Whether or not you're an all-out meal prepper, you probably agree that cooking a few healthy staples at the start of every week is a great way to cut down on kitchen time (or takeout) later on. Every weekend, I try to cook a big batch of grains, a few vegetables, and some kind of protein—I don't necessarily go in with a meal plan, and I still cook some things from scratch during the week, but meal-prepped ingredients make great building blocks for quick, simple weeknight meals.
The thing to keep in mind about meal prep is that you're cooking things you don't intend to eat right away. Whatever you make will likely sit in the fridge for a day or four, and you'll probably want to throw together various combinations of ingredients throughout the week. So, while you want your food to be as delicious as possible (obviously), it's also important that it's versatile and can withstand a few days of refrigeration. Oh, and it's important to keep things simple, because that's kind of the whole point.
Below are the meal prep cooking tricks that I swear by. They're good tips to keep in mind anytime, but they're especially relevant to meal prep and make-ahead recipes. If you have questions, or if you just want to show off your own meal prep skills, post your pictures to Instagram and tag
@selfmagazine and @xtinebyrne (that's me!) or DM us—we'd love to see what you're cooking, and we're always here to help!
1. Instead of cooking grains in plain water, use broth—or, use jarred sauces like salsa or tomato sauce. > Share via Pinterest Christine Byrne
Cooked grains are great for packed lunches, and they’re easy to reheat for stovetop dinners. They’re inherently pretty bland, so I usually cook mine in chicken broth instead of water. It adds a little savory flavor, but it’s subtle, so the grains are still versatile enough to be used in several different meals throughout the week.
If I only plan on eating the grain as a side dish—not in salads or as part of another recipe—I’ll sometimes swap out half of the cooking liquid for salsa or tomato sauce. (So, instead of cooking 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups of liquid, I’ll cook it in 1 cup of liquid plus 1 cup of salsa/sauce.) This adds a ton of flavor and gives the grains a heavier texture that makes for what I think is a more legitimate stand-alone side dish.
Here’s how to cook every grain perfectly. 2. Make pickles and marinated vegetable salads. > Share via Pinterest Andrew Purcell, Carrie Purcell
Plain, raw vegetables in salads are great, but they can get boring. Adding cooked vegetables to a salad is one option, but another is to lightly pickle or marinate your raw vegetables. Pickled vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and peppers make great add-ins, and you can flavor your pickling liquid (vinegar and salt is the most basic version) with whatever spices, herbs, and sweeteners you want.
I also love using marinated vegetable salads for meal prep, since they actually get tastier the longer they sit in the fridge. I often dress thinly sliced carrots, cabbage, or fennel in a basic oil-and-vinegar dressing, then let that mixture sit in the fridge for up to four days (shaking the container occasionally).
Recipe: Marinated Fennel With White Beans and Raisins 3. Roast your sweet potatoes whole, wrapped in foil. > Share via Pinterest Andrew Purcell; Carrie Purcell
The downside of roasting whole sweet potatoes is that they take an hour (sometimes more) to cook. It’s quicker to cut them up and roast cubes, or to steam or microwave them. The upside is that they taste so much more delicious when you take the extra time. The insides get super soft, the skin gets soft and tender (because wrapping them in foil creates a little bit of steam), and there are bits of caramelization dotting the outside of each potato. When you meal prep, wrap your sweet potatoes in foil and throw them on a sheet pan in the oven before you do anything else. When they’re done, let them cool and store them whole—that way, you have the option of cutting them up however you want for meals throughout the week.
Recipe: Meal Prep Baked Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes 4. Roast chicken with the bone in and skin on, and store it that way, too.
When I meal prep chicken, I usually buy and cook whole bird—it’s less expensive, pound-for-pound, than buying chicken in parts (breasts, wings, thighs, drumsticks)—but I know that some people are intimidated and/or grossed out by the idea of butchering a whole chicken when it’s raw or carving it after it’s cooked. Buying individual parts is fine, but buy them bone-in, skin-on.
Roasting chicken with the bone and skin still on helps prevent the meat from drying out. The skin has fat that keeps the meat moist, and both the skin and bone act as barriers that protect the meat from direct heat (If you’ve ever roasted boneless, skinless chicken breasts, think of how there’s often a dry outer layer on the meat after you roast it; this gets even more dry after being stored in the fridge.) Also, storing the cooked chicken uncut, with the bone and skin still on, will help keep it from drying out too much as it sits in the fridge.
