Classic Meal Prep: What it is, and who should use it:
What is meal prep?
Meal prepping is something you’ve probably seen on Pinterest, or heard about from your sister who said it was “life changing.” Or maybe you’ve tried it yourself. But if you’re here, that probably means that it didn’t work for you very well. Classic meal prep consists of devoting each weekend to creating pre-portioned meals that have similar ingredients and lasting fridge lives.
The issues in classic meal prep are apparent in people who practice “intuitive eating”, whether that’s a conscious practice or not. If you’re the kind of person who finds joy in satisfying cravings as they arise, classic meal prep can unfortunately lead to a lot of food waste. You’re only meal option is what you had planned, no matter if you want it now or not. So if you end up making something that’s more appealing at the moment, that food–likely already nearing the end of its shelf life–will go to waste. And we’re not fans of waste here at Boiled Wheat.
Who should use it?
There are times when this rigidity can be helpful, however. When starting a new a dietary lifestyle (gluten-free, vegan, etc.), it can save you a lot of headache. Chances are, when you are just beginning one of these changes, you aren’t used to cooking with the limited or different ingredients available to you. This can lead to hungry evenings or, even worse, breaking the newly formed habit. If you have each meal carefully planned and prepared, you’re not going to be faced with a Thursday evening and no ingredients to make a dinner that fits your guidelines. Eventually, after the lifestyle has become normal to you and your grocery shopping and cooking are natural habits, you can ease out of the rigid preparation and eat more intuitively.
The rigidity of classic meal prep is also helpful when participating in a strict, short-term diet. I am generally not a supporter of fad diets or anything that promises to change your body quickly. But if you’re committed to the idea of the diet, you will find much more success and much less temptation in pre-making each and every meal.
Part Time Meal Prep: What it is and why I use it:
What is part time meal prep?
It’s probably pretty obvious, but part time meal prep is simply meal prepping at 50%. Or 40%, or 30%…. really whatever you want. Part time meal prep consists of freezer meals, instead of fridge meals, to be eaten at any time you don’t have a plan. Instead of having a plan A for every meal (and only a plan A), part time meal prep offers a plan B, C, and D, patiently awaiting you in your freezer. This system of meal prep is something you don’t even have to think about other than the few designated days you set aside to make your dishes. Which, by the way, can be as many or as few as your energy levels and freezer capacity allow. You simply cook when and what you want, according to your cravings and budget.
Then when a crazy day arrives, leaving you with no time and a hankering for takeout, you’re freezer has you covered.
Many people already do this, in a form. By storing Stouffer’s lasagnas and mini pot pies in the back of their freezers for a rainy day. This is simply the homemade version, where you have full control. This system can be a huge money-saver for those on special diets as well. If you’re a vegan and life happens, and you don’t have time to cook– you better live in Los Angeles, because that’s practically the only place in the country with vegan delivery. Sometimes it’s more out of necessity than convenience, but either way, part time meal prep can be a great option.
Why do I use part time meal prep?
Well I’m not a vegan. And I definitely don’t eat gluten free. So why did I start this? I work from home now, which means I have plenty of time every day to cook meals for myself and my partner, right? Unfortunately, no. In an ideal world, I’d have four hours set aside for gourmet dinners each night. Seriously. I would love that. And sometimes I do get to indulge in that capacity, and most nights I do make a new meal from scratch. However, I’m a victim of life just like everyone else. Sometimes, deadlines creep up faster than expected, or I over schedule myself, or I’m just too tired.
This really all began because, in those moments, ordering a pizza usually sounded downright awful.
I’m not a food snob (I promise, I’m not). I eat junk all the time, and I thoroughly enjoy it. But just because I’m too busy to cook doesn’t mean I’m craving junk at that moment. Very often when I’m too busy to cook, I’m craving a giant, steaming bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Or fresh, tender dumplings. Sometimes I want pizza, but often it’s an artisan pizza with aged, Neapolitan crust. I LIVE for food, guys. I want what I want when I want it. And I’m kind of a drama queen when I know I could have eaten better and didn’t. So I wanted a system where I could have tokotsu ramen when I was craving it, without spending 18 hours boiling pork bones.
Thus, I created a meal prep system based on retaining original qualities of a fresh dish, sacrificing nothing. And storing it all in the freezer.
