One of my friends, Allyson Hodge, and her best friend, Jeff Creemer, have the whole meal prep thing totally dialed in. They have been prepping for a year, and pictures of the meals they make every weekend made me want to give it a go.
A little history here - I did ‘cooking-for-a-month’ at one point in my life because my next-door neighbor did it and she was the most organized person I knew. But honestly, it was overwhelming. It took a full day of grocery list planning, then shopping at 3 different stores the next day to make sure we got the best deals. The following day was devoted to chopping and prepping ingredients like beans, and the last day was for putting the ingredients together. I think we made quadruple batches of 8 recipes or something insane like that. Then all the meals were put in Ziploc bags, labelled with cooking instructions, and frozen. We had to buy a freezer for our garage to store them all, and even though it did make dinners easier (if I remembered to pull the meal out of the freezer in time) we didn’t always enjoy eating something that had been frozen for a month, and I still had to give myself an average of an hour to bake it each night. The whole process was utterly exhausting and it makes me tired just thinking about it. And other than the fun of spending time with my friend, the memory does not spark joy.
A couple years ago I tried a vegan meal plan subscription so I wouldn’t have to think of what to make every night, and even though it was only for a week at a time, it was still too much for me. We ended up with too much food and it was tedious to try and figure out which ingredients on the shopping list were for which meals when I didn’t want to make all the recipes. The lady who sold the plan said you could do it all in 3 hours, but even though I pride myself on being efficient, I could never get it under 5.
So my current strategy has been to choose 4 recipes a week and get all the ingredients for them, but you know what? I don’t always get around to making them. And I just figured out why. I found a list from one of these “4 recipe a week” plans and if you look at it you’ll notice that I also included 5 sides that needed preparation! And since I would already be in the kitchen, I added biscotti, cookie dough dip, granola, yogurt, and chickpea salad. That’s 14 recipes!!
As I said, I’ve been watching Allyson post pictures on FB of the meals she and Jeff prep every weekend and it’s inspired me to give it another go. Here’s why I think their system might actually work:
It takes just a couple hours
They only make 2 lunch and 2 breakfast recipes
They prepare one recipe at a time
They don’t double, triple or quadruple anything
They don’t freeze anything
They make something different every week
The meals are in individually packaged servings
I shamelessly invited myself to Allyson’s house last Saturday to watch her and Jeff prep meals for the week and ask them a million questions. Their biggest piece of advice was to keep it simple. Any side dishes are super basic, like peas or grapes. They aren’t afraid to alter recipes to fit their tastes. Jeff typically cooks one recipe at his house, then brings two servings to swap for two of Allyson’s recipes, but this weekend he came over to help her and share his wisdom with me. Here’s what I came away with, along with my experience (in italics) trying their tips on my own:
CHOOSE RECIPES QUICKLY
Allyson spends at most 30 minutes finding recipes during the early part of the week. She finds 2 lunch and 2 breakfast recipes that make 4 servings each. She hasn’t made the same thing twice in the last year. Jeff chooses 1 lunch recipe, or sometimes Allyson finds one she wants to try but it’s trickier than she wants to bother with, so she’ll ask him to make it. They recommend finding a few recipe websites you like to minimize the time spent online searching. Some of their favorites are Skinny taste, Fit Foodie Finds, and Meal Prep on Fleek. They avoid recipes that call for just part of a container of something or weird ingredients that they’ll probably not use again, and Allyson said anything with more than 10 ingredients is out. When I was there they made Thai Chicken Peanut Salad Wraps, Roasted Chicken and Vegetables with brown rice, Breakfast Stuffed Peppers, and Breakfast Burritos. They don’t use recipes with tuna out of consideration for their fellow employees. So thoughtful.
I used a recipe I made up by combining frozen brown rice, Upton’s Chick Seitan and the Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup recipe from Connoiseurus Veg. The other recipe I used was Vegan Enchilada Casserole from Detoxinista - to that I added a can of corn.
MAKE THE PREP EASY
Whenever possible, they use pre-chopped, canned, or frozen ingredients. It may cost a tiny bit more, but the convenience is worth it to them and it reduces food waste and prep time. As far as shopping, Allyson said she spends 10 minutes ordering her groceries online and 10 minutes picking them up.
I used frozen chopped onions, potatoes, and brown rice, canned beans and tomatoes, jarred minced garlic and vegetable bouillon paste, pre-chopped broccoli, and packaged chicken seitan.
MAKE ONE RECIPE AT A TIME
Allyson and Jeff make one recipe at a time, then when it’s in the oven, they start on the next one. While their last recipe was in the oven Allyson made 4 snacks. (They kind of looked like healthier versions of lunchables. She runs crazy early in the morning and again at lunchtime, so having some snacks in between meals makes her feel better.)
An important facet of the KonMari Method™ is to work on just one category at a time and subcategorize as necessary. I KNOW it works, so I will keep reminding myself to focus on just one recipe at a time. I’ll be honest, I thought about making cookies and hummus while I was cooking, but restrained myself. I was also tempted to double the broccoli cheese recipe because I had soaked twice the amount of cashews I needed. I’m so glad I didn’t because the serving size was bigger than I could eat in one meal. We ended up with 6 servings - if I’d doubled it we would have had 12 servings. We like the recipe but 12 servings is just too much. One of the issues I had with other meal prep systems was that I was directed to cook part of one recipe, and while that was cooking, have something else boiling on the stove, or sauteing, or being chopped. I seemed like I was juggling 10 things at once and it made me feel frantic. I made myself stick to making one recipe at a time this time and it was so much more relaxing. Multi-tasking is overrated imho.
STORE IN INDIVIDUAL SERVING CONTAINERS
Allyson had reusable containers she got on Amazon laid out on the table all ready to go. They are stackable and hold a decent serving size. She reserves space on the top shelf of her fridge to store them, and every morning she and her husband each grab a lunch and a breakfast and they’re set to go. She doesn’t go to the trouble of labelling them because it’s easy to peek in and see what they are.
I used rectangular glass containers and some bowls we had from leftovers at a restaurant. Since I only made 2 recipes and they are in different types of containers, I didn’t label mine either. Putting the servings in individual bowls made a huge difference for us in ease of use. I’m starting to think we’re supremely lazy, but taking one container out of the fridge, reheating and eating it out of that container is mentally so much easier than pulling out a 9x13 dish, and serving a portion up. There is no way my husband will do that in the morning before he goes to work, but he will grab a ready-to-go container. We had one serving of the enchilada casserole left yesterday and took it to a non-vegan potluck lunch. It was perfect.
So all in all, Allyson spends maybe an hour total choosing recipes, ordering groceries and picking them up. She might spend 2-3 hours cooking on Saturday morning and end up with 8 lunches, 8 breakfasts and 4 snacks.
I ended up taking 10 minutes to find a recipe, about 30 minutes driving to the store and shopping. It took me 1 hour to cook. ONE HOUR!!
Thanks to Allyson and Jeff, this week’s meal-prep adventure has been great! I hope some of their tips are useful to you as well. Have you done meal-prepping? Let me know what works for you!