Monday, May 2, 2016

Game-Changer: Sunday Meal Prepping

A week of meals, ready to go.
 For about a month now, I have spent my Sunday afternoons prepping meals and snacks for the coming week. Prior to this, I had been quite unsuccessful with meal planning. While I would diligently plan out and shop for my meals each weekend, I would get increasingly disinterested in cooking as the week wore on. Inevitably I would end up eating fast food and letting groceries spoil in my fridge, and I'd be hit with a double-whammy of guilt, beating myself up for both eating poorly and wasting food. 
I put together my weekly plan in a spreadsheet and then post it on the fridge.
Initially the idea of doing a week's worth of cooking in a day seemed really daunting. I assumed it would take forever. My thinking was, "Thanksgiving dinner takes about 6 hours spread over 2 days, and it's one meal!" (Reality check: It's Thanksgiving dinner... basically a week's worth of food in one sitting.) What really inspired me to try the big Sunday meal prep was that average people on the internet were managing it, so it must be possible. I figured it couldn't be any less effective and/or wasteful that my previous system. It turns out that it's not that big of a deal I thought it would be. I spend about the same amount of time coming up with my grocery list and going to the store, which I do on Saturday. Saturday evening I get organized and double-check that I have everything I need, including containers. Sunday, I do the cooking. It takes between 1 and 3 hours, so it's a pretty solid afternoon of work.

I like to have all ingredients out and visible before I begin cooking.

Here's what I have learned through research, trial, and error:

  • Don't choose recipes that require more equipment than you have, necessitating cooking in shifts. If you only have one Dutch oven, don't think, "Oh, I'll just package up Recipe 1, clean the pot, and then do Recipe 2." No, you won't. (Or at least I won't.) Ideally you will have one thing going in a slow-cooker, 1 or 2 things on the stove, and/or 1 or 2 things in the oven. I would also recommend including a recipe that doesn't require cooking at all; by comparison, those recipes feel like instant gratification and will help you power through the day. 
  • Spend some time thinking about the order in which you will prepare your dishes. If something is going to be in the oven for awhile, then the baking time for that dish is the perfect time to throw together something for the stove top. 
  • Choose recipes with complementary flavors so that you can do all of the chopping at once. Go from least smelly foods to the smelliest so you don't end up with lingering red onion flavor on your zucchini.
  • Pick your recipes in the mindset of using up everything that is perishable within the week. If you really want to make a recipe that involves spinach, for example, select other recipes that include spinach so that you can use the whole bag this week. It's not going to be looking so hot when next Sunday rolls around.
  • Focus on recipes that freeze well. A backlog of leftovers in the fridge is a recipe for food waste. A backlog of leftovers in the freezer is a time-saver! I found that my recipes from Weeks 1 and 2 made enough servings that I ended up just eating meals from my freezer for Week 3. I used my cooking time that weekend to bake a cake. 

Huevos Rancheros Pizza
Week 4
Tortilla Espagnola
So far, this has been a very sustainable system that I can see myself using and adapting indefinitely. I enjoy my "power cooking" on Sundays, and I really enjoy not having to put much thought, effort, or guilt into my weekday meals.

Do you do weekly meal prepping? What are your go-to meals?

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