Vegetable prep is a key step in living and eating your healthiest way possible. It takes a little time up front, but makes meal times much quicker with way less clean-up. It also results in far less food waste and we love that, a lot!
Don't believe me? Consider this: It's a busy weeknight. You have an importance choice to make: cook or pick up take-out (again). Which of the following scenarios would make you more likely to opt for the homemade meal?
- Your fridge has a dirt-covered whole cabbage shoved to the back, a wilty bunch of kale languishing in the crisper and a soggy head of broccoli hanging out beside a seen-better-days roast chicken.
- Your fridge is filled with beautiful washed, chopped and properly stored vegetables, just waiting to be steamed up and served with a homemade veggie burger.
No brainer, right?
The first step to optimizing time on the kitchen clock is to actually know what you need to be doing in there. Staring into a fridge and shuffling through cupboards does not make a meal. To save time over the long run, I will introduce you to a skill previous generations learned in their high school Home Economics classes: menu and meal planning, but without the canned creamed corn and meatloaf.
This is a skill and as with all skills, practice makes perfect - or at least makes more efficient and accurate. At the very least you won’t suck at it. Perfection is overrated anyway. Use these easy vegetable prep tips to help develop a system that works for you.
5 tips for quick and easy vegetable prep
Photo: Catherine Farquharson
1. Set Up Your Veggie Prep Station
As soon as you get home from the grocery store (or your grocery delivery arrives), organize your station so it's ready for some veggie prepping action. The key here is to start prepping as soon as possible after buying ingredients. If you pop that head of celery into the fridge thinking you'll get to it later, you might end up procrastinating further. If you do it right away, not only will the vegetable prep be complete - but also you'll have lots of things ready to go to snack on!
If you get bored while chopping set up your cutting board, knife, storage containers and green bin for waste in front of the TV or have a slate of podcast episodes ready to go. It's also handy to recruit help if there are other people in your household - this way, everyone learns cooking skills and gets to spend time with one another.
2. Review Your Meal Plan
By looking at the recipes you're planning to make in any given week, you'll be able to know how your various veggies should be prepped. Maybe you want some carrots and celery in bite-size form for easy snacking, some broccoli chopped finely for soup and some butternut squash cubed.
- If you’ll be enjoying vegetables as bite-sized snacks, cut them to grab-and-go sizes and pre-pack in airtight containers, with some water inside to keep them crisp.
- When chopping, slicing and dicing for recipes, cut to the size indicated in the recipe and store. Yes, there is some nutrition lost when you pre-cut your vegetables. But there is even more lost when you throw them out at the end of the week because they were too much trouble to eat.
3. Take Shortcuts
Ever find yourself doing the same cooking tasks day after day? Do them all at once, so everything is ready to go when you need it. Here are some time-saving ideas:
- Get Juiced: Tons of recipes call for lemon juice. Juice all your lemons at the beginning of the week and store in a mason jar for easy use later.
- Chopping: Throw on some onion goggles and chop a bunch of onions at once, storing each onion in a small airtight glass jar. No more tears!
- Peel + Prep: Peel and grate your garlic and ginger for the week in advance, storing them in airtight jars.
- Soak + Blend: Nut and seed milk is another common ingredient, so make large batches and store them in the freezer.
- Season It Up: Create your own spice blends and store them in the pantry to add a quick burst of flavour to your cooking.
You will also love these 10 Easy Dinner Recipes, which includes a ton of make-ahead steps and shortcuts to help you get dinner done without a lot of fuss.
4. Freeze Your Extras (Or Batch Cook On Purpose!)
One major benefit of prepping your meals in advance is that you get to reduce waste.
- If a recipe calls for only a cup of broccoli and you have a whole head, wash it, chop it up, and freeze the extras on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight bag or container and keep in the freezer for later use!
- Save your scraps (like stalks and ends) for soup stock - just wash them and pop them in the freezer until you're ready to get out the stock pot.
- Blanch or steam greens (including stems!) that you can add later to a variety of dishes.
- Double recipes so you can enjoy one version fresh, and stash another in the freezer for later. Grab my full guide to freezing food here and check out these freezer recipes.
5. Relax and Reap The Benefits
Now that your prep is done, you can take a deep breath and revel in the fact that cooking is going to be super easy this week!
- You will save loads of time in both prepping and washing up.
- You will save yourself from throwing out produce that was wasted during the week (this saves you money, and reduces the environmental impact too!).
- You will be more inclined to snack on healthy prepped veggies.
- You will save loads of money by not resorting to expensive ready-made meals or take out.
- You will never have to look in your fridge and wonder what to make for dinner. That work has already been taken care of.
Food Waste Is On The Rise
Before the coronavirus, food waste was already a large global problem. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, we are wasting even more food at the household level and throughout the food supply chain, from farmers to grocers. A recent survey in Canada showed that we are wasting 13.5% more food than we did prior to the pandemic. There were many reasons for this, including:
- Leaving food in the fridge or freezer too long
- Food going past its best before date
- Buying more food than households could realistically eat
- No time to cook the food purchased
- Cooking too much food
- Not storing food properly
- Lack of meal planning
In a nutshell, people are binge-buying food and ingredients with absolutely no plan for how they will use it. This approach, not surprisingly, leads to food waste and its heartbreaking when many people are currently grappling with severe food insecurity.
Household food waste is very preventable - check out the resources section below for more details.
Ready to Practice Easy Vegetable Prep?
The best way to make vegetable prep a habit is to practice! Learn how to prep vegetables effectively, discover new batch prepping strategies, feel confident making everyday staples from scratch, effortlessly integrate more whole, unprocessed foods into your diet and more in my course Everyday Culinary Nutrition.
This online course takes the overwhelm out of simple and delicious healthy eating. It empowers you to incorporate healthful strategies (like vegetable prep) into your everyday eating. This can help you positively impact the health and well-being of your family, reduce your household food and packaging waste, and save money.