Putting whole, healthy foods on my family’s table is Priority Number One for me when it comes to how I manage our meals. And as self-appointed Head Chef, I know how challenging it can be to cook up a fresh and balanced plate every night, especially with a toddler wrapped around your ankles. That’s why meal prep is a key part of my strategy when it comes to balancing a healthy lifestyle and…well…LIFE.
As I began to write this post, I realized just how much info I have to share, so I’m breaking it down a few installments to make all that knowledge easier to digest. If you aren’t getting CultureKitty in your inbox already, now would be a great time to subscribe so you don’t miss any of these info-packed posts. Just click here to get back to the main page. There’s a place to subscribe in the side bar on the right hand side. I’ll hang out over here until you’re done…
Got it? Good! Now let’s get prepping!
Part One: Equipment
You don’t need a big, fancy kitchen to meal prep successfully. When I first started, I lived in a small apartment with a tiny kitchen which possessed a single, unreliable oven. I had a broiler pan, a baking sheet, and some basic pots and pans. That was it. Hence why I’m breaking down this list of tools into necessities and a wish list. If you have the space and circumstance to fully equip your kitchen, then awesome! But if not, you can still prep like a pro.
Must-Have Kitchen Tools
Oven – Whether it’s a Wolf or whatever came with your crib, you’re about to do a lot of roasting. My current oven is the only one I’ve ever owned that doesn’t lose heat, so I understand the frustration of having to constantly adjust cook times and temperatures. If this sounds like you, an oven thermometer is also a necessity, as it will ensure that you can plan ahead properly. (More on that in my next post!)
Stove – I’m really only saying this in the name of being thorough because…DUH. Gas or electric, four burners or six, it really doesn’t matter. As long as it works, you’re in business.
Baking sheets – One will do, but two is better. You’re looking for something with an edge (otherwise your veggies will roll off) that can tolerate high heat. You can also use the broiler pan that came with your oven, Pyrex casserole dishes, or even a brownie pan. Be creative!
Blender – I use my Vitamix every single day, whether it’s for morning smoothies or meal prep. If you have the scratch, it’s worth the investment. If not, a second-hand Oster from your mom’s basement will totally do. After all, you’re cooking for yourself, not Padma Lakshmi.
Unbleached parchment paper – While cooking with aluminum foil likely won’t give you Alzheimer’s, a teeny bit will leech into your food. But if I’m not going to put it on my pits, why would I put it in my toddler’s tummy? I also find that parchment browns my veg much better. That’s not to say I never use foil, but parchment is my go-to.
Basic cooking utensils – You’re going to be doing some flipping and stirring, so you’ll need a good set of tongs, regular and slotted spoons, a wooden spoon, a whisk, and a pancake/hamburger flipper. OXO makes my favorite utensils.
Pots & pans in various sizes – Generally, one large and one small of each will do. I personally like the pans with a ceramic coating because they’re easier to clean, but most of my pans were $3.99 at Marshall’s when I started out so you can always make do.
Cast iron cookware – These pans are perfect for searing and browning and you literally wipe it clean when you’re done. And did I mention they’re dirt cheap? I got my Lodge skillets at Home Goods for less than $15 each.
Food storage containers – Ideally, you want rectangular, glass containers that are all one brand so you don’t have to go hunting for the right lid. I speak from experience – I didn’t buy mine all at once and now I play musical lids every damn time. Costco stocks some nice, large sets of glass storage containers. Finally, while glass may be healthier, it isn’t in everyone’s budget. Any container with a lid will do, whether it’s a jar that held pickles in a former life, or a cheap Ziploc plastic container. If it can successfully contain food, then it will do the job.
Double, convection, or toaster oven – You’ll cut down on time and improve your results if you can bake at multiple temperatures at the same time. Any of the above can work well, including the budget-friendly toaster oven. A hundred bucks or less will get you a decent-sized model that not only enables you to meal prep, but can also reduce wait time when that frozen pizza craving hits. (Wait…did I just say that out loud?) Some even come with rotisserie options so you can cook a whole chicken, or smart phone apps so you can start cooking when you leave the office and arrive home to a hot meal.
Instant Pot/Multicooker – If you want to meal prep, you’ll also want to ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday. It cooks a wide variety of foods to perfection in so little time and with so little cleanup, making it perfect for upping your meal prep game.
Food Processor – Fat balls and certain sauces can be made most easily and quickly in a food processor, although it’s really only necessary if you also like to bake. Otherwise, you can totally make do with a blender.
Pans and Skillets in More Sizes – If you have a basic large cast iron skillet, build on your set by getting a small one. Ditto for your pots and pans. The secret to meal prep is cooking as many things as you can in a single cook session, which means more sizes = more food.
So now is the part where you go into your kitchen and inventory your equipment against this list. I’ll be back Wednesday with the unique way I approach my meal prep grocery list. It’s probably not what you’re thinking it is!