Annnnd we’re back with day 2 of my Meal Prep Guide. Missed Day 1? No worries! It’s right here. But you might want to subscribe so you don’t miss anything else. (Just sayin’!)
Today I’m getting down to the nitty gritty with a basic shopping guide and a step-by-step playbook on how to multitask successfully to get the damn thing done. I know you’re busy, so lets get to it!
How I Shop
I look forward to Sunday mornings all week long. Not because I get to sleep in – I have a toddler so it’s 7am errrrrrrday – but because Marin County has its ginormous farmer’s market at the Civic Center. It’s a legit tourist destination showcasing hundreds of vendors from butchers to bakers to berry farmers. I try to do most of my grocery shopping there for the freshest, most interesting ingredients at the best prices. My fully-stocked fridge makes Sunday afternoon the best time of the week to prep but I don’t want cooking to cut into precious family time, so I need to get it done during my son’s 90-minute afternoon nap. And let’s be honest: who wants to spend more than 90 minutes chopping , searing, and doing dishes?
So to keep my prep time minimal, I don’t usually go to the market with specific recipes or meals in mind. Instead, I aim for a mix of fresh ingredients that can share a stove or oven. Generally I’m shooting for one or two big batches of protein and 3-5 veggies and a sauce or garnish. I shop based on what’s in season, as that generally means I’m getting the freshest, least expensive produce. Here are some of my staples:
Proteins: ground meats (grass-fed beef and bison are favorites), chicken thighs, pork tenderloin, eggs
Sauteeing veggies: kale, purple or red cabbage, onions, zucchini
Roasting veggies: delicata, butternut, or spaghetti squash, zucchini, beets broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, garlic.
Raw veggies: carrots, celery, jicama, salad and juicing greens (lettuces, spinach, kale), radishes.
You’ll notice that I grouped the veggies based on how they’re cooked. I should emphasize that while I cook around what can share an oven or stove, I’m not really thinking about that while I shop. Again, I’m just looking for the freshest produce at the best price with an emphasis on what will hold up well in the fridge. With a few key pieces of equipment, it usually all works out.
How I cook
Multitasking is the key to getting my prep done in no more than 90 minutes. It would likely take all day if I cooked everything in succession, so my goal is to have the oven, stove, and Instant Pot going at the same time.
Step One: Preheat the oven(s) and divide up my ingredients
I’m fortunate to have a double oven, so I generally heat one at 425 for roasting vegetables and cooking chicken, and the other at a lower temperature if I’m going to do a roast or cook something slowly. This is the very first thing I do because I don’t want to waste time waiting for my oven to heat once my ingredients are prepped. Since I do my cooking while my son naps, I will often preheat my oven right before I take him up the stairs so it’s ready to go
Next, I take everything I want to cook, spread it out on the counter, and sort it according to cooking method. So there’s a pile for raw, a pile for stove top, and a pile for oven. This helps me decide what to prioritize in terms of washing, chopping, etc and which to cook first. My rule of thumb is that ingredients with the simplest prep and/or longest cooking times are cooked first. For example, sweet potatoes cook for an hour and require almost no prep, so I’ll pop them in the oven first with cauliflower and broccoli, which both require only washing and basic cutting as opposed to chopping.
Step Two: Prep ingredients for roasting and get the Instant Pot going
Now that I’ve identified ingredients based on cook priority and prioritized them, I prep ONLY the ones that will be cooked first. Again, the key to getting this done is upping your game in the multitasking department. You don’t want to spend 30 solid minutes washing, peeling, and chopping with nothing cooking. This is also a great time to pop a batch of eggs or spaghetti squash into the Instant Pot because they require almost no prep.
I prioritize oven and Instant Pot because they don’t need babysitting. That means you can turn your attention to the stove and cutting board while they do their thing. Or not. If you’re small household or short on time, you’ve already got as many as four things cooking. That might be enough for you! In that case, turn your attention to cleanup and you’ll have completed your meal prep in as little as 30 minutes.
Step Three: Fire up the stove
Now look at your ingredients: what can go on that stove with the least amount of prep? Ground meat, pre-washed braising greens, or bacon are all good examples of ingredients to start with.
