Introduction: Time to Cook - Prep Day for the Week Ahead
When I started planning meals for the week I would go to the store and stand in the produce department waiting for inspiration to strike. More often than not it never did and I would end up eating salad 4+ days a week for dinner because I would just buy a bunch of things at random and never end up turning them into a main dish. It is easy to throw left over fruits, veggies, seeds and nuts into a salad to use up what ever is on hand and we still do this a couple of times a week but now I have gotten into the routine of planning out meals to prepare at least in some part ahead of time. This also makes working with different diets so much easier as I know who will eat what and can label each dish if necessary. I plan my menus through out the week. If someone mentions a good meal that had or I see a tv show or magazine with a dish I think looks good, I write it in a note on my phone and create a workable version for myself when I have time. Having a list of dishes that you are comfortable preparing and can choose from each week makes menu planning much easier.
Something important to consider when deciding on the meals you want to prepare is how much time you will have each day. One day should be set aside for preparing anything that can be done ahead of time like chopping vegetables and making anything that can sit in the refrigerator for a few days or be frozen. I usually do the prep work on the weekend though I will try to get to the store during the week because it is crowded on the weekend.
All Supplies will depend on what you have decided to make - This list is based on my own meal prep for this week.
Cutting Board, Baking Sheets, and Pots and Pans
Food Processor or Mandolin Slicer (depending on foods you are prepping it can make things much faster)
Fruits & Vegetables - I use Carrots, Potatoes, Onions, Sweet Peppers, Zucchini, Endives, Green Onions, Leafy Greens ( I prefer Curley Endive or other Bitter Greens) Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash, Apples
Firm Tofu or a Ground Meat for Carnivores
Herbs and Spices (personal preference) - I use Thyme, Basil, Oregano, Cumin, Garlic powder, Salt, Pepper
Butter or Butter Substitute
Step 1: The Type of Cook Matters
I am what my family calls an intuitive cook, this means I do not often use a recipe and will just throw things together. Usually it works out well, sometimes it fails spectacularly.
I tend to use much of the same ingredients in most of the dishes I make with variations in spices and herb for taste. This makes prepping for the week pretty easy because I prepare the ingredients ahead of time and make most of the dishes at the time of the meal. I use most of the same ingredients for stuffed peppers as I do for spring rolls but with very different results.
If you are someone who wants to follow a recipe you will need to plan a little bit more thoroughly than someone like me who combines stuff until it tastes good. Try to plan according to time and budget but don't get so stuck in your plan that you have no room for variation.
Step 2: Setting Your Kitchen in Order
I try to do all of one type of task (ex chopping veg) at a time so it is important for me to set everything I need out before I start so I don't have to go looking for it in the middle of the doing. Start with a clean counter top or table, When you don't have to work around other thing you will be surprised at how much easier it is to keep on task. I didn't take a picture of the empty cutting board and knives.
Set all your vegetables and fruits according to the ease of cutting, if you need to rough chop something it will take less time than a small dice so get the fastest stuff out of the way first and put into containers. Have all your containers easily accessible so they are ready to be filled and moved out of the way. Organization is a step I never thought about until I tried it once and realized how much time I spent looking for things while cooking. Try it and you will be happy you did.
Step 3: Fruits and Veg
Depending on what you have chosen to make you may not need to spend time cutting up vegetables or pealing fruit but I always need this step and it is usually the most time consuming. I do try to multitask a bit so while I start the Potatoes baking for an hour at 375 degrees I am getting as many other things done before I have to worry about them again.
This step is entirely dependent on what you prefer in your dishes. If I am making Crockpot packs that can be refrigerated or frozen till the day of (mostly done in Winter) I will use a larger chop or dice for carrots, celery, potatoes, etc. This week it is still warm enough for me to not want to have heartier meals so some of my Vegetables will shredded in the food processor instead of cut by hand. I will be making mushroom zucchini "meatballs" so even the mushrooms will be put through the food processor. after shredding watery vegetables, it is best to squeeze the excess water out of them before using or putting them away for later use. zucchini has quite a bit of water in it, most squash does, I was able to squeeze over a 1/3 cup of excess water out of the 2 shredded zucchinis. I also blanched the carrots so they would be a bit softer and squeezed them as well. I try to leave chopping onions for last since they tend to make me cry and make anything cut after them have a hint of onion. I don't chop onions every week so when I do I usually use 2 large onions and freeze about 2/3 in a freezer bag and sauté the rest, I won't put raw onion in my pyrex containers because they make the lids smell like onions even after being washed well.
Step 4: The Incredible Potato
Before I start the chopping, I get my potatoes in the oven. Wash, stab and lightly oil the potatoes before you put them in the oven. I cook mine at 375 for about an hour. When soft enough to stick a fork in them, they come out of the oven and get cut in half immediately. Let them cool at least until you can comfortably hold them or cooler and scoop out the middles. Once all the shells are separated from their guts, let them cool to room temperature before storing them in a freezer bag and putting them in the freezer. storing potato shells like this is a super simple way to have them ready to fill at short notice. You can fill them with just about any filling, pop them in the oven for 30 min and they are ready to go.