Recipe: No-Fail Roast Chicken with Lemon and Garlic 5. Keep your fridge stocked with soft goat cheese feta, and Parmesan at all times, plus lemons and limes. > Share via Pinterest Christine Byrne
Obvious tip? Maybe. But honestly, these are versatile ingredients with relatively long shelf lives, so there’s no reason not to keep them around. Stocking soft goat cheese, feta, and Parmesan in my fridge at all times has been a game changer in terms of adding flavor with very little effort to otherwise lackluster meals. Parmesan has the strongest flavor, so it’s great when you just need a dash of of flavor. Feta is perfect in salads, especially paired with citrus or a really acidic vinaigrette. And goat cheese (my favorite) is amazing because you can toss it into salads or melt it into eggs, but it’s also spreadable, which is perfect for sandwiches.
Fresh lemon or lime juice is a great way to jazz up meal-prepped food and make it taste fresh again. Use them to make a big batch of fresh vinaigrette at the start of the week (but don’t dress your salads in advance, because they’ll wilt), or just pack a wedge with your lunch each day.
Recipes: Carrot Salad With Chickpeas, Raisins, Parmesan, and Egg, Tahini Quinoa Salad With Grapefruit and Feta (pictured above), Kale, White Bean, and Goat Cheese Wrap 6. Don’t cook your fish more than a day in advance. > Share via Pinterest Andrew Purcell, Carrie Purcell
I love packing salmon for lunch, but I find that it doesn’t taste nearly as good after more than a day in the fridge. It’s totally safe to keep cooked fish in the fridge for 3 to 4 days, but leftover fish starts to taste a little too...fishy, in my opinion. Because fish cooks super quickly, in the oven or on the stovetop, I cook it the night before if I’m planning to eat it for lunch, and the night of if I’m eating it for dinner.
Recipes: Farro Fennel Salad With Salmon and Feta 7. Store sauces separately.
As I mentioned, it’s important not to dress salads with vinaigrettes too far in advance, since greens are delicate and will wilt quickly. Actually, though, I don’t add sauce to any of my meal prepped food until I’m ready to eat. Sometimes I’ll make a big batch of tomato sauce or pesto at the start of the week, or I’ll prep a sauce for a specific recipe (like a mole sauce for chicken or a peanut sauce for noodles). I always store the sauce separately, not because I think it’ll ruin the food (chicken doesn’t wilt), but because I know there’s a good chance I’ll be bored of the flavor by mid-week. When that happens, it’s easy to save the sauce for another week, and repurpose the other meal ingredients in a totally different way.
8. If you can't dress your salad at the last minute, choose heartier greens, like kale, for packed salads.
> Share via Pinterest Christine Byrne
If you plan on making a salad with delicate greens, like lettuce or spinach, you absolutely should wait until right before you eat to dress the salad (this is the third time I’m mentioning it, because it’s that important). The problem is that it can be hard to dress a salad without a big mixing bowl, which you likely don’t have at your desk.
If you don’t want to deal with having to dress your salads at lunchtime, opt for heartier greens like kale, collards, or mustard greens. Since they’re so fibrous, they can sit in dressing for hours (or even overnight) without losing too much bite.
Recipes: Mustard Green Salad With Kamut, Orange, and Parmesan (pictured above), Peanutty Kale With Chickpeas and Roasted Salmon 9. Be strategic about the order of your meals.
> Share via Pinterest Andrew Purcell, Carrie Purcell
Look, just because you can safely store most cooked food in the fridge for 4 days, doesn’t mean that all food will actually taste delicious for that long. In general, I try and eat salads and grain bowls at the start of the week, when things are still fresh and taste good cold and relatively unadorned. Come Wednesday, I start repurposing my meal-prepped ingredients in stir-fries, olive oil-based pasta dishes, warm grain dishes, and egg scrambles. Reheating days-old leftovers with other flavorful ingredients brings them back to life.
Earlier in the week, opt for: Quinoa Salad With Sugar Snap Peas Herbs, and Feta (pictured above), Salmon Quinoa Bowl, Peanutty Kale Salad With Sweet Potato and Chicken
Later in the week, opt for: Veggie Fried Rice, Broccoli Cheddar Brown Rice Skillet, Cheesy Farro With Kale and Asparagus
Source : https://www.self.com/story/meal-prep-cooking-tricks