Better Than Meal Prep

Better Than Meal Prep

Better than Meal Prep

Any time you begin something new there is bound to be a learning curve; a period of time when it feels hard, overwhelming, or uncomfortable. Starting your Nutritional Reboot is no exception, but the good news is that we are here to guide you, so you don’t have to spend all your time figuring out what to do. So, let's get started, shall we?

One of the very first things you are going to discover is that in order to be in complete control of what you eat, you're going to want to start making your own food...from scratch. While having a private chef follow you around making exactly what you need may seem like the dream solution, we are going to assume that you, like most people, are in the "cook-it-yourself" camp.

This means you probably need some advice because while 82% of meals are prepared at home, only 49% of Americans feel confident they can make an over easy egg without a recipe, and 33% say they are intimidated by spatulas. Do you see where this is going? So, with this in mind, it’s no surprise that many meals prepared at home are actually a blend of ready-made commercial foods, restaurant dishes, and some home-made items.

Clearly, we have some work to do! But not to worry because we're going to do it together!

So, what’s the main reason for this kitchen boycott? It's simple…time! Americans say they simply don’t have enough time to cook, and the most common solution is to just not partake. But there is a better way. In order to understand how to solve the problem of time-consuming cooking, we have to see where the time is "magically disappearing" when we cook. So, there are usually 3 parts to cooking a meal:

1. Ingredient Prep

2. Active Cooking Time

3. Cleaning

  The good news is that there are many creative solutions to help solve the "wasted time dilemma" in each of these three problem areas that don’t involve eating processed food.  We get it! You need short cuts, so we're here to dish! Here are our best kept tips and tricks to minimize your time in the kitchen while maximizing your time eating healthy, delicious food that will get you to your happiest, healthiest YOU!

Stash it

Any way you slice it, cooking is going to take time. So, get the most out of the time you have. Instead of making a small batch just for a single meal, consider making a larger amount and immediately freezing the leftovers. We tend to put leftovers in the refrigerator thinking we will “eat it tomorrow.” But, let's be honest, more often than not, we forget about it, and the food goes bad.

The good news is that you can still eat food from the freezer the very next day, but there is no longer a rush to do so. Not wanting to eat the same thing every day shouldn’t be the reason you throw out food. Keeping it in long-term storage gives you something home-made to reach for when you are feeling tired and hungry, so you don’t end up taking a take-out short cut.

The other great thing about freezing your food is that you are less likely to feel that you need to eat the same thing several days in a row. Eating the same foods repeatedly Is how we develop intolerances in the first place. So, use your freezer as a tool to keep your diet varied. Once something is in there, you can even wait until next week to eat it!

To get the most out of your frozen store, try the following:

1. Divide food into single serving portion sizes (or the serving size you’re most likely to use) using zip-top bags or containers.

2. Label it with the name and date. (No, you won’t remember!)

3. Make sure liquids have space in the container to expand when they freeze.

4. Let hot items cool before putting them in the freezer.

5. Avoid putting glass containers with hot items in the freezer as this can cause the glass to break.

6. Remember that frozen greens like spinach, cilantro, and lettuce will thaw wilted, so only freeze them if they are cooked or you intend to cook them.

7. Egg-based sauces will separate, so it’s best not to freeze them.

8. Rice, peas, and foods made of small pieces freeze best when they are separated. You can freeze them on a tray or a large plastic bag that allows them to be mostly laid out flat. This keeps them from freezing in one giant blob.

9. Remember that all plants have hard cell walls. These walls get punctured by ice crystals during the freezing process which causes them to get mushy when thawed. Large items also take a long time to thaw and will be tricky to chop if they are mushy. So, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and the like are much better to freeze after they have been chopped and should be frozen only if they are meant to be cooked.

10. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria, so only re-freeze foods you have cooked in between. Your single serving portions will keep you from having to worry about this!

11.  You can put frozen single portions directly into the microwave and have your food ready in a matter of minutes!

When you freeze and “stash" your homemade meals, you're setting yourself up for a lifetime of wellness!

Ingredient Prep is King

We've all heard of meal-prep. We take our Sunday and cook everything we are going to eat during the week, and then fill our refrigerator (or freezer!) with ready-to-eat meals. This is a fabulous idea as long as you don’t change your mind about what you want to eat during the week. It’s hard to know on Sunday what your mood will be on Thursday, and, let’s be honest, leftovers can get boring quick if you have no other options. So instead of spending your Sunday cooking, use it to take the most time-consuming part of cooking out of the equation: ingredient prep!

