How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook Part 2

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Blog, Cooking Tips

How to Meal Prep and Batch Cook Part 2

I loved sharing Part One of my tips for meal planning and batch cooking in my previous post! I’m glad it has been helpful to you. With no further ado, I present you with Part 2, which should help answer some questions like:

– What do I package food in?
– What types of meals freeze best?
– How can I keep all of my recipes in one place?
– How do I make sure that I get all of the ingredients that I need?
– How should I structure my cook day?

Enjoy! And please don’t hesitate to leave questions in the comments section below, or share some of your own favorite cooking tips!

How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook Part 2


How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook – Part 2


6)
Add Some Regional Flair

I suppose you can technically skip to #7, but I think this step actually helps narrow down the entrees you will choose. Think about specific regional cuisine for each of your proteins. Feeling like Asian takeout? Your favorite Italian dish? Pick up to four different types of regional cuisine and designate one to each of the entree types.

Example:
Crockpot – Beef Chuck Roast – 3.5 lbs. – Mexican
Soup – Half of Whole Chicken + 1 lb. ground beef – 5 lbs – American, Comfort Food
Casserole – Half a Whole Chicken – Italian
Stir-Fry – Ground Pork – 2 lbs. – Asian

  7) Pick Your Recipes

You’re almost there! It’s time to decide on your recipes! Whether you are checking out Pinterest, cookbooks, or other food blogs on the web, decide upon the meals that fit your protein and regional cuisine choice.

Reminder from Part One: You’ll want some of your entree choices to be freezer-friendly. I recommend that prepared food stays in the fridge for 4 days from the time of cooking, and that whatever won’t be eaten by then gets frozen. Therefore, you want to freeze day 5-7 of your meal.

 Entrees that freeze well: stews, soups, meatballs, casseroles, most items that are cooked in a sauce (I will link to my favorite freezable recipes either below or in a future post)

Don’t freeze: meat on the bone, raw vegetables, plain starches (steamed rice, baked potatoes, fried plantains)

Make sure that you SAVE the recipe you plan to use. If it’s a crowd pleaser, you’ll want to make sure that you can find it again easily. Pinterest is great to find new meal ideas, but I prefer saving specific recipes in Evernote. You can get the Evernote web clipper for your web browser for easy saving. Another reason to use Evernote is that you can also transcribe a recipe into Evernote if you are getting your recipe from a cookbook. I’ll talk more about why I use Evernote in steps 9 & 10. If you have any type of mobile device or tablet, you’ll want to make sure you have the Evernote app downloaded as well.

Example: Here are the meals that I picked. I’m guilty of never really using recipes as I find them, but I linked to recipes that are similar to what I made, or recipes that I adapted and changed up:
Beef Barbacoa from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen
– Chicken Vegetable Soup with Mini Meatballs (This recipe depicts the way that I make my soup, except I don’t skim off fat, I reserved some of the chicken for the squash bake below, added more veggies, and added meatballs)
Spaghetti Squash Pizza Bake from PaleOMG except I used shredded chicken in place of beef and added more veggies
– Asian Pork Stir-Fry (similar to this recipe, except I double cook the pork, and add a lot more veggies

  8) Think about side dishes

Does your recipe have at least two types of veggies in it? Should you add more vegetables or a starch side? Think about any side dishes or accompaniments that you want to serve with your protein. I really like picking vegetables that can be used in multiple dishes, which cuts my grocery list down. Again, think about what will keep well in the fridge or freezer.

I’ll also add that I usually chop a few heads of lettuce or kale and have them prepped and bagged in the fridge. That way I can enjoy some fresh vegetables with my meals by putting the greens in a bowl with a dressing.