How do I do my Part Time Meal Prep?:
How do I pick my meals?
When choosing what foods you want to keep for those busy days, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first thing you should be thinking of are your craving patterns. What are the different foods you crave often? I wrote down a looong list of my favorite meals, focusing on the foods I want after I’ve had a long day. Try to pick the most diverse foods from that list, (I tried to pick dishes from at least 5 different countries). Then break those down by what freezes best– but think outside the box. Obviously, a prepared bowl of ramen or pho, with cooked noodles, greens, and toppings is going to freeze horribly. I don’t even want to think about what a thawed bowl of fully-prepared ramen would look like. But if you separate some ingredients, it can work wonderfully.
What foods work best?
Many meals (like a lot of Asian soups) can be broken down and frozen in parts. Luckily, the parts that take the longest to make are usually the ones that freeze the best. Broths, pre-cut and cooked meats, pre-cut vegetables (no delicate greens though), and fresh noodles (not cooked or dried) all freeze well when kept separate. Leafy greens and delicate toppings like eggs or sprouts can be prepared quickly and added at the end.
I also consider meals that may not freeze well when cooked, but could freeze well when fully assembled, and then cooked after thawing. Most Asian dumplings are perfect this way. All of the tedious prep work can be done ahead of time, then when you’re ready to cook, you can steam them straight from the freezer. Serve with some plain rice or miso soup, and you’ve got a delicious, healthy, well-rounded meal.
The last foods to think about are the ones that can be frozen as a fully-assembled, fully-cooked, complete package. A lot of Hispanic foods are this way. Tamales, taquitos, burritos, etc. They’re complete, individual meals that go straight from the freezer, to the microwave, to your mouth. This concept applies to larger dishes like casseroles as well, but aren’t in single-serving form, so they can only be used once.
Making your fridge and freezer work together:
I also like to keep individual ingredients that take a long time to prepare, but are flexible in application, as partial freezer meals that can work with what I keep in the fridge. My fridge contains produce, eggs, cheese, condiments, and a few bread items on occasion. As well as nut and seeds that are used sparingly enough that they could go rancid if kept in the cupboard. I like to cycle through my regular produce fairly quickly, and use those prepped freezer ingredients as a means to complete meals. I know that the foods I make most often are inspired by four places: Japan, Mexico, France, and Italy. So my grocery list always contains the basic produce and condiment needs for those cuisines. And the partial freezer meals, or individual ingredients (usually meats), are meant to work together with those fresh items.
My freezer usually contains shredded pork shoulder cooked in onion, garlic, and salt. I can take a portion of that pork and add chilis, mexican spices, and salsa for instant pork tacos (topped with the cabbage and sour cream that I always keep in the fridge). Or a portion of that meat can be enhanced with French flavors, then added to a stew or soup (using carrots, kale, celery, potatoes, or parsley– all which have a home in my kitchen). We could also go the Japanese route and use the frozen pork in a stir fry with bell peppers, cabbage, and rice noodles.
Ideas for your Part Time Meal Prep:
Meals that require assembly:
- Tonkotsu Ramen
- Shoyu Ramen
- Tom Yum Soup
- Dashi broth (for miso soup)
- Vietnamese Pho
- Spaghetti Sauce (cook pasta separately)
- Chicken ‘n’ dumplings
- French onion soup
- Zuppa Toscana
- Pasta y Fagioli (cook pasta separately)
- Bahn Mi
- Tortellini in sauce (make and freeze sauce separately)
Meals that require cooking:
- Japanese Gyoza
- Soup Dumplings
- Har Gow
“Complete Package” meals that only require heating:
- Pork Bao
- Savory hand pies or “pasties”
- Chile Relleno
- Mini Calzones
Premade ingredients to keep in your freezer:
- homemade pastas
- pulled pork
- dashi broth
- pre-cut vegetables (peppers freeze well)
- chopped kale or cabbage
- thinly sliced beef (uncooked)
- chicken broth cubes
- beef broth cubes
- Thinly sliced chicken (precooked, for pastas, salads, etc.)
- Cooked and crumbled bacon (for pastas, salads, potatoes, etc.)
If you’ve gotten this far, I commend you. I hope you found a little bit of inspiration in this post, and if you have any more ideas for freezer meals, please leave them in the comments and I can add them to the post!