What do you do to ensure that you have healthy food on hand when hunger strikes? For more than 20 years my motto has been, “Shop ahead, chop ahead, and cook ahead, so you always have healthy food on hand when hunger strikes!” I teach this in my cooking classes and demonstrations and I emphasize it in my book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook.
Our fast-paced modern lifestyles can make the prospect of getting nourishing and delicious meals on the table, three times a day, seven days a week, seem like an ominous endeavor. It’s not impossible, it just takes more planning than many people are accustomed to.
What’s your plan?
What you need is a time-tested system and a collection of flexible, family-friendly, user-friendly recipes that taste as good leftover as fresh and just as good hot, as warm, cold, or room temp. You need dishes and meals you can prepare, in whole or in part, in advance. You need things you can store in the fridge that you can easily mix and match over the course of a few days and recipes that freeze well for future meals.
Setting yourself up for the start of your week
Chapter 12: Meal Prep in A Nut Shell, in The Garden of Eating, guides you through the process of planning and cooking with multiple meals in mind. One key component to cooking ahead The Sunday Start Up where you make a bunch of food to give you a jump on the first few days of the week.
Here’s an example of yesterday”s Sunday Start Up. I’ll outline what I did step by step. For more menus and recipes, see the sample month of menus in The Garden of Eating. It includes prep steps for each Sunday Start up and for what you need to do each day and the rest of the week to fill in. Some of the food will be frozen, some will go to my chef friend, Kerry, who is recovering from surgery. The rest will stay in the fridge and be eaten (by me!)
I mainly used recipes from my own cookbook although I sometimes included recipes from other sources. I’m faster with my own recipes. Yesterday, I included two recipes from Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed. I also left two of the dishes I wanted to make for Monday night. If I had included them below, I might have spent another 30 minutes in the kitchen.
Here’s what I made this past Sunday in roughly 3 hours
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Lime
Creamy Carrot Soup with Ginger
Broccoli Avocado Soup
Spinach & Egg Pie
Cauliflower Rice (from from Melissa Joulwan’s cookbook)
Practically Paleo Pesto
Bora Bora Fireballs (Pork Meatballs from Melissa Joulwan’s cookbook)
What I did in what order:
7:50 Took out leftover sautéed kale w/onions
Rinsed and sliced fresh strawberries
Made and omelet and plated my meal
8:00 Rinsed and baked 3 pounds of red garnet yams in toaster oven
Sat down to eat breakfast
8:30 Sliced onions, ginger, carrots, started carrot soup cooking
8:50 Sliced onions, garlic, broccoli, started broccoli soup cooking
9:00 Add broccoli to soup
Take sweet potatoes out of toaster oven
9:05 Turn off broccoli soup, pour into Vita mix and let cool
Assemble Spinach & Egg Pie and bake in toaster oven
9:15 Slice avocadoes, puree into broccoli soup, pour into jars, let cool
Wash a few dishes
9:25 Puree carrot soup with coconut milk, pour into jars and let cool
Wash a few dishes
9:40 Make Paleo Pesto, pour into jars, label, and date
Remove egg pie from oven
9:55 Assemble meatballs and bake in toaster oven (cooked the rest on top of the stove)
10:15 Mash sweet potatoes with lime, transfer to containers
Wash a few dishes
10:25 Start cauliflower rice prep, get it cooking
10:45 Label and date jars, heatproof and freezer-proof bowls, then refrigerate
Wash dishes and put the rest of the dirty dishes in the dishwasher
11:30 Kitchen clean. Done!
Because we’ve still got triple digit temperatures here in Phoenix, I didn’t use the full size oven for baking. I used my Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven instead, baking single batches of each dish sequentially. Had I used the full size oven, I could have roasted the sweet potatoes with the meatballs and a pan of cut up fryer parts. I could have roasted two or three different vegetables after that, making more food in a single prep session. I went more slowly than I normally would with both the meatball assembly and the cauliflower rice because the recipes were new to me. With my own recipes I can work more swiftly. You’ll no doubt find that you go smoothly when you first start working with new recipes and that over time you pick up speed as the recipes and steps become more familiar.
When I sat down for lunch at 12:30 on Sunday, I didn’t have to cook anything it was ready. When I sat down for dinner at 5:30 I pulled things out of the fridge that were ready to eat. Breakfast was grab and go in the morning using food I’d prepared ahead. Ditto for lunch. Dinner tonight will also be based on what I prepped and cooked yesterday, plus two new dishes. (Did I mention that I usually freeze some of the food I cook?)
Normally I would make at least two meat dishes on a Sunday Startup. Yesterday, I made only one. I had some leftovers to draw on for dinner so I decided I would wait until the next night (tonight, Monday) to prepare turkey meatballs and spaghetti squash. As I write, the spaghetti squash is steaming (don’t worry, I set a timer for it and checked it twice already). I plan to make herbed turkey meatballs when I’m done with this post.
* Broccoli Avocado Soup w/parsley garnish (recipe from The Garden of Eating)
* Turkey “Stuffing” Meatballs (from another book I’m reviewing)
* Spaghetti Squash with Paleo Pesto (from The Garden of Eating)
The next step
Because I gave away a lot of what I made yesterday and because I think it is best to eat leftovers within two to three days, tomorrow I’ll pick up more fresh vegetables, a small amount of fruit, some fish (probably wild salmon) and chicken wings on my way home from an appointment. I will either do some prep Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning to set me up for Wednesday and Thursday. Whatever I make, I’ll probably stash some in the freezer for future meals. Over time I build my stash, then I can draw on it when I’m having a particularly busy day or week. It’s a never ending process of cooking, eating, freezing, defrosting, warming, and repeating.
For more shopping, chopping, cooking, and prep tips, I recommend you buy a copy of The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook.