Keep calm and meal prep on.
By Alexa Tucker, SELF
Sunday meal prep is all well and good in theory, but in practice? It can be a nightmare. When you've got six dishes going and more on the back burner (literally or figuratively), what's supposed to be a healthy habit can turn into an overwhelming fiasco. But there's one thing to keep in mind that can turn your meal prepping endeavors from stressful to seamless: your cooking order and timing.
Considering your cooking order and how long all of your recipes will take is the key to successful--and maybe even relaxing--meal prep. "Most recipes are about timing," says Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., the trained chef and dietitian behind Clean Eating Cooking School. "If you have to go back and reheat things, cover foods, or pause cooking while you chop vegetables, you're adding to your work load and time. You want to cook as efficiently as possible to make [meal prep] streamlined and stress-free."
Here, she's sharing her top tips on how to time everything properly so you can become a meal prep master:
1. First, create your plan of attack by working backwards.
"Before you start cooking, work backwards and determine what time each dish needs to go in the oven or start cooking," says Dudash. You can do this mentally, or take it a step further by jotting your dishes and their cooking times down in a note on your phone. Once you know how long everything will take, create a time schedule for yourself to keep track of what needs to go in when. (Psst: this works when you're not cooking in bulk, too.)
2. Then lay out your tools and ingredients before you start cooking.
Or, as the French say, "mise en place," explains Dudash. This major restaurant technique means laying out all of your prepped ingredients ahead of time: think chopped veggies, measured out rice, or portions of the seasonings you'll be using. Once you've got it all set up for easy access, you'll be Top Chef ready (and you won't throw off your timing plan by any last-minute slicing and dicing).
3. And get your grains going first.
- Typically, grains take the longest, says Dudash, but in a sneaky way. Even if your rice or quinoa only takes 20 minutes to actually cook, it's important to keep in mind the time it takes for the water to boil plus how long your finished masterpiece needs to cool before being portioned. Often, the total process can take around 50 minutes.
- Starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes) generally take 30-45 minutes, so they should be up next, explains Dudash.
- Then proteins, which clock in at 10-30 minutes depending on size and thickness.
- Finally you can start on the green veggies. These only take 5-10 minutes (especially when they're steamed in the microwave, which saves oven and stovetop space).
4. And finally, adjust the cooking time, not temperature.
"In the oven, I typically use the same temperature throughout--350-400 degrees for longer baking, and 425-450 when I want caramelization," says Dudash. Instead of changing up the oven temp and cooking everything separately, though, go with the higher temperature and adjust the cooking time of ingredients that should be cooked within 50-75 degrees of that. Leave space on the pan, and continue to add different foods as needed. "[The biggest mistake I see in meal prep] is putting everything in the oven at once," says Dudash. "I'll just put the second food in the oven a bit later so that it doesn't over cook."
Onwards! You SO got this!
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