Tips for meal prep (and life)

Standard

A while back I wrote some reviews about some meal planning services that we have tested in our household.  One of my main complaints in any of these meal prep services is that it just takes WAY too long to make the meals.  I’d spend many hours just trying prep everything and it basically meant that I’d be kissing an entire weekend day goodbye.

Well I’m back to say I was wrong–mostly because of this video (the first 2 or 3 minutes will give you the main idea):

In 5 minutes Jamie Oliver cooks a meal that would have taken me 45 minutes–no kidding. I watched that video and knew that my meal prep problems are not about the plans, or the recipes. The problem is that I don’t know what I’m actually doing when I am cooking.

So after watching this I started searching for other videos to teach me more.

The big takeaway for me is that it’s surprising how much easier things can be if you get some help, some coaching from experts. If you can hire an expert, that’s ideal. But you can always find great resources online through YouTube or in books (even for free from the library). You just need to seek it out.

My Takeaways

  • Learn from people who know what they’re doing
  • Learn how to use your knives well for cooking
  • Train yourself to think like a beginner when you’re trying something that’s hard

Why I do the CrossFit Open

Standard

I’m a little sore right now after doing the 17.1 workout for the CrossFit Open today.  It combined dumbbell snatches and burpee box jump-overs and right now I can definitely feel it in the muscles of my lower back.  I was even careful with my form, but I suppose that many reps was bound to do it.  Honestly, though, it’s really not bad.  I’m just bitchin’ and moaning here.

While I was warming up, though, I had a moment to make a choice. Do I do the workout as prescribed (with a 50lb dumbbell/24″ box) or scaled (35lb dumbbell/20″ box)?  The 50lb dumbbell would probably feel really heavy to me and the guy in front of me picking one up uttered an “Oh Jesus” on his way back to his wood box. I’m not the strongest guy in the box by a long shot so I said to myself there’s no shame in going scaled–which is 100% true.

However, afterward I thought about the workout and then wished I had gone with the prescribed weight.  I don’t participate in the Open to take the easy way out.  And the workout would not have been impossible.  Other workouts are beyond my skill level or way beyond the weight I can handle so it makes good sense to scale them.  But that wasn’t 17.1.

I may sound like I’m being unreasonably hard on myself, but I promise there’s more to this than a simple dumbbell choice.

It’s about the challenge

The reason I do CrossFit at all is because I want to deeply challenge myself.  Until a few years ago I didn’t realize how little grit I had.  It was easy to give up when things got tough.  It was easy not to start because I knew the road would be long. I didn’t do the hard things in life because it was way easier to avoid them.  The problem with all that, though, is that those choices make life boring, hollow and very lonely.

There’s a longer story here (which I need to write about soon) but it boils down to the fact that pushing myself to do hard things makes me a better person. Tackling a big project means more if it’s a project that might fail in the end. If it is a more sure thing then it has less value. And most of these things aren’t related to fitness, but our fitness ties together with all that we do in life. Our health is connected to all we do.

So I do the CrossFit Open because it’s a big challenge that ultimately makes me a better person.  Next time I’m looking at 17.1, I’m going to go with the 50lb dumbbell.

My brief review of PrepDish

Standard

Eating healthy is tough. It gets even tougher when your time is limited. In my journey toward becoming a fit and healthy I have sought out solutions to making healthy food for my family. That’s where meal planning services can be a huge help. I’ve tried a few of these services and the latest service I’ve been using for the last several months is PrepDish.

My wife first heard about PrepDish on Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast and we were so intrigued by what they do that we signed up that week.

Features

PrepDish’s philosophy is for you to go grocery shopping once and meal prep once for the week. Then, each day your dinners will involve minimal cooking before you sit down to eat.

When you sign up for PrepDish, you get weekly emails that deliver the menus. They offer a paleo and gluten free menu along with a “super fast” menu that intended to be used occasionally during those hectic, time pressed weeks. Each menu includes a shopping list as well as a set of instructions to guide you in preparing the food. Allison Schaaf, the chef and nutritionist behind PrepDish, will include tips in the email that give suggestions on making the prep easier, food substitutions (if needed) as well as link to resources or tools that she recommends.

The idea is that following PrepDish’s plan will allow you to get your meal prepping done and out of the way and not be stressed each night trying to get a meal ready for your family. That means saving time and even money if your default is to go out and eat at a restaurant when you don’t have enough time to cook.

Pros

As I mentioned above, I’ve been using PrepDish for several months now and I have experienced some great things using PrepDish.

Prepared menus

The main benefit I’ve experienced is that I haven’t had to plan out a menu in a while. Compiling recipes and putting together all the ingredients into a shopping list takes a while…and, let me tell ya, I’ve got things to do. Plus, we have enjoyed nearly every single meal we’ve created. My wife is fairly picky and she really likes the meals on the menu each week. Granted, lwe’ve only eaten off the paleo menu so I cannot speak to the gluten free food.

Trying new vegetables

I have NEVER prepared bok choy before signing up for PrepDish. And the same goes for many other vegetables. I just don’t know how to prepare them and PrepDish has “told” me to buy them and then gave me instructions on how to cook them. I think all those new veggies are a good thing for our health! PrepDish will introduce you to other vegetables in the store if you haven’t bought them before and you’ll greatly benefit from it.

A workflow to follow

As I mentioned above, the menus come with a workflow to follow when you start cooking and this is very, very helpful. I like to think of myself as a culinary moron and wouldn’t know how to make all this food unless someone told me and PrepDish has done just that.

Saved time mid-week

On those days when I pull the PrepDish meal out of the fridge and get it ready for dinner, I can truly enjoy the evening more. That has meant more time with the family and a good feeling that I ate a good, healthy meal.

