How many times have you thought to yourself “I really need to start prepping food ahead of time this year?” It makes a huge difference to the ease of putting healthful meals on the table throughout the week, but it can also feel a little overwhelming to start. We interviewed and gathered expert food prepping tips from culinary nutritionist and owner of Prep Dish, registered dietitian Allison Stevens to help you get started prepping meals today!
Q: What are 3 (nonfood) kitchen items you can’t live without for making faster work or meal prep?
A: 1) Storage containers (look for tempered glass containers w/ BPA-free lids)
2) A proper knife (no paring knives allowed! I use a Wustoff Santuko)
3) A trash bowl on the counter (I save the plastic veggie bags and line a bowl for fast & easy scrap disposal)
Q: Any tips for storing food once you prep it to make it last longer?
A: Store food in tightly sealed containers, lids with tears let in unwanted oxygen, which can cause the food to dry out. I use Snapware containers with airtight, snap-on lids.
Q: How long can a person expect cooked whole grains, veggies, and meat/fish/poultry to be edible when stored in the fridge?
A: As a general rule, cooked foods last about 5 days in the fridge. Otherwise, freeze foods to extend the shelf life by several months.
Q: What is the best way to reheat whole grains, veggies, meat/fish/poultry?
A: I prefer using an oven or toaster oven for anything roasted. Some dishes heat up easily in a sauté pan on the stovetop (stirfrys, noodle dishes, etc). But if you are prepping food ahead, the real trick is to not cook dishes through until the night of the meal. So for example, I’ll coat a pecan-crusted chicken or a pesto-crusted salmon ahead of time, but don’t cook. Then on the night of the meal, I cook the dishes in the oven. That means the only prep time the night of the meal is placing the dish in the oven and the food is fresh as if you’d prepped the whole meal that night.
Q: Do you encourage clients to freeze pre-cooked meals? What if the different components have different reheat procedures/times?
A: For my personal chef clients, I visit once per week so usually refrigerate all meals. Freezing is a great way to preserve meals for lengthier time periods. When freezing, I prefer sticking to 1-dish meals for efficiency. Chilis, lasagnas, enchiladas, etc. In fact, I recommend always doubling these types of recipes and freezing half. Homemade frozen meals come in handy! If you have separate components, store separately and label with contents/instructions to stay organized.
Q: How much time should someone realistically expect to dedicate to prepping/cooking on the weekend if they want to be able to eat most of their week day/night meals from their weekend pursuits?
A: I’ve found 2-4 hours is plenty of time to prep food for a week if you are organized with a plan and recipes. If you find you only have 1-2 hours, simply prep less menu items, but in larger quantities. This means you’ll have to repeat meals, but it works for busier weeks.
Q: What is the biggest barrier to prepping for the week that your clients report? How do you get them to push through?
Time! The key is finding a consistent day and time that can be dedicated to meal prep. The reward is time in the evenings to spend with your family instead of worrying about dinner.
How many of you are currently food prepping? Do you plan to start?