Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What I Learned from My First Meal Prep Session

Last year, I bought Fitness Blender's meal plan just so I could get some recipe ideas and what to be able to throw together for lunches and dinner.  There were a lot of plant-based meal ideas, and much of it centered around having items ready to be assembled like beans, sweet potatoes, roasted veggies, etc.  We have no plans for going vegetarian or vegan, but I would like to get a lot more of those meals in our rotation particularly on cardio or active recovery days.  I decided to dive into meal prep without a real plan and here's how it went.

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Preheat ovens to 425 degrees.

I have to cut veggies but can also get the rice done while I do that, so I used 3 cups of brown rice and 1 box (32 oz) of chicken bone broth without extra salt.  I put it in a Dutch oven and added some black pepper and garlic powder.  I wanted more universal spices so if we wanted to make it Mexican, Italian or plain, it wasn't already overpowered with spice.  I prefer using bone broth over chicken stock because there is less sodium and 9g of protein per cup or 36g (3g per serving) of extra protein in the rice.

While that was going, it was time to cut the veggies I was going to roast.  I started with the ones that would take more time first.

(Broccoli, Carrots, Asparagus and Sweet Potatoes)

I lined two big sheet pans with foil and a squirt of canola cooking spray.  I started with the carrots.  I peeled and sliced the ends off and weighed them on my food scale so I could calculate calories later.

I like to cut my carrots on the diagonal.  A chef friend of ours said it's the quickest way to make an ordinary dinner or lunch feel special and he's right.  I cut them about 1 1/2" on the skinny end then down to 1" at the thicker end.  I tossed in 1 tsp of grapeseed oil which doesn't have a flavor to it and a high smoking point.

I put the carrots on one half of the sheet pan.

I checked on the rice, and it looked about like this:

I added a cup of water after a texture taste, turned the heat down to 3 and set the timer for 10 minutes.

Then onto the sweet potatoes.  I cut them about 1/2" thick and then into like sizes so they would roast evenly.  These are the only veggies I tossed with 2 tsp of grapeseed oil due to volume.

I placed those on the sheet pan with the carrots and got them roasting and set the oven timer for 10 minutes.

(I put a little chipotle powder on the sweet potatoes because I like the contrast)

The asparagus is easy.  Cut off the woody ends by chopping just above the bottom rubber band, then cut into four sections

Those go on half a roasting sheet.

Then time to cut the broccoli.  I don't like big honking florets, so I cut them into nice one-bite pieces.

I tossed those in 1 tsp of oil and onto the sheet pan they went.

The rice was done, and I wanted to tend to that for a second before moving on with the veggies.

I turned off the heat and transferred it to a big bowl where I could weigh the whole thing.

I knew I had 12 servings of rice dry (1/4 cup) so I divided that by 12.

So basically 4.9 ounces when I store or divide these up for meals.  I covered the rice with plastic wrap and stuck it by the back of the stove where it would stay warm with the steam coming from the vents of the oven.

I put the broccoli and asparagus in the oven and tended to the carrots and sweet potatoes so they wouldn't stick.  I set them both for 10 minutes.

Back to the cutting board for the more delicate ones.

I cut up two red onions, a poblano pepper, and a green pepper and put them on a sheet pan for the top oven.  When the timer went off for the other veggies, I stuck these in.

When the timer went off, the broccoli and asparagus were done.

I'm not gonna lie, this is where I was so over it all, and my back was hurting a bit after being hunched over the veggies then playing musical sheet trays, but I knew I was close. I flipped over the onions and moved the peppers around.   I set the timer for 10 minutes and started getting rice portioned out.

I love using these BPA free containers that let you really take advantage of your meal prep and have them all done for the week.  Then the peppers and onions were done, so I took those out.

Five minutes later the carrots and potatoes were done, but I was juggling too much to take a pic. 

I began assembling some of the containers.  I put the pre-measured rice in with a sprinkle of Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime, then I added 85g of black beans I already had made and frozen.