Example:
– Barbacoa Beef  – Side of Roasted Zucchini & Carrots
– Chicken Vegetable Soup with Mini Meatballs – Side of Roasted Sweet Potatoes (all will freeze well)
– Spaghetti Squash Pizza Bake – Side of Roasted Broccoli (all will freeze well)
– Asian Pork Stir-Fry – Side of Turnip Noodles (I haven’t tried freezing this dish yet, but will try soon)

Think about the amount of a side you would eat for one meal, and multiply it by the number of servings you are making for that particular entree. For example, if I want 1/2 cup of roasted sweet potatoes with my soup and need six servings, I should prep at least 3 cups worth of sweet potato, or about 2-4 sweet potatoes, depending upon the size of each potato.

  9) Optimize your recipe.

Using Evernote allows you to optimize existing recipes, as well as view them offline. If you are working from a recipe that you found from Pinterest or your favorite food blogger, either use the web clipper to capture the recipe into your Evernote notebook, or copy/paste the recipe into Evernote. If you plan to make any modifications to the recipe (ie. due to a food allergy, etc.), you can edit the recipe in Evernote. Evernote gives you the option to insert checkboxes next to each ingredient in your recipe. This will be critical for step #10 below. Do this for all of the recipes you will prepare for the week. Add in the vegetables for your meals either within the recipe, or on another recipe card, and add a checkbox next to these as well.

Here is an example of a recipe clipped from Alexandra’s Cooks. Notice the checkboxes:
How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook Part 2

  10) Grocery Shopping

On your grocery shopping/cook day, take an electronic device with you that has the Evernote app on it. As you purchase the ingredients for your recipes, check them off of your recipe cards (see example below).

How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook Part 2

Don’t forget spices, herbs, and condiments. I personally shop at a couple of different places to get all that I need.

I thaw my proteins by moving them from my freezer to my fridge a day or two prior to my cook day, that way they are defrosted in time for cooking. You can also quickly defrost them by running them under water and then cooking Immediately. Do not defrost this way if you plan to cook later that day, the next day, etc., as you could put yourself at risk for foodborne illness.

  11) After getting your groceries, it’s time to cook!

Below outlines the way I organize myself so that I can complete all of my cooking in one day. Please be aware that everyone might optimize their cooking differently, but it’s important to go into your cook day with a Plan.

As a general rule, I preheat my oven first and then prep vegetables for at least two of the meals. Depending upon the length of time it takes to prepare each meal, I usually get the most labor-intensive one out of the way first, that way I can prepare other meals while the first one is cooking. I either assemble the crockpot meal early on my cook day, or before I go to sleep. That way, it cooks while I’m working or while I’m sleeping, and I can package it when it’s finished.

A cook day using the entrees I selected might look like this:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Get chicken soup started – Fill large pot with water, salt, and apple cider vinegar. Add whole chicken. Bring to boil. Skim off matter that floats to the top. Bring to simmer. Cover.
  3. Cut spaghetti squash and bake in oven.
  4. Cut zucchini & carrots – add fat and spices. Place in pyrex. Roast in oven.
  5. Cut vegetables for chicken soup – put in large bowl and set aside.
  6. Make meatballs for soup and partially bake (they’ll finish cooking in the soup).
  7. Start browning ground pork.
  8. Make turnip noodles with my Spiralizer. Cut vegetables for stir-fry.
  9. Take out spaghetti squash and cabbage out of oven while stir-fry is cooking.
  10. Finish stir-fry and package.
  11. Remove chicken from pot and set aside. After cool, shred chicken. About ⅓ will go into the soup, and 2/3 will go into the spaghetti pie.
  12. Make/assemble spaghetti pie. Put in oven to finish.
  13. Add meatballs to soup, followed by the vegetables. Once tender, add the chicken last.
  14. Let meals cool and package.
  15. The last thing I do is put the beef roast into my crockpot and cook overnight. In the morning, I shred it, and package it along with the zucchini.

The steps above ensure that you are using the oven as well as the stovetop at the same time, without trying to squish all of your meals into the oven or on the stove at the same time.

  12) Packaging

There are a number of ways that you can package your meals. My husband and I have an issue with overeating if there is more food put in front of us, so I actually package all of our meals individually. We splurged on glass pyrex containers and split up each of the meals accordingly. You have a lot of different options, but we chose the 3-cup Pyrex containers and the 6-cup Pyrex containers due to their ability to go from freezer to fridge to oven.

