Saturday is grocery shopping day. My husband and I go to two stores and shop for the best prices of the highest quality foods. In the winter months, when there is no CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) available in our area, we purchase as much organic food as we can find and then the highest quality of what is left. We bring our own fabric shopping bags because we no longer have boxes or large packages to carry home. Most of the produce fits together in one bag and the meats and other proteins in another. The remainder of the items (like the double portion of fresh garlic olives my husband had to have) goes in the third. It has made shopping much easier. We don’t even go into the aisles with the boxes of prepared foods or items that have so many ingredients it now make my head hurt to read them.
So when we get home, after unloading the groceries, we line up the proteins and the produce that we are going to cook for the weeks’ meals. It’s fairly straight forward. There are two of us, we generally eat three meal a day so the math is straight forward. (Who knew I would actually have to use math!) Two times seven breakfasts = 14 meals. Four times seven lunches and dinners (that’s two people time two meals a day) = 28 meals. Off we go with meal preparation…
I generally make the breakfast. It could be an egg bake or sausage casserole or sometimes I just make smoothies to get us out the door. The bulk of the cooking is the lunch and dinner portions. I will use this week as an example of how easy it is to make meals for a week and not even break a sweat. (Well maybe a small sweat if you kitchen gets hot while cooking.)
This menu this week includes chicken and sausage bake and lamb loin chops. For sides, we’ll have fresh salad until it runs out, braised red cabbage and green beans cooked in bacon. (YUM!) It sounds like a lot of cooking but with a little practice you can get it down to a manageable time. It you do it routinely, it will only get easier. First let me tell you about the preparation. I’ll post the recipes separately.
We have a kitchen with sufficient counter space but even if you are lacking for space you can make it work. Clear off as much countertop space as you can. If you don’t have sufficient counter space, put up a folding table to hold your uncooked food and supplies until you are ready to prepare. Use anything convenient that gives you enough room to work on one dish at a time. I gather all of the ingredients I am going to use in one recipe within easy reach. In order to bake the chicken, I need two large (13 x 9) baking dishes. I use glass but it will work with any type of baking pan. I make space to have my chicken next to my baking pan so there is no dripping or mess anywhere but where I am. I transfer the chicken from the package to baking dishes.
I use a silicone cutting board for three reasons – it’s easy to clean, it doesn’t dull my knives and I can transport food to the pan or take trash to the garbage easily. So my counter has cutting board, all my food and spices for prep and my baking dishes. Now it’s assembly time. Following my recipe, I assemble the dish and as I finish with something (and if I’m not going to use it later) I put it away. For things like spices, they stay out on the counter until I am done. Since this week, all of the dishes will be oven-baked, I try to get all of the dishes ready to bake all at the same time in order save energy.
Putting it all together
Once the dishes are assembled, I put everything on to bake. I use an Oxo triple timer so I can manage to get the food out of the oven
on time with overcooking anything. The chicken will cook longer than the lamb, so knowing what you set each timer is for is a critical point. Once things are in the oven, I begin making the sides. By the time the food is cooked in the oven, I am usually done with the sides.
Once the sides are done, then I gather all of the containers into which I’m going to pack individual meals. I use glass containers but I know for many that is a cost that a bit much to start. Do what you can to use healthy options. After spending your time and effort to make these nutritious meals for your family, you don’t want to then pack and reheat them in plastic containers. The plastic can leach chemicals into you food when reheating in a microwave. I used plastic until I replaced all of my storage containers. I did it a little bit over time but I was able to find what I consider to be the best glass storage containers, Pyrex Snapware. I use them everyday. I actually purchased some other brands when I was testing out what would work best and I found the Snapware to be far superior to the competition.
In the beginning I used a kitchen scale to measure portions. Now that I have been at this for a while, I can generally eyeball portions. Generally speaking, I suggest 4-6 ounce portions for your proteins. There’s no need to eat a 12 ounce steak (or more) at one meal! As I began to learn what portions were correct for us, I had to adjust for differences in my husband’s appetite and mine. Eating whole foods actually fills me up more than processed foods so I tend to eat less. My husband is a larger person than me and requires more to eat to satisfy him. Where I will eat 3-4 ounces of a protein, he will eat 6-8 ounces, depending on the density of the food.
Meals on the go
Both my husband and I are up early and out every week day so it makes it easier to grab our prepared meals and go. If your family won’t eat all of the meals within the week, it’s best to freeze them for future use. I would bring them out the night before I want to use them and let it defrost in the fridge overnight. Then when I am ready to eat it the next day it is already thawed. If the food was stored in plastic, I would transfer it to a regular plate to reheat it. Most of us use microwaves for reheating. Although there is controversy with microwave cooking, I suggest not to reheat food in plastic containers and not to overcook the food. By placing food on a plate to reheat, move the denser parts of the meal (usually the protein, such as the chicken) and leave the veggie towards the center of the plate. This will lessen the chance of overheating the veggies and getting the protein more evenly cooked.
There is a great sense of accomplishment once I have all the meals for the week in the fridge. I have reclaimed at least an hour a night by doing my cooking all on one day. I’d love to hear your thoughts on cooking this way and any tips you can offer. Post below and let me in on your secrets!