First Try at Once a Week Cooking

In an attempt to make my last full week of classes before Thanksgiving break easier, I tried a new tactic for meal prep. It's called once a week cooking, and it is what it sounds like: you set aside a couple hours over the weekend to do the bulk of your meal prep. Many sources inspired me to try this. I had heard of once a month cooking, where you cook a whole bunch in one weekend, freeze most of it, then have all your meals done for a month, but I haven't tried that for several reasons. While it sounds helpful and may work for some, I didn't think it would work for me. One, I don't have that many hours to dedicate to meal prep because as a graduate student I work pretty much seven days a week. I can set aside 3 hours to prep, but not a whole morning or afternoon. Also, I like to eat fresh ingredients frequently, and if freezing is obligatory then that means no salads for a month. Finally, I have tried using my freezer to store extra meals, but in that past I would pack away meals and then forget about them.

My original inspiration for once a week meal prep was Amber from Ex-Soy-Cise. She has a blog and youtube channel dedicated to removing soy from her diet and also eating clean, which means her diet plan is pretty much on track with mine. While I am at it I should also recommend her banana omelet recipe, which I also morphed into chocolate banana omelet. They sound weird but are so good!

But I digress...other sources of inspiration included the youtube channels of Hungry, Healthy, Happy and Lean Secrets, all of which have their own versions of what they like to prepare ahead of time.

So, on Saturday I made a meal plan with various meals and snacks broken down so I would know I had enough servings (though I will allow flexibility to change based on my activity level and what sounds good). On my menu were:

Roasted broccoli, sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries, and asparagus
Burgers with lettuce and tomato
Taco Salad with green chili beef (no tortillas) (recipe to come!)
Grain-free Chicken Cordon Bleu (recipe to come!)

I made my shopping list and went shopping on Sunday. I actually made two stops and ended up buying more than anticipated based on awesome sales, so I may have more food at the end of the week than anticipated. I got some extra fruit, Larabars, Greek yogurt, chicken breast, and sausages.

So thankful to have been able to get so much!

Though I was tired in after the shopping (I had been studying most of the day) I forced myself to do the prep, and I have to say, I had a lot of fun! I didn't even put the groceries away; I just jumped in and started cooking. I mentally worked out that I would start with the vegetables, mainly because if I started with proteins then I would have to worry about disinfecting surfaces before moving onto the vegetables which would only mean and extra step and more time. I don't mind using unwashed cutting boards and knives that prepped veggies first on my meat, but I do mind using them the other away around! So, veggies were prepped first. I had two cookie sheets going, each covered with foil for easy cleanup. I staggered prepping long-cooking veggies (sweet potatoes) and short-cooking vegetables (asparagus and broccoli) so I would always have a tray to be working on. Here is a rough broken down list of my order of prep:

1) Chop two large sweet potatoes, season on baking tray with salt, pepper, and coconut oil and  pop into a 450 degree F oven (at which point I realized I was out of coconut oil...bummer, I was just at the store!)
2) While the sweet potatoes bake, prep two bundles asparagus, seasoning with salt, pepper, and olive oil on the other pan and place into oven.
3) Chop the four crowns of broccoli; remove the cooked asparagus from the oven and re-use the asparagus pan for the broccoli. Place the asparagus in a storage container. Season the broccoli and place in the oven.
4) Chop the remaining two sweet potatoes, this time into fries. Remove the original sweet potato pan from the oven and re-use the pan for the new batch of sweet potatoes, seasoning with cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, paprika and olive oil for spicy fries. Place in the oven. Stash the cooked sweet potatoes in a storage container.
5) Prep lettuce, tomato, and celery while the last batch of sweet potatoes and the broccoli finish cooking. Store the celery in water to keep it crisp and fresh.
6) Remove the broccoli from the oven and place in a storage container; replace the foil and move on to protein prep. Lay on a 12 oz package of nitrite-free bacon and place in the oven.
7) Prep chicken breasts by stuffing with ham and cheese; remove sweet potatoes from the oven, replace the foil, and place the chicken breasts on. Reduce heat to 400 degrees F. Bake 40 min or until 160 degrees F internally. Flip the bacon and put the fries in a container (I split the same container with the roasted cubed potatoes and the fries).
8) Prepare the ground beef for taco salads on the stove top.
9) Prep four burgers.
10) Remove the bacon from the oven. Drain excess grease. I re-used the same foil to bake my burgers on, but you could use a new piece if you prefer. Place the burgers on the pan and put in the oven.
11) After the chicken and burgers are cooked through, remove from the oven and stash in containers. Remove taco meat from stove top and place in a container.
12) Clean up and marvel at the wonderful spread of food you will be enjoying this week!

I chose not to pack my meals into individual containers so I could give myself more flexibility. Placing a few items into a container to take to campus with me isn't really a big deal for me.

Here are my first observations: I was surprised at how few dishes I dirtied with this method. I use two cutting boards to prepare roughly a week's worth of food---I usually use two cutting boards in one day! Therefore, I think my dish duty will decrease (good thing, because I dislike doing dishes) and also maybe water usage, which is also a good thing in arid Texas. I was able to clean everything up except the hot pans, which I left to cool, within my 3 hour time window (I started at 6 and was done by 9).

I think the time of my meal prep would be reduced if I relied on more frozen vegetables and salads. While the oven did most of the work, it still took time to chop everything up. Frozen vegetables are flash cooked and just need re-heated. In the future I may add two types of frozen veggies and the sweet potatoes.

I also noticed so far that I feel less frazzled in the morning. Breakfast is done if I want bacon and fruit. I didn't prep sausages and eggs because those are quick in the morning, but if I want veggies with my eggs those are cooked too! My lunch has been a breeze to pack, and I have been getting to campus significantly earlier.

I have been enjoying my lunches a lot more these past two days. When I don't pre-prep, sometimes my combos of food are really weird just because I run out of stuff or am too tired at the end of the day to cook myself extra. Or I just stop by the grocery store salad bar and then haven't made anything for my lunch the next day. It's just such a relief to be able to open the fridge and have a variety to choose from. 

I feel more energetic these past couple of days, perhaps partially because my meals are well thought out and nutritionally-balanced, and partially because I don't feel so much stress to prepare my food. I even feel like I not only have the time to exercise a bit more, but have the energy to do so! It's an all-round good stress reliever. 

Monday's meals included:

Breakfast: 3 pieces bacon and a tangerine (I wasn't too hungry)
Lunch: Burger with lettuce, tomato, and brown mustard with 4 oz each roasted broccoli and sweet potato fries
Snack: 6 oz Fage Greek yogurt and 4 oz frozen blueberries topped with a dash of stevia
Dinner: Last serving of leftover Autumn Lamb Stew
Snack: turkey slices with cheese

Tuesday's meals included:
Breakfast: 2 over easy eggs cooked in pastured butter, 3 slices bacon, and homemade raw fermented sauerkraut
Lunch: Grain-free Chicken Cordon Bleu (7 oz), 4 oz each roasted asparagus and sweet potatoes
Snack: 6 oz Fage Greek yogurt and 4 oz frozen blueberries topped with a dash of stevia
Dinner:  Burger with brown mustard, big salad (lettuce, tomato, avocado) with honey mustard dressing, and a homemade raw fermented pickle spear
Snack: celery and sunflower seed butter and a few dried apple chips


I will write another review at the end of the week, posting my meals and observations!

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