For a while there, Mr. Foodie and I fell off the weekly meal prep bandwagon thanks to my new job. But after weeks of winging it, we’ve decided that meal prep is not only a key to health, but a key to domestic bliss. If you care at all about your diet, your finances, your impact on the environment, and/or having a good relationship with your domestic partner(s), meal prep should be on your radar. And when I say “meal prep” I mean real meal prep. Not all of us have four hours on Sunday for chopping, blanching, butchering, and freezing. Not all of us have 15 perfectly matched food containers that stack neatly in the fridge (or that have all their lids). Not all of us want to eat the same types of things over and over each week. Not all of us want to cook everyday. At the end of the day, real meal prep is about being honest with yourself and realistic about your food goals.
For us, we obviously enjoy cooking and, more to the point, cooking new things each week. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have “menu staples” that repeat. When I meal plan, I plan for 3-4 dinners each week and 1 “cheat” dinner that requires almost no effort (like the chickpea, artichoke pasta we made the other night). I’ve discovered that this is a realistic number of dinners for us because we often have dinner with family, go out with friends, and sometimes we are just too tired (or hot) to think about cooking for longer than 10 minutes. I’ve already written about how I will spend at least 30 minutes making a menu for the week and drawing up a grocery list. This isn’t for everyone, but I like taking the time so I can weigh the factors that matter to me in buying food for the week: cost, health, taste, and utilizing our existing groceries. For me, food waste breaks my heart. Not only do I feel guilty for literally throwing money away when something spoils, I regret the long-term implications of wasted food on the environment. So many of the cooking strategies I employ are designed to avoid food waste as much as possible.
Our homemade stock, for example, relies on using up the carcass of a roasted chicken, celery, carrots, and a halved onion. Add a little salt and pepper, and you’ve got a great homemade chicken stock. The beauty of stock is that you can jazz it up with herbs if you have them (or need to use them up before they go bad) and other flavors if you want, or you can make it with scraps as we do. You might be thinking, why not just buy stock? Chances are, you can get 4+ cups of stock at your grocery for $4—obviously cheap and easier than making it yourself. My answer is: I’m buying a roast chicken for meals and celery/carrots for snacks anyway…why not use those scraps to make a stock while I’m at it? For me, it feels less wasteful and I can customize it to my taste. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy stock on occasion, but I rarely pass up the opportunity to make it myself.
Usually we get home from the grocery store, and I begin by stripping the roast chicken of its meat. It is easier to do this right away before the chicken cools in the fridge. I use the divided chicken for different purposes – some of it might go in the finished stock for soup, some in salads for lunch, and sometimes I pull off the legs and wings for dinner that very night. I clean a new stalk of celery and cut off the leafy tops and the hard bottom core to add to my stock pot. I cut the remaining celery into short, thin strips for eating with hummus or peanut butter. And I either use last week’s remaining carrots or I add new ones in while dividing them into smaller bags to snack on through the week.
Once my snacks are bagged and my stock is simmering, I take this opportunity to boil some eggs for the week. I love hard-boiled eggs right out of the pot, but Mr. Foodie prefers them cold. Either way, they’re great to have on hand for a variety of uses – add them to a yummy spinach salad, egg salad sandwiches, deviled egg apps, or just pop them in your mouth for a snack. To make storing the boiled eggs easy, I dye my boiled eggs with a natural dye made from onion skin! I use the onion skin that I peeled from my stock pot onion and drop it in a small pot of room temp water to which I add at least six eggs.
The onion skin dyes the eggs as they boil so I can put them back in the egg carton with the fresh ones and not have to guess which is which during the week. Don’t worry, the onion skins don’t flavor the eggs in any way.
This whole process takes an hour, tops. If you get the stock going first, the rest will fall neatly into your 40 minute simmer window. Then you will have hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and/or snacks, carrots and celery for hummus or peanut butter, and delicious homemade stock ready for soups, sauces, or risotto.
What meal prep strategies do you use to make your weekly food goals? Do you have other tips for a #wastefree kitchen?