Pick your meal prep day and get marry it.
Tools to use
At the bare minimum, if you want to do meal prep you’ll need food, a heat source and stuff to store shit in. But since y’all are reading this on super cool computers, fancy-pants tablets or an iPhone I’m sure is way too big, I’m betting you have more than the minimum or you at least have the means to go above and beyond. So let’s get there.
**I want to go ahead and say that very much like having a shitty schedule, NOT having this equipment is not an excuse to flake out. There’s always more than one way to do shit in the kitchen so you have to figure it out or just work with your limitations. This is merely a list of things that I benefit from nearly every week for meal prep.**
- Slow Cooker
I’m not the religious type but I swear I would consider following a religion that worships the slow cooker. You don’t even have to be serious about meal prep to be in love with it. Growing up, I don’t remember the slow cooker being used for much outside of a pot roast with carrots and potatoes. This is probably why I always just assumed that was the only thing these devices were used for.
If, like me, you have a warped idea of what a slow cooker can be used for, I welcome you to forget all you know about them.
Slow cookers are gods in the kitchen. I have a pretty basic one — you know, the four setting kind — but I’ve slow cooked whole chickens, soups, Mongolian beef dishes, Mexican casseroles, Indian comfort foods and more in mine. Even a pot roast with carrots and potatoes. The point is they’re extremely versatile and they honestly couldn’t be easier to use. You put the shit in, you set it, you go on about your day and in 4-8 hours you have dinner…or a whole week’s worth.
Another big positive about slow cookers is they were basically made for healthy meals. Meat and vegetables can be made tender and juicy with the addition of a few herbs and a bit of moisture — oftentimes just straight water. I almost always include a slow cooker recipe into my weekly meal plan just because it’s so little effort and you should probably be doing the same.
- Silicone Baking Mats
I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get on this train. Not because I was skeptical or they’re expensive or anything. I was just using aluminum foil and parchment paper to line my baking sheets and thought they were doing a well-enough job. And they DO. They’re both very useful tools and I still use them from time to time.But there’s something about having an item you can just wash off and reuse over and over and over again. The silicone doesn’t make your food taste funny at all and it’s naturally non-stick so you’ll never have issues with anything sticking.One of my favorite things about them is that they don’t tear or burn. Oftentimes I’d pull out some veggies or chicken and find that my aluminum foil has torn and the juices from my food have leaked out onto my pan, has gotten sticky or has (sometimes) burnt.
What a pain in the ass.
Buy some silicone mats like these on Amazon and you’ll never have to worry about that again.
- Meal Prep Containers
These aren’t required but they’re certainly helpful. I bought a stack of these from Amazon and their sole purpose is meal prep. This way there’s no way I won’t have something to put my lunches in, they’re perfect size for portioning out our meals, easily fit into my lunch box and are both freezer and microwave friendly.They sell these at Costco for hella cheap so there’s no real reason for you to not invest in a week’s worth, at least.
- At Least TWO Cutting Boards
This is way important mostly because of your health. Meal prepping is huge in helping you live healthier and you can’t live healthier if you’re dead from salmonella poisoning. I have three cutting boards — one for vegetables, one for chicken and one for beef. I don’t always use all three every week but having the extra one really comes in handy if you need to slice up cooked meat.
Bottom line here is don’t use the same cutting board for everything. Never use the same cutting board you cut your raw meat on to cut your veggies on. Never use the same cutting board you cut your raw meat on to cut your cooked meat on. It ain’t safe and it ain’t smart. Don’t do it.
- Kitchen Scale
This little guy is worth his weight in gold. If you’re going to go through the trouble of calculating your macros per serving of each of your meals, why wouldn’t you properly portion it out? Otherwise your macros are shit. The one I have is pretty simple and it allows me to change measurements, compensates for the container you’re measuring your food with and is hella durable. Keep this in your closet and never guess at your portion sizes again.
- Rice Cooker
OMG NOT RICE you say and I say YES. If you’ve been keeping up you’ll know my opinion of carbs — they’re like my side chick. They’re way necessary for your health and well being. They’re often sexy. They’re comforting and they taste good. So far I fail to see why you’d want to avoid them. Rice is a great way to get some quality carbs in your system and it goes well with almost everything.My mom gave me her rice cooker a few years ago and I’ve used it, no shit, almost every week since. It’s a workhorse and it’s done me a lot of favors. The one I have is a steamer that can also be used to cook vegetables, though I haven’t done it before. I have, however, made a giant pancake in it before and that was way rad.Like the slow cooker, the rice cooker is a great effort saver. I drop in 2 cups of rice with 2-½ cups of water and in 45 minutes I have 10 130-calorie servings of steamed white rice with 30 grams of quality carbs.
