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Prep (Hopefully The B&B Definitive Thread)

Hi all! I'm hoping we can discuss meal prep here. I need to step up my game in the areas of speed and efficiency in the meal prep area. A new job has limited my time so I have to find a way to get dinners done quicker.

How do you guys handle meal prep?
Do you guys prep weekly meals on the weekend? What works for you? (We're a family of 6 with kids all under 9).
What veggies do you regularly stock and prepare together?
How do you "work your board"? What gets cut, chopped, sliced, diced first? What come last? How does that make your cooking process more efficient?
What are some practical kitchen hacks that really save you time and guesswork?

My goal is to continue to cook great meals for my family. Just faster and with more variety.
 

djh

Moderator Emeritus
In a perfect world, one would have time and space to prepare each ingredient of a meal before starting the cooking process... in the real world, especially in your case with a hungry family awaiting your magic on the table, I would prep in the order in which things are needed. Root vegetables before greens, before herbs - simply based upon cooking time.

It may help if you were to let us know what sort of dishes you prepare now and what you would be interested in cooking for the family. Suggestions can be much better directed in that case.
 
Thanks Dave! Prepping in order of cooking time is a great tip and just the kind of thing I'm looking for.

For example, tonight's dinner: Pasta Carbonara

1lb pasta
1/2lb pancetta or smoked bacon (medium dice)
6 egg yolks
2 large garlic cloves
3/4 cup parmesan cheese (divided in 2)
olive oil

Cook pasta to al dente. Retain 2 cups pasta water.

Beat egg yolks, pepper, and half the cheese together. Set aside.

Rub pancetta all over the bottom of a cold skillet. Dice pancetta. Smash two large garlic cloves. Place garlic and pancetta in cold skillet and turn heat to medium high. Cook until crispy. Turn off heat. Remove garlic.

Scoop some pasta into the skillet. Toss well. Add some pasta water. Toss well. Add some yolks. Toss well. Repeat until all pasta is in the skillet and you get a nice emulsification. Plate it up with the remaining cheese and a bit of pepper.
 

djh

Moderator Emeritus
Making (and freezing) portions of tomato sauce is a great way to save time when preparing family meals. By adding plenty of vegetables when cooking the sauce, the flavour is increased and the nutritional value can be improved as well. Removing a pot of sauce from the freezer in the morning makes preparing a pasta dinner quick and easy. Combining cooked short pasta with sauce (and tuna, or mozzarella, or chopped leftovers), covering in cheese and baking in the oven until bubbling makes for a terrific family meal.

Cooking a stir-fry should be another possibility. Meat (should you choose), green vegetables (broccoli or beans or bok choy or...), garlic, ginger and chili with some oyster sauce and a little soy served over steamed rice makes for a tasty and healthy meal. When cooking for a group, I use a Cast Iron dutch oven rather than a wok as it has more capacity and holds heat better.

The kids (and mum and dad) may enjoy this which I make regularly. As it is in the recipe, the food is not spicy (so should be ok for the children) - I add quite a bit more heat to my taste.
 
A slow cooker only takes a few minutes to fill. Start it when you leave for work and come home to dinner for 6 ready and the house smells heavenly. Lots of good recipes. You can use less expensive cuts of meat too, with excellent results.
 
That looks great! I'm actually prepping some bolognese sauce for the freezer. I can then use that as a meat sauce, or in a pasta bake, or a lasagna.

A prep idea that comes to mind is separating the garlic cloves from the head and then storing them. Makes it a bit quicker when cooking.

Does anyone make a mirepoix and then portion and freeze?
 

djh

Moderator Emeritus
A slow cooker only takes a few minutes to fill. Start it when you leave for work and come home to dinner for 6 ready and the house smells heavenly. Lots of good recipes. You can use less expensive cuts of meat too, with excellent results.
Such a great option... and really appealing when it is cold out.
 

Luc

Moderator Emeritus
I rarely prep food in advance unless I really need to. I am not feeding an army either.

When I cook, I try to visualize the steps in order to be efficient. As an example, while I sauté some onion, I will chop something else. I won’t chop everything and then start cooking.

One item that allows me to push a meal quicker is an instant pot. I can make a stew in an hour. Something like rice or risotto takes 30 mins and I don’t have to keep an eye on it.
 
I just ordered an instant pot too! I got a 6 quart, used it once, loved it, realized it wasn't big enough, returned it for an 8 quart. I got an extra inner pot so I could prep a meal in advance and get a rotation going. Got a steamer basket and some extra seals to round it out.
 

djh

Moderator Emeritus
As Luc mentioned, an instant pot (or pressure cooker) can really speed up a lot of processes. Cooking polenta in your pot means that you do not have to watch the pot and continually stir which will allow you to spend the cooking time preparing mushrooms, tomatoes and sausages to serve with it.
 
My family at home is shrinkiin size, so no need to prep on weekends. However, it's a great idea. Another thing to do is get the kids involved. Even young ones can help and they will be better off knowing how to prepare a good meal. Our kids learned how to measure ingredients even when they couldn't do it on their own. Of course, it won't necessarily make the process go any faster.

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A slow cooker only takes a few minutes to fill. Start it when you leave for work and come home to dinner for 6 ready and the house smells heavenly. Lots of good recipes. You can use less expensive cuts of meat too, with excellent results.
+1. My wife is a stay at home mom, but she often uses the slow cooker. It is a great way to make all-in-one meals.

