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Test Driving: 1 Hour, 1 Week of Meals

27 Aug

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So I tried something a little crazy this week: Prepping an ENTIRE week of meals in just one hour. I was inspired by a video I saw on YouTube by blogger, Liezl Jayne. I’ve been posting a lot about self care lately since I’ve been very sick for most of the summer (allergies, cold, sinus infection, STAPH INFECTION), so health and wellness have been on my mind lately. If you know me at all or have been reading for a while, you know that I’m a little hippy dippy when it comes to medicine. I prefer to medicate as infrequently as possible and attack ailments with nutritional cures: lots of garlic, onion, lemon, vinegar, and chicken stock (made with bone broth) in soups.  As I just typed that, I realized that the way I used to eat before kids probably helped me avoid sickness because being so healthy nutritionally was largely preventative of sickness. Kind of like Kim Kardashian’s fitness mantra, that if you “Stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.”

This is probably why I am suffering so much lately: I don’t eat well. Although I’m home with my kids, they keep me BUSY. Making time for myself — even to eat — feels like a luxury. Most of my meals are scarfed down standing over the kitchen counter, on the run in the car, or in front of the TV at about 10 PM, after a day of unintentional fasting. I know I’m probably describing reality for a lot of parents. I’m a bit late to the #selfcare party, but something has to change.

I don’t know if I’ve posted about my “luxurious bath ritual” before, but I was so itchy and feeling so rundown toward the end of last week that the moment Brian got home from work, I did something I never do: I excused myself to the bathroom where I immediately drew myself a steamy bath and dumped in ALL the lavender Epsom salts I could find. Self care is obviously on my mind! I’ll elaborate more on my bath ritual, but until I can really devote the time it deserves, I’ll share my condensed summary:

I never understood the whole “relaxing into a bath” deal. The water cools so quickly, I’d get really bored, and I never felt clean after a bath versus a shower. Then I watched some famous YouTuber walk through her entire routine and I finally got it. We should all think of taking a bath the same way you’d think of getting a mani/pedi on the weekends, followed by brunch with girlfriends. It’s an event that you have to schedule and plan. When I’m feeling very, very stressed, I drag all the candles and potted green plants that we own into our tiny bathroom, dump all the Epsom salts or a blackberry Lush Bubble Bar into the tub, make all my favorite snacks, and settle in with my laptop open to YouTube.

Then I’ll binge watch all the frou frou stuff I haven’t made time for since I was a salaried 9-5er, like makeup tutorials, how to correctly do an arm balance (it’s a yoga thing), or mom-centric stuff, like how a mom of 7 grocery shops once a week in under 25 minutes. Aside: Seriously, videos like that help make my life easier, so I can’t tell you how much of my “Watch Later” YouTube playlist is devoted to stuff of this nature. I always joke to myself that I could probably run the world if I wasn’t endlessly Googling for answers to all these damn homemaking type questions that I’m inevitably responsible for — everything from stain removal to non-toxic cleaning product DIYs… but, I digress.

Anyways, during one of my YouTube walkabouts in the tub last week, I discovered this health-nut YouTuber who proclaimed she could meal prep an entire week’s worth of meals (plus snacks!) in just 1 hour. I practically leapt out of the tub to get a pen and pencil to make my grocery list.

Now I should throw out the caveat at the start that I didn’t buy all the same “quick” versions of things that she did; for example, I didn’t buy pre-cut bags of veggies to roast, I bought a variety of veggies that were on sale. My three “shortcuts” were boil in the bag quinoa, buying a pre-washed bag of kale, and using a bag of shredded baby carrots we already had in the veggie drawer. Additionally, I already had a bag of organic brown rice in my pantry as well as some mishmash of frozen smoothie stuff in my freezer, so I was able to makeshift some of this while trying to stay true to the spirit of the meals.

This plan appeals to me for so many reasons:

1. No mid-week meal prep

I hate having to think about and plan for meals every. single. day. It’s not that I don’t like to cook — my husband and I love to cook. But with two kids? Not so much. They’re good eaters, but pickiness comes with their ages. Every day is a balancing act of getting healthy food into them and introducing new stuff. You can imagine how the latter fares. It can be REALLY frustrating to prepare their meals only to have them pushed aside. Once they are fed, I’m usually too worn out to think of cooking anything too involved for us.

2. One hour

Enough said, right? For me, the time investment required to prep healthy stuff is the greatest obstacle in eating a plant-based diet. Carb-y foods are just easy! It’s hard to deny the convenience of an English muffin with peanut butter for breakfast instead of a bowl of steel cut oats. I have no issue grocery shopping with the girls and I LIKE veggies + fruits. But bringing it all together with two kids underfoot at the end of the day when they’re antsy to see dad, have dinner, and get to bed? That’s a no-win. Too often, food goes to waste in the fridge. Kale, for example. My daughter loves kale smoothies but to save some Benjamins, I tend to buy bunches of kale that then need to be washed, de-stemmed, and then worked into a smoothie. Did I mention she doesn’t like the loud sound of the VitaMix? And that the preferred smoothie recipe requires pre-frozen bananas and strawberries? t’s just hurdle after hurdle or things I need to have thought out ahead of time, which isn’t impossible — but… I’m only one person!

3. Weight Loss

Losing some lbs was actually the least appealing aspect of this plan, shockingly. One of my greatest struggles after my disdain for prepping meals and lack of time to do so, is portion control. I saw a nutritionist shortly after I graduated college and she immediately pinpointed that I not only reward myself with food and turn to food when I’m stressed as so many of us do, but worse still, I have an “all or nothing” attitude when I binge. I couldn’t have just a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, I had to eat the whole pint! And a family size bag of Peanut M&Ms!

