I regularly extoll the virtue of preparing food ahead of time. It enables me to sleep in later. It means I don’t have to spend time making a ton of meals during the week. It makes eating healthy so, so, so easy because everything is ready, and when I don’t really have to think about what I’m going to eat, it’s much easier to make a healthy choice.
This week, I decided to take a few photos and explain my “process” of preparing food ahead of time. Several people have asked me to explain exactly what I’m making and eating these days, so here it is, in a handy step-by-step format. Please excuse my ugly photography.
First, figure out what you want to make. Currently, my food prep includes a lot of soup and salad. Typically, I make one soup that I freeze into individual portions for lunch, one soup for dinner, an enormous salad and steel cut oatmeal for breakfasts. I also chop a few days worth of fruit for my green juices so I have one less thing to do in the morning. I figure out what I want to make, and add it to a grocery list. I also add some other basics: I like to snack on fruit and nuts, so I usually buy five of whatever fruit is on sale (this week, it was five nectarines) and some pistachios or cashews. This means that all of my breakfasts, lunches and snacks for work are done, as well as a good dinner “base.”
The other prep I do is to clean out my refrigerator and freezer. Since I need room to store things, there is zero room for old food. Also: gross.
Finally, I hit the grocery store. I like to cook everything right away, so when I get home, I unpack all my groceries and set ingredients for each recipe together. I assemble my cooking tools, pots and food storage containers to make things quick and easy.
My kitchen usually looks like this:
I always start by making the soup I’m going to freeze for lunch. I never put things straight into the freezer — I let them cool first, and this gives the appropriate amount of time to cook, cool and then freeze. Also, since I’m making two soups, it makes sense to do one first and then have the second one be the last thing I make.
This week, I made my all-time favorite soup, Celery Bisque. You’ll note that in this recipe, I say I don’t like it frozen. Well, I do now. I don’t even know what happened, but trust me when I say this soup is AMAZING.
I wash, chop, and cook all the veggies needed for this soup and let them start cooking.
While the veggies soften (this soup requires blending), I start the second thing that needs to cook for a bit: my morning oatmeal. I make five servings of steel cut oats. I use 1 1/4 cups of oatmeal, and cook it in 2 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of vanilla almond milk. I boil the liquid, add the oats and let it simmer. It usually takes about 30 minutes to cook.
While the soup and oatmeal continue to simmer, I do my veggie chopping for my big salad, and my second soup. First, I make the salad. This week, I’m making a salad that I had at Elizabeth’s house last week. I tore up some red leaf lettuce, chopped a yellow and orange pepper, and added broccoli, snow peas and some mandarin orange slices. Some weeks, I make a version of this salad, without the feta cheese, and leaving the dressing separate so it doesn’t get mushy.
I keep this salad in the fridge and eat from it all week long. I always buy extra ingredients so I can “refresh” it as the week goes on. I make a dressing or buy one to keep in my fridge at work. Each night, I pack a portion of it into a small container and that is literally all the food prep I do (minus throwing in an oatmeal and a soup). I also eat this salad and my second soup for dinner a lot. I’m not eating meat these days, but if I need a quick dinner for Andrew, I’ll add some chicken for a more complete dinner.
After I wrap up the salad and put it in the refrigerator, I turn off the heat on my first soup, and use my immersion blender to liquefy it. I let it cool as I chop the veggies for my second soup. Once I’m done chopping all the veggies for soup #2, I divide soup #1 into five containers and let it cool a little more while I wash out my pot to start my second soup.
This week, I made Kale and White Bean soup. I add all the ingredients to my soup pot and let it start simmering. I put lids on the tupperware for soup one and stick it in the freezer.
Next, I remove the oatmeal from heat and let it cool while I clean up the kitchen a bit. I put away all my spices, and rinse off the cutting board to do my final chopping: cutting up a few days worth of apples and lemons for my morning green juices. I squeeze a lemon over the apples to keep them from browning, and I store those fruits in my “fancy tupperware” designed to have fruit stay fresh. Every few days, I have to chop more but it makes juicing much easier.
As my last soup simmers, I prep my oatmeal. I add about one cup of cooked oats to each container, and add a sprinkling of flax seeds, chia seeds, and some frozen peaches and berries.
After I finish the oatmeal, I freeze it.
I turn off the heat on the soup and let it cool. Since it’s a soup I eat at home, I don’t bother putting it in containers — I store it in the pot in the fridge, and just ladle it into bowls as need be. After a few days, I usually freeze what’s left and use it for lunches the next week so that none of it is wasted.
With these meals prepped (plus, the purchase of the fruit and nuts as mentioned above), I have food for my weekday breakfasts, lunches and a few dinners, plus some juicing supplies. Just for fun, I timed myself, from prep to cleanup, and this took me almost exactly an hour and a half. 90 minutes and all my food for the week is done, leaving me time for a morning workout and more sleep. BOOM.
Do you cook ahead of time? What are your tips and systems?