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 our mothers 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 tips to help develop a system that works for you.
Make Meal Prep Easy
1. Set up your veggie prep station
As soon as you get home from the grocery store (or your CSA bin arrives), organize your station so it's ready for some veggie prepping action. 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 near a radio.
2. Review your handy-dandy meal plan
By looking at the recipes you're planning to make that 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 fine for soup, and some butternut squash cubed.
- If you’ll be enjoying them 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. Before you ask, 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? 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.
- Chop, Chop: Throw on some 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.
4. Freeze your extras
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!
- You can also 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.
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.
- You will be more inclined to snack on healthy prepped veggies.
- You will save loads of moolah 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.
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Photos: Catherine Farquharson