Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Everyone loves eating but cooking nourishing meals 3 times a day, and possibly feeding a whole family, can often seem quite time consuming and a little overwhelming. So that’s why I’m sharing my favourite food prep tips that don’t just save time but make meal time easier, while helping us eat really well.
1. UTILISE YOUR OVEN
I like to time roasting and baking things together. When the oven is already on it just makes sense to cook a whole bunch of things at once, plus it saves on time (waiting for the oven to heat, and electricity) It’s all about smart multitasking!! On days where I’m more at home, cleaning or doing work (or even at night once dinner has been cooked), I’ll add something else in and set my phone timer to remind me when it’s done. These are some of my favourites to cook in the oven! I cook most things in a pre-heated oven at 180c on the middle rack. It can be tricky to know the exact time these need to cook so just check the first time you make them as everyones ovens are a little different and the veggies always come in different sizes and shapes.
- Sweet potatoes
Just wash and keep them whole, that’s it! I know, it sounds too simple! Just pop them on some grease proof paper – always make extra of these! Just store in a container in the fridge. I use them in my ‘choc fudge cookie recipe’, for mash, cubed in nourish bowls, for breakfast cook ups (in the pan with garlic and nutritional yeast!) or bread toppers as a mash / spread with avocado. You can blend them and make soups or use them for baby food. They’re good friends with cumin powder and hommus too!! Just slice into rounds (for this you can gently pan fry them on each side to reheat them. (Nb: If the sweet potato is overcooked sugary liquid will leak from it. The sweet potato is still fine to eat, just cook it less next time.) You can find this 'Stuffed Sweet Potato' recipe is here.
Clean and trim the top off, keep whole (then peel the skin off) or cut into cubes. Pop on a tray and cook till tender. * Pierce both the beets and sweet potato with a knife to check when they’re done. I use these to make my ‘beetroot dip’, in brownies or cakes – give a rich earthy taste and great colour, cut into wedges in my ‘beetroot, walnut, feta salad’, in nourish bowls cut into pieces, sliced finely on burgers or in wraps, or as is with balsamic, olive oil and salt. They’re great for blood building and they benefit the liver too. Our liver needs all the love we can give it – it does such an amazing job, everyday. If you have some with the green tops still on slice these and cook with coconut oil, salt and garlic (powder or fresh)! The greens are really delicious and nutrient dense.
Keep it in the husk and just add to a tray. It really doesn’t get any easier than this!! Plus the taste is incredible. The husk protects the corn from drying out and enhances the flavour so much, and cooking it this way makes it easy to eat. Just cut off the kernals in bigger strips then break them up, use in Mexican dishes, salsas, burger patties, make an avocado mash with it for breakfast, add it to nourish bowls or just peel off the husk once they’re done and roll in a little oil then rub in salt and spices or fresh herbs to eat off the cob – Asian street style. You can also rub the oil and spices in first while its still raw the close up the husk again and cook it that way.
In most cases I’ll keep the skin on because its really delicious, high in fibre and nutrients, and the colour and texture is beautiful in meals (choose organic and wash off any dirt). I love the JAP pumpkin best – cut into wedges or wedges then into smaller chunks and add a little coconut oil and good salt and roast till golden. I use pumpkin a lot – and its easy to reheat in a pan if cooking it in advance. Use it in nourish bowls, for pumpkin mash, pumpkin dip, my ‘apple + pumpkin overnight steel cut oats’ (amazing – this will be in the upcoming recipe ebook), veggie salads with quinoa, puree to use for pasta sauces (or just add the pieces to the other sauce ingredients and it will break apart naturally to create a perfect textured sauce), and in veggie lasagnas, as a bread topper for breakfast (with avo, tahini, roasted pepita seeds, good olive oil and salt + pepper!) or add to browned onion and garlic to make a soup.
Having these veggies prepped is so convenient and takes a lot of pressure off. I use these (except corn) for Zahli’s meals too (my fur baby) and if I want an easy dish I’ll just add some greens like kale, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, my ‘nut seed cream’ and hot sauce to make an instant and amazing meal.
