I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a while – meal prep. I have never been the type of person to have meal plans or recipes printed out and ready to go. But now that I’m cooking for a family, and have a lot less time to spend goofing off in the kitchen, I have to do a little more prep and planning in order to keep us eating well.
I rely on a pretty well-stocked pantry (which perhaps I will write about soon – any interest here?), so that we always have healthy options available to us. But having a pantry filled with grains and other dried things does me no good unless I actually cook them!
And anyone with kids understands that when it’s time to eat, IT’S TIME TO EAT. Food must be ready to pull out of the fridge or off the stove, and onto plates within milliseconds of the first hunger pang. Cullen is no longer content to sit and bang measuring cups together while I steam and roast things.
So each week, usually Sunday and Monday, I spend a portion of Cullen’s afternoon nap time prepping food for us to eat that week. It varies from week to week, depending on what comes in our CSA delivery, or what was on sale at the store, but the basics tend to stay the same.
Here are a few of the ways I prep to feed all three of us each week…
Beans & Grains
I have already waxed poetic about my rice cooker many times here, so I won’t go on and on about it (but you can read about it here if you are new!). I’ve had mine for years, and I still use it daily, often multiple times each day.
One of my favorite things to make in it is a combo of lentils and grains. This week we had lentils and quinoa. For my fellow rice-cooker-ers (?), here’s what went in:
1 cup black lentils + 1 cup (rinsed) quinoa + 3.75 cups water + salt
Cooked on the quick cooking setting until soft and fluffy! Then I season, serve whatever we might want to eat immediately, and refrigerate (up to 6-7 days).
This also works with rice, other types of lentils, and other dried beans. We all got hit with the norovirus last week, so I also made a giant batch of plain brown rice while we stuck to bland, simple foods. Into the rice cooker…
2 cups brown rice + 2 cups water + salt (cooked on the GABA brown rice setting because I had plenty of time to wait for it!)
Stored in a glass jar and kept in the fridge all week to dish out for quick lunches and dinners when nothing else has been planned.
Fruits and Vegetables
One of the things I make most often these days is homemade applesauce. I usually make it two times a week, and it still disappears so quickly. I start by buying the really cheap bulk bags of organic Gala apples at Trader Joe’s. Honestly, I don’t particularly like the flavor of these apples raw, but they have good flavor and sweetness once cooked.
I core and quarter as many apples as I can fit into the rice cooker bowl – probably somewhere between 10-15 per batch. I don’t peel them because that makes the process take five times as long, and I always end up peeling at least once knuckle.
Add a little bit of water – maybe 1/4 cup for the whole batch, and either a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or a whole cinnamon stick. Cooked on the quick cooking setting until the whole house smells like sweet, delicious apples, and the rice cooker chimes that it’s ready.
At this point you can either mash the apples into applesauce, or leave them whole. I used to always mash them, but these days Cullen is really into eating them whole, which makes my job even easier. I know I promised I wouldn’t go on and on about the rice cooker again, but let me just reiterate – for all of these things, I’m not really doing any work (other than cutting up some apples). I’m literally dumping things into a bowl and pressing GO! It is every mom’s best friend!
With that said, I should add that these things are also all possible on the stovetop, and some in a slow cooker. They just might need a bit more attention and monitoring!
Beyond the rice cooker, I do also use my oven quite a bit. Every week, I pick up two of these bags of organic sweet potatoes.
I slice and chop one bag at a time, and roast at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes (with olive oil and salt). Roasted sweet potatoes keep really well in the fridge, and they are generally a well-liked baby/toddler food.
I also do this with carrots, beets, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and whatever else I might have floating around my fridge. The only thing I never pre-cook or cook in large batches for leftovers are white/yellow/red potatoes and greens. I find they don’t reheat well, or keep very long.
Last but not least, I always try to have some sort of sauce in the fridge. This week we have miso-tahini sauce on hand for adding to grain bowls and plates full of veggies. It doesn’t look very pretty, but it sure does taste good. In a pinch, I also use hummus for this same purpose.
With all this good stuff on hand, our fridge is usually pretty well-packed with glass jars and containers of grains, veggies, and some sort of bean/protein that is ready to go. This really helps me put together healthy lunches during the week for both me and Cullen (and Casey packs some to take to work too!).
If I didn’t do this prep work, my lunches would always end up being either cereal or sandwiches, because I don’t have time to cook during my limited afternoon nap/work window. But instead, I end up with lunches like this – quinoa and lentils with roasted sweet potato, diced avocado, and marinated mushrooms (post on those coming!).
Or today’s lunch – brown rice, roasted sweet potato, browned broccoli and cauliflower, and miso-tahini sauce. Looks like slop, tastes like heaven.
Nothing groundbreaking here – just a few ways I’m maximizing my kitchen appliances to help me get healthy food on the table more often than not. I know it’s only January, but I find myself already longing for summer when there is so much less prep to do, and so much more we can eat fresh straight from the produce bins!
But until then, you can find me over by the rice cooker.