|Karen at our Sobey's Prep for Success workshop|
Pre-made one dish meals
One of the more popular ways to plan ahead is to make meals in advance, storing them in your refrigerator or freezer for later, or leaving them to cook in a slow cooker. Stews, soups, and casseroles work well because you can:
- cook everything in a pot, slow cooker or oven safe casserole dish
- store or freeze them for long periods
- reheat the dishes quickly and easily
Spending a few hours to make multiple meals on days when you have the time can be a big help on those days when you don’t. Larger dishes can also provide leftovers for lunches.
Unfortunately, while many ready-made options exist for dishes like the above, they are often laden with extra preservatives, high in salt, added sugars, excess carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and more.
Karen’s Suggested recipe: Spicy Mexican Vegetable soup
|Spicy Mexican Vegetable soup|
Mix and Match Meals
Making different portions of a meal separately in advance can also give you many options of creating quick healthy meals in a short amount of time.
Proteins can easily be cooked and stored in portion sizes, a popular example being ground beef.
Karen’s Protein preparation tips:
Once a month I will buy 3 pork tenderloins, 5 lbs of ground beef, and 2 whole chickens. The pork tenderloins go into a slow cooker with bbq sauce and cook for about 6 hours and the chickens go into the oven, seasoned with salt & pepper, to cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes per pound (and another 15 or so minutes at the end) until they are cooked through, reaching an internal temperature of 165F.
Once that’s started, I cook the plain ground beef in a big pot on the stove. As each item is ready, I cool and portion the proteins into containers or bags to be frozen, or stored in the fridge if I plan to use them in a few days. With lots of time between cooking, removing, and portioning, I move onto vegetable preparation.
Vegetables are much the same if you cooked and portion them out in advance. Great examples are mashes like celery root or rutabaga, riced veg like cauliflower, or blanched veg like green beans. Again, plain frozen vegetables from the grocery store are also great options. At our workshop, we sampled a mash of celery root, rutabaga, and cauliflower.
|Karen's celery root, rutabaga, and cauliflower mash|
Karen’s Vegetable preparation tips:
While my proteins are cooking I will peel and chop the veg that I want to use for a mash. I usually make a mix of rutabaga, cauliflower, and celery root. The chopped vegetables go into a big pot with water and cook on the stove until soft enough to mash. I do not add any seasoning until I am ready to eat it. Riced Cauliflower (cauliflower chopped into rice sized pieces) is easily prepped and not cooked in advance. As each item is ready, I cool and portion the vegetables into containers or bags to be frozen, or stored in the fridge if I plan to use them in a few days. Note: even with everything cooking at once, preparation time can be a bit dull. Try putting on the radio, listening to a podcast or audio book, or watching a movie while you work.
Putting it all together
1 - Choose your protein
You may need to defrost it in the microwave or overnight in your fridge. If you are keeping your protein separate, now is the time to add seasonings as you reheat or cook your choice. Be aware of and try to avoid added sugars, excess sodium, and so forth.
2 - Choose your vegetables
You may need to defrost it in the microwave or overnight in your fridge. Have your veg on the side or combined with your protein option. Soups are another way to get your vegetables in, by adding your veg and/or your protein to a low/no carb soup stock with your preferred seasonings.
Using frozen store bought vegetables: These can sometimes come out soggy. For better results, you can roast any frozen vegetable like cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, or okra in the oven.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Toss your veg with a little olive oil and your favorite seasonings.
- Spread veg on a parchment paper covered tray. Don’t overcrowd.
- Cooking time will vary depending on type of vegetable and amount. An average cook time is 20 to 30 minutes.
3 - Season
Seasonings are important in making a meal flavourful. Be aware of and try to avoid added sugars, excess sodium, and other unnecessary fillers. Our chart below will provide you with some great ideas for your protein and vegetables.
Some of Karen’s favourite seasonings:
- chinese five spice
- mexican style spice combinations with cumin and smoked chipotle
- poultry seasoning (sage, savoury, parsley, etc)
- any fresh herbs added at the end of making a dish, like dill or cilantro
I’ve run out of everything!
You may do your best to prepare, but things don’t always work out. What to do? Instead of getting fast food take-out, pick up a roasted chicken at the store. The hot counter will likely have vegetables ready to go (fried potatoes don’t count!), but be aware of possible sauces and additions that may be laden with sugar and excess fat. Bagged salads or pre-cut vegetables ready for roasting are often available too, but go easy on the dressings.
Karen’s super-quick options:
Through the month I will make fish, shrimp, eggs, or ham as my protein since they cook quickly and are easy to prepare immediately.