- Mixed Roast Vegetables:
A big tray of roast veggies is so comforting and tasty and there are countless options to change it up. Make these in advance then use for nourish bowls, cooked brekkies (add things like potato and pumpkin to pan with some garlic and fresh herbs), add some beans and wrap bread and make a veggie style burrito, blitz to make a great soup or add a jar of pasta sauce and fresh roquette for a great pasta dish. You can add fresh pesto’s, aiolis or just drizzle with your favourite oil and good seasoning. (There’s a recipe in my free ebook on my website for easy and exciting roast veggies with parsley pesto.)
The important thing to remember when utilising our oven is that you can multitask – just set the timer and have a shower or self care ritual, clean the house, do some computer work or play with your kids or pets, listen to a podcast, do some yoga or read a book. You are literally making a meal with love while also doing any of these things.
2. FREEZERS ARE OUR FRIEND
There are so many things we can store in the freezer and it’s a great way to always have things on hand. It’s also a great way to save money, buy bulk and buy great produce when its abundant and in season. Ofcourse its important to have lots of fresh foods so try incorporating some of these with fresh meals.
I freeze any leftover herbs or ones that are not going to be used in time. Drier herbs like rosemary and thyme keep really well frozen. Just break off leaves to use when you’re cooking – straight from the freezer – don’t wait for them to defrost. I keep the root ends of coriander, kaffir lime leaves (and the kaffir lime cut into ¼’s) and curry leaves for making Asian meals. Cut lemongrass stalks into smaller pieces and freeze. Ginger and chillies are important staples to always have on hand – freeze and when ready to use grate ginger and slice chillies while still frozen. To use up other more leafy herbs like parsley, basil and coriander – blitz them up as is or with lemon juice and freeze the paste in ice cube trays. Once frozen you can break them out and transfer them to a container. You can use these in soups, stews or sauces.
- Citrus fruits
I love lemons and use them a lot in cooking and also in a hot lemon to start my mornings. Freeze extra lemons and limes by juicing them and filling ice cube trays – and then break out and transfer to a container. I like having some on hand in case I ever run out of fresh produce. It’s also a perfect way to spruce up a glass of water during the day.
When its mango, berry or passionfruit season it’s great to buy bulk and freeze these down. Although we should eat with the seasons it’s nice to have these fruits on hand and when they’re more expensive. Use them in smoothies, to make easy nice creams (just blend the fruit for an instant sorbet!) and for coolies on pancakes or make a jam for breads or between cake layers.
Bananas are a must to freeze – this is too easy and such a great food prep tip. Once bananas are ripe just peel them and add to a container. That’s it! I use them in cakes and biscuit recipes, in my ‘pancake recipes – I have 3!’, in my ‘banana bread’ and occasionally when I have a smoothie. Blitz them up to make nice cream (vegan ice cream) and for cake icings. Freezing them is also perfect if bananas ripen quickly and you haven’t had a chance to use them yet. I like to use it while its still frozen otherwise it goes really soggy – it will still be soft as the natural sugars in bananas won’t allow it to freeze completely solid. Handy hint: Frozen bananas are sweeter than fresh ones due to an enzyme called amylase.
- Liquids and pastes
Ingredients like coconut milk, tomato paste and tinned tomatoes are perfect to freeze. If I ever have any leftovers of these I freeze them down – and after a bigger shop I’ll add these to the freezer for times when I need them and have run out. It’s great knowing these ingredients are always on hand. Just transfer to a container or sealable bag.
- Curry paste
Making your own curry pastes isn’t as hard as you may think and making bulk and freezing it into ice cube trays or containers is perfect for easy meal making. You can also create your own ready to go spice mixes from dried ones – and keep them in the freezer so they stay really fresh.
On a plant powered diet legumes (beans, lentils, pulses) are a staple food. Versatile, so cheap, easy and delicious there are so many types to get creative with. Personally I eat a mix of canned (choose organic and BPA free lining tins) and dried legumes. When using the dried version it is really important to soak them first. I like to soak mine overnight – this helps soften the outer skin, makes it easier to cook, and ensures they are easier to digest by removing phytic acid – this protects the legume in its environment but can inhibit the absorption of nutrients when eaten. Just rinse your legumes till the water runs clear then in a large container or pot add the legumes and filtered water to cover well – they will absorb a lot of water and swell so ensure you’ve added a good amount. Once soaked strain and rinse them again, then boil till soft. You can add a little baking powder to harder legumes to soften them more. I usually make a bigger batch when cooking them and eat some for that day and the next and freeze the rest – strain them well and spread out on a lined baking tray and freeze. Once frozen transfer them to smaller containers to be able to use for your meals. Ofcourse you can keep them in the fridge if you would like to use them for other meals over the next few days.
