It’s a new month, which only means one thing: a new monthly challenge! As the calendar turns to May and we say goodbye to the first third of 2016, old man Winter has tried to show his face one last time here in DC. After highs in the mid 80s last Tuesday, the weekend was nothing but cloudy and cool with that winter feel rather than filling the air with that spring rain smell.
Alas, my spirits would not be compromised (plus, I’m actually a fan of winter, but don’t tell anyone). With so much happening this weekend, I have been focused and determined not only to start something new this month, but to inspire you to join me in this challenge. Some challenges, like last month’s meditation challenge, can seem slightly less than in your wheelhouse, but this month is quite the opposite.
Do you eat? Great! This challenge is for you.
Do you like saving time and money? Great! This challenge is for you.
Whenever I find an opportunity to build a new habit that combines healthier living with saving time and money, it seems senseless not to take action. For the next 4 weeks (and beyond), I will be joining a group of proud hash-taggers and health nuts already killing the #mealprepsunday game.
Meal Prep? What's that?
This is where you dedicate a morning, afternoon or evening (whatever your preference) on a Sunday or Monday (feel free to choose any day that suits you) and prepare all of your meals for the entire week. Sound daunting? Of course it does. We’re talking about cooking anywhere from 14-21 meals per person in your household in one day. I would be a bit concerned if you weren’t initially intimidated.
Remember though, you’re here because you want the discomfort. You know when you put yourself against adversity, you’ll come out on top every time and grow exponentially as a person. This challenge will do exactly that. You will save time and money, and take on healthier eating habits all at the same time.
THE GAME PLAN
Most of the time when I write the first post of a new month, I give an overview of how I see things shaping up over the course of the next thirty days and you have to wait until the next week to see how things are progressing. This month is different. Since meal prepping is only going to happen on Sundays for me, there was no reason to delay.
I started off by ordering some glassware last week, so I would have tight sealing, high volume (in number not so much size) containers to store all of the meats and vegetables my fiancée (Morgan) and I would be preparing. I’ll dig into the fun we had in a moment, but let’s say the biggest mistake we made this Sunday was not having enough baking pans.
Going into this, I wasn’t sure how much time we would be devoting to this experiment, but the pros seem to get things done in about 3-4 hours. What the pros don’t have to deal with are a studio apartment sized kitchen without a dishwasher, so that was definitely a concern.
When it was all said and done, we spent around five hours cooking and two hours cleaning, but I also managed to do the laundry and clean the bathroom and write this post. So, the biggest thing you want to do before setting out on a day of cooking is to plan, plan, plan.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
I spent quite a bit of time researching strategies, recipes, and Tupperware last week in order to make Sunday go as smooth as possible, but as expected, there were a few bumps.
My journey began over at fitmencook.com, which is seriously great, so go check that out. I happened upon the website when looking for suitable meal storage and although I didn’t opt for his recommendations (I wanted to avoid plastic), I stayed for the great meal planning content. I’m a bit envious of his fridge organization and all of the beautiful colors and I have made it one of my goals to achieve the same appearance as some of my older fridge items fade away.
I liked what was happening at fitmencook.com so much that Morgan and I chose our biggest recipes (3 way chicken and chicken meatballs with tomato sauce and zucchini) for our first meal prep extravaganza from this site. Ok, so I like the site, you get that. Let’s move on.
Morgan and I did our shopping Saturday night and picked up the following food items (plus some specialty items):
- 6 pounds of chicken
- 2 pounds of ground chicken
- 1 pound of turkey bacon
- 1 pound of salmon
- 3 large zucchinis
- 3 sweet potatoes
- 8 red potatoes
- 10 vine tomatoes
- 2 heads of broccoli
- 1 red onion
- 8 carrots
- 1 pound of spinach
- 1 lemon
- 4 kiwis
- 2 limes
- 6 ounces of goat cheese
- 8 ounces of Greek yogurt
- 6 apples
- 3 pears
- 1 pound of strawberries
- panko bread crumbs
- old fashioned oats
- almond milk
- dozen eggs
Whew! So, what did that run us? Due to some specialty items like coconut sugar, stevia, and spices, we were a few bucks shy of $200. Remember, this is literally everything we will be eating for an entire week, and as we found out post-cooking, we’ll have quite a bit of chicken for next week, too! As we build our skills buying in bulk, while planning out our portions, we will find a more consistent budget target, but we can already tell we’ll be reducing our monthly food bill (I track our finances diligently, so the comparison is easy).
