By Shira Boss
Zero Cost Kids
Want to save time during the week, make meals easy, and eat a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables, without much effort?
Start a weekly prep session! Wash, cut and maybe even cook some produce in advance. You could spend as little as 10 minutes, although an hour works wonders.
Does anyone like digging through packages in the crisper and washing and cutting before every meal? I especially hate to tackle greens. They’re just unwieldly. If they’re not tamed in advance, I will look at a big bunch of chard or kale all week – I’ll even resort to cooking frozen vegetables while I put off prepping and cooking fresh greens.
Produce prepared by the store is expensive and I don’t trust the cleanliness. So to eat healthily, cheaply and easily, let’s do the prep ourselves!
Prepare produce all at once
With a whole load of produce washed, prepped and neatly stacked in glass containers, meal prep is so easy!
Instead of reaching for a box of crackers (or, ahem, cookies!), it takes no effort to load up on fresh peppers & hummus; to throw together a cucumber or radish sandwich; to snack on grapes, blueberries, grape tomatoes and cubed melon (it’s summertime…).
Eating fruits and vegetables becomes just as easy as reaching into a bag in the pantry. Priceless for our health. And making dinner – once the greens are ready to go, the green beans trimmed, the garlic peeled, the onions sliced – is so much faster and easier. (Ok usually I don’t chop onions too far in advance because I still put it off and because the whole fridge starts to smell like onion.)
Save time and money with weekly produce prep
By prepping produce in advance, I think you’ll eat far more of it and waste less. You’ll also be less tempted to resort to packaged food or eating out – huge money savers as well as being way more healthy.
Do like the pros: prep produce when you buy it!
I first came across this concept in an Alice Waters cookbook about what she eats at home. She said when she gets home from shopping, she prepares whatever she bought – such as marinating meat, not just preparing produce. She prepares meal components so she’s ready to make the next few meals easily.
What really converted me to the prep-after-shopping system was reading An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.
She says not only to prep but to cook every vegetable in advance. She advises washing all the greens and sautéing them, then roasting many others, and even boiling some. She says they’ll all last for many days in the fridge, even after cooking. When cooked vegetables are on hand, she says, they can be added to meals throughout the day and all week long with zero effort.
She is so right.
When there are more fruits and vegetables ready-to-eat, we add handfuls here and there just because we can. Last week our usual cheese quesadillas became delectable kale and cheese quesadillas – more flavorful and healthier. And only possible because the kale had already been steamed. I wasn’t about to wash, prep, and cook kale in the middle of the day just to add it to a quick quesadilla for lunch.
Don’t worry about loss of nutrients
Whenever someone advocates prepping in advance, some naysayer is quick to say that the nutrients are lost while cut vegetables are stored. I researched this point and it’s true, some nutrients are lost. But not a lot.
And you know what? The nutrients lost are more than made up for by eating more produce. Think of the nutrients – and money – that are lost when produce goes bad because we haven’t taken the time to prepare it and eat it.
So, enough of the “lost nutrients” argument. (Unless you’re already in the habit of preparing fresh produce all day long and don’t feel any need to save time by having it on hand.) Prep that produce and then easily eat, eat, eat!
How to prep produce for the week
- Do your shopping for the week. Don’t even put the produce away.
- Fill a large bowl with water (add vinegar if washing un-organic produce, and things like strawberries prone to spoiling quickly).
- Get to work assembly-line style: wash, cut, and containerize.
- Enjoy the buffet from your refrigerator all week!
More Produce Prep tips:
- Use jars if you run out of other containers.
- Look ahead to what you’ll be cooking during the week: You might want to combine the onions, celery and carrots for soup, for example.
- Don’t forget the herbs! Keep what you’ll need…freeze or otherwise make a plan for the rest. You’ll find it much easier to throw extra herbs into whatever you’re making if they’re already washed and trimmed.
- Roasted vegetables are terrific for snacking – they also take up way less space than uncooked vegetables. And kids tend to love them.
- Greens can be steamed or sautéed (with or without garlic) in advance – just bring to room temperature for a side dish, or add to whatever. (We don’t have a microwave, but you probably do!)
- Apples for the next couple days can be washed, quartered and cored, then pieced back together to store (with a rubber band if you want to preserve them really well or pack a whole apple in your lunch).
Get started prepping produce!
You’ll figure out your own favorite system. The important thing is to do something. Prepare some fruits or vegetables in advance, so you can start to enjoy the quick produce magic!
This week I spent an hour and prepared:
- Little bunches of grapes
- Orange and red pepper slices
- Grape tomatoes
- Cucumber slices
- Diced onions
- Peeled garlic cloves
- Chard sautéed in garlic
- Trimmed green beans
- Toasted coconut
- Sautéed pineapple
- Cantaloupe cubes (a watermelon will get cut when the cantaloupe has been eaten)
- Sliced apples
Some weeks I miss the prep session, and it makes snacks and meals harder all week. When I do prep produce, it’s a morale booster to feel ahead of the game.
Please do share your own produce prep tips below and help us all out in our efforts to save time and money while eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.
You can do this!