- Meal leftovers
Freezing down extras is an easy way to have a night off from cooking. Some common meals I freeze are my ‘lentil bolognaise’ sauce, soups, and dahls. I also keep flatbreads and other breads in the freezer and just pop them in the toaster, a pan or under the oven grill to use. Its important to label frozen meals and date them so there is a good rotation of food. And check and clean it out regularly to see what you actually have on hand.
3. HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Utilising good quality kitchen helpers can make cooking much quicker and much more enjoyable. It’s like having good runners – you’ll be much more inclined to do exercise.
- good large size chopping boards – these can also be used for serving platters
- good pots and pans (non PFOA and PTFE – chemicals used in non-stick versions – I definately suggest a good non-stick pan for pancakes and fritters so find one that is a cleaner and enviro friendlier version)
- a microplane or fine grater - for ginger and garlic
- electronic scales – these are relatively cheap, at most supermarkets and a staple in the kitchen
- measuring spoons and cup
- a food processor and / or nutribullet (I use mine for so many different meals)
- glass storage containers – these look great, seal food well and make your fridge look super organised
- good knife set
- a slow cooker – although I prefer to cook on the stove this is a great help if you work long days and have a big family to feed – I mainly use mine for my ‘apple + pumpkin steel cut oats’
- a rice cooker – this is perfect especially if you need to make large meals plus it ensures your rice is perfect everytime! It frees up time by not having to worry about it. Add some quinoa or red lentils to your rice while cooking to mix it up. If you have a doggy its great to make extra rice for them too. (basmati is the easiest rice to digest for dogs and people and adding red lentils is a great and gentle combo).
** Food storage is a big one and can be the difference between over spending and getting flustered in the kitchen or feeling super organised. I opt for old glass jars – just rinse them out and use eucalyptus oil to remove the glue from the labels, I use large containers with bamboo press lids for my bulky pantry staples and small glass jars with bamboo lids for my spices. Glass is a great safe storage material to protect our food (unlike the toxins often released by plastics) and is perfect to see exactly what you have on hand.
4. HAVE A PLAN
It’s great to have some favourite recipes ready to go. Know what you like and what works and when you have a day off or a little extra time you can experiment with different meals. My beautiful mama, years ago, created a huge ring binder folder where she prints out recipes or cuts them from magazines. You can categorise them too for easy access with dividers. If you have printed cook books use coloured post-its to easily find certain dishes. Personally I have set things I buy each week and know how much I can make with these ingredients – then I just mix it up depending on the season, the weather and what fresh produce is available. (I’ll be sharing my printable shopping + pantry lists soon!) You can create weekly meal plans and have them on rotation – whichever way works for you - make it as fool proof as possible. I prefer cooking by my feeling and what I’m drawn to, and by following the above tips I usually have most things on hand for what I’m excited to eat at the time.
5. ALWAYS MAKE EXTRA
Regardless if you’re flying solo or have a family of 6, if you’re in the kitchen it just makes sense to already make extra of whatever you’re creating. As I’ve mentioned above utilising our oven and freezer is great for this, but I also like to prep for leftovers for other meals. Most things can easily be turned into a wrap (for school or office lunches you can keep the wrap bread separate and wrap to eat), or add a chutney or favourite condiment, nutritional yeast, dip or roquette or lettuce and voila, it’s a new meal! Nourish bowl options are endless too so get creative. Just add whatever you have to a bowl – the more colour the better. Sometimes I even mix 2 or 3 meal leftovers to make one new nourish bowl. I’d suggest not making too much food in advance though and eating most things no longer than 2-3 days after being cooked to ensure you’re still retaining high nutrient content and it’s fresh. Plus you don’t want to get bored of what you’ve created if you have to eat it over and over for a few days so keep it balanced.
So there you are! 5 very important easy to achieve tips that can help free up time for all the things you love, make sure you’re nourishing your temple and to get you cooking like a pro!
*** To make things easier and be able to see these tips at a glance I've created a printable checklist / guide for you.