Meal Prep 101

Ok, so after you’ve meal planned and grocery shopped, then what do you do?? You’ve got all of these delightful new ideas and foods in your kitchen, but my guess is you are going to have some trouble figuring out where to start. At least I did. I’m easily overwhelmed as it is, so I’m going to just assume that some of you out there are like me.

First, you’ll need to get organized. Hopefully you have space in your fridge and pantry, but if you don’t now is a good time to do a quick “clean and purge”. Let’s start with you pantry.

  1. Are there any items that have expired? I am notorious for purchasing canned goods and then not using them before the expiration date. What I’ve found to be helpful is to rotate older items to the front each time I bring home a new item. For example, if I buy diced tomatoes, I’ll place them on the shelf behind any diced tomatoes that I already have. That way I’m always using the older item first. During these re-stocks, I also check the dates.
  2. Are there any open items that are stale or you know you aren’t going to finish? My husband is a stickler for foods having to be fresh. He’ll throw out what I consider to be a perfectly good bag of chips because he says they taste stale. But seriously – if you have open chips, cookies, and crackers – do a quick taste test. If it’s stale, toss it. If there are items in here you know you aren’t going to finish, toss these as well. This will help to clean up your shelf space!

Now that you hopefully have some extra space, go ahead and place all your shelf-stable items in our pantry. If you’re like me and store your starches and some vegetables in here, I would make sure to keep your onions away from your potatoes. They don’t work so well together and cause each other to ripen much quicker than if you keep them separate!

Now, let’s move onto the refrigerator. Follow the same logic as what you did in the pantry. Make sure that you are storing your fruits and vegetables at the correct humidity so they don’t spoil quicker than you can use them!

Once you have your food put away, now it’s time for the fun part – food prep! I write out a list of items that I want to prep first, just so I have a plan of attack. Every week, I make my lunches and snacks ahead of time so I can just grab and go. If possible, I also prep my breakfast so I’m not rushing in the morning before work. I also choose the main meals that I can make ahead of time. You can prep the entire meal (proteins included), or if you’re worried about meats being dry you can just prep the sides ahead of time. I’ve done it both ways and it really is just a personal preference.

A word of caution – regardless  what you’re making, you’re going to get dirty and so is your kitchen. Just be prepared! The first time I meal-prepped, it looked like a tornado had landed and just destroyed all my pots and pans. I know it sounds awful – especially if you’re the type who likes to clean as you go – but it’s going to be ok. Don’t clean as you go because that just slows your process! Just mentally prepare to knock out the cooking part, then load up that dishwasher afterwards. Or, if you have a  willing spouse/roommate, recruit them for the task!

I typically start with prepping my snacks. Every afternoon, I either have fruit salad or fruit with Greek yogurt. I bring out all of my fruits and bring out the necessary storage containers and utensils to chop them up. I have mini, 1.2 cup Tupperware containers that I use for my fruit and yogurt. I also bring out my smaller cutting board so I can chop everything up. Depending on what’s in season or on sale, my fruit salads will vary. I am a big fan of blueberries, pineapple, and strawberries so I try to have this as often as possible. Unfortunately, pineapple can get expensive so I don’t always have it available. I also like to include cantaloupe or peaches, when they’re in season. During the summer months, I’ll buy a seedless watermelon and make that last for an entire week! The only fruits I won’t prep ahead are apples (they’ll turn brown and YUCK) and bananas.

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If I’m having Greek yogurt, I’ll measure out my serving and place it in separate Tupperware containers. Sometimes I’ll mix in vanilla extract or cinnamon for a little kick. If I’m having some other snack, such as veggies and hummus, I’ll store the veggies in Ziploc bags and hummus in my small blue containers (21 Day Fix). If I’m making boiled eggs, I’ll peel these ahead of time and also place them in Ziploc bags with a bit of salt and pepper. I typically store all my snacks either in sandwich meat drawer or on the top shelf in my fridge. This makes them visible and very handy when I’m looking for a quick snack!

