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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Meal Prep Sunday (or Monday, when There's a Monday Holiday)

kale and apple salad

Who knew that this was a thing, a trendy thing? Many of us have been using some form of meal prep, in advance of actual meal times for years. Back when my kids were littles, I did OAMC, where I would spend an entire Saturday making 25 family dinners for the freezer. Then later, when most of my family members were brown-bagging it to work or school, I meal-prepped lunches, making several casseroles and salads for the fridge, to be grabbed in the minutes before heading out the door each morning. Recently, my daughters inspired me to meal-prep some lunches and breakfasts.

doesn't look like much right now, but this container of onion soup will be
delicious when reheated, one bowl at a time, and topped with melted cheese

Apparently, meal prepping, especially Sunday meal prepping, is an "in" thing. Reddit has at least 7 subs dedicated to meal-prepping. I think that's a lot, considering Reddit tends to attract a lot of younger people, Millennials and younger. My favorite sub-Reddit is MealPrepSunday. If you're looking for ideas and inspiration for your own weekly meal prep, this sub is filled with tantalizing photos, recipe links, and simple-enough ideas.

the other soup that I made -- curried butternut squash and peanut butter.
So, delicious I had to have a small bowl before I put the rest in the fridge.

I know that Alice, here, likes to meal-prep for the coming week's lunches and dinners. I've appreciated Alice's ideas as they've offered inspiration for some of my own meal prepping.

So, what would be some of the advantages of meal-prepping, even for someone like me who is home most of each day?

  • for starters, the obvious -- to make meals easier in the moment, saving time and energy expenditure. The time we save may get us out the door faster in the morning or give us a few minutes to relax at the end of the day.
  • meal-prepping is a way to be more efficient with our work. If I am chopping carrots and onions, it's a lot more efficient to chop a week's worth in one go, than to get out the knife and cutting board on  5 or 6 separate nights, saving my time as well as electricity and natural gas for cleaning the cutting board, knife, peeler, food processor and any other tools I might need.
  • to ensure that we eat what we intend to eat. You know the scenario -- you go to the store and buy a bunch of healthy produce, lean meats, and whole grains. Then at the end of the week, you discover that no one ate the healthier stuff, because in the moment, fixing those foods sounded much more involved than grabbing any of the prepared  foods, such as cookies and pastries. As a result, we might not eat the amount of veggies that we intend for improving our health. Intentional eating benefits our health, as well as our wallet. Which brings me to the next benefit.
  • to limit eating only the more expensive foods, whichever those may be for your kitchen. In our house, more expensive foods would include nuts, cheese, and meat. It's fine to eat these foods in moderation, but if we only ate these foods, and none of the less expensive foods like squash, apples, legumes, or garden leafy greens, we wouldn't be able to keep our budget where it is.
  • to minimize the reliance on last-minute take-out or restaurant eating. Eating out is a fun experience. I am definitely not anti-eating out. However, I think that some of the fun of eating out is diminished when we do it too often, or it's too last-minute. I like to anticipate restaurant meals. I feel like I double my fun through the anticipation segment of restaurant dining.
cinnamon rice -- a complete meal all on its own, grain, nuts, vegetable

There are as many forms of meal prepping as there are individuals. One family may meal prep a full week's worth of meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, one day per week, or even one or two days per month. Another family may double-up when preparing weeknight dinners, making twice every item, then use the leftovers on another night. A single individual might make their own individual freezer meals, using purchased or repurposed sectioned meal trays. Someone else may find it simply beneficial to pre-chop a bunch of veggies and meat to simplify nightly stir fries, soups, or casseroles. Some folks like to bag crockpot ingredients, for and easy dump 'n go in the mornings. For my family, I use meal-prepping as a way to use up lingering foods from the fridge and garden produce that may not last much longer. I pre-portion some items (when I really want us to use these up), while leaving others in large casseroles or tubs. 

So, what did I meal-prep this weekend? As I said before, I tend to use meal-prepping as a way to use up lingering foods, which could account for some of my odd-sounding dishes. Nonetheless, here's my list of foods that I prepped for the week:
  • onion soup
  • butternut squash-peanut butter soup (like Live and Learn's pumpkin-peanut soup, just with butternut squash)
  • chunks of butternut squash to be topped with butter and salt
  • cinnamon rice -- like fried rice, but a sweet version of cooked brown rice, chopped almonds, cinnamon, and small chunks of cooked butternut squash, all sauteed in a mix of oil and butter. My preferred way to make cinnamon rice is with raisins, but I was out of them, so I subbed some cooked squash in their place. This is a favorite breakfast dish of mine when I'm out of homemade yogurt. 
  • kale and apple salad in a sweet dressing made with melted jelly, mayonnaise, and vinegar. Kale is one of a couple of green leafy vegetables that holds up well after dressing, keeping in the fridge for several days without wilting. I tossed the apples in lemon juice before adding the rest of the ingredients, to prevent browning.
  • gingered-carrot salad, using candied ginger and shredded carrots, in a dressing of honey and mayo. Carrots are another "salad" vegetable that will hold up in the fridge for several days after adding dressing.
  • chard, rice, milk, and egg bake -- this one was made with my husband in mind. He enjoys rice baked with eggs more than I do. However, this was a great way to use up some thawed (previously frozen) eggs that had been lingering in the fridge a few days.
  • whole wheat bread -- I baked 4 loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, which, of course, will pair nicely with all of that homemade soup.
  • boiled eggs -- not much to preparing these, but having eggs already boiled makes grabbing a high-protein food super easy for my family
  • oven-roasted sweet potato wedges
an extra-large batch of sweet potato fries about to go into the oven --
some for dinner now, some for later

As much as possible, I made my work easier. For instance, some of these items were part of dinner one night. I just made lots so that there would be leftovers for another meal. I used my food processor for shredding and chopping. I used my stand mixer for mixing and kneading the bread dough. And I didn't peel the sweet potatoes -- healthier and easier.

Now for the burning question -- did you do any advanced meal prep this past weekend? If so, what did you make for this week's meals? Do you tend to meal prep dinners more than lunches or breakfasts, or do you like to meal prep for several types of meals?

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