When I was 17, my parents thought I might starve or live off of Eggo waffles for the duration of college. I tried to cook a pork chop that year, and ended up with a creole hockey puck. I’m no chef! But, I have been cooking nutrient-dense meals for myself for some time, and I’ve figured out a few things along the way. Now that I’m writing it all out, it seems pretty effortless, and yet people are always telling me, “I wish I had time to meal prep like you. You’re always eating something so healthy and yummy-looking!” Well, dear reader, now you too can enjoy cold food out of a Tupperware in the middle of the workday and somehow impress your co-workers with what appear to be mad skillz in the kitchen!
I am all about efficiency. I use my oven as well as a toaster oven and the stove when it comes to meal prep, and I try to prepare everything within a few hours on Saturday and/or Sunday night. There are a few phases: Chopping. Bagging. Seasoning. Cooking. Lamenting over the dirty dishes. Cramming everything into the dishwasher so I don’t have to deal with them. You know the drill.
So, without further adieu, and much to my own chagrin, here’s how I pull off an efficient meal prep. I promise, it’s painless, and with the proper seasoning, you don’t need a fancy recipe!
EFFICIENCY TIP #1: Chop produce into similarly-sized pieces, toss them into a big resealable baggie, and then add the seasoning. Shake and bake style. Squish out all of the air and store them if you can’t cook them right away. Red potatoes turn grey. They don’t taste any different. So, I don’t care! ^_^ My favorite combinations:
Grey (Mexican) squash, yellow squash, chicken, fish:
Tajin Fruit and Snack Seasoning
Yellow crookneck squash, red bell peppers (because green, ew), and fish:
Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic
Red potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, chicken, and turkey:
McCormick Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning
Snap peas, snow peas, choy varieties (along with garlic and mushrooms):
Bragg Liquid Aminos
For those of you with a sweet tooth like mine, add cinnamon or pumpkin spice to carrots, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes!
EFFICIENCY TIP #2: All roastable veggies cook well between 400-450F. Meat cooks well at 350F. Use a meat thermometer. I use one like the Taylor Precision Products Digital Cooking Thermometer/Timer which will beep at me when the meat (the thickest piece) reaches the set temperature. Food safety standards are as follows:
- 165F for poultry and ground meats
- 145F for fish and pork
When it comes to seasoning meat and fish, I just use chicken-specific mixes, and celery salt and dill on fish. I rarely eat red meat or pork, but sage and thyme on pork loin are AMAZING. It’s okay if the middle of the pork tenderloin is a little pink. You should pan-sear it first to lock in the juices, then roast it to an internal temperature of 145F.
EFFICIENCY TIP #3: TIN FOIL. That is all.
EFFICIENCY TIP #4: Weigh your bulk food preparations so you know how many servings are available if you don’t feel like portioning everything out into 1,343,596 Tupperware containers. I sure don’t.
EFFICIENCY TIP #5: If you’re relatively new to meal prep and choosing nutritious foods, just pick a few staples and use those. If you feel burdened by the weight of learning how to prepare exotic produce or you buy several items and don’t even like the taste, you won’t adopt the lifestyle! I stick to the same 5-7 veggies that I know I will enjoy and digest easily.
Also, frozen produce is JUST FINE. You don’t have to buy fresh produce, and in fact, sometimes the nutrient quality of the frozen produce is higher because it’s frozen immediately rather than being off the vine for days of transport. Canned vegetables and fruits may lose some of their water-soluble vitamins (like vitamin C and the B’s) to the water in which they’re stored. So, you could use that to make broth or smoothies to ensure you’re not missing out.
My method goes like this:
Preheat oven to 450F and toaster oven to 350F.
Line pans with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. (I don’t cook with fat because I like to get it from hummus and peanut butter.)
Chop all produce, place into baggies, season, and toss.
Start roasting produce in stove.
Trim chicken breast if needed, season, and bake in toaster oven with meat thermometer. (I only eat chicken and fish for the most part, though sometimes I enjoy ground turkey).
Cut apples for oatmeal, place in big baggie and freeze. (I also freeze blueberries for oatmeal!)
Sautee red peppers, spinach with mushrooms, and snap/snow peas. (I actually have a big electric wok that comes in handy for this!)
Really…that’s it! The chopping is the most time-consuming part, but once that’s out of the way, I can always toss some veggies into the oven if I need more in the middle of the week. Fancy meal preps and legitimate recipes look lovely, but I’m a happy minimalist.
Bonus! Here’s a recipe (yes, a real one) for protein pancakes that actually taste and feel like pancakes, as promised from my Insta feed this morning!
APPLE CINNAMON PROTEIN PANCAKES
- 1/3 cup quick oats
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (any kind will do; I used EAS Whey + Casein Protein Powder which cooks nicely)
- 1 tbsp flax meal
- 50g frozen apple chunks (You could sub applesauce here)
- 100g egg white
- cinnamon and sweetener to taste
Blend everything until a thick batter forms, then cook them up! They’re very fluffy with no crazy egg texture or spongy whey texture. Fun fact: Adding vital wheat gluten (2-4g) will make them even fluffier and pancake-ier!