Moving on to lunch. I have always been a salad girl, so I fell in love with mason jar salads. I will admit that a first I was hesitant, but I didn’t give it a fair shot at first with only 2 mason jars. That’s not even enough to get me through Wednesday! Come mid-week, I was making my salads again for the next two days, and then doing it again for Friday. That wasn’t helping me get ahead at all! Once I invested in 5-6 mason jars, I found it much easier because I could make all salads in one sitting and one mess!

I don’t know if you’ve tried these, but here’s the basic breakdown: dressing on the bottom; followed by your starches, proteins, or hard veggies (they won’t get soggy from the dressing); and topped with your more sensitive veggies and fruits. Now, you can get as fancy or as simple as you want. When I first started, I stuck to the basics and only use dressing, tomatoes/cucumbers, and lettuce. Now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I’l started to get creative by adding some chicken, fruit, and quinoa!

I make one dressing for the entire week and place 2 T in the bottom of each mason jar. I decide whether or not I’m using a starch or protein in any salads and portion these out. These will go next so they can block the dressing from my vegetables. Next come the fruits and vegetables. I always include tomatoes and cucumbers. Depending on the theme of my salad (i.e. fruity vs. savory), I may add carrots, celery, or bell peppers. If I’m having fruit, I’ll place this with the vegetables in the jar. Finally, I top my salad with the greens – either kale or spinach. Then you screw the lid on and you’re all set to go!

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Finally, let’s tackle dinner! I will typically prep my meals ahead at least through Thursday. Sometimes we go out to dinner on Friday, but if we don’t I typically come straight home and have a bit more time on my hands to prep a meal in comparison to the weeknights. I first look at my recipes to see what side items are shared amongst the meals. As I mentioned in my Meal Planning 101 post, I am a big fan of sharing starches throughout meals. This is because it’s easier to make 1 big pot of rice or quinoa versus 1 cup of quinoa here, 1 cup of rice here, 1 cup of potatoes there, etc. Let’s just eat the same starch all week and roll to a new one next week!

For this week, I’ve planned to use quinoa for my starch of choice and rice for my husband. I have a rice cooker, so I can cook his rice in there and make my quinoa on the stove. If I am having pasta one night, I won’t pre-make this because I find re-heated noodles to be very rubbery. Besides, it only takes 10-12 minutes to boil some pasta! I have also planned to roast zucchini and squash, so I slice both of these up on a larger cutting board. I bake these in the oven on a cookie sheet coated with coconut oil spray. I typically season the slices with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.

While the side dishes are cooking, I also begin working on my proteins. This week we are having Spicy Beef Taco Quinoa Bowls, Chicken Parmesan with zoodles or spaghetti, Italian meatballs with spaghetti, and chicken with wild rice. That may sound like a lot, but it will make enough for about 2 meals each, getting me through the days!

  1. I cook the ground turkey with taco seasoning in a frying pan on one of my larger burners. Once this is completed, I simply store it in Tupperware.
  2. For the chicken parmesan, I prep my egg wash and breadcrumbs. I actually made my own whole-wheat breadcrumbs this week by chopping up some of my bread in a food processor! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before! Once the chicken is coated, I place it in a small frying pan that’s coated with olive oil.
  3. For the chicken parmesan and spaghetti, I use a clean sauce recipe from my Fixate cookbook. I have a larger saucepan that I always use for sauce, and it fits perfectly on my other small burner! Once the onion and garlic are softened from the olive oil, I add the sauce ingredients and let it simmer on low for about an hour.
  4. I also use a recipe from my Fixate cookbook for the meatballs. I mix all the ingredients together and form small meatballs. I typically bake these in the oven on a small cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Finally, the chicken and wild rice! This is actually one of the easiest recipes. I place water and rice mixture in a casserole dish. Next, I place my chicken in the rice mixture and pop it in the oven!

