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Water Cooler: Meal prep tips

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 28, 2020

Meal prep is now a ubiquitous term, especially for those who want an inexpensive and efficient way to eat healthy, home cooked food. Despite its trendiness and variety of methods, it can still be a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to prepare large amounts of food customized to your own needs and preferences. Regardless of what your specific version of meal prep includes, here are a few tipsmistakes to help avoid in order to make the whole process easier and more sustainable.

A general tip to keep in mind is to not deprive yourself of variety. Try to integrate different types of cuisines and meals, as well as including providing yourself a variety of flavors within each day’s meals. For instance, add a small, sweet snack to pair with a rich and savory main course, and maybe throw in an extra side if you get hungry before or after lunch. Sides and snacks are also easy to switch out without having to learn new cooking techniques.UNCLEAR but NOT SURE HOW TO REWORD THE LAST SENTENCE

Plastic or glass

Maximize your storage options. Not only do youYou want a variety of high-quality containers to take with you on the go, but having a plentiful assortment of sizes for home storage throughout the week will aid in your organization when dealing with large batches. An inexpensive and reusable option for home storage containers are heavy duty plastic take-out containers. You can find a whole sleeve of these at any restaurant or grocery supply store. They work great for organizing your usual stock of ingredients in the pantry as well separating the various elements of your meals for the week. It is easy to keep a lot of these on hand because their uniformity and ability to stack means they take up very little space in the cupboards. If you want to avoid plastic, glass jars of various sizes are also a great option although they are more expensive and will take up more storage space.

About all spices

Bland food is easily avoidable if you invest in a stock of spices. Create or purchase a spice blend that you can use on a bit of everything throughout the week. If you have a pantry full of spices, you can mix your own unique blend each week. Switching up flavors with custom spice blends adds instant variety even if you always eat the same thing, and they’re also a simple and inexpensive outlet for creativity in the kitchen.

Finishing sauce

Likewise, make an all-purpose sauce that you can add to just about everything. This could be a yogurt curry dressing, a cilantro lime tahini sauce, an umami paste, an avocado herb dressing – anything that melds with the flavors and foods you prefer. Keep it in a separate container or squeeze bottle, then add to your meal the day of or pack on the side to keep your ingredients fresh.

Grains for days

Don’t run out of food. It is frustrating to dedicate effort to prep in bulk only to run out by Thursday. One way to avoid this is to always have an all-purpose grain ready to go in the fridge. Rice, lentils and quinoa are great bases that, with the addition of whatever spices, sauces, meats or vegetables you have handy, can effortlessly become full meals. This also makes it much easier to repurpose random bits of leftovers. If your grains dry out in the refrigerator, add a touch of water or other liquid when you reheat them.

Sheet pan power

Sheet pans are one of the best tools for cooking in large batches with no hassle. Chop vegetables into similar size chunks, then toss them with some oil and spices right on the pan. Throw them in the oven at 450 degrees and check them at 15 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when you can easily pierce them with a fork and when they show a bit of browning.

Slow or pressure cooker

Slow or pressure cookers are also handy. These set-it-and-forget-it kitchen gadgets give you a chance to maximize your prep time by allowing you to work on other elements of the meal while they are cooking.

Cooking with loved ones

Lastly, get out of the chore mindset when cooking. Listen to some fun music or your favorite podcast. Get a family member or roommate to help out in order to divide the labor and turn cooking into quality time together. As you build cooking skills, branch out and try new things. Cooking offers endless continued learning to keep things creative and fresh.

Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or rachelb@spokesman.com

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