You guys know how much I love my grill. If you like playing with fire as much as I do, then you’ll invest in a decent little grill. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy and while I’m a big fan of charcoal, I started with gas and got a lot of good use out of it, too. Start one fire and you can cook a week’s worth of meat and veggies that are going to get a smoky flavor you can’t get on the stove or in the oven.Plus you just look really cool cooking over a fire. Looking cool is way important.
- Large, High-Walled Skillet
I have several skillets but for the most part I only use two of them and it’s because of their high edges. You can use a shallow skillet if you’re sautéing a batch of onions and peppers for dinner or something but if you’re making food for an entire week you’re going to need something bigger. I have a non-stick deep teflon skillet (pictured above) that I often use because it has a lid and I have my grandmother’s old cast-iron skillet. I use the cast-iron almost every week and am kind of married to it. The way it keeps an even heat across the bottom is unmatched, it’s oven-safe and can even be thrown over the fire if I wanted to (and have before).When it comes to teflon or cast-iron, you don’t have to stress about which one is best for you, just know that having something deep is going to help you out in the long run.
That’s what she said…
- A Good Set of Knives
Knives are your best friend in the kitchen. You don’t have to get the most expensive knife set on the market. In fact, a starter set like you’d get from Target would do you just fine if you’re just now getting going. You can get by with whatever, but it’s best if you have the right tools for the job so with that said, if you can afford it, I’d make sure I had a good chef’s knife, a paring knife and a santoku at minimum. Honestly, I use my chef’s knife for almost everything but having the other knives at my disposal is super handy.
- Various Tupperware
Earlier we talked about getting the meal prep containers but it’s also important to have a variety of other storage options. Typically, I’ll portion out my lunches in the meal prep containers but I’ll keep my dinners in casserole dishes or large tupperware bowls that I can portion out easily in the evening. You don’t need to invest in a 100 piece set or anything but the more options you have available, the more control you’ll have over your storage.You’ll also quickly find that while your lunch/dinner portions may be good calorically, you’ll need to eat a lot more during the day and these extra containers will help you transport that shit to work with you.
One of the biggest benefits of meal prepping is saving time. There’s no more putting together a lunch in the morning for work that day or determining where and what you’re going to eat that evening. It’s already done! Now, if efficiency is one of our goals when it comes to how we use our meal prep, why wouldn’t we want to be just as efficient in the kitchen while getting it all prepared? Here are a few tips on maximizing your time in the kitchen:
- Cook as many things at once as possible
If you’re going to cook 10 or 20 meals for the week you’re going to need to get a move on. I would suggest making a note of what tools you have at your disposal and which ones you’re going to need to use and get something in/on each of them. If you’re roasting vegetables in the oven, there’s no reason why you can’t start the rice. Are you waiting for the grill to warm up? Then there’s no reason you can’t be sauteing some spinach on the stove.I realize this can be tricky, especially if you’re just getting started. I know a lot of folks are very nervous about cooking multiple things at once because they can’t focus on them all at the same time. This will take practice but it can be easier if you…
- Really utilize slow and low cooking
I kind of put this with the above because it’s seriously the easiest way to knock a lot out at once. Throw veggies in the oven and boom, you’ve got 20 minutes to do something completely different with no distractions. In rice cooker time, that’s 45 minutes. In slow cooker time that’s 4-6 hours. Set that shit and move on to the next thing!
- Plan out the cooking
This may seem like a no-brainer but what I’m referring to here is way beyond having your meal plan made out. If you have a lot of food to cook and you’re particularly nervous about knowing what should go in where and when, there’s nothing wrong with taking 10 minutes and writing it all down. I can easily have a four-five item dinner prepared with all ingredients coming off the grill, out of the oven or off the stove at the exact same time if I plan it out appropriately. Make a timeline if you have to. This is extremely helpful if you have a lot of stuff that uses the same utensil or if you have something that cooks in one place and is then required in another.
- Label your portion sizes
When I make my lunches, I portion everything out into containers so a whole lunch is crammed in there together. Like I said above however, for dinner I often dump each item into a large casserole dish or tupperware container so I can portion it out straight out of the fridge before I reheat it. I’ve found it’s way efficient to go ahead and determine your portion size as early as possible. Weigh that shit when it’s finished cooking, divide it by the number of servings you’re making and then write that number down on a post-it. You can put that on the fridge or something, but I prefer sticking it directly onto the container the food is in. That way for the rest of the week, there’s no figuring and no guessing — the number I need to see on my scale is already there and I can portion dinner out in record time.
Mise en Place
This is actually number 5 in the above list but I think it’s so important that I’m giving it its own heading. Mise en place is a French culinary term that means “Everything is in its place.” What does this mean to you and your meal prep? I’m glad you asked.