I added 5 ounces of cooked chicken with a squirt of hot taco sauce (about 1 1/2 tsp) then I added some roasted red onions and some roasted green peppers and a key lime cut in half, so the Mr had a chicken fajita bowl for lunch.  I had one pretty much the same but slightly different.

I subbed poblano pepper for green pepper and added some roasted broccoli and topped it with 2 tbsp of homemade habanero salsa and ghost peppers cuz I'm spicy like that.

Time ended:  6:50pm

So that took two full hours which was a little exhausting, but I know I can improve. 

What I would do differently:

1) Write a detailed shopping list.  I haven't gotten to the part where I have specific meals planned ahead which is kind of the point.  This was more to have stuff on hand that I could throw together lunches and just have to heat them up.  More detailed meal planning is likely in the future.

2)  I'm definitely cutting the veggies beforehand, and not the same day I roast them.  That was a lot to juggle, but I consider it a rookie mistake and part of the learning curve.  It'll save my back too.

3)  Start the crockpot with my proteins in the morning so they're done by evening and I can put all of it away at the same time.  (Or cook them on low overnight from Saturday into Sunday)

4)  Dedicate 2 or 3 old sheet pans to roasting.  I don't like cooking with foil but only used it because the pans were new and I didn't want to ruin them. 

5)  Start earlier.  Depending on what I have going on for the day, I think I'd like to do this sooner than later.

I know I'll get better at this and because the Mr was installing insulation is the only reason he got out of cutting.   Next time he won't be so lucky.  😉  Two people whether it's you and your spouse or you and your kiddo(s) will make it go even faster and make it not seem so overwhelming.

I do crockpot beans overnight on low just before bed so I can have them ready for chili, bean and cheese burritos or to throw in rice bowls for extra protein and fiber.  Buying a bag and doing them yourself saves you a lot of sodium and some moolah.  Put those slow cookers to work for you! 

Any meal preppers out there?  Any tips you want to share?

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  1. You really worked your tail off. I can certainly help next time and don't mind because I definitely benefit from it too. I think this is the exact kind of thing we have both needed to really change it up diet wise.

    1. Yes you do! :D I think it is too and I hope it helps because I've been in a food rut so much the past 2 years this is just what my tastebuds and maybe my azz need!

  2. I'm not a meal prepper, but I wish I were. I keep seeing all this stuff and thinking "I could do that". But then I don't. It would be great to have stuff on hand for work lunches and quick suppers, but the best I manage is to batch cook occasionally and throw that in the freezer.

    1. I know, that's the same way I've been for years. I want to say I'll stick with this and I hope I do and my perpetual procrastination problem doesn't get the better of me.

  3. I typically only prep the night before. Both the hubs and I have the same thing every work day for lunch, so that's easy to do when I get home from work. My breakfast is simple and easy, so I don't have to prep that. As for dinners, I'll prep what I can the night before, such as mixing spices together, cutting up vegetables, assembling what I can, seasoning meat, etc. I do use my crock pot a lot and there is nothing better than walking in the door after work knowing most of the work is done and we can enjoy dinner earlier than usual with minimal dishes to boot. Until my freezer gets fixed I can't do much as far as freezing ahead of time, but plan to work on that in spring.

    1. Any prep is better than none when it helps take a load off! The roasted stuff lasts 4-5 days so it lasts all week for us and so far has been dang nice to scoop and eat!

  4. I am not a meal prepper, either and I certainly have the time and I am somewhat organized (well, not always) but I should start as it does make a difference. I don't like roasting on foil so I use parchment paper on top of the foil. I also have an instant pot and I find that I really like it so I suppose I should use it more. Looks like this old dog needs to learn some new tricks! Enjoy all your writings and ever once in while I get inspired so thanks for that.

    1. Well, I can tell you that 3 days in I am darn glad I did it even if it was a bit of a pain in mah booty the first time! :D Derp, didn't even think about parchment paper! Will have to do that or grab my roaster since it's not just for turkeys! Thanks so much for the kind words!


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