We also have these Glasslock containers which are really leak-proof and good for soups, but I’ve read some horror stories about them shattering in the oven (we’ve taken them from freezer to fridge to oven and had no issues, but it seems they exist). My husband usually takes the larger containers, and I take the smaller ones. You can also package your meals family style in larger glass containers which are great for the fridge or freezer! I like these square family-style pyrex and rectangular family-style pyrex – both have lids and handles!

How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook Part 2
Photo Courtesy of Laura @ AncestralizeMe.com

  13) Labeling

If you individually package all of your meals like me,  you might want to consider labeling your containers. This will really help you when you open your fridge in the morning and want to know what food you are selecting, or when you are pulling some meals from the freezer. I use these clear Avery labels for my personal chef service and in my personal cooking. You can print on them or write with a permanent marker. The ink stays put on them and the labels peel off easily without leaving any kind of mess. Along with the name of the entree, write the Date on the sticker. This will ensure that you eat the meals within their allotted window, and that you select the correct meals from the freezer.

  14) Make a Meal Spreadsheet

This last step is optional, but it can be helpful because it ENTIRELY takes the guess work out of what to eat. We create a table or a chart where I write down when we will eat each meal during the week. My husband and I have it saved in a shared Google Doc that we pull up when we want to see what we said we would eat on that day. Since I have 6 servings of each entree and one throw together meal, my week would look like this:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Lunch Lunch out at Whole Foods Barbacoa w/ Zucchini & Carrots Spaghetti Squash Pie w/ Broccoli Pork Stir Fry & Turnip Lo Mein Barbacoa w/ Zucchini & Carrots Chicken Soup w/ Roasted Sweet Potatoes [from freezer] Spaghetti Squash Pie w/ Broccoli [from freezer]
Dinner Pork Stir Fry & Turnip Lo Mein Chicken Soup w/ Roasted Sweet Potatoes [and make a green salad!] Pork Stir Fry & Turnip Lo Mein Barbacoa w/ Zucchini & Carrots Spaghetti Squash Pie w/ Broccoli [from freezer] Tuna Salad [throw together meal] Chicken Soup w/ Roasted Sweet Potatoes [from freezer]

I didn’t include breakfast here, as we usually just do eggs, coffee, and maybe a smoothie.

Notice that the meals from days 5-7 say “from the freezer”. Since I have all of my meals prepared ahead of time, I know exactly what will head into the freezer at the beginning of the week, and what to take out for each of the meals near the end of the week. I recommend moving meals from freezer to fridge the 1-2 days before you eat them, depending upon the size of the container you use. That way, the meal should be fully thawed by the time you take it from the fridge to the oven.

Freezer Tip — I recommend that all of your packaged meals sit in the fridge first before heading to the freezer. The containers that are designated for the freezer should sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours or a day. I recommend this because putting meals directly from the countertop to freezer promotes condensation on top of the meals, which leads to freezer burn. Since we definitely Don’t want that with our meals, keep them in the fridge to cool down properly, and then transfer to the freezer!

You’re all done! Now you can enjoy delicious food throughout the week, without having to prepare meals each evening. I hope these tips on Meal Planning and Batch Cooking have been helpful for you! I will post a round up of my favorite crock pot and freezer-ready meals in my next post, so stay tuned! In the interim, leave me a message in the comments if you found this helpful, or if you have any special tricks and tips of your own!

How to Meal Plan and Batch Cook Part 2

How To Meal Plan and Batch Cook – Part 1

Posted on 7 CommentsPosted in Blog, Cooking Tips

Meal Planning and Batch Cooking Part 1 - www.priscillacooks.com

** Update – If you’ve already read Part 1, you can check out Part 2 of my tips by clicking here!

Another Monday mornings rolls around, and your fridge contains a couple of bruised apples and half a carton of eggs..“Where did I go wrong!?” you ask yourself, as you think over where you can grab lunch today, and what groceries to buy at the store.

