habit shift: meal prep.

meal_prep_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_4660Less waste. Better food. More time (Better time). Three or four reasons why I advocate the totally mundane habit of preparing at least a tiny part of dinner before dinnertime.

In our quest to eat more whole foods and fewer packaged and prepared foods, there’s a certain amount of work that needs to happen before anything starts cooking. Broccoli that doesn’t come in a package of pre-trimmed florets needs to be washed and cut. Baby spinach purchased by the bunch and not by the bag needs to be washed and then washed again, and spun dry. Beans need to be soaked and cooked. Homemade lasagna is a one-pot dish that requires more pots than that to make. This all sounds like work–and it is–but I’ve found that if I break it all up a bit, the tasks become more manageable, and actually easy. As always, it comes down to developing the habit.

A few tips:

1. Not all minutes are created equal. There are calm minutes in a day and frantic minutes in a day. Taking advantage of the calm minutes makes for more of them. For me lately, that time is in the early mornings. The evenings in our house can feel harried. Trying to prepare a whole meal from whole ingredients while everyone is hungry and tired and the clock is ticking its way toward bath and bed time is stressful. But at the 7:00 AM hour? Belly full of oatmeal? Fresh coffee just finished? I can lazily sit in the 3-foot by 5-foot bit of available floorspace in our kitchen and show Faye how to pinch thyme leaves off a stem. I can patiently watch her mangle a strip of pepper with her crinkle knife while I make quicker work of cutting down the rest of it for an eventual stir-fry. She can drag a chair up to the sink and delight in washing spinach with me. By the time it’s ready for me to leave the house to work, we’ll have knocked out at least some of the dinner prep we’d have to do under less ideal circumstances later in the day. Maybe your mornings are harried. Maybe there’s not a toddler underfoot to consider. Maybe the weekend is better. Maybe you prefer a post-dinner prep for the next day? The key is to take advantage of whatever spare minutes you do have.

2. Do what you can. You don’t need to plan to tackle an entire casserole every morning or evening. Sometimes meal prep might just mean scrubbing the beets for tonight’s dinner during a lunchtime break. Sometimes it’s tossing tofu (or steak) in a simple marinade while you’ve got a few extra minutes and the right mood. My philosophy is this: time saved now is time available later.

3. Be prepared. Keep supplies on hand that allow you to tackle prep ahead of time. For me, that mostly means keeping some large-ish food storage containers around. My absolute favorite multi-tasking tool in our kitchen is a set of three stainless steel mixing bowls with plastic lids. I might fill one with chopped veggies. Another might have marinating tofu. The third, a leftover portion of plain, cooked rice. Dinner, prepped.

What about you guys? Do you have tricks for getting dinner on the table minus a meltdown?

Habit Shift is a new series. I’m hoping the series will offer quick tips, concrete takeaways, and a whole lotta can-do spirit for focusing on ways to shift personal habits in an effort to be little bit more environmentally friendly, a little more healthy, and a little more happy. Good for us, good for our planet.

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