What is a meal prep?
Meal prep is a concept of preparing big batch of food ahead of schedule and keeping it for later consumption.
Here in Philippines, the idea of meal prep is not that common. For Filipinos, it is a western thing like not eating rice or tanning. It is also not widely popular even among modern local sites. It was not taught in schools and never even heard by some.
Unbeknownst to some Filipinos, meal prep is a life-saver. Although it cannot stop the severe traffic, it can lessen the exhaustion felt by the one preparing the meal on a daily basis. Here are 10 practical tips in making a meal prep:
1. The Menu
To start a week of meal prep is to have a menu that is thoughtfully planned. Every meat and vegetables that goes into the lunchbox must be well-researched or else everything will spoil and all the effort and money will go to waste.
On planning the menu, consider the following items:
- Choose foods that are quick to cook (ex: does not require 8 hours of marinating followed by 6 hours of steaming)
- Requires only a few ingredients that can ALL be found in your regular grocery store
- Can be cooked in a short time (40 minutes or maximum of 2 hours)
- Can be stored for a long time or at least the whole week
- Within the budget range.
- What do you plan to cook? Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner? Which one needs meal prep and which one needs to be cooked fresh daily?
- How much should do you cook? Your husband may have a bigger appetite compared to your kids.
- Fits your household’s diet. For whom do you cook? Maybe you are on a keto diet and your husband is not.
2. Storage Containers
Lunch is best eaten when it’s delicious and still crisp. Investing in a good quality container to keep the food’s freshness is essential if you want your food to last the whole week.
Some criteria to consider when looking for food storage containers:
- Containers with compartments. Some prefer to separate the foods inside one container. It helps keep dry foods mixing with saucy ones.
- Size (depth/width). Choose containers which are large enough to store a whole week of food. It can be narrow or wide depending on your storage space or lunchbox design preference.
- Durable. Does not easily get deformed that the cover will not fit anymore.
- Quantity. Be sure to cover all days of the week you will be using the pre-packed meal. Also, count the number of people in the household.
- With lid or cover
- Lid seals airtight
3. Food Storage
The essence of meal prep is to cook the food ahead of time and save it for later use. Keeping the food fresh until consumption is vital.
However, every food is different. Some lasts longer than the others. Some requires a more intricate storage method, while some need none at all. Research is the key!
Here are some of the examples of storing different kind of foods:
- Cucumber – slice, put in a container with lid and submerge in water. Put in the warmest part of the fridge. The cucumber will last for a week.
- Tamagoyaki- slice when already warm, cling-wrap each slice and freeze. The egg will last for three weeks in the freezer or a week in the fridge.
- Tuna salad – placed inside an airtight container will last 3-4 days in the fridge.
4. Cooking Utensils
The simple the meal, the better it is! Most people doing meal prep is either on the money or time-conscious.
The good thing about meal prep is that it does not require a new set of utensils other than the ones you already have.
Check out these basic kitchen utensils you might already have:
- Strainer or colander
- Pots and pans
- Cutting board
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Can opener
Nowadays, there are plenty of kitchen utensils that people can purchase to efficiently reduce their cooking time. Although some are costly, these are considered good investments and will ease your meal preparation in the future.
5. Cooking Equipment And Kitchen Appliances
Like cooking utensils, simple meals also uses simple cooking equipments. There is no need to buy a new set for meal prep. Rather, use the ones you already have.
Amazingly, almost all houses are now equipped with basic cooking equipments and kitchen appliances.
Here are some of the most useful kitchen appliances must-haves:
- Rice cooker
- Ovens and toasters
- Food steamer
- Pressure cooker
Just recently, air fryer is taking the rounds in social media for it’s healthy features. Feel free to add in to your kitchen whatever you think is best for your household.
6. Food Ratio
Food ratio is one way of incorporating a nutritious and balanced meal in your meal prep. It is one of the advantage of meal prep you can’t get from commercially available food in your canteen or food court.
Most Asians won’t skip the rice. Their ideal food ratio would be 1/2 carbs (rice), 1/4 protein (buffalo wings), 1/8 fruits (oranges) and 1/8 vegetables (buttered veggies).
Another advantage of meal prep is that you can tailor the food ratio according to your lifestyle. If you are on a low carb diet, you can change the proportion and lower your carb ratio say 1/4 carbs (bread), 1/4 protein (bacon), 1/4 fruits (strawberries), 1/4 vegetables (steamed broccoli).
Ideally, meal prep should be packed on a single container like the Japanese bento. Everything is tightly packed and come out beautifully compact.
Today, however there are various ways to carry the meal in one container. There are ready made containers with compartments. Or you can always use plastic or silicone cups as dividers. Some greens, like romaine or cabbage are now used as edible dividers.
Dividers are important because they help separate the food from one another so that the flavors won’t get mixed up.
Colorful food, specifically vegetables are said to be the healthiest. As much as possible, include colorful and firm vegetables as it lightens up the pre-packed food. There is nothing more sad than eating a brown and soggy food all week.
Colorful meal are exciting for kids also. In Japan, mothers would intentionally decorate their kid’s meals with cute characters along with colorful vegetables, containers and pickers. This way, the kids are always looking forward to what’s in store for them at lunch.
Time is a precious commodity. Everyone who has interest in meal prep knows the real meaning of time in here.
To start, one must identify which part of the day and what meal they have the difficulty cooking the most due to time constraints. Others may have a difficulty preparing breakfast, because they can’t afford to cook and be late for work. Others may may have difficulty cooking for dinner because they left work too late and has no more energy left to do the task.
Second, identify which day you will schedule the cooking and the marketing before that. The rest of the week are pretty easy and mainly just reheating.
10. Practical Tips
Here are some additional practical tips for the perfect meal prep:
- Plan a menu ahead
- Pre-cut everything (fruits and vegetables)
- Keep dry foods dry or use a divider/separator to prevent food from spoiling
- Cook delicious and flavorful meals
- Reheat meals properly in the microwave to avoid bacteria from growing
- After reheating, let meals cool down completely to avoid steam gathering at the back of the lid
- Use various methods of cooking other than frying (grilling, steaming, etc)
Meal prep is just a concept designed to save time, energy, money and effort. Every household has a different needs, be sure to prioritize and cater their needs among others. Lastly, enjoy the meal prep adventure!