 

As I mentioned, I’ll sometimes prep my breakfast ahead of time. I usually have eggs and veggies, an omelette, or some sort of oatmeal. All of these I make fresh because I’ve found that re-heated eggs and oatmeal are not tasty. However, I can at least portion out my oats in a container so it’s one less step in the morning. I also prep my veggies (mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach/kale) ahead of time in small Ziploc bags. I do want to note that you can make overnight oats the night before. I’ve tried a few recipes and will be sharing my thoughts/feedback about them in upcoming posts!

And there you have it – that’s how you meal prep! As each dish is completed, I place it in storage containers or cover with lids and foil. Unless the dish needs to be mixed together, I typically store each component separately. A good example of this are the Quinoa Bowls. I’ll store the quinoa in one container, taco meat in another container, and beans and corn in a third container. All of my dinner items will typically take up my large fridge shelf, and sometimes I have to store the overflow in one of the drawers. I find it’s a small sacrifice to pay for not having to make a meal each work night!

Now – who’s ready to come do my dishes?

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Meal Planning 101

So I’ve had several people ask me how I meal plan. I’ve had people ask me why I meal plan. I get the question, “Why would you want to take something that’s just normal and plan it out?!”

Well, first of all, I like to be organized. And some people would call this a flaw, while other people would appreciate it. I’ve always roughly planned out my meals for the week because I feel that it makes grocery shopping easier. There’s nothing that drives me more nuts than going to go cook dinner, and realizing that I’m missing one ingredient! And it’s not usually a large thing – it’s usually smaller ingredient that makes a key difference in the recipe. Talk about frustrating!

I will admit that on more than one occasion when this has occurred, I’ve tried to improvise. I wish I could say that I’ve also made a successful substation, but I would be lying. There are times that you just cannot find a good substitute using what you already have on hand. And so then you are faced with the wonderful decision – do I start completely from scratch and come up with another idea for dinner? Or do I run through drive through and forget this whole cooking thing? You know you’re shaking your head and saying, “Uh, McDonald’s is like less than 5 minutes away.”

Well, my dear friends, this is why I meal plan. Meal planning helps you to avoid this agony.

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I usually start my meal planning as I look at the weekly ads that come in the mail. Where I live, they typically arrive in my mailbox on Wednesdays, so I have plenty of time to peruse before I actually go shopping. I’ll take a Sharpie and circle things that I see in the ad that I like. For example if pork butt roast is on sale, I may consider having pulled pork at some point during the next week. This not only helps me to plan my meals, but it also helps me to save money. Can you say Win-Win?! I very rarely will buy meat or seafood unless it’s on sale. That’s just how I operate and since I’m only cooking for two people, I like to cut costs where I can.

Another place I’ll look for inspiration is my own freezer. I often buy meat or seafood in bulk (gotta love BOGO turkey or pork tenderloin) and freeze it for later. This way when it’s not on sale and I’m really craving something, I don’t have to suffer or go out to eat. I’ll also check my pantry to see if I find any side dishes or veggies on hand. Believe it or not, things like quinoa and couscous have been known to spark some meal inspiration! I usually have the stable such as rice, quinoa, and some potatoes in my pantry. These will round out my meals along with canned or frozen veggies.

Now that I have my proteins chosen, I go looking for recipes of how to cook them. I’m sadly one of those people that get bored very easily with meals. Ok, well I wouldn’t say I get BORED necessarily, but more that I like to experiment with new recipes. So, as you can imagine, I’ve gotten a pretty extensive Pinterest account. I also have several cookbooks, which I need to get better about using. If I have a particular protein in mind I’m going to buy, I find it easier to searching Pinterest for recipes rather than digging through a recipe book’s index/table of contents. Once I find a recipe that I like, that fits my dietary nutritional needs, and that I can follow the recipe for, I’ll make a list of the ingredients that I missing. I’ll also throw on any items that I would need for my breakfast or lunch is. This usually includes fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and Greek yogurt.

Once I have a good idea of what it is that I’m going to be eating for dinner, I start looking at my breakfast and lunch. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to lunch 0 what the heck, right? You gotta draw the line somewhere – you can’t ALWAYS be experimenting! Honestly, I’m a salad or soup kind of girl. Ever since I discovered mason jar salads, I’ve been making those every day of the week. I’m sure once it gets a little bit cooler, I’ll start to mix in some soups. But for right now, being in Florida, I’m going to stick to salads!