It can be tough to meal plan and prepare your meals for the week, especially if you have a large family! Meal planning and batch cooking requires some smart planning and time, but it can definitely be done! Short of hiring a personal chef (like me, which I obviously recommend!), taking the time out to meal plan and batch cook will save you mental energy, money, and time in the long run.

There are a lot of great meal planning posts out there. For example, George over at Civilized Caveman emails you weekly meal plans right to your inbox (see here), or you can buy weekly meal plans from Paleo Nick here. There are many other bloggers who can give you general tips or shopping lists.

So if people are already giving the 411 on how to meal plan, why am I? Well, I wanted to give you an in-depth look at the way I have personally been preparing food for My family for the last month. After going overboard with grocery shopping and spending Much more than our monthly budget, my husband and I decided to set a strict budget, and meal plan within that budget. In addition to saving money, meal planning and batch cooking take the guess work out of what to eat. After coming home from a long day, don’t you just want to open up your fridge and pick out a meal, instead of figuring out what to cook, cooking it, and then cleaning up? Aside from taking advantage of my personal chef services, meal planning and prepping takes sets you up with meals that are ready to heat and eat. In addition, I individually package everything so there is no confusion over what to eat, and so that we don’t eat more than is allotted for us.

I wanted to capture the general ways that I meal plan and meal prep over the course of a week and share them with you. It might sound a little intimidating, but the steps are pretty straightforward and methodical. When it doubt, Keep It Simple!  Below is Part 1. You can view Part 2 here!

Meal Planning and Batch Cooking Part 1 - www.priscillacooks.com

Meal Planning and Batch Cooking Like a Boss [Part 1]

  1) Determine how many people you need to feed and how many meals you need to prepare for each person

How many people are in your family? How many meals do you want to prepare for each of them for the week? For mine, it is just me and my husband. I personally only prep lunch and dinner, since we’re always on-the-go. Breakfast is usually hard boiled eggs (which I boil twice a week), with a bulletproof coffee or a Nutribullet smoothie, or leftovers (if we ever have those!) That leaves each of us with needing 7 lunches and 7 dinners, or 28 meals between the two of us. We go out for one meal per week (usually Sunday lunch at Whole Foods), so that leaves us with needing 26 meals for the week.

To keep in mind going forward: I personally recommend keeping prepared meals in the fridge for four days from the time of preparation. If you are meal planning/cooking on a weekly basis, this means that you would freeze meals for days 5-7. You are free to keep your meals in the fridge for the entire week, but for my personal chef services, as well as from a taste and food safety perspective, I recommend the 4 day rule. That being said, you will want a portion of the meals you create to be freezer-friendly.

  2) Determine how many entrees you will prepare for the week

While some people want a different meal for every day and night of the week, you’ll have some repetition with batch cooking (and even when you hire a personal chef). I’m guilty of being able to live on turnip lo mein with some meat and veggies thrown in every day, but most people (like my husband) require Some variety. Therefore, I recommend aiming for 4-5 entrees, and then multiplying the servings of each entree so you meet your weekly meal goal.

Example: If I need 26 meals for the week, I will make 4 entrees with 6 servings each (24 meals total), and then the last two meals will probably be eggs or tuna salad. For the purpose of this post and example, I am going to assume that I need 24 meals, since the last two are just meals I would throw together.

  3) Think of entrees that will utilize your kitchen

There’s nothing worse than trying to cook a large amount of food, only to discover that every meal requires time on the stovetop as well as the oven. To help me cook all of our food at one time, I try to have half of my dishes cook in the oven, and the other half on the stove-top. I also try to utilize my crockpot for at least one meal (if not two). I have this Hamilton Beach crockpot and I LOVE it. It’s programmable so it will cook for the indicated time you enter (up to 12 hours at a time), and then set to a warm function. I recommend at least having one (we have two). By using my stovetop, oven, and crockpot,  I’m utilizing multiple parts of my kitchen and saving time. This is also the way that The Wellness Mama sets up her weekly meal template.