Chop Shop:

We've all been there, so we all know it’s the chopping, washing, and marinating that takes the most time in the kitchen, so don’t wait until you are rushed and tired to do it. Simply use this veggie-prep routine:

1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

2. Wash your greens and herbs and spin them in a salad spinner to dry.

3. Chop your clean, dry herbs and lettuce and store them in containers.

4. Now that your oven is hot, bake your sweet potatoes, carrots, and starchy sides you plan to eat, and store them cooked and ready to go.

5. Chop your onions, peppers, and other veggies you plan to use in omelets, salads, and as toppers.

6. For veggies you plan on using as a flavor base in hot dishes, consider putting them in a food processor to save on chopping time. They don’t have to be pretty to taste good, and you have better things to do than cry over chopped onions (haha - but seriously!).

7. Label your containers with the item name and the date.

For meats, here’s the deal:

1. Pre-marinate beef and poultry. You don’t have to cook them today, but the flavor party starts now. Choose marinades that are NOT citrus based, like lemon or lime, as this will cook the meat over time. If you’ve never made a marinade, start with a recipe until you are comfortable with, but keep it simple. Things like soy sauce, mayonnaise, ketchup, and other pre-made ingredients just add unnecessary additives and calories. Oil, salt, herbs, and spices are perfect.

2. Ground meat can be stored ready to cook. Add onions, herbs, and spices, so all you have to do is put it in the pot or shape it into patties for the moment your hunger strikes.

3. Keep fish frozen until the day you cook it or buy it fresh the same day you make it. Fish spoils quickly, but also cooks in minutes. A little salt, pepper, and lemon just before it hits the pan goes a long way.

Cooking Time Hacks

Ok, you’ve done your ingredient prep (Hooray!), and now it’s time to put the pan to the fire. So, let's take a sneak peek at how to get the most out of your cooking time:

1. Mise en place. This is chef speak for “everything in its place.” Take a moment to take out all of your ingredients, all of the tools, bowls, pots, and pans you need for this meal, and pause to organize your thoughts and your space. Measure out your ingredients, and make sure you have everything you need before you begin tossing things in the oven or on the stove.

2. Use a trash bowl. If there are still things for you to chop (There shouldn’t be, but it happens!), then keep a bowl for you to discard onion tops, pepper seeds, and other small scraps into. This keeps your work area clean and organized.

3. Put things where they will be used; the spatula next to the stove, the pot on the correct burner, etc., and line up your ingredients next to the pot in the order in which they will be added.

4. Once you turn on the stove top, give it your full attention until the meal is ready. This will save you from headaches and burned food in the near future.

5. If you are new to cooking, ONLY HAVE ONE POT ON AT A TIME. Managing two things on the stovetop before you’re ready is a recipe for a smoke alarm fiasco!

6. Use your oven. Watching things on the stovetop takes concentration and stress. Baking chicken only takes a timer and a thermometer, plus you can throw your veggies on the same tray.

7. Use a food thermometer. You don’t have to guess if the salmon is done. Use this chart instead.

8. Relax. You’ve got this! You're going to be a healthy cooking whiz in no time!

Cleaning Fast

Now for nobody's favorite part! It's true - all cooking involves clean-up. But if you’ve followed our tips so far, there shouldn’t be that much left to stress over. Nonetheless, here are a few quick tips to make your clean up a snap:

1. Use your dishwasher. Somehow, dishwashers are among the least-used appliances in American homes. You may think yours doesn’t do a perfect job but wiping down your dishes just before you put them in the dishwasher generally does the trick even for mediocre machines. Your dishwasher will sanitize your utensils and plates better than you do, and it will hold them until they are dry without cluttering your counter.

2. Use an apron and dish gloves. This may sound silly, but anything that makes the experience of cleaning feel more comfortable will make it go by easier and faster.

3. Clean and bake. If you are baking your food, clean the kitchen while your food is cooking (and your timer is on), so when your food's ready, so is your clean kitchen!

4. Wipe down your counter-tops every time you cook

5. Only wash the pots and pans by hand. Leave the dishes and cutlery for the dishwasher!

We promise that simply following these tips will make the process of cooking much faster and easier. You’ll come to learn that you don’t have to be a Michellin chef to enjoy a good home-cooked meal and that there is joy to be found in creating delicious masterpieces of your own. As you cultivate confidence in your cooking skills, you will find more and more dishes to explore, enjoy, and make your own.

And your UCARI family will be with you every step of the way. Because at UCARI, it's all about YOU!

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