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We buy meats in bulk and freeze them in portions then take them out the morning of eating them to let them thaw. We tend to plan the week's meals to allow this.

Otherwise there's not much else we do. I make most meals and I try to plan out each meal as I cook it to maximize time and get it on the table in time. Seems to work so far.

One little time saver is we buy tomato paste in the tube. It works great to add on time when it's needed and saves money because you don't waste what's left like with the canned version.

Most of our vegetables are steamed and I tend to do those first and slightly under cook them then leave them in the steamer sans water while I cook the other items. This frees up a burner (a large one) for other items to be cooked on it.

I cook most meals and we are a family of seven. The planning as I start seems to be the most beneficial factor.

Chris
 

djh

Moderator Emeritus
Improving your knife skills (unless you are already a wiz) will allow you to become much more efficient in the kitchen. Being able to slice or chop ingredients to the same size and quickly is a big help.
It may also be fun to experiment on the weekend (if that is when you have more time). Once you have followed a recipe a few times, things seem easier and it may transfer to a weeknight.
 

TexLaw

Contributor
Check out the "Tuesday Nights" cookbook from Milk Street. Fabulous recipes in there.

Look into a vacuum sealer, if you don't already have one. It doesn't take much more time or effort to cook larger amounts and then portion them out in the freezer. Often, if I am going to do a roast of some sort (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, whatever), I'll get a roast that is at least twice the size I want for that meal (or get more than one) and then freeze the rest. Vacuum sealed, it'll keep very, very well in the freezer, and it's easily reheated. Vacuum sealing also is also very handy for keeping browned meat for the week in the fridge.

Soups and stews (including chili) also freeze wonderfully and are easily reheated. We always make extra. I'll probably reheat something like that for dinner, tonight. For those, we usually just use the soup containers from our local Chinese delivery.

Lentils cook very quickly. Your larger beans, chickpeas, and the like cook fairly quickly in a pressure cooker (I love the Instant Pot for that--it takes about an hour and needs virtually no tending) and without even soaking. It's very easy to cook a large batch of beans or chickpeas and refrigerate them for a few days (maybe a week) or portion out for freezing.

A rice cooker also is wonderful to have around. Rice, quinoa, and other grains cook easily and actually fairly quickly. Get one that you just dump in the grain and water, slap on the lid, and push the button. It takes no tending, and the cooked grains often can stay warm in there for a couple of hours.

Fresh vegetables can be quickly sauteed or roasted. I must say, also, that the quality of frozen vegetables has become quite good, and many can be steamed from frozen in their package in about 5-10 minutes or so.

Seafood cooks very, very quickly when compared to other animal protein and often takes very little preparation (and it turns out that it's pretty good for you, too).

The store bought "rotisserie" chickens are really good, and they aren't all that expensive. We use those as a shortcut all the time, and we sometimes just eat them as they are.
 
I do "progressive" cooking at my house. I pick up whole chickens when they are on sale at the store. I toss in the frozen chicken, 1/2 a diced onion and maybe a bit of spices that appeal to me at the time. Near the end of the cooking time I will steam, saute, or roast some sort of veggie. When chicken comes out I "carve" it and we have chicken + veg. I then separate the meat from the bones (kind of a half arse job) and put the extra chick in the fridge.

pop the carcass in the IP and make soup stock. Day two I take the stock and make a soup. It is light on the chicken but simmer with more veggies and it goes well with another vegetable or maybe a salad. I also fire up the rice maker to add a bit of carb to the soup for those that want it.

Day three I toss in the left over rice and maybe some root veggies and make it into a stew.

Day four if there is any chicken left I add some ground pork and make some unrolled enchiladas (the wraps are flat in the pan like a lasagna noodle)

Not sure that would work for 6 mouths to feed (you would need a BIG chicken). I have a 6qt IP and love that you can toss frozen chickens, roasts, etc. I have found that some things can be used the next day better than others... most meat (beef, pork, chicken... ) can work but I don't reccomend it with seafood unless it is something like salmon one day and and using the leftover salmon in a pasta dish or served with cream cheese dip the next day. Most veggies can also go from a stand alone dish to part of a soup, stirfry or something the next day.

I have chickens and ducks that lay eggs so about once a week I make a batch of hard boiled eggs to have a ready supply in the fridge. We use them for snacks, egg salad, lunches, etc.

If your cooking style requires browning, baking, simmering or things that "take time" that is a good time to be prepping the next thing you need to do/add to the pot.

Good luck.
 
I will often rough chop a bunch of veggies and place in separate containers in the fridge for stir fries and sautees.

Also, food procesor (to dice) mirepoix, then brown, deglaze (with white wine), portion, and freeze for use later. Properly browned mirepoix takes quite a while and this step saves me heaps of time.
 

DoctorShavegood

Ambassador
I like grilling all my meats on Sunday, like chicken, beef, pork chops, sausage, etc. Then I separate them into small dinner meals for the whole week and freeze. Pull one out one, pop the top, add a veggie and sit down for a quick meal.
 

Alacrity59

Moderator Emeritus
I will often rough chop a bunch of veggies and place in separate containers in the fridge for stir fries and sautees.

Also, food procesor (to dice) mirepoix, then brown, deglaze (with white wine), portion, and freeze for use later. Properly browned mirepoix takes quite a while and this step saves me heaps of time.
I'm not exactly sure we are on the same page but. . . . I frequently prep Cauliflower and Broccoli as they take a lot of room to store. That being said ... they still don't store very long so enjoy them quickly.
 
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