Example: I usually breakdown meals that I make like this –
1 Slow Cooker meal (crockpot)
1 Soup (stovetop)
1 Casserole (oven)
1 Stirfry (stovetop)

  4) If you buy your proteins in bulk, check to see how much meat you have on hand

I 100% recommend buying locally from farmers, and in bulk. This gives you access to better quality meat and saves you money in the long-run (I’m working on a post about why you should do this and will post it soon). If you have a chest freezer, check out what kind of proteins you have in the freezer. Don’t neglect bones or odd cuts of meat either! Meaty bones can be made into great soups, and tough cuts work well for braising or slow cooking.

When checking for your proteins, this is also a good time to determine how much meat each serving will contain. I usually try to use ¼-⅓ lb. of meat in each meal (less for me, more for my husband), but use whatever works best for your diet and budget. As an aside, my personal chef meals usually have ⅓-½ lb. of protein per serving!

  5) Based upon how you want to cook each of the entrees (from Step #3), think about the proteins you want to use or have on hand, and designate a different protein and cut to each entree type

My recommendations:

  • For crockpot meals (or slow braises in the oven), I recommend tougher and heartier pieces of meat, like picnic pork, beef shoulder, roasts, shanks, etc. [Check out some great crockpot meal options from Kelly of A Girl Worth Saving here ]
  • For soup, I recommend chicken or you could use stew meat for something like chili
  • For casseroles, I recommend shredded chicken or some type of ground meat
  • For a stir-fry, I recommend meat that can be sliced (like steaks/pork belly) or ground meat

Example:
Crockpot – Beef Chuck Roast – 3.5 lbs.
Soup – 1/3 of a Whole Chicken + 1 lb. Ground Beef
Casserole -2/3 of a Whole Chicken
Stir-Fry – Ground Pork – 2 lbs.

Have you tried to meal prep or batch cook? Were the steps above helpful to you? Let me know if you have any questions, and check out Part 2 of my meal planning and batch cooking tips here!

 

Cooking Tip: Steamed Eggs

Posted on Posted in Blog, Cooking Tips

We learn from our mistakes in many different areas of life. In cooking, it’s no different! I am going to start posting some of my favorite cooking tips and tricks that I’ve learned along my journey to help make your life easier and your cooking more enjoyable!

Cooking Trick #1 – Steaming Eggs

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Forget the days of trying to boil fresh eggs from the Farmer’s Market, only to end up with tiny bits of shell (and egg white) Everywhere! I love soft-boiled eggs, and really hate having to wait for eggs to sit in the fridge for a couple of weeks before making them.

I read that steaming eggs was an option, but because I didn’t have a steaming basket, I assumed that I would never steam them. Fast-forward to last week, when I became a steamed egg convert.

In lieu of a steaming basket, I used a colander (See below) that I had in the back of one of my cabinets. Obviously not what the colander is for, but it fit perfectly in my pot, and made awesome soft-boiled eggs!

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Yes, I’m sure I could go out and buy a steamer basket, but this is working great in the interim! And it can work for you, too 🙂

To make perfectly steamed eggs:

* Before you start: Bring your eggs to room temperature – letting them sit out for about 30 minutes will work.

1. Fill your pot with 1-2 inches of water. You should also place your colander in the pot and make sure the water does not touch the inside of the colander where you will put the eggs.
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2. Heat your pot on one of your burners until it begins to boil, then reduce to a simmer.

3. Place your eggs into the colander and set the colander in the pot.
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4. Cover colander with lid of pot.
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5. Set timer for 10-12 minutes (10 for soft boiled, 12 for hard-boiled).

6. After 10 minutes, plunge eggs into cold water.

7. To peel, crack egg and slowly peel while running under cold or lukewarm water. The peel should easily fall off!
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Perfect Eggs! 🙂

Have you tried steaming eggs? Let me know how they turn out!

Also be on the lookout for a new farmer spotlight, and gluten-free/paleo friendly dining options in the Raleigh-Durham area soon!