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MINI MEAL PREP: How to!
They're small, but very, very mighty
Happy Monday, how’s it hanging in your kitchen? For me, because of some traveling, a couple work events, and some tight deadlines, the first half of October was a bit of a wash, cooking-wise. For the past three weeks, we’ve going out to dinner more than usual (fun for me, but not for my wallet), ordering in with a frequency I’m a bit embarrassed to admit (ditto on the sad wallet), and the fridge has been extremely bare (sad wallet and sad fridge!).
This weekend, the first we haven’t traveled in a few weeks, felt like a breath of fresh air—I made no plans other than to *get my sh*t together*—and actually followed through! Kitchen is clean, fridge is restocked, and I devoted yesterday afternoon to the topic of this newsletter: mini meal prepping!
First, let’s define the concept…what makes a meal prep mini?
Actually, I think it’s easiest to define what a mini meal prep is not. A mini meal prep is not prepping all of your food for the next 5-7 days. It is not spending 3-5 hours planning, cooking, and cleaning on a Sunday afternoon. It is probably not going to be packed away into your fridge in little bento-style lunch boxes to grab and go with. It’s mini, ya know?
Now that we know what mini meal prep is not, let’s talk about what it is; the reason it’s a bit hard to define is because the concept is broad and you can make what you want of it. I like to think of mini meal prep as any prep work I do to set myself up for an easier week ahead. Sometimes, this means I just prep breakfast for the week. Sometimes it’s getting some veggies chopped and put away in the fridge to be ready to cook later. Sometimes, I’m making one big batch of a single dish I can remix over the course of the coming week. And sometimes, like yesterday, I loosely plan a few easy dishes I know I can bang out in about an hour. Here’s what was on the menu for yesterday’s prep that took me just around an hour of hands-on time and maybe 30 minutes of cleanup:
Bacon-Stewed Homemade Beans
Balsamic Dijon Chicken Thighs
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Tahini Roasted Green Beans
Simple Roasted Cauliflower
Lemon-y Tahini Yogurt Sauce
Looking at this menu now, it might not seem so mini, but again, it only took me an hour! And it’s the perfect amount of food to mostly set me up for the first half of the week, with a little wiggle room for additions or nights out here and there. Small, but mighty!
So, let’s talk about how you can quickly plan and execute a mini meal prep like the one above in your own kitchen:
First, center your prep around one big batch one pot dish. Keep the volume on everything else to 2-4 servings. And plan the rest of the items on your menu to mix & match well with that big batch item.
The big batch one pot item in my prep above is the stewed beans. Everything else will be enough for Quentin and me for only one, maybe two meals. When working in smaller volumes, things will naturally go faster. But because the beans work well with rice, the chicken, over sweet potatoes, and with salad greens & our roasted veg, we’ll be eating them but not getting sick of them for at least three-four meals this week!
Keep knife work to a minimum.
Out of the six dishes and one sauce above, the only recipes that required any knife work were the stewed beans and the cauliflower (and if I’d purchased pre-cut cauli, I could have eliminated that knife work too). The chicken, green beans, and sweet potatoes all came together with almost no hands-on time and that was a joy! Knife work is time consuming. That’s the long and short of it.
Other ideas for dishes that require minimal-to-no knife work: regular baked potatoes, slaws (if you buy the pre-cut baggies at the grocery store), and for that matter, any roasted veggie if you’ve purchased pre-chopped veggies, bean and grain salads, overnight oats (if you wanna do breakfast), steamed snap peas or green beans, simple seared salmon. This list is long because when you put thought to it, there are so many dishes that don’t require a lot of cutting!
And relatedly, there are many time-consuming dishes to avoid (I mean, still cook these things, just not for a mini meal prep!) that might not use a lot of knife work, but are still very time-intensive: meatballs/burgers, stuffed items like stuffed peppers and dumplings, wrapped items like spring rolls and sandwich wraps, layered items like lasagnas.
Then, utilize the oven!
Most things that cook on the stove-top need a decent amount of tending to. Think roasted veggies, broiled meat options, and even braised larger cuts of meat! Now that it’s cooler in New York, I’m cranking the oven so I can spend less time stirring, and more time multitasking.
Speaking of multitasking…even though the meal prep is mini, you should still utilize a game plan. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, I give a brief definition here and go in depth on the concept in The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep. And if you have a lull in your cooking time, be sure to utilize it for some pre-cleanup.
Finally keep it simple, *silly.* But lean on easy sauces and marinades to amp up flavors.
The preparation of most of these items (other than the beans) is pretty simple. For the chicken thighs, I just marinated in an easy dijon/balsamic/maple/salt mixture then broiled for 12ish minutes. For the sweet potatoes and cauliflower, I just roasted with a little EVOO and salt for the cauli! The green beans got a little tahini/balsamic/maple treatment, then just got roasted. And the rice…I just steamed it! Those easy marinades go a long way to boost flavor and the yogurt tahini sauce really adds to any combination of these dishes and can turn into a salad dressing when thinned. Because of the simple marinades and easy sauce, I’m excited to eat these dishes!
Other ideas for easy sauces to add to your mini meal preps: first, you can always go store-bought. You know I’m a huge proponent of that! Whether or not I’m going homemade, I like pestos, hummuses, miso-mustard concoctions, and simple vinaigrettes to amp up the flavor for my mini meal preps.
Okay, I’d love to know, have you ever done a super quick mini meal prep like this? Would you try it? If you do, I’d love to hear what fun combos you come up with! As always, keep me posted by responding directly to this email with a comment or by hitting that reply button. You can also DM me over on Instagram. I love to chat and see what you’re up to over there!
Alright, we’ve covered it!
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,