A DAY OF COOKING
The day started with me preparing the chicken and Morgan chopping the vegetables. After cutting up six pounds of chicken and mixing them in three different seasoning/sauce combinations, it all went in the oven for 20 minutes, and I did my first bit of dish cleaning.
After the chicken came out, I transferred the larger pan of chicken to my glassware, cleaned the pan as my foil had failed me, and got the salmon seasoned and in the oven. While the salmon baked, I cleaned a bit more, and waited about 10 minutes for the salmon to finish.
After transferring the salmon off the single large baking sheet, I mixed the vegetables in some olive oil, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and into the oven it went. While the vegetables roasted, I was ready to make my first big mistake.
Not paying attention to how much quinoa we bought Saturday night and how much we already had in the apartment (spoiler alert: we didn't have any), I planned on cooking 4 cups of quinoa in 8 cups of water. Pouring in the two cups from the one box we bought the night before, I frantically searched for the imaginary second box. Once I realized my mistake, I tried to salvage myself by pouring out four cups of water and transferring the quinoa (which had already soaked up a bunch of water) to a smaller pot.
Once it was all said and done, thanks to the improvisation performed by Morgan, we managed to end up with an edible product for our Sunday lunch and six of our meals this week. We'll have to prepare more midweek, but that's way better than having nothing.
While the quinoa debacle was in progress, the roasted vegetables were finishing up along with the asparagus I was cooking on the stovetop and everything was ready to transfer to the glassware. Each container has a portion of chicken/salmon, quinoa, and roasted vegetables/asparagus (check out the final results at the end).
After wrapping the extra chicken in individually portioned foil packets, round one of cooking had ended. The next hour or so was spent cleaning, which was followed up by some R&R (a.k.a. the Saint Louis Blues playoff game was on and I wanted to watch it, sue me).
During the first intermission of what was an eventual win for the good guys, I cleaned the bathroom while Morgan whipped up some Maple Coconut Oil Zucchini Muffins that has become a staple in our household. These will act as a fail safe for Morgan's breakfast options as she also experimented making some overnight oats.
As the day flirted with that weird time between being considered the evening versus still being the afternoon, Morgan and I began our last recipe (those chicken meatballs mentioned earlier), which was also our dinner for the evening. I mixed together the meatballs, while Morgan cut the tomatoes up with our less than great chef's knife (new one is coming today!) and shredded the zucchini.
The meatballs and sauce cooked at the same time and about 20 minutes later, the cooking was finally complete. After it was all said and done, we had 9 lunches and dinners ready to go, the second helping of vegetables chopped and ready for roasting midweek, meatballs, sauce, and zucchini ready for quick preparation, 12 muffins, two servings of overnight oats, and around 12 portions of chicken going into the freezer. The one item missing is my breakfast items. My breakfast is going to consist of freshly cooked eggs, turkey bacon, and spinach.
I spent last week experimenting with baking cheese, spinach, and eggs in a muffin pan and reheating two servings each morning, but the lack of freshness was a bit of a turn off. Plus, cooking breakfast each morning is a great way to start my day, and makes me much more productive at work.
Man, what a day! I really, really want you to take on this challenge yourself and see what benefits you will encounter, but if you want to wait until next month, while learning from my mistakes, I'll give you a pass until June. In the meantime, check out the pictures I'll be sharing over on Instagram @yourpenpaul and gain some extra motivation!