Whether you’re a busy student or a working professional on the go, it can be hard to find the time to prepare healthy meals at home everyday and effectively meal plan without wasting food. To help you out, we asked the experts to give us their tips on meal planning and cooking in small batches. Here’s what they had to say.
Buy in Bulk, Divide, Then Freeze
It’s often more cost-effective to buy in bulk, and this is where your freezer comes in handy. But don’t just toss an entire package of chicken or pork chops in the freezer! Divide them into single serving sizes and even package them with various herbs so all you have to do is grab a single piece of meat from the freezer, thaw and cook your pre-seasoned meat.
- Tiffany McCauley, Clean-Eating Food Blogger, The Gracious Pantry
Organize and Optimize Your Freezer Space
The key to batch cooking is creating lots of pre-made items that can be frozen, thawed, and combined with fresh or convenience foods to give plenty of options throughout the week. Things like quinoa or rice can be frozen in pre-portioned bags, then added to roasted veggies, your choice of protein, and leafy greens. Entire casserole pans can be pre-portioned and frozen, and even wraps or burritos can be individually frozen. Just remember to label everything clearly with a date!
- Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD, Street Smart Nutrition
Freeze and Thaw Foods Carefully
When cooking basics, double or even triple a recipe to freeze servings for using later. Freeze in cup or half-cup servings. Rice, beans, poached chicken, thick leafy greens, carrots, ground meat, and non-dairy soups and sauces can be safely frozen for up to 6 months. Rice can be recooked with steam or on the stovetop with a sauce or stew mixed in. Beans and poached chicken are frozen in their cooking liquid and can be thawed in the frig for 24 hours or cooked on the stovetop with a little extra water. Thick, leafy greens like kale and collard greens should be blanched (boiled for 2 minutes) and cooled before freezing. This keeps them from getting slimy. Carrots can be scrubbed or peeled, then chopped or shredded before freezing raw. Boil for 2 minutes to recook them.
- Jenna Edwards, Homecooking Expert & Host of Cooking Companion TV.
Invest in a Crock Pot
The key to meal prepping is to maximize the meals and minimize the prep, and nothing gets this done better than a good old-fashioned crock pot! For time-crunched college students and busy, working professionals, a slow-cooker is your best friend. It’s a fool-proof way to cook up quality meals with minimal effort and the endless variety of recipes makes it easy to tailor to your individual nutritional needs.
- Kevin Finn, Personal Training and Nutritional Consultant, Fitness Walkthrough
Prep Vegetables and Fruit for the Week
Prepping vegetables and fruit is a pain when you are on a time crunch. To better prepare yourself for quick weeknight dinners, chop or slice onion (store in an air-tight glass container so odor is contained), celery, green peppers, carrots, cucumbers – so you have them ready for cooking with or tossing into a salad, sandwich or wrap at a moment’s notice. However, tomatoes are best left whole and sliced fresh as needed. If you like to snack on fruit, go ahead and de-stem strawberries, peel and section oranges and grapefruit, even slice up a pear or an apple or two (but be sure to sprinkle with lemon juice before storing quickly in an air-tight container).
- Melanie Carr, President / Founder, Dish Dish
Strive for Variety
The secret to successfully prepping ahead is not to make a huge batch of 1 to 2 dishes you plan to eat all week. We have the best intentions; make a huge batch of chili, soup, casserole, etc. and plan to eat it all week. Yet, unfortunately, after day 2 we’re suddenly not feeling the love so much, and into the trash it goes, and out we go to make not-so-healthy choices getting takeout, etc. Instead, the key to successful prep is creating some “building blocks”; whole food ingredients that can then be quickly made into a variety of dishes.
- Liza Baker, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach + Kitchen Coach, Simply: Health Coaching
Cook Separates for Easy Meal Combinations
When cooking for one or two, it’s nice to cook once and eat two or three times. This means less dishes, less prep and more wholesome meals. Try cooking 2-3 cups of a grain like quinoa or rice, roast a tray of veggies with olive oil and any seasonings you like, and cooking 2-4 servings of protein, whether that’s a bean or meat. You can also opt for canned beans, rinsed and stored in the fridge or canned fish like salmon in water to be opened right before use.
When you have all this prepped you can easily pull together a wholesome meal in minutes with one scoop of grain, one scoop of veggie and one serving of protein. Cooking like this allows you to enjoy wholesome food for days instead of having to prepare a whole meal every night. To keep it interesting mix it up every week you using different grains, vegetables and protein.
- Alexandra Napoli, Certified Holistic Health Coach, Napoli Holistic Coaching
Choose Meals with Shared Ingredients
Each week, try to choose recipes that share some ingredients in common – especially more expensive ingredients when a recipe only calls for a small quantity. You won’t have to buy as much variety, saving you money at the grocery store, and you’ll cut back on waste by using up all of the ingredients that you do purchase. For example, if you buy Thai basil for a curry dish, then you can use the rest later in the week when making lettuce wraps.
- Jill Ginsberg, Health Coach and Speaker, Jill Ginsberg
Consider Meal Kit Delivery Services
Meal kit delivery services help break barriers associated with choosing to cook at home or not. Meal kits take care of the tough parts like choosing the recipes, grocery shopping, ingredient prepping, and deliver it all straight to your doorstop, shortcutting you straight to the stove on busy weeknights. With all of the ingredients perfectly measured out, food waste is completely eliminated and portion-control is figured out for you.
- Rebecca Lewis, Registered Dietician, HelloFresh
Freeze Batter for Small Batch Desserts
For desserts, you can’t exactly mix together small batches of cakes or cookies. You can, however, bake small batches and freeze the rest of the batter (and even icing!) for later. Use 2 4-inch springform pans to make a small two-layer cake for small servings of your favorites. It’s much better than having a massive 8-inch cake staring you in the face. Using the small cake pans allows you to enjoy your cake without compromising a balanced diet or throwing out food.
- Jenna Edwards, Homecooking Expert & Host of Cooking Companion TV
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