For breakfast, I will often have oatmeal or eggs. I only use half a cup of oatmeal and I’ll typically sweeten it with cinnamon, nutmeg, and various other spices. I’m not really a big fan of overnight oats, but that’s more of a hangup I have because it requires either milk or Greek yogurt, both which I would rather use in other meals during the day. If I decide to have eggs, are usually fry two eggs and mix in some sort of vegetables – kale, spinach, or mushrooms.

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Now that I have an idea of what I want, it’s time to actually PLAN. I have a nifty weekly calendar that I started using when I went on Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix plan. I know it may sound crazy, but I like being able to visualize all my meals. Not only can I see everything laid out, but it also helps me to track my containers (more on that later). As I mentioned, I use templates I found for 21 day fix, but you could easily make your own on Excel. Mine is just seven columns with 3 to 6 rows in each column. I say 3 to 6 because some people like to eat three big meals, while others eat 4 to 6 smaller meals throughout the day. I personally fall in the latter category, so I have 6 boxes per day.

I always start with my dinner because that’s my largest meal. It’s also the meal that requires the most ingredients, and I sometimes like to use the same side dishes a few times during the week. For example, if I make pork and tacos, I’ll probably have rice or quinoa as a side dish both days. Next I map out my lunches,  my breakfast, and finally my snacks. Now if you’re like me and you’re following the 21 Day Fix, you’re going to be marking off the containers that are you were using for each of these meals. I mention this because this is a driving factor in how I then plan my smaller snacks. For example, if I have eggs in the morning, I probably won’t have a protein to go with my salad at lunch. This is because eggs count as a protein. I have my Shakeology every day as my second meal/mid-morning snack, and this is considered a protein. If I had eggs for breakfast and my shake that’s two proteins-I only get 4 for the day. My afternoon snack is almost always some sort of fruit and another protein (either Greek yogurt or cottage cheese). I always have a protein for dinner, so you can see if I had some protein for lunch I would then be over a container. I also heavily consider how I build my salads based on my breakfast. If I have oatmeal for breakfast, I may or may not have some sort of starch to go with my salad. This also depends on my dinner. I am only allowed to have three starches during the day, so I try to space them out.

Now do you see why I like my visual calendar so much?

Once I have my core meals planned out on my weekly planner and I’ve marked off the associated containers, I review what food groups I’m missing each day. If I see that there’s a day where I have a lot of starches and fruits but not a lot of vegetables, I’ll go in and either tweak my plan or I’ll just add vegetables. This helps to make sure that I hit all of the main food groups in the right proportions throughout the day and don’t overeat in one particular area.

As you can see, this isn’t something that can be done in 15 minutes. I typically set aside at least an hour to meal plan. Recently, I’ve started to break it out between a few nights during the week so that by the time Friday night rolls around, I have my meal plan completely finished. I go grocery shopping on Saturday mornings (it’s less crowded then), and I don’t have time to sit around meal planning then. I was doing this when I first started meal planning and found myself spending upwards of 2 hours! That’s a waste of precious daylight WEEKEND hours in my opinion. I find I can be just as productive on a week night while watching television. By breaking it out between a few days, I also don’t get so overwhelmed.

So I know this is a lot, and I hope that I was able to break it down just a little bit see you can see really how I do this. Stay tuned later this week for tips on how I meal-prep. ❤️

First blog post

Hi everyone! My name is Erin and I’m what they would call a kitchenista. According to Urban Dictionary, a kitchenista is: “A sassy cook such as wife, mother or friend that can cook up just about anything in her kitchen. She has fun and enjoys the entire process! a Kitchenista aims to impress!” A true to that definition, I am one sassy woman both in and out of the kitchen. I’m comfortable in my own skin, confident in my cooking skills, and I’ll tell you like it is. I have always loved writing and wanted to find a way to share my thoughts and knowledge with the world. So, here I am – I hope you enjoy!