5 Tips to Become a Pandemic Meal Prep Hero
Somehow 2020 managed to fit an entire decade into one year, and when it comes to the progression of where we started to where we are now with cooking, it really shows. We started with the mentality that we would keep our bodies in check and embrace the kitchen. Remember when every store ran out of flour and yeast because we all became home bakers? Remember when we all said we would cook every meal at home because hey, look how much time we have now? At a certain point we tossed out those heroic thoughts, reached for easy snacks and delivery menus instead, and started eating simply to make it through the day.
As we settle into the new year and you’ve found that physically and mentally you’ve hit your takeout limit, the best fix may just be to come full circle and start cooking at home again. However, being a mealtime hero and making every breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch can feel like you’re drowning in a sea of chicken broth-laced decisions, and ends up not being very realistic.
Meal planning is a great way to ease yourself back into cooking without driving yourself crazy. Whether you’re roasting and sautéing some pre-prepped ingredients, dumping everything into a crock pot and kicking your heels up while dinner makes itself, or simply enhancing leftovers from the night before, follow our tips to get you into the meal prepping groove and learn to fall in love with your eating routine again.
At the beginning of any new year when we set a resolution to be more organized, what’s the first thing we purchase? A planner! Meal planning should be no different when it comes to organizing your life, only instead of writing down appointments and reminders to call your mom in your new planner, you can write down your meals for the week, so you know exactly what you’re eating each night, and can get excited about each upcoming dish. By knowing what meals to look forward to each day of the week, the level of stress you typically feel every morning when you’re already starting to think about what to make for dinner disappears. Oh, you’re making General Tso’s Chicken on Thursday? Lucky you.
No matter how many people you’re cooking for, you are almost always left with a few extra servings from dinner that you pack up in Tupperware, put in your fridge, and ignore until that monthly refrigerator cleanout when they just end up in the trash. From now on, don’t look at leftovers as a sad version of a previous meal – look at them as a meal you haven’t met yet. Leftover grilled chicken, rice, and steamed veggies gets crisped up in a pan with soy sauce and sesame oil for the best ever homemade fried rice (don’t forget to throw an egg on top); those last few spoonfuls of ground pork from taco Tuesday get mixed up with shredded cabbage and carrots for a healthy twist on egg rolls; and with a few quick additions (think chickpeas and some chopped kale), leftover steamed veggies can become an impressive Buddha bowl to keep you happy and satisfied. No matter what dinner was previously, a little creativity is all you need to turn it into something entirely new and even more delicious.
Sunday can be a dreaded day; it’s the day before the work week starts up again and reminds you of all the things you forgot to do during the weekend that now have to wait until next weekend to get done. Instead of parking it on your couch all day and stressing over the Sunday scaries, get to prepping your ingredients in bulk (or your mise en place for all the #foodies out there) for all your upcoming breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. No matter what’s on the menu, from breakfast wraps and chicken chili to lentil soup, beef stew, or egg roll bowls, in just a few hours you can chop your veggies, pre-portion your meats, and put them straight into the refrigerator or freezer in zip top bags, so when the time comes all you need to do is unload and let the oven, stove, or crockpot do the rest.
Spices are the lifeblood of any good recipe, without which everything we eat would taste like the real-life version of the word “meh.” While you should always have salt and pepper on hand, it’s important to expand your horizons and include a little bit of every kind of flavor to kick up any recipe. If you’re currently staring at your empty spice rack and don’t quite know where to start, stock up with the essential spices: red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, cumin, dried basil, dried oregano, and onion powder. If you want to expand your spice rack and your flavor palate to something more exotic, bump it up by adding in turmeric, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, ground coriander, fennel seeds, and garam masala. With these spices always on call, your food will never lack flavor or spice.
Sometimes meal prep is as easy as stocking your refrigerator with a week’s worth of Cafe Spice meals with the only real decision being which one to have on which day. In the mood for something spicy? Go for the Chicken Vindaloo with Lemon Rice. Trying to get back into that Meatless Monday routine? Check out the Channa Masala with Lemon Rice, or the Saag Paneer with Saffron Rice. No matter what Cafe Spice meal you choose, you’re bound to get bold, authentic flavors that will satisfy all your cravings and take the work out of dinner entirely. Stock up on Cafe Spice meals, heat up your favorite tonight, and happily dig in.