If you’re cooking or baking something, it doesn’t really make sense to go back to the fridge or the pantry every time you need a new ingredient. Yes, your Fitbit might say you had a helluva day if you did that but we’re in the kitchen to make food, not break a sweat!
A lot of people will drag out all of the ingredients they’ll need and then grab them off the counter as necessary. While this is a little better than going back to get them wherever they live each time you need them, there’s still a better way.
Enter mise en place. The idea here is that you’ve already done all the prep work and each ingredient you’re going to need is there and ready. And I don’t mean the bags, boxes and cans.
Remember in the last post when I talked about the first draft of the grocery list that included the precise measurements for each recipe and the link to each recipe? This is the point when that list will come in handy. Reference it and you won’t waste your time prepping shit you don’t need. You’ll also be sure to not forget something this way.
Go ahead and spend some time cutting each and every vegetable you’re going to need for every dish you’re making at once. Not only will this get your veggies ready to go in the pan/oven/grill but it will also keep you in cutting vegetables mode. I always start my meal prep days by getting my sweet potatoes, zucchinis, broccoli, green beans, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, bell peppers and whatever other produce I’ll need to cut prepared and in their own bowls. Later on when the recipe says “add one diced onion…” I won’t have to switch from cook mode to cut mode — I’ve already got that onion ready to rock.
Next, I’d go for meat. Go ahead and get everything unwrapped and cut up if necessary (using a different cutting board and different knife, of course). This way the meat is ready and there are no weirdo juices lingering from whatever packet it came in. Just a sexy piece of protein ready to meet the heat. This is usually the step where I go ahead and get eggs ready (cracked and/or scrambled and in a bowl) if I need them.
Finally, I go ahead and portion out the “other shit”. This includes dry ingredients like AP flour, almond flour, seasonings and cheese. Go ahead and measure all of it out. Utilizing prep cups like these have made that so much easier for me but you can use bowls, plates or glasses in a pinch.
This may take a while — like half an hour or longer — but when you’re finished, all you have to worry about is putting heat on your ingredients, not cutting and finding and measuring. SMART.
Portioning and Storing Shit
Alright, you’ve spent an afternoon cooking everything and now it’s all done. What’s next?
Personally, I like to lay everything out on my dining room table for some time so it can cool off. If you portion everything while it’s warm, seal it and immediately put it in the fridge, a lot of moisture will build up in your containers that at best will make your food taste funny and at worst make you sick. You spent too much time working on tasty food to have shit that tastes gross and I don’t want anyone getting sick, so please use this time to take a break. Let it all cool for a bit.
When it’s time to start portioning, I line up all of my food prep trays, bust out my kitchen scale and a small bowl. I’ll start out by measuring the whole of whatever the ingredient is — say it’s broccoli. I’ll then divide that total weight by the number of servings I’m making and I’m left with the serving size.
Simple so far, yeah? That’s because it is.
I then spoon out bits of broccoli (or whatever ingredient) into the small bowl until the desired portion is reached, then dump it into one of my containers. Over and over again until I have my containers filled with each of my ingredients.
Just to be safe, I’ll usually leave the containers on the table while I do the dishes just to let them cool a bit more before I seal them up.
If you look on the internet you’ll find a variety of opinions both science-based and otherwise regarding how long you can store certain foods in the fridge. I’m going to go ahead and add another one.
Typically I will keep enough lunches in the fridge to last two days. For us, that’s four lunches. The other six portions will go in the freezer and each night after I clean the dinner dishes, I’ll take two out to replace the two that were taken out that day.
Honestly, though, I’ve not had any issues with not freezing any of them. I merely freeze part of them just to save room in my fridge. This is seriously up to you and whatever sciencey opinion you choose to believe.
So there it is. You have the tools, you have the knowledge, you have the power…to meal prep. Use it wisely but also don’t be afraid to get creative. Find out what works and what doesn’t both in your kitchen and in your schedule. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t or it can be improved, do something different.
The only way you can fail is if you don’t try.
This is part 5 of a 6 part series on meal prepping. A lot of clients and potential clients ask me about meal prepping and I want to give as thorough of an explanation as I can. Over the next few weeks, I will be covering how to eat, how many calories you need to eat, calculating your macro requirements, finding good recipes to use, making your grocery list and shopping it, smart ways to prep a week’s worth of food and other shit I know to be true. I will illustrate as much as I can with my real-life meal planning/prepping processes so hopefully it will make more sense. Along the way you get to enjoy my wit and my foul mouth.
I also want to go ahead and state that while I am a certified personal trainer, I am NOT a certified nutritionist. I can give you tips on eating better and point you to FDA guidelines, but unless I’m married to you I can NOT make custom meal plans for you. Not even if you pay me or send nudes but thanks for the offer.