When I think of meal prep, I immediately think about people much more organized than myself. They have their knives sharpened, containers ready, shopping complete, and they’re pulling their apron strings tight.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love to be organized, but life right now with three babies has forced me to embrace the chaos.
In preparation for this challenge, I knew I needed to talk to an expert—introducing Dini Klein from Prep and Rally! I first connected with Dini through a shared book agent (love you, Anthony!), and of course, our insane love of food. She is the queen of meal prep, and I wanted to learn from the best!
As I looked through her recipes, it felt empowering to think about prepping for only one hour (that’s her promise—1 hour of Sunday prep) and eating beautiful, healthy, family-friendly dishes all week that take no time flat.
I always thought I would be cooking so much more when we moved out of the city…
I would have a kitchen with plenty of space and everything I needed, and I’d be cranking out dinners, lunches—heck breakfasts!—left and right.
The problem is the twins came along with the house, and they don’t leave tons of time to be slow-cooking Bolognese for hours.
Instead my husband and I find ourselves around 9 p.m. every night, giving each other a “what’s-for-dinner?” look.
Now yes, being a chef I can always come up with something; my ability to be creative in the kitchen is something I pride myself on.
But at 9…wait, now 9:30 (diaper changes!), all I want to do is crash on the couch, watch The Bachelor, and go to bed so I can do it all over again at 6 a.m.
So hey, let’s try this meal prep thing!
After looking through Dini’s weeks of recipes (I’ve never wanted to eat the screen more!), I noticed a few themes:
Dini has you cook one to two proteins, and use them in different forms throughout the week;
she tries to group veggies together that you can cook in the same method;
and she makes a versatile sauce/dressing like a green goddess dressing.
With this inspiration, I could have given my own prep more exact thought, but I had a lot of ingredients in my fridge already, so I literally pulled out all my veggies, proteins, and grains to see what I could do in 30 minutes.
Here is what I accomplished…
Roasted 2 heads of cauliflower (chop into florets; toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil; then bake in the oven at 450° for 25 to 30 minutes)
Chopped garlic, peppers, and yellow squash
Cooked full packages of quinoa and barley (might as well make it all!) in stock
Pounded and breaded some chicken breasts and cooked them in the oven or air fryer
And tried to make meatballs, but I ran out of time
I also seasoned the grains well, so in the end they were delicious all by themselves, but could still be added to other dishes; the beef and chicken stock flavors are complimentary to really any seasonings and only enhance the overall flavor of the grains.
I also took a third of the grains and pureed them up for the babies, which was a great added bonus.
I labeled everything with the date—something I MUST do nowadays because my brain is so fried I never have any idea how long something has been in the fridge.
You can use a Sharpie right on plastic wrap or on masking tape placed on a container lid.
The first night I served up the chicken with a combo of the two grains sautéed with the garlic, squash, peppers, a handful of baby spinach, and a squeeze of lemon.
What I really appreciated is that it didn’t feel like I was making some big meal. It kind of felt like I was heating up leftovers but in the end I had something that was legit!
I also used more veggies than I might normally because they were already chopped and on hand!
The second night I used the same garlic, squash, peppers, and spinach but tossed them with Ramen noodles and chicken stock. I added some poached eggs, cilantro, and sriracha, and had a comforting, noodle-y bowl of soup.
The third night my husband made chicken sandwiches, and the forth night I made pasta with the roasted cauliflower, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.
For lunch that day, I made a grain bowl with all of the same ingredients, along with a dollop of pesto and an egg on top.
In the end, I cooked for 30 minutes—THIRTY MINUTES!
And I truly ate better all week. We didn’t order take out, and I didn’t feel the weight of having to cook dinner at 9 p.m. It all felt like slightly more work than heating up a frozen meal, but not by much.
I think the key is to have most foods totally cooked; some foods that are raw, but chopped and only needing to be lightly cooked (like peppers); a couple grains pre-made; and a couple of sauces mixed up.
And you don’t have to make your own sauces—you can buy things like pesto, salsa, and marinara sauce; they are versatile, but much more exciting than say mayo or ketchup.
If you are not the most creative in the kitchen, then following someone’s totally laid-out plan, like Dini’s can be great.
But for me, if I can dedicate 30 minutes every Sunday to looking through the fridge and prepping whatever I have, it will truly help us.
It’s better to prep it and eat it than save it for the perfect recipe or night. What I’ve learned is that cooked food gets eaten. Is it just as good as fresh? Not exactly, but the difference is so minor I honestly really don’t care.