I’ve tried tracking foods in an app to be more aware of caloric content, but I have a strong aversion to staring at my phone more than necessary, so I don’t like relying on apps on my phone.

Ultimately, as far as eating for weight loss, if I didn’t have to think about preparing all the healthy stuff I know I like, portion control and eating a wider range of food groups every day would be a breeze. The hurdle for me is just making myself do it every single day which is why this once/week plan is so intriguing.

So, how did my test drive turn out?

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Well, first and foremost, there is NO WAY this can be done in one hour. If you purchased shortcut versions of all the elements and then laid them out, mise-en-place style, maybe. But between all the veggie chopping, limited counter space, and owning to the fact that I only had two pots to boil, cook and steam in, and only two glass bowls for mixing, I actually prepped for four hours. I even had to make my own Italian herb mix using dried herbs from the garden, which sounds great and fresh and all, but probably took me an easy 15 minutes to grind up by hand. I mean, seriously.

From 7 PM to 11 PM, I sweated it out in my tiny kitchen, chopping all the vegetables for both the salads and the roasted veggies (which included getting the skin off a butternut squash and four beets — no easy task). Cooking the chicken on the stove top and the salmon in the oven was no issue, but just prepping these by trimming off the fat and then cutting to the correct portion size took time. I admit, I asked Brian to do the chicken because I was on my last legs by then.

I actually didn’t technically even finish all the preparation! It was about 9:45 PM when I finally got the chicken cooking on the stove, and then quickly made the breakfasts, (overnight oats) and then collected everything for assembly with the plan to bang out the last two components: the smoothies and the snacks, at some point today.

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The easiest bits

– Cooking the brown rice and quinoa
– Hard boiling the eggs
– Prepping the kale with olive oil and sea salt
– Prepping the overnight oats breakfasts
– Assembly (it was so fun!)

The hardest bits

– Chopping everything
– Roasting/tossing/babysitting large trays of veggies in a hot over wasn’t pleasant on a hot summer evening when you’re sans central air
– Managing with limited counter space and prep bowls

My advice for you (and for myself, next time)
– Buy precut veggies
– Ask for the salmon to be cut into 4 portions
– Choose just one grain
– Breakup the prep over a few days
(Freshness is key here, but I could have done all my veggie prep one day, but cooked it all the next)

What I learned


Kale: I never knew that kale needed to be “massaged” to break up its fibrous, leafy, deliciousness. A teeny bit of oil and sea salt: game changer.

Overnight oats: Are delicious. I never followed a recipe when I made them in the past so my wet to dry ratio and sweetness was definitely off. I had the banana yogurt overnight oats for breakfast this morning and am already fantasizing about the next time I can make it because it was absolutely beautiful.

Moderation: I cook with way too much olive oil. Most of the recipes in the video show careful measurement of a teaspoon at a time for things I’d normally just douse liberally with oil. I did find that the potatoes stuck a bit if I didn’t stay on top of turning them, but they also browned nicely too because they crisped up really well because I didn’t coat them to death. The more you know, right?

– Quinoa: For all my love of healthy foods, I could never get on board with quinoa. I’ve made myself try kombucha, for God’s sake! But quinoa — NOPE. I tend to privately roll my eyes when people talk about texture aversions to food, but quinoa always reminded me of the amaranth bird seed treats I used to feed my parakeet. But now? Since three or four of the lunches feature quinoa and look absolutely delicious, I’m realizing that my issue with quinoa was probably how bland and boring it is if it’s not dressed up. I had the quinoa/chickpea lunch today and LOVED it. I think it’s safe to say that I can totally tolerate this superfood when it features more like a sprinkle of sprouts in a “veggie bowl” than as a standalone side dish, like rice pilaf might. I like the way it added a bit of texture to the otherwise bland chickpeas of my salad, and also when I mixed it up in my dinner last night —  a mishmash of chickpeas, leftover brown rice and quinoa, roasted potatoes, and some of the leftover veggie mix.

Lemon: A squirt of lemon on fish has always been something I’d just done out of habit because Giada and Ina always seem to be doing it. I’d wring the lemon with all my might… then gag as I tasted an acidic forkful later. But in these lunch and dinner recipes? The lemon serves to preserve freshness. Duh. It is also is complemented by the oil that features on just about everything, from the veggies to the kale salad. It makes sense though — think about the standard DIY salad dressing: Oil + Vinegar. There’s something magical when you combine oil and acid.

Sea Salt: I’m not fussy or steadfast when I cook, I’ll sub in whatever I need to to make a recipe work so I can avoid a one-item pickup trip to the grocery store. Despite knowing it’s flavor benefits, I’d always subbed in regular salt when I didn’t have sea salt on hand, but I’m here to say to you: USE THE SEA SALT. I can’t explain the science here, but it does matter and you’ll taste the difference. Finally, salt (and seasonings) have helped preserve freshness since the Middle Ages — probably even before then. So salt it up!

Test Drive Verdict: A win!

It required a huge expenditure of effort on the heels of a long, tiring day but when I woke this morning and saw 14 containers of lunches and dinners ready to go, healthy, and just simply DONE, I felt such a sense of peace, calm, and order.

If only for that, I’d definitely consider taking this challenge on again. Maybe next time I’ll attempt to double my efforts to prep enough for two adults. I think Brian was a little jealous. And even Emilia asked to have my overnight oats with yogurt this morning.

 

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