*Cue the Jaws music* So I’m going to start having my readers (voluntarily) doing a full Meal Prep session or two and posting your outcomes. Below are some things you can choose from and make in sufficient quantities to portion and freeze. Use them up however you want, and let us know how everything goes. Tell us about any texture or flavor changes that happen with freezing and/or reheating, how long you had to reheat something in the microwave, whether frozen or thawed, and so on.
There’s a process for doing all of this. You have to have the ingredients, which usually means a trip to the store for something, and you have to devote the time to making whichever of the things below you want. Plan on a block of about 2-3 hours of time per session of Meal Prep. You can do some things, such as chopping, the night before. Lay out all of your food storage containers, labels, and permanent markers ahead of time. Remember to use food-safe labels or freezer tape, as the adhesive on regular tape and labels will leave a gummy residue on your containers that harbors bacteria. Always write the date as well.
Budget your time wisely. If you have a slow cooker, you can put that on to cook early in the day and then come back later to do the portioning. In the meantime, you can portion out any nonperishables, such as crackers, pretzels, or cold cereal. Roasts usually take a good two hours, so they should go into the oven as soon as possible. You can always put it in the fridge to portion out the next day.
Make a schedule for each block of Meal Prep. Start with the item that takes the longest, then go through to the shortest. I’m all about supermarket shortcuts, so if you want to buy premade meatballs or something, go right ahead. If it helps you get the food ready faster, that’s what’s important.
Most of the items can be taken out the night before and thawed in the refrigerator. Get into the habit of doing that for all of your meals. If you’re invited to lunch with coworkers, or you and your family decide to go out for dinner, that’s ok. Just have it the next day. Breads can be thawed on the counter in about a couple of hours.
Breakfast: Casseroles, breakfast sandwiches/burritos/bowls, hot cereals, smoothies. Portion your casseroles, bowls, and hot cereals into about 1-cup servings. If you want to add dried fruit and/or nuts to your cereal, press a small amount into the top of each portion before freezing. Figure one or two sandwiches or burritos per serving, depending on how big they are and how many you normally eat. These things can be frozen up to 2-3 months, and you can microwave them either frozen or thawed.
You can take your fresh fruits and veggies that you normally use to make a smoothie and freeze them in blender-ready portions. Prepare the fruits and veggies as you usually do and put them into an appropriate size resealable bag. For things such as protein powders, chia seeds, etc., buy 2-ounce condiment cups with lids. At Target, you can get a package of 50 for less than $3. Portion the items into the amounts you usually use, and keep them stacked or in a basket or something right next to your blender. You can make your smoothie straight from the freezer. If you thaw the fruits and veggies first, you’ll end up with a lot more liquid than the original smoothie is supposed to have, so take that into account. You can always drain off the excess liquid first.
Lunch/Dinner: Sandwiches, casseroles, pasta/rice dishes, wraps, soups, salads. Sandwiches can be made two different ways. You can slap the meat & cheese between two slices of your favorite bread and put it all into a resealable sandwich bag. Another way is to put the bread slices into one sandwich baggie and the meat/cheese into another. With this method, you need to buy burger patty papers–those sheets that are between each patty in a package of frozen burgers. Put the meat/cheese between two of these papers, then put it all into the sandwich bag. Put all of your sandwiches/sandwich components into a gallon-sized bag, and BOOM! Lunch is done. Simply take out however many you need and let them thaw on the counter while you get ready for work, then make them how you like. Or, remove them the night before and let them thaw in the fridge. One caveat, though. If you’re going to assemble the sammies before putting them into the freezer, leave out the condiments and veggies. You can put them on when you go to put the whole lunch together. The same goes for wraps. Sandwiches and wraps can be frozen up to 3 months. For wraps, I would wrap them in plastic and/or foil before putting them into the gallon bag. Remember to remove the plastic and foil before microwaving, unless you know for a fact that your plastic wrap is microwave-safe. You can always wrap it in a paper towel to microwave it.
Casseroles, pastas, and soups make great lunches and dinners, especially on cold winter days. Make the dish in advance and portion it out accordingly. They can be frozen up to 3 months. Take out what you need before you leave for work, and by the time you get ready to eat lunch it should be mostly thawed. I usually allow one cup for pasta/rice dishes or casseroles, and two cups for soup. A minute or two in the microwave, and you’re there.
Some salads can be made up to about a week in advance, such as chicken or pasta salad. Any salad that is heavy on the leafy greens should be made the day of, or at most, refrigerated for 2-3 days. Whatever recipe you use for a chicken or pasta salad, divide it as equally as possible into the number of servings indicated in the recipe. If you have a small amount left after portioning out your servings for a few days or so, just eat it.
Recipe Portions: Make some spaghetti sauce. Take the recipe you use, and double, triple, or quadruple it. Portion it out into recipe-sized amounts, which is usually 1½ cups or so. If you have multiple dishes that you make using that one sauce, you can buy pre-perforated business card or index card sized printer sheets (in packages of several sheets) and use a template to type up each recipe on a separate card.
Word® now comes with a bunch of templates for these kinds of cards. Just look under “labels” when you go to make the cards. Once you’ve printed your recipes on the cards, separate them on the perforations, take them to a copy shop, and have them laminated. Then all you have to do when you go to make your sauce again is take out the recipe cards and tape each one to a portion. Take out a portion of the sauce to make dinner, and remove the recipe card. Since it’s laminated, all you need to do is wipe it clean with a wet cloth. Place it in a drawer or something for the next use.
I hope these ideas inspire you to try your first Meal Prep session. As always, let me know what you think below!