If possible, I try to keep the serving sizes on most recipes on the blog to 1 or 2, so that even if you are a single household, there is no holding you back when it comes to cooking healthy. Once you have a made a recipe and enjoy it, I highly suggest you double or triple the quantity. Food prep is all about making the most of the time you spend in the kitchen. Making a dish for 1 or 4 servings does not change the time you put into preparations that much, but it will mean you always have something healthy in the fridge. How often do you come home starving after a busy day, but you just can’t motivate yourself to cook? This is when food prep really pays off! Freezing portions is also an option for longer term storage.
Grains and beans
You will find a lot of recipes calling for cooked grains or beans. I hardly ever cook a grain or bean just for one recipe - that is way too much effort! Instead, I try to pre-cook a bigger batch of a grain and/or bean once a week, and then eat from this multiple times. I highly encourage you to try this method of food prep, as it will save you a lot of time and effort in the kitchen. The nice thing about most grains and beans is that they can be used interchangeably. So let’s say a recipe calls for quinoa, but you already have cooked brown rice in the fridge. Perfect, use that instead! Usually the flavor and texture won’t change that dramatically. Every week I try to prepare a different grain and/or bean, so it never has to get boring.
You want to soak grains and beans first in a lot of water. This way the hard structure starts to open up, cutting down the cooking time later, as well as making them much more easily digestible. Soaking time can be anywhere from 30 minutes to several days, depending on the time you have and the size of the grain and bean. I will usually start soaking in the morning if I know that I want to cook the grain or bean at night. And if you have forgotten all about the soaking, don’t worry! Just cook the grain or bean as it is. If you leave the grain or bean soaking for more than 24 hours, make sure to change the water.
Quick grains and beans to cook are quinoa, millet, and lentils. These don’t necessarily need to soak, so if you are in a time crunch, choose these easy options. When it comes to bigger grains and beans such as spelt, kamut, wild rice, chickpeas, navy beans, etc, you will find that the cooking time can be anywhere up to 2 hours. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to stand there watching the pot the whole time. Just come back every 15 minutes or so to replenish water, in case it has all cooked away.
What about canned beans?
The inevitable question I get in every coaching session. Yes, if I have absolutely no time, I will also fall back on to canned beans. They are practical! However, I wouldn’t rely on them every day. First of all, the flavor of own cooked beans is actually so much nicer and more intense. Canned beans are often cooked in a lot of salt, so make sure to always rinse them before using them for a recipe. Furthermore, the BPA lining of the tin cans is questionable. It may leak into the beans while sitting in your pantry, and it has been linked to messing with your hormones and causing certain cancers. Again, make sure to properly rinse the beans, and don’t keep canned beans for years in your pantry.
This seems to be one of the main concerns for a lot of my clients when it comes to making fresh salads at home. Somehow the time and effort of making a salad dressing puts them off a recipe. I honestly find that the 1 - 2 minutes spend on mixing your own salad dressing is worth it every time. Bottled and ready made dressings will never use the same high quality ingredients that you can use at home. Often, the oils will be more processed and substandard. Too much sugar, salt, and artificial additives are common in bottled salad dressings, while you can use more natural ingredients at home to get the taste right. Most salad dressings can be made in bigger quantities and will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. So you can always make a bigger batch if you don’t want to whisk a new salad dressing every time.
You have done an excellent job of food prep this week: you sat down to plan out all the meals, you bought all the groceries you need, and now there are certain last minute social or business meals that have come up. This means you are stuck with too much produce in your fridge and you don’t want to see it go to waste? See if you can whip up some things that will last longer. Here are some examples:
While a staple in my fridge, depending on the freshness state I bought them at, they can wilt relatively quickly. If I know I won’t use them in the next 24 hours, I either wash them whole, pat or spin them dry, and then freeze them in zip lock bags as whole leaves. This means I can quickly add them to stir fries, soups or smoothies. Alternatively, you can also puree the leaves with just a tiny bit of water, freeze them in ice cube trays, and then pop out the blocks to add to smoothies in the future as well. Easy!
Banana and other tropical fruit
Leaving them out on the counter means optimal ripeness, but they can quickly turn too brown and mushy. Peel, chop, and freeze for smoothie prep in the future. In fact, this is how we keep all our fruit ready for the daily morning smoothie.
While a beautiful accompaniment to most dishes to add flavor, they tend to wilt quickly. If you have already done your upmost on storing them well but there is no time to use them, think about how you can prolong their lives. Can you freeze the herbs to add to soups later? Can you blend them into a pesto or dip, which means you can keep them for 3 more days in this form to snack on?
Tomatoes should never be kept in the fridge, so their taste stays beautiful and they don’t turn mushy. In tropical temperatures like Shanghai summer, I have however been absolutely guilty of keeping them in the fridge. This also means that they tend to pop and get too overripe very quickly. Can you perhaps cook them down into a tomato sauce and freeze this for future use? Or what about simply roasting the tomatoes so you can keep them in the fridge to add to salads for a few extra days?
Most veggies can be roasted in order to prolong their life. Once roasted and refrigerated, you can add them to salads, heat them up again as a veggie side dish, or blend them into soups. This means you can keep the veggies for up to another 5 days!