12 tips from a cooking teacher to help you slash meal prep time
When it comes to prepping recipes for your week in advance, you really have to do what works for you. A basic rule of thumb regarding produce: It slowly loses its nutritional value beginning the moment that it is harvested.
So, the fresher, the better. If you have the flexibility, the longer you wait to prep fresh produce, the better. The following is a guide to which vegetables and foods can be prepped in advance and which are best to do as you go.
Whether you are cooking a vegetable on its own or to be mixed with other ingredients (e.g., a stir-fry or soup), you can prep it in advance. By “prep,” I mean wash, dry, peel (if appropriate), and cut up. To prevent drying out in the refrigerator, put a damp paper towel on top of the cut vegetables and store in an airtight container.
You can also blanch vegetables 1 to 2 days in advance and store in the refrigerator. Blanching is to boil in salted water until just tender and then to shock in ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain, pat dry, and refrigerate.
Vegetables to be added to a cooked dish, such as in a frittata or casserole, can be sautéed or roasted the day before and stored in the refrigerator. The same goes for a stand-alone vegetable, such as spaghetti squash.
Asparagus and Green Beans: Can be washed, trimmed, and stored in an airtight container or a resealable bag for 2 to 3 days.
Avocado: (Technically a fruit, but I’ve included it here with veggies.) Can be peeled, pitted, sliced or cubed 2 to 3 hours in advance. Arrange in one layer on a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap, adhering the wrap to the avocado to prevent any exposure to air.
Carrots: Carrots can be peeled in advance (if roasting them whole) or peeled and chopped, shredded, or grated up to 3 to 4 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Bell Peppers: Can be washed, cored, and seeded 2 to 3 days in advance. Store whole or sliced/chopped in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Broccoli and Cauliflower: Can be washed and cut into florets 2 to 3 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts can dry out, so if you can, slice these as you go. But prepping the day ahead is fine, especially if you’re going to cook them versus use them raw.
Cabbage: Can be washed and chopped, sliced, or shredded 1 to 2 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Celery: Celery can be washed and chopped 3 to 4 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Eggplant: Can brown when exposed to air, so it’s good to peel/cut/cube/slice as you go.
Fennel: Can be washed, then thinly sliced or chopped 2 to 3 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Garlic: Can be peeled and whole cloves stored in a glass jar or resealable bag until ready to use. Stays good for 7 to 10 days. Fresh minced garlic can lose its flavor/potency when prepared too far in advance, so chop as you go to preserve the flavor. You can also find frozen, minced garlic in markets. These are fine as long as there are no preservatives added.
Ginger: Can be peeled in advance and stored in the freezer. No need to defrost before grating.
Greens: Heartier greens such as collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, and beet greens can be washed and sliced or chopped 2 to 3 days in advance. More tender greens such as butter, romaine, red leaf, or green leaf lettuce can be washed 2 to 3 days in advance. Allow to dry for a few hours on a clean towel on your countertop or upright in a dish drainer in the sink. Store in a clean bag in the crisper drawer. Tear or cut for salads just before serving to prevent oxidation.
Onions: Chop or slice 1 to 2 days in advance, but keep in a tightly sealed glass container or a double-bagged resealable bag (if you don’t double the bags, your refrigerator will likely smell like onions and their aroma will infuse the foods surrounding them).
Potatoes: Peel or pare and chop up to a day in advance. Store in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator.
Sweet potatoes: Peel and chop 3 to 4 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Winter squash: Peel, seed, and chop 3 to 4 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Zucchini: Wash and chop, slice, or shred 2 to 3 days in advance. Store in a sealed bag or container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.
Cilantro, parsley, dill, thyme, rosemary and mint: Trim the stems, wash, dry, and store in a glass jar with an inch of water at the bottom, and cover with a plastic bag. After 1 week, change the water. If using within a few days, washed herbs can be put in a re-sealable plastic bag and stored in the fridge. These herbs can be chopped a few hours in advance, if necessary, but will give you the best results if you cut as you go, and even better if you tear by hand. They can oxidize and lose flavor.
Basil, sage and chives: Wash these herbs as you need them (they will brown or wilt if done too far in advance) and chop as you go.
Certain fruits will never get eaten in my house unless I have done the work in advance (hello, pomegranates!). But many fruits are susceptible to oxidation and should be prepped as needed.
Apples: If slicing a few hours in advance, store in cold water to prevent oxidation.
Berries: Strawberries are the only berry you should wash or prep (hull, slice, or dice) in advance, and perhaps only 1 day ahead. Blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all best to wash as needed; otherwise they can become soggy or moldy.
Citrus: Can be peeled and segmented 3 to 4 days in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Grapes: Can be washed and stored 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator in an open container.
Melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), mangoes and pineapple: These can all be cut 3 to 4 days in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Pomegranate seeds: Can be stored 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines) and pears: Best to wash and prep these as needed.
4. Grains & Legumes
Quinoa, farro, rice, barley, millet, beans, and lentils can be cooked 3 to 4 days advance and stored in the refrigerator. You can also prepare these 2 to 3 months in advance and store them in the freezer. If preparing any of these from scratch, you can always make extra and freeze. Defrost in the refrigerator or countertop and reheat on the stove with a little water when ready to consume.
5. Salad Dressings
Salad dressings can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place in the kitchen. Dairy-based dressing should be refrigerated and will only last for a couple of days. If refrigerated, dressings made with olive oil will solidify. So, leave them on the counter for an hour to come to room temperature, and shake to re-emulsify.
Chicken and vegetable stock can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight or on your countertop for a few hours.
Most cheeses can be shredded or sliced up to 5 days in advance.
Precooked (poached or roasted) chicken is convenient to have on hand for casseroles, salads, soups, quesadillas and enchiladas. Cooked chicken can be stored for up to 2 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
9. Dry Mixes
If you want to bake a cake or make pancakes, for example, you can mix all the dry ingredients ahead and store in an airtight container at room temperature for a month (or two!).
10. HARD-BOILED EGGS
Cook and shock hard-boiled eggs in cold water (to stop the cooking process) and refrigerate for either 2 days peeled or up to a week unpeeled.
Anything that is to be assembled and then baked can usually be made up to the point of baking, and then refrigerated, covered, 8 to 12 hours in advance (or even the night before). Examples include baked ziti, mac and cheese, gratins, rice bakes and millet/quinoa casseroles.
Make marinades the day before you need them and store in the refrigerator. Marinate meats or fish according to the recipe.
Excerpted from Kitchen Matters: More than 100 Recipes and Tips to Transform the Way You Cook and Eat—Wholesome, Nourishing, Unforgettable by Pamela Salzman. Copyright © 2017. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
On – 21 Jun, 2017 By Pamela Salzman