This post was written by Chef Laura Lea Goldberg of LL Balanced.
Most people love the idea of enjoying home-cooked, healthy meals throughout the week, especially this time of year. However, almost as many people are intimidated by the prep that has to happen before we even roll up our sleeves to get cooking.
Never fear! There are a few tips and tricks I've learned as a busy entrepreneur and home-cook that make all of the prep work — shopping, chopping and cleaning up — a total breeze. Okay, maybe not a total breeze, but easy enough to make the process enjoyable and sustainable!
First, you must set yourself up for success with a properly stocked pantry and fridge. Taking the time to invest in cooking and storage staples will eliminate the majority of your cooking anxiety!
- Before stepping foot out the door, pick the recipes you want to make. Then, create a grocery list for whatever you don't have. Take the time to actually scan your pantry and fridge to make sure you're not missing anything or duplicating. It's worth the few extra minutes!
- Focus on big batch cooking: a good formula for this is one batch grains, one batch protein (can be beans, chicken, tempeh), one batch roasted vegetables and one dressing or sauce.
- Write your grocery list items in the order in which they appear in the store. It takes a little work up front to mentally map out your store, but it makes the process more efficient
- Whenever possible, shop during off-hours. This means you're not contending with a crowd, plus, the store is less likely to be out of something important
- Treat yourself to a cute grocery tote. It might sound silly, but having an attractive reusable bag makes it seem more like fun-shopping than duty-shopping! I'm also proud to be contributing to a more sustainable environment.
- As soon as you get home from the grocery, put away perishables like meat or dairy, but leave out any produce you need for your recipes. Make a rule that before you can put produce into the fridge, it has to be sliced/diced/chopped per the recipe. This will make such a difference when you go to cook.
- Take a look at your recipes and write down a timeline for making them — start with what takes the longest, which could include soaking or chilling, as well as cook time
- When you are actually ready to start making a recipe, read the recipe top to tail. If anything still needs to be chopped, go ahead and do it first, even if the recipes doesn't list "one cup diced onion" until the very end.
- Pre-mix any spices in a recipe. For example, if ingredients include amounts of onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, dried basil, salt and pepper, combine those in a small bowl and set aside. Then you can just dump them all in at the appropriate time.
- Don't be ashamed to go for pre-chopped veggies! Trader Joe's has an amazing pre-prepped and packaged veggie section, and there's nothing wrong with taking advantage. I do recommend checking to make sure the quality looks good, and I also suggest recycling the bags. Otherwise, go forth and shortcut!
Assembly and Clean-up
- I know it's tempting to let dirty dishes pile up as you focus on the task at hand — making said recipes actually come to life! But you will thank me later for insisting that you clean as you go. You'll be shocked at how many opportunities there are to clean during the cooking process. While nuts are roasting, water is boiling, soup is simmering, chicken is searing, there are small pockets (and sometimes big pockets) of time to get the kitchen straightened up.
- Create a mini garbage can on your countertop by placing a plastic bagin a large mixing bowl. (I save my bags from the grocery when I forget my cute tote). As you cook and create trash, just chuck it into your plastic bag instead walking to the trash or pull out the trash drawer. When you're finished cooking, dump the contents into your trash or compost and recycle your bag!
- Once all of your recipes are made and cooled to around room temperature, go ahead and portion your meals into individual containers so you can grab them throughout the week. Take it one step further and write the date you made them on a label or piece of tape.
- If you didn't follow my first bullet about cleaning as you go, do NOT wait until the morning to clean. Clean your kitchen every night. Even though it's the last thing you want to do, you will be so glad to walk into a shiny, tidy kitchen in the morning.