One of the biggest wastes of time one can commit is to cook a single meal for one person. Knowing how to prepare your meals in advance will save you time and money.
For many people, September is reflective of a new beginning. After spending the summer months on the beach, laying in the sun, it is often a time to refresh and rejuvenate. If you’re starting a new job fresh out of university or college or are getting organized for your kids to go back to school these tips will help you make an effective use of your time.
You don’t need to be a chef to benefit from these tips. You only need to know the basics of cooking. If you have a barbecue your life is that much easier (it’s faster than an over, easier to clean and has a large cooking surface for bulk cooking).
I think it’s a tremendous waste of time to cook a single meal. A few months ago I wrote an article in the form of a slideshow to demonstrate how I cook my meals for a week. While bulk cooking may be difficult for someone who isn’t comfortable with cooking this skill can be mastered over time. However, the simplest way to start is to prepare one meal in bulk.
Here’s what I do. Why cook just one or two chicken breasts for dinner when you can get the ‘family’ pack of 6-8 breasts? For the same amount of time and work cooking 1-2 breasts, you can triple your efforts without extra time.
Two options. Buy a family-sized pack of 6-8 skinless and boneless chicken breasts. If your grocery store offers pre-seasoned breasts at the butchers counter, that’s also a good option. Buy 4-6 large sweet potatoes and a large green vegetable (or two) of your choice (broccoli, bok choy, etc.).
Preparing the chicken for cooking.
You will need a baking sheet, a large cast iron pan or a Pyrex type baking dish – something large enough for all of the chicken breasts.
Drizzle olive oil on the pan or sheet. If you bought plain breasts, you can use salt, pepper and dry herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme or oregano to add seasoning. I also like to use fresh lemon or lime juice (cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the pan).
Place the breast in the pan one at a time, and turn them to coat them with oil and seasonings.
As an option you can lightly cover the breasts with a sheet of tin foil. This will keep the breast moist.
Bake in a 350° oven for 25-30 minutes on the middle shelf. I like to turn the breasts after 15 minutes.
Use a metal skewer or a very sharp, small knife to test for doneness. Push the skewer ½ way through the thickest part of the breast. If the liquid comes out clear the breasts are done. If the liquid is cloudy or even slightly cloudy, cook for another 5 minutes before checking again.
Preparing the vegetables for cooking.
Cook the sweet potatoes in the oven. Put on the middle or bottom shelf. Turn every 15 minutes three times. The sweet potatoes will take about 45 minutes to cook. Gently squeeze to see if they feel soft. Be careful as they will be hot, but you can do this with oven mitts or a towel.
When done, remove from oven and let cool on a metal rack. If you don’t have one, then let them cool on a plate, but turn the potatoes after 5 minutes so the bottoms won’t get wet.
What green vegetables did you buy? You can steam, gently boil or microwave your veggies. I prefer not to boil as you lose more nutrients in the water.
Wash the vegetable and for something like broccoli, cut up into bite-sized pieces. If you like the stem, just cut off the outside skin as the inside flesh is edible.
Use a bamboo steamer or a wire mesh steamer [pics] over about an inch of water in a pot. When the water comes to the boil on the stove, reduce heat slightly to keep a low boil and add the veggies. Test for doneness every few minutes. I like my veggies to have a bit of a bite to them.
Now you have a healthy lunch or dinner and prepared food to store! A good rule of thumb for portion sizes is to use your fist as a measure. One fist-sized portion of meat and two fist-sized portions of vegetables. In this case, chicken, sweet potato and brocolli.
Option: I will often wash and cut up my vegetable and store them uncooked in a container in the fridge. I sprinkle some lemon juice over them to help them stay fresh longer. I will then use the amount of vegetables I want per meal and put them in a pan or on a plate with whatever else I’m eating, and then re-heat my meal. If I’m using the microwave to reheat the cooking time will not only heat up the chicken but will cook my veggies to desired doneness.
You will need decent storage containers suitable for fridge and freezer. I keep my prepared meals for 3-4 days in the fridge. If I have more than four days of meals prepared, I store the remainder in the freezer. Put the frozen meals in the fridge to thaw when you have one day left of prepared food.
Here’s an example of one of my regular meals. I have broccoli, red pepper and a half a breast of chicken divided into two servings. I baked the chicken in the oven with a few peaches, sliced onion, salt, pepper and olive oil. I took this to work and ate one serving at 2:45pm and the next one at 6pm between clients. This is to show you that you can take a larger meal and turn it into two smaller meals and there is nothing wrong with eating the same thing twice in the day.