Meal Planning 101 – Preparation Day

To continue my Meal Planning 101 series, today was preparation day! Today was my day off work meaning it was the perfect opportunity to prep my food for the week. Yesterday I shared my 12 easy steps to meal planning. One of the most important steps to successful healthy meal planning is to determine steps in your recipes that you can do ahead of time and plan a day to prep food on your day off. Some of the benefits of completing cooking prep work in advance include:

  • Minimize the number of dirty dishes. As long as you are doing all the work at once, just rinse the cutting board and mixing bowls and move on to the next recipe. No need to start the dishwasher every time you use a dish.
  • Save time during the week. Yes prep work takes time. But if you can knock it all out at once, think of how much time you will save during the week when all you have to do is pop dinner in the oven. This frees up time during the week to do things you enjoy like spend time with your family, go to the gym, or watch your favorite TV show.
  • Have healthy food at your fingertips. If you have prepped all your meals in advance you will have absolutely no excuse to make poor food choices during the week. Eating healthy will be so simple that you won’t have any reason not to!
  • Enjoy cooking. There is something relaxing about spending a Sunday morning cooking away in my kitchen, drinking coffee in my slippers, with the Today show playing in the background. I don’t feel rushed and no one is asking when the food will be ready. I can take my time and cook my food without cutting corners or trying to throw food on the table in record time. The biggest complaint I hear from people about cooking is that it takes too much time. If I’m famished by the time I get home fro work, I obviously don’t have the time or the patience to assemble a 5-course meal and I don’t expect you to either. Reconsider your schedule and you may actually take a liking to cooking!
  • Minimize the mess. To me, this is the best part. Instead of make 7 small kitchen messes a week, I make one. This means one trip to the dumpster with all my food garbage, one time cleaning the stove top, one time mopping the floor, and one time running the dishwasher. A messy kitchen drives me crazy, so minimizing the mess during the week is a huge plus!
  • Be creative with leftover ingredients. By prepping all of your food in advance, you can determine what ingredients you have left over and use them as snacks during the week. Say you have a recipe that calls for raisins and pecans and you end up having extra ingredients. You can use the fruit and nuts as a trail mix snack during the week!
  • Guarantee food security. Have you ever bought a food you anticipated on using in a recipe later in the week simply to find out that the food is gone by the time you finally get around to cooking? This happens all the time in my kitchen with nut butters. The nut butter mysteriously disappears throughout the week while the evidence of dirty spoons builds up in the sink. If you prep your food ahead of time you can ensure you have the ingredients you need.

OK, so let’s see this put into practice. Here is what I had to say about this topic yesterday:

“One of my days off is tomorrow, Sunday. I can assemble and cook my phyllo pockets (either refrigerate or freeze), cook my meatballs (cover and freeze), make my chicken pesto pizza (cover and refrigerate), make my veggie burgers (cover and refrigerate), and make my Coconut Cranberry Pecan Balls and Ginger Molasses Cookies. I can also clean, rinse, and cut any fruits and vegetables I will be using later in the week.”*

*Note: Please keep in mind that I sometimes choose ambitious recipes for my week. Make meal planning easier on yourself and choose familiar family recipes. Also, not everything has to be made from scratch. If it would be easier to buy a pizza crust or can of soup rather than front the labor to do it yourself, I totally support you. Just be sure to always read the ingredients and nutrition labels with caution.

This morning I woke up early to get to work – I like to get all of my prep work out of the way early so that I still have plenty of time to enjoy my days off. Of my chosen recipes for the week, here is what I accomplished:

  • Shiitake Mushrooms and Bitter Greens Phyllo Pockets– I rehydrated my shiitake mushrooms, assembled the pockets, baked them and put them in a airtight container in the fridge for later.
  • Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Garlic Crostini – I cooked the soup and stored it in the fridge for later. I will make the garlic toasts on the night we decide to eat soup because this only takes a second.
  • Mahi Mahi with Roasted Kabocha Squash  – I didn’t do any prep work for this meal because fish should always be cooked fresh and the squash is a quick and simple side dish I can do during the week. I did bring the kabocha squash inside from my fall décor display on the back porch though!
  • Spaghetti Squash with Beef Quinoa Meatballs – I assembled and baked the meatballs. I put them in a Ziploc bag and stored them in the freezer for later. 
  • Chicken Pesto Pizza – I cooked the chicken, made the pesto and dough, and assembled the pizza. I covered the pizza with plastic wrap and stored it in the fridge. While making the pesto I realized I was out of parmesan cheese. Not a big deal though, I simply left it out. Since there is other cheese on the pizza I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. I was also running low on white flour, so I made a whole wheat crust instead.
  • Veggie Burgers – I thought I had a can of black beans buried in the cupboard for this recipe, but unfortunately I didn’t. And I didn’t buy a can at the grocery store yesterday either. Meaning, this recipe has to wait. It’s not the end of the world though – I will simply have these burgers for dinner on my second day off during the week. That way I can stop by the supermarket and have plenty of time to cook them.
  • Coconut Cranberry Pecan Balls – I made these treats and stored them in an airtight container on the counter. I didn’t have enough maple syrup for this recipe, so I substituted agave for some of it.
  • Ginger Molasses Cookies – I baked these cookies and stored them in an airtight container on my countertop as well. The recipe called for dry mustard which I thought I had in my spice cabinet, but sure enough I didn’t, so I omitted it.

Not too shabby! I’d give myself an A- this time around. Had I done a better kitchen inventory I would have realized I didn’t have black beans or dry mustard and was running low on maple syrup and white flour. As you can see, even I make mistakes and sometimes don’t have all the ingredients I need! But don’t ever let a missing ingredient stop you, there are always plenty of alternatives to use instead – you simply have get creative!

If you or someone you know are looking for assistance with meal planning or meal preparation please contact me at amari.cheffer@eatchicchicago.com.

Click here to see the Meal Planning 101 Recap after the week is over.

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