Note: This is the 2nd of a 3-Part Series of articles designed to jump-start your Real Food Journey. In the 1st article of this series, I outlined a strategy for shopping along the perimeter of the grocery store as a way to fill your cart with Real Food (and avoid ultra-processed junk). This article is about the concept of Batch Prepping as a way to break the time limitation and cooking aversion barriers to eating Real Food.
Lack of time is a common barrier to eating Real Food. Shopping, meal planning, meal prep, budgeting, etc. This all takes time, but are necessary components of a Real Food lifestyle.
And I'll be brutally honest (Side note: brutal honesty is one of my superpowers). Preparing your own meals at home is THE most effective way to eat Real Food. YIKES!!! Now I get that this may be a scary thought for the cooking-averse. But please don't run away because I have an idea that may ease your anxieties.
When I started my journey, I read numerous articles advising to "batch cook" meals to save time during the week and stay on track with eating Real Food. Batch cooking is the practice of preparing most or all of your weekly meals and snacks in 1 day. Sounds easy peasy, right? Gotta admit though -- while I followed this practice for many years, I was never happy about it. Hardly easy and something I learned to dread.
Now, I LOVE cooking, but I HATE homework. And batch cooking, especially on weekends, was homework. Great for those who can do this and be happy. I've read so many Blog entries by folks who are serial batch cookers and loving life. So I stand in awe, I really do. Batch cooking just did not work for me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And I started getting a complex about it.
Batch cooking took hours. Not sure what I was doing differently. I followed the sample meal plans & recipes to a tee. Yet, it still took way more time than I expected. I don't consider myself an inefficient person. And I am a fairly adept home cook. But for some reason, I just never found that supercharged batch cooking gear.
Maybe it was all psychological because of my homework issues. Be that as it may, whatever the root cause, this mental block with batch cooking became a barrier that sometimes derailed my plan to eat Real Food. If I relented and didn't batch cook, I either found myself frustrated and stressed as I scrambled to prepare meals during the week. Or just raised the white flag of surrender and ate food that was less than Real and not at all satisfying.
Then I decided to shift gears to something more my speed. I focused on batch prepping veggies. So rather than complete meals, I prepared the building blocks that could easily be transformed into meals throughout the week. And Ta-Da! Batch Prepping veggies was a key ingredient to my Real Food success.
For most people -- and this was certainly true for us -- veggies are the hardest transition to make when trying to Get Real. Which is why I recommend focusing on these ingredients first. Then if you have the time or desire, go ahead and batch prep some proteins (meat or vegan, whatever you prefer). By working in stages, this approach allows some breathing room and eases the barriers associated with batch cooking.
Here is a video to give you an idea of what I mean by Batch Prepping:
REAL FOOD TOOLBOX TIPS:
Time: The total time for batch prepping all of the veggies in the video was just over 2 hours! And this included the cleanup time. So I'm all over this batch prepping thing.
Strategy: Notice how batch prepping mirrored the "Prioritizing Produce" concept in the Perimeter Shopping article posted last week. This prioritization also works as a strategy:
- As a hardy green, kale is the most versatile of any of those veggies. So I opted not cook the kale. Instead prepped by massaging with some EVOO and light seasonings. This way I can use the kale in salads or cooked (as shown in a photo of scrambled eggs shown below).
- I recommend sauteing tender greens to prolong its life throughout the week. When cooked, the greens are now versatile. Can be used in eggs or as a substantial side dish (see photos below), or soups. Lots of ways to use tender greens if they last long enough :-)
- I also recommend roasting root veggies for depth of flavor and again -- versatility. Gosh, I hope you're not tiring of this concept because if you haven't noticed, versatility is a recipe for Real Food success. You can enjoy these roasted treats diced, smashed, or souped.
Multi-Tasking Tip: Before getting started, take a few moments to map out an efficient plan. In this video, I started & ended with roasted root veggies. In between I chopped the chard and kale. Then prepped as shown in the video. Learning to be efficient is a skill that will take time. So if you don't finish in 2 hours or so, no worries. You're not being graded. Do the best you can. You'll get there soon enough.
Just Breathe: I found batch prepping to be liberating and eliminated the psychological barrier of homework.
But if batch prepping still seems like a chore, try this:
- Set a timer for 1 hour.
- Batch prep as many veggies as you can.
- If you're not done when the timer goes off. Take a few moments to catch your breath. Then gauge whether you want to push on to the finish.
- If not, no worries. Repack the remaining veggies until you are ready for another 1 hour batch prep session. It may be easier to work in 1 hour chunks, than a longer block of time.
- And for heavens sake, this is not homework. If you can't bear to go back an batch prep more, don't. At least you have some building blocks. As you keep honing your skills, you'll become more efficient. Yes - patience is a virtue -- as long as you keep trying.
Freestyle Cooking: I rarely have a plan how I'll use these veggies throughout the week. Crazy as this may sound, I find this a relief because there's flexibility with building blocks. If I come home during the week and don't feel like cooking or preparing a meal or researching a recipe, I can just eat these prepped veggies. I may still research recipes as the week progresses for ideas of how to use these veggies in meals. But with prepped veggies, I have a head start. Rather than starting from scratch.
Now here is a slideshow to demonstrate how I used these building blocks throughout the week to prepare meals and save time doing it. Best of all - I ate Real Food all week :-)
All I did throughout the week to create a meals was prepare some protein. Some meals involved cooking, as with the eggs and ground beef for the breakfast. And some were simply assembled, like the kale & tuna salads. I just layered ingredients, dressed with mayo and opened a can. Hey - maybe this Real Food lifestyle may not be so hard after all??
Has lack of time (and energy) been a barrier to your Real Food journey? Try batch prepping veggies. It can be an effective & stress-free way to get back on track with your goals.
MINI-CHALLENGE for accountability as you practice the skill of batch prepping:
batch prep the veggies you bought while perimeter shopping. Feel free to start slowly by setting a timer for 1 hour at a time. But give it a go. Take photos of the meals you prepare throughout the week. And please Post Comments to let us know whether this was an effective tool for your Real Food Toolbox.
Post Script: Next week I’ll post Budget-Friendly ideas to stay on track with your Real Food Goals. So please visit here again, and in the meantime Stay Engaged and Keep Eating Real!