The potato innards can also be used to make a bread-like patty that we use as a shell or crust. Smash the eft over potatoes in a bowl with a dough cutter (my preferred tool when making smashed potatoes, I like to have little chunks of potato). These crusts are pretty simple, potato, nutritional yeast, eggs and salt. combine the smashed potatoes with the nutritional yeast and salt to taste, then mix in your eggs. the number of eggs will depend on the amount of potatoes you used, I had six large potatoes and used 4 eggs which was too many (2 large or 3 regular eggs would have been better). I wanted these to look more like mini pizza crusts so I used muffin top pans for the first set and was discouraged by how difficult they were to get out so ended up using the silicone square pan which was so much easier. Baked at 350 for 45 min. after removing from the pans let cool to room temperature and store in the freezer.
Step 5: Tofu and Rice
I love my rice cooker!! I set the rice cooker going with a 1:1.25 ratio of rice to water (more water for stickier rice) while I prepare my tofu. I am not a true vegetarian but I do have a difficult time digesting meat so I only eat it on special occasions. Firm Tofu is my ground protein of choice. After draining the tofu it is important to press excess water out of the blocks, if you don't the ground tofu will cook forever before it browns. I do this step by putting the tofu on a clean dish cloth on a plate, covering it with the other half of the dish cloth and another plate and putting a weight on top (I had just filled my thermos with hot water and it was handy). I let this sit for a few minutes and repeat if the tofu still seems too wet. If you use paper towels for this you need to remember to change them frequently. After the pressing is done the crumbling starts. Basically you are using your fingers to smush the tofu into the size of crumble you prefer, you can alternately cut the tofu in to a small dice if you prefer. Seasoning is added to taste, I used Tamari, a dash of Worcester sauce(would have used liquid smoke if I had it), cumin, garlic powder, white pepper, thyme, celery salt and oregano. Mix it all together and fry it in the pan till it starts to brown. Remove from heat and let cool before moving to a covered bowl.
Step 6: Putting It All Together - Peppers
At this point I have vegetables chopped and prepared for use, rice and tofu cooked, and potatoes shelled and made into usable crusts so I am ready to put a couple things together for premade dishes. All of prepared ingredients are nicely stored in reusable freezer safe containers and ready to go when I want them.
Stuffed Peppers are easy to make ahead of time so I usually have a few in the freezer for days when I come home and want nothing more than to eat something and crawl into bed. I cut the tops off the peppers (about 1/3 down) and scoop out the seeds. the top 1/3 is diced and put into a small container for use in other dishes. My local grocery store had a very poor selection of peppers this week so I ended up getting a few green ones ( would have preferred orange or yellow). using the ingredients I just prepared I mix rice, tofu, carrots, onions, green onions and a little of the pepper for the tops in a bowl - this is my go to stuffing for almost everything. fill the pepper shells with the mixture and add a scrambled egg to the top. Bake at 375 for 35-40 min, let cool completely before putting in the freezer. When you are ready to eat, put frozen pepper in the oven at 350 for about 30 min.
Step 7: Putting It All Together - Endives and Baby Bok Choy
This is a simple meal using fresh endives and baby bok choy. Mixed softened cream cheese with a small handful of the shredded carrots, zucchini and mushrooms with some green onions, taste and season if desired. Mix well. Take the washed vegetables and pull apart the bunches to get the individual leaves which are nicely shaped to create their own little boats and scoops. spread the leaves with the cream cheese mix but don't over fill. For the endives I add some hemp seeds which I always have in the freezer and they are ready to eat. The baby bok choy I fold the leaves over and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and put in the oven under the broiler for a few minutes, just enough time to brown the parmesan. Super quick and tasty.
Step 8: Putting It All Together - Spring Rolls
Rice paper wrappers are a great thing to have on hand. They are a neutral flavor and won't over power whatever is used as a filling. A little practice and you have a fun, easy way to make a convenient, take with you meal.
Have all the ingredients ready to go and at room temperature or cooler. A shallow dish that you can use to submerge the rice paper in is needed. Submerge for 5-7 seconds in luke warm water and transfer to non-stick prep surface. It will take about 30 seconds for the wrappers to become soft and a little sticky. Fill with your ingredients of choice taking care not to over fill your wrappers or they will tear when you try to roll them. Fold over one side to cover the filling and stick about 3/4 fo the way to the opposite side. Then fold the edges in to create a pocket so the filling will not fall out the sides and roll the rest of the way closed, do not pull the wrapper too tight or it will tear. Once you do a couple you will get the feel for how much filling to use. The stickiness of the wrappers will keep these rolls closed.
If you are planning to make these ahead of time you will need to wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap before storing them or they will stick together and tear when you try to get them apart. We didn't get that far as these were eaten for lunch.
Step 9: Putting It All Together - Acorn Squash
Super easy but tastes best when made fresh. Cut the acorn squash in half length wise. Scoop out the seeds and save for roasting (in another Instructable). Brush with olive oil and bake open face down on a baking sheet for 30 min at 375. After 30 min, turn open face up and fill with the same filling from the peppers (they also taste great without the filling and a bit of cinnamon). Put back in the oven and bake for an additional 20 min. Let cool a bit before you eat.
Step 10: Enjoy
There you have it. Some prep work on the weekend and meal construction becomes much easier when most ingredients are ready to go. If you have ingredients that you use all the time and can prep ahead, please share them in the comments. The more options we make, the more options we have.
Thank you for looking at my Instructable and have a great day.
Participated in the
Meal Prep Challenge