There is one thing that almost every diet (vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic…) agrees upon:
We should all be eating more vegetables!
As a busy mom, I understand that veggies can take extra prep work and have longer cooking times than other side dishes. On top of that, I think every mom has felt the pain of working hard to prepare a new veggie, only to have everyone pass on it and for it to end up in the trash. I am going to share what I’ve learned about getting veggies cooked efficiently, on the table, and used up by the end of the week.
The vegetable “crisper” is a graveyard for produce
If I just put my veggies in the crisper drawer, probably 50% of them end up going straight to the compost bin at the end of the week. That is why, if possible, I need to prepare my veggies BEFORE they go into the fridge. I looked up the numbers, and my experience is not unusual. Estimates are that half of our fresh produce ends up thrown away. That’s a pretty sad number. We put a lot of resources into growing food, so I’d much rather have it go in my belly!
Produce tastes best when it is cooked fresh
It wasn’t until I started reading An Everlasting Meal that I considered how much better my produce tasted when I prepared it the same day that I brought it home. The beautiful carrots from the farmers’ market were limp and soggy after just a few days in the fridge. However, if I came home and roasted them, we could eat them that day or reheat them sometime over the next few days. They tasted even better after being roasted, and the texture was still just as great as if I’d eaten them the first day.
Preparing and cooking in batches saves time and energy
Sitting down and peeling squash or chopping broccoli can be a pain, especially if it is the only thing I’m cutting. If I, instead, cut and roast all of my veggies at the same time, I am able to save both my own energy (less clean up and time spent throughout the week) and household energy (from only running the oven once for all of my veggies.)
My Veggie Prep Routine
The first thing that I do is preheat my oven to 375, and prepare my veggies to roast. Pretty much everything gets diced up, tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper before I cook it. Then I sprinkle on any other herbs that I want.
I like to group my veggies by the size/shape that I cut them, and then I roast them together. That helps keep the cooking times similar.
This week I had parsnips and celeriac, which I cut into sticks and roasted together in a pan. I also had a big batch of carrots, which I coined and roasted in a second pan. Then I had a romanesco and broccoli, which seemed to work well in a pan together, so they were my third pan. I also had leeks and potatoes, which I diced up and roasted in a fourth pan. These four pans all fit in my oven at once, and were all happy at the same temperature. I threw in whole sweet potatoes that I had as well, and my oven was pleasantly full. About an hour later, I had veggies ready to go for the week.
While all of my roasted veggies are cooking, I wash, chop, and put my greens in a container. Having my greens already washed and chopped means that I am SO much more likely to use them throughout the week. For a long time, I bought bagged greens, because I found that I was more likely to make a salad, toss them in a soup, or whip them into a smoothie if I had them ready to go. Now I do that for myself, and the taste is so much fresher than the bags at the store.
By the time my veggies come out of the oven, I can have the kitchen cleaned up and the bulk of my work done for the week. I love that. I toss the finished veggies in mason jars, and I am good to go!
Having veggies prepared means you eat more of them
I am a homeschooling mom to four kids, and we have a full schedule. If I have food ready to go in the fridge, it is easy to reheat what I have and make a healthy lunch. If I don’t, it is far more likely to be a day of gluten-free sandwiches and fruit…. maybe with a pre-made Trader Joe’s salad, if I had the forethought to buy one.
On the other hand, if I have veggies already made, I can pretty much guarantee that we will eat them with every meal. You don’t even need to heat them up. They make excellent salads at room temperature, and can easily be tossed in anything from eggs to rice or noodles to make for an instant meal.
Near the end of the week, I simply take the vegetables that I haven’t used, and toss them in a soup. Sometimes I make smooth soups. Other times I just add them to stock, throw in some kind of meat, and let it all simmer together. Herbs make anything better, so I just experiment and see what happens. Homemade stock is obviously great to have around, but sometimes I cheat and use organic vegetable broth cubes. They are good in a pinch, when my soup needs just a little more flavor.
Kids eat food they see often
I had a revelation when I read French Kids Eat Everything, I considered the culture of food in our house. The truth is that we hadn’t done a great job at making new foods exciting (as opposed to scary) and we didn’t offer them nearly enough times before we gave up. Research indicates that you need to offer a food up to 15 times before you expect a child to eat it. Having vegetables around, all of the time, is one of the keys to getting kids to try them and eat them. They need to see you eating and enjoying them.
I Want to Hear From You!
Which time-saving meal prep tips have helped you? I am always looking for new inspiration as I strive to make our family as healthy as possible!