Cons

Occasional typos

I’ve come across some typos in the menu here and there. It’s certainly not the norm but it can throw you off when the instructions tell you to chop the yellow onion and there was no yellow onion on the shopping list. During those few occasions I was able to pivot by using a substitution I had on hand or even skipping it altogether.

Gaps in recipes

I have had a times where I have kept food out during a prep day to find that it could’ve been refrigerated when I was done chopping or cooking. To me it wasn’t clear that those items were done. There have also been a few times when it wasn’t immediately clear to keep certain ingredients separated (e.g. chop the green onions but keep the green and white parts separate). I must say, though, that this has been improving quite a bit in the last few months. The menus have been more clear on this point lately.

Time investment

This one will probably depend a lot on your level of skill in the kitchen. PrepDish’s goal is for us to prep the week’s meals in about 2 hours. Personally I have never been able to get it done that quickly. My fastest time is about 4 hours and I’d say I average more around 5 hours. Then, when you factor in the trip to the store, I’ve spent about 6 hours prepping food for the week.

This has been a big problem because I feel like it uses up most of my Sunday, i.e. half my weekend. Being hunched over the counter that long starts to put my neck and upper back into knots. I even got burned out on the experience and took a few weeks off because I wanted my weekends back. However, I didn’t have another solution in place so I’m back to meal prepping, but I’m trying to work smarter this time. Again, skill level has a lot to factor into this so this might not be everyone’s experience.

Side note: The time killer for me (and probably everyone) is chopping and dicing the vegetables. One thing I’ve tried is to buy pre-chopped vegetables at the store. They do cost more, but the decision is going to be about what’s more valuable—your money or your time?

My kids

Again, this might be something unique to my situation, but I’ve had a hard time getting my 4 and 6 year old on board with some of the dinners. While they are absolutely delicious, I have a hard time getting my girls excited about last week’s asian glazed salmon; or thai lettuce wraps. I introduce them to the food, of course, but I wonder if the food is too fancy for my kids? They tend to like very basic, straightforward kinds of foods and, if I give in to their requests, I end up making a separate dinner for them.

I am very curious, though, how others’ experiences compare with mine here because I do acknowledge that my kids are particularly picky compared to others.

My Opinion

With all that being said, I have to say that PrepDish is a great meal prep service that will help you and your family eat healthy meals. And if you’re proficient in the kitchen you will save some time, too. In the months I’ve been making their meals, I‘ve seen their menus and emails get better and better. They are truly working to improve what they do. Recent posts on SnapChat have indicated that a new service is coming to PrepDish and I’m eager to see what they come up with. Choosing to use PrepDish will be a good decision for you to make.

5 tips that will make meal prepping a lot easier

5 Tips For Meal Prepping
Standard

1. Have a plan before you begin

They say failing to plan is the same as planning to fail and it’s no exception when you’re prepping your meals for the week.  If finding recipes and putting together shopping lists comes naturally to you, then you’ll want to map out the meals you want to prepare for the week and make your grocery list.

If you’re like me, you are not good at meal planning (or don’t have the time) and you’ll need some help.  There are some great meal planning services out there that will give you a weekly menu and shopping list.  Then you’ll just shop and then cook what they tell you.  There are several services to choose from, I’d recommend checking out eMeals, PrepDish and MealFit.  They’re some of the best I’ve seen so far and I’ve used all but MealFit (but I’m tempted every time I see their Instagram feed).

2. Get good, sharp knives

While you don’t need a huge assortment of knives in the kitchen, I definitely recommend investing in some good, sharp knives if you want to get serious about eating well.  We bought some mid-range Wusthof knives and I’ve loved them.  You don’t need a ton of knives, either.  If you don’t have any now I’d recommend a chef’s knife and a paring knife to start with.  That will take care of most of what you need to cut.

However, the key thing about knives is keeping their blades sharp.  Dull knives make meal prep longer and harder and I’ve even read that dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones. You can sharpen knives yourself with some sharpening tools, but there’s certain guidelines to sharpening knives so that you won’t ruin the blade.  So do your research first!  Personally, I’d rather get them sharpened by someone who knows what they’re doing.

3. Prepare your kitchen

Give yourself plenty of space

Preparing food in cramped areas just plain sucks.  You need space for your cutting boards, space for dishes holding your ingredients, or space for tools like crock pots or food processors.  You’ll just need some room.

Get out the tools and ingredients you’ll need

I have found myself in the middle of cooking something and then rushing across the kitchen looking for that one ingredient that I need RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW while whatever I’m cooking gets closer to burning. Get out the ingredients you’ll be using and the appliances you’ll need to use so that you’re not running around

Keep a trashcan close by

Going back and forth between the trash and where you’re preparing food takes time that really adds up.  I recommend getting a small trash can or even using a large bowl to put scraps in.  Some of the kitchen stores even have tailor made bowls for this.

4. Read through the recipes first

Mystery novels should surprise you, but recipes should not.  I cannot tell you how many times I failed to read through a recipe only to find that I needed to have something heated up or some ingredient chopped and I didn’t do it.  Then I’m RUSHING to catch up while my future dinner is about to catch fire.  Reading ahead can erase this surprise, make your food better, and even make you a better, less stressed person. Your family will thank you.

5. When possible, clean up as you go

While meal prepping should theoretically keep you moving without too many breaks, I could not more strongly urge you to clean up as much as possible as you go.  It will feel like every dish you own is dirty and that’s daunting after spending a few hours cooking for the week.  If you can manage to slip in some cleaning along the way, you will make life better in the long run…and your family will thank you.

What tips do you have for preparing meals?  Comment below to help us out!