Friday, January 2, 2009

Once a week food preparation

I love making great meals for my family, but I used to find the planning, shopping, and chopping parts kind of tedious! Oh, you too? Well, one of the best ways I found to deal with my own bad attitude was to first of all realize that these chores were really part of how I loved my family. I mean, how I showed them love, not how I felt warm and fuzzy about them. Love really should be an active verb a lot more often than we might like. And you know the strange thing? As I loved them more (active verb), I found I also loved them more (passive verb).

But this isn't supposed to be a lesson in grammar! It's a lesson in getting organized and loving the results.

I don't know what day of the week you grocery shop, but for me it's Tuesday. I'm going to suppose, for the purposes of organizing this blog, that you shop once a week like me. I don't really care which day it all works out the same as long as I give you lots of great thirty minute meals to make and you plan to go to the grocery store once a week and spend an hour or so doing Once a Week Food Preparation.

Yup. Using this method, you'll still have to cook most days, but your time cooking will be drastically reduced, and the time you can spend enjoying the meal with your busy family will increase. And so will the love! There are other methods of food preparation that we'll talk about in the future: Once a Week Cooking (OAWC) and even Once a Month Cooking (OAMC).

Once a Week Food Preparation is the time-saving method that I personally use, and I'm quite fond of it. I don't have to devote an entire day to the process each week, or an entire weekend each month. I can do most of my shopping and food prep in a few hours once a week, and then actually enjoy putting meals together each night.

So how do you do it?

  1. Start with deciding what you're going to eat that week. That means looking through the recipes that you want to use, or at least deciding upon broad categories if you're a spontaneous cook.
  2. List the ingredients that you don't already have on hand on your grocery list. If you don't already do this, list them on the paper in a way that corresponds to their physical location in your store.
  3. Make sure you have all the staple products that you usually need, or else add them to your grocery list as well.
  4. When you get home, put everything away except for the meat, vegetables, potatoes, rice, and anything else on your list that can be pre-chopped or pre-cooked.
  5. Pre-cook your meats* by roasting, boiling, stir-frying, or any other method you like. Cut up large pieces into sizes appropriate for one meal, package them up, and throw them in the fridge or freezer (depending up how soon they'll be used that week). I use a combination of foil, which is recyclable, and platic containers, which are washable. [Note: I don't pre-cook any meat that will ruin the recipe. It would be kind of hard to make a meatloaf with precooked ground beef! Also, for the nights that I plan to have stir-fries, I usually do not pre-cook since it cooks up so quickly. Instead, I just slice it up raw and package it that way for the meal. Your choice!]
  6. While the meat is cooking away, wash and chop up all your vegetables, both for the main courses and for salads. You can pre-cook some of them if it makes sense for the recipe by steaming them lightly (I use my microwave steamer). Chop up common ingredients like onions. Keep some in the fridge to use in the next few days, and store the rest as follows: place them spread out on a baking sheet and freeze them fast. Scrape them off into a container for freezer storage. You can use this same method with any vegetables that you use frequently. Quick freezing keeps them from losing as many nutrients as sitting around in the fridge all week.
  7. You can also be boiling up large quantities of rice** to use over the week during this time. Make it long grain real rice, none of that quick cook stuff. They polish the grains and par-boil them...can you even imagine how much nutrition is lost? Since you're going to make enough for the whole week, what do you care if it takes 30 to 40 minutes to cook it? If your family really likes rice, think about investing in one of those rice steamer gadgets. I suggest slightly undercooking your rice and freezing the portions that will be used later in the week. When you thaw and reheat it, it will be fine.
  8. Mix up any Master Mixes that you'll need for the week. Most of them keep long enough that you probably won't have to make them every week. If you've still got some extra time today, you might want to think about making up some baked goods for the week using those mixes, and storing or freezing them for later.
  9. There are other tasks that you might want to add to this list, depending upon your family's preferences and yours. Do you enjoy baking real yeast breads? Either by hand or by bread making machine, maybe this would also be a good day to do that each week. Or every two weeks. Whatever! Are you a pie maker? Maybe you should add fruit or filling preparation to your list.

There you have it! It's really not as daunting as it appears, especially once you get into a rhythm with it, which I promise you that you will do if you just stick with it for a few weeks. Once you really start to enjoy making the meals each night because of your prep work, you might even start to enjoy the prep itself. I like to listen to an audiobook while I'm doing it. And each night, the reward comes in having a great home-cooked dinner, devoid of toxic convenience food or, even worse, fast food, while the good stuff you bought rots away in the fridge. Again.

Try it and see!

*meats - most meats are not safe to keep in the refrigerator all week. Freeze the ones that you're not going to be using for several days.
**rice - I have learned that rice is also not safe to keep for more than a couple of days in the fridge. I strongly suggest slightly undercooking and freezing it if it won't be used soon.

Image: Stock.xchng

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