Step Four: Wash, chop, season, repeat.
With all of your cooking appliances working for you, it’s time to start prepping the more labor-intensive stuff. That means foods that cook in two steps (think sear and roast), or items that require a lot of peeling and chopping, like butternut squash. The goal is to have them prepped and ready when your first batches of food are cooked so you can just cycle foods through your appliances.
Greens and leafy vegetables are a big priority at this point because they require washing and chopping or tearing, but they steam sautée very pretty quickly. That frees up up that pan and burner to cook something else.
Try to use the same pans and baking sheets wherever possible. I don’t EVER do this with meats (why risk food poisoning?), but there’s no reason that the pan you just used to cook kale can’t be emptied and refilled with cabbage. The same goes for your baking sheets; just slide the parchment off, lay down a new layer, and put the next batch of veg on top.
Step Five: Sauces, dressings, and purees
Once all of your ingredients are safely on the stove or in the oven, it’s time to whip up a quick dressing, sauce, or puree. These add instant variety to the items you’ve cooked, and this is where your blender or food processor comes in. Just throw in your ingredients, press a button, and you’ve insured your tastebuds won’t get bored during the week.
Step Six: Cleanup
Since you’ve been recycling your equipment whenever possible, your cleanup should be relatively quick. Once everything is in the oven and your sauces are safely refrigerated, start washing everything that’s no longer in use. If you’re using glass storage containers, you can dump in hot ingredients to cool (sans lid) without worrying that your container will melt or leech chemicals into your food. And with the baking sheets and pots emptied, they’re free to be cleaned.
A typical prep session
Now that I’ve outlined the basic steps, here is an example of my workflow so you can see these principles in practice:
My son starts rubbing his eyes, so I preheat the oven to 425 and do his nap time routine. When I come downstairs, the first thing I do is put a dozen eggs in my Instant Pot to hard boil. Then I prep sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower and toss them into the preheated oven.
With the oven and Instant pot doing their thing, I can turn my attention to the stove. I toss a bunch of kale into a sink full of water to be washed. While that’s soaking, I slice an onion and put it on the stove at low heat to slowly caramelize. I also pop a pound of ground bison into a hot pan with some basic spices to brown.
With my kale clean, I tear the leaves from the stems and sauté it. I stir the bison. Meanwhile I slice and wash a head of cabbage. It’s ready by the time the kale is done, so I pop the kale into a container and throw the cabbage into the pan. I stir the bison again and prep a bowl of ice water for my hard boiled eggs. Then I cut a spaghetti squash in half and start peeling some baby beets. In a few more minutes, the bison is done. I put it into a storage container and the pan goes to soak in the sink. At this point the eggs are also done, so they go into the ice bath. The squash replaces them in the Instant Pot. I start peeling and slicing some baby beets.
Now my veggies are done roasting so they come out and are put into containers along with the cabbage, which is also done. I finish peeling and slicing the beets, re-use one of the baking sheets, and pop that into the oven. They’ll be done around the same time as the sweet potatoes.
While those things are cooking, I whip up a quick batch of Melissa Joulwan’s Sunshine Sauce, then soak the pitcher part of the blender. The spaghetti squash is ready, so I yank pull it out of the Instant Pot to cool. It’s now cleanup time so I throw whatever I can into the dishwasher and then wash everything except the cutting board and knife I’m using exclusively for vegetables. If I have time before the sweet potatoes and beets are done, I wash, peel, and slice some carrot sticks to be snacked or cooked later, placing them in a container of water so they stay crispy.
Now my sweet potatoes and beets are ready. So out of the oven and into containers they go. I pull the onions, which are now beautifully brown. I wash the remaining dishes, and I hear my son wake up. 90 minutes have elapsed, and the only thing left to do is put my containers of cooling food into the fridge.
In case you lost track, I just cooked 11 different things: cabbage, kale, caramelized onions, ground bison, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, carrot sticks and Sunshine Sauce.
Sound too complicated? Don’t have a solid block of 90 minutes to spare? I’ll be back Friday with a Plan B, plus tons of helpful tips and resources to help you up your multitasking, meal-prepping game.