Hey there friends!
How was you weekend? I hope you had fun, but also took some time to relax and be good to yourself. I sure did! On Saturday I went to an awesome TRX class, had a nice sweaty run, then chilled out at home with some magazines, a self-mani, and plenty of green juice. It felt awesome!
You may remember earlier this month when I declared my 5 goals for October that one was to spend less time during the week in the kitchen. This isn’t because I don’t like spending time in the kitchen (I do have a food blog, after all!) – it was set mainly because I felt like I’d been spending all of my non-working, non-gyming, and non-sleeping hours preparing meals. Over the course of the month, I’ve become pretty good about putting the work in on the weekend in order to spend more of my evenings during the week doing other things I enjoy. There are a zillion things we can be doing to cut down on meal prep time (while still following a clean eating lifestyle – fast food is NOT an option!) but today I wanted to share some of the tips that have been working best for me this month.
1. Make a plan for the week.
This one is a total no-brainer, but it should definitely be at the top of the list because I think it’s the most important tip of all! Without a plan, you’ll find yourself driving home from work, wondering if you really need to stop at the grocery store or if you can magically throw something together that just so happens to taste good when you get home. On the other hand, when you’ve got a plan, you won’t just be confident that you have the ingredients, but you’ll know exactly what you’re having and (if you did your weekend prep) it might just need a quick zap in the microwave. Poof! Dinner’s ready!
2. Weekends are for washing!
While this applies to all fruits and vegetables, it’s particularly true for greens and for people that don’t enjoy eating them. The easier you make it for yourself, the more likely you’ll be to eat them. I like to wash my spinach, kale, and other greens before they even enter my fridge for the first time. I pat them dry, then wrap them loosely in paper towels and store them in large Ziploc bags.
3. Chop whatever you can ahead of time.
I’m a bit of a creature of habit, and while I went for months at a time on green protein-infused smoothies for breakfast during the summer, I’m currently on an omelette kick. My omelettes contain significantly more veggies than the average one, and by the time I get home from the gym in the morning, get showered, dressed, and down to the kitchen, I just want to EAT! Enter the omelette mix:
That’s bell peppers, mushrooms, diced zucchini, tomatoes, chopped spinach, kale, parsley, and dried Italian seasoning, all in one super-convenient container. Each morning, I can scoop some out and cut my previous breakfast cooking time in half.
You can also chop up celery sticks, carrots, bell peppers, and cucumber slices at the beginning of the week, and store them in Ziploc bags. That way, they’re sitting in the fridge ready to be thrown into your lunch bag with a small container of hummus or whatever it is you want to eat them with. If you’re concerned about them losing freshness, store them in a container of water to keep them crisp. Alternatively, layer them in mason jars like my Chopped Chicken Salad To Go (pictured in the featured image of this post, above), seal them with a lid, and grab one on your way out the door. (Just don’t forget a fork!)
4. Use your food processor and cut (no pun intended) your chopping time!
If you can’t stand the thought of standing with a knife in one hand and cutting board under the other to get all of your meals ready for the week, pull out your food processor and let it do the work. Recipes like my copycat Whole Foods Detox Salad are brilliant for this – I just throw the broccoli and cauliflower in my processor in batches, whirl them around for a bit, then mix the small bits in a big bowl with the rest of the ingredients. This is one of my favourite big-batch recipes and my co-workers will attest to the fact that I bring it for lunch at least 2 times per week, every week!
5. Not all ‘convenience food’ is bad.
Again, I’m not talking about fast food here, because you’ll never find that in my kitchen! I’m talking about already-prepared clean-eating grocery items like baby carrots, chopped vegetables, mesclun mix, and anything else you’d find already prepared in the produce section. If you don’t have time to cut and wash these items yourself, buy prepared veggies. It’ll likely cost you more but if it means you’re eating healthier and getting more servings of whole food goodness each day, then I think that’s a good tradeoff! One of the prepared items that always lands in my shopping cart is Mann’s Rainbow Salad, which I recently used for my Super Quick Ginger Tempeh Stir Fry. 15 minutes is all you need to get this one on the table!
6. Make your clean-up process easy.
Line baking dishes or baking sheets with foil or parchment, and wash your pots and pans as soon as you’re done with them, rather than after dinner. This forces you to put leftovers in containers (rather than going back for seconds) and it will mean that the food has less time to become caked on your cookware.
7. Don’t let herbs go to waste.
For an easy way to make plain pasta sauce more exciting, make a big batch of pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. (I’ve even got a lovely pesto recipe for you here!) Pop a cube out, toss it in the sauce until it melts, give it a stir, and pour it over your noodles! (No pasta? You can also add a cube to soup recipes, whisk it with olive oil and vinegar to make a salad dressing, or rub a defrosted cube over meat prior to cooking.) These pesto cubes can be frozen for about 6 months while still keeping their zesty flavour.
8. Favour frozen produce!
Bags of frozen fruits and vegetables can be cheaper than fresh depending on the type you buy, and often taste better too since they’re typically frozen when they’re in season. Steaming frozen veggies while you get the rest of your meal ready allows you to multitask, and saves you from losing a finger while trying to chop quickly!
9. Make more than you need and freeze the leftovers.
This applies to big batch recipes like soups and stews, as well as plain cooked whole grains and beans. By freezing chili in small single-serving containers, you can set one out in the morning before going to work and all you’ll need to worry about that night is heating it up. Soups, chili, and stews can generally last about 6 months in the freezer without losing their flavour, and cooked beans and whole grains like quinoa, rice, and barley can handle 4-6 months when frozen in airtight containers.
A few of my favourite freezer-friendly recipes are:
10. ….But beware of the burn.
Freezer burn, that is. You know those snowy crystals that form on food that’s been frozen for a while? Well, snow looks pretty on the ground, but it’s not a good thing when it’s growing on your food. To avoid waste, be sure to squish as much air as you can out of your freezer bags (or whatever you’re wrapping food in), and double or triple-layering the bags.
So tell me:
What are your best tips for saving time in the kitchen while still eating clean?
On a completely separate note, today I’m wishing my friends at Chobani a very happy belated 5th Birthday! I wasn’t able to attend a recent Chobani-hosted blogger event in Toronto but the Chobani folk still made sure I could get in on some of the action. They sent me an awesome gym bag and a nice little Cho stash that is very quickly disappearing from my fridge. Thanks guys!