Beating the Egg Timer

Photo by jeffreyw

Preparation goes a long way. That is why it is recommended that you reserve the weekend for grocery shopping and meal preparation. When you do, the rest of the week is freed up to accommodate any particular ‘on the go’ lifestyle you may be trying to work around. You will still have time to enjoy the weekends as you see fit.  Preparation involves everything from the actual menu that you will have set out for the following week down to the nitty gritty of chopping up vegetables, pre-cooking meats and even having your cookware, utensils and ingredients laid out before you actually get into the cooking process. This kind of meticulous planning may seem tedious and time consuming at first, but you will find with practice that it will save you loads of time in the long run. It streamlines your efforts, not only throughout the week, but especially on those days that you do reserve for meal planning, reforming the cooking process into one fluid motion.

 To give you a clear-cut idea of the kind of flow to integrate, the weekend layout will look like the following. First you will want to choose from your menu list what kind of meals to look forward to throughout the next week. You can choose recipes that share similar ingredients so that you are not buying a number of extraneous things at the store or market, rather saving yourself money and building up stock in the pantry. Additionally, you will choose recipes that allow you to mix and match dressings with main dishes and sides to create variety in your meals while using the leftovers from one dish to reinvent an entirely new one for the next day. This is a key trick of chefs that saves time, money and food.

 After you have chosen your menu layout for the following week, the next step is to go out and buy the ingredients. There will be more time and money saving tips to follow on that topic later. When you get back home with your ingredients, step three is to set up your kitchen into a workstation. Any experienced artist will tell you that the most important part of creating a great work is first to create an environment for yourself that allows for it. We are talking about the set-up here, because once you have everything that you are going to use in place and ready for you, the actual creation process becomes that much easier, stress-free and fun too.

 So then, get out your pots, pans, lids, spatulas and measuring spoons, cutting board, cutlery, peeler, and even trashcan for the scraps. Lay your vegetables out near the sink for washing first. Get out the aluminum foil and section it off for freezer storage. Make ready your Tupperware so that the next meal is a snap-and-go experience. Envision what your kitchen will look like in this state. Feel the anticipation of the cooking mad-dash to follow and see how it will flow from one station to the next, from washing and chopping to stove sizzling and oven baking. When you have everything set up just so, you cut out needless running back and forth in the kitchen, which saves you time and energy that adds up. It also helps to remove the frantic feeling of jumping back and forth between cooking dishes simultaneously.  For your first time doing this, and even for each time after as a kind of habit to promote the fun of the process, it is recommended to take a step back once you have finished setting up the kitchen stations. Take in this organized scene for a moment: think about how good your homemade food will taste with each bite; congratulate yourself for making the time to create quality meals that your taste buds and the rest of your body can enjoy, keeping you feeling great and energized; feel good about the work you have done so far in choosing the meals, shopping and setting up to cook for yourself; feel the rush and excitement of all the energy that you are about to put into this food by turning it into various great-tasting meals. Once you actually nourish yourself with these meals, all that energy you put into them is going to come back to you – after all, you are what you eat. Remember that.

 

The more that you can envision and appreciate every step of this process, you will affirm the investment you are making in yourself, since that is exactly what you are doing. If ever there comes a moment when you feel like going back on your plan, which will be covered further in the following chapter, you can use the repetition of these active affirmations to reinstate and strengthen your intentions to stay true to yourself and stick to the low carb meal plan. After all, you are worth it, and putting so much effort into your new meal plan directive makes a convincing support system to keep investing in yourself week by week.

 

From the position of taking a few steps back and soaking in the setup you have created in the kitchen, the next procedure is food prep. This entails cutting and chopping your veggies appropriately as the recipes call for them, boiling water, heating fry pans with oil, preheating the oven, seasoning meats, etc. More details and tips to make this particular part of the process flow succinctly will be covered later in the chapter. Then comes the actual cooking, which will become a grace period for you since all your food will already be prepared and just waiting its turn in the appropriate steps of the cooking process.  Because you will be making meals for the entire week to come, once the food is cooked and assembled into dishes all you need to do afterward is let it cool and stow it away in foil or Tupperware as needed. That’s it! You’ve just spent half to three-quarters of a day to set yourself off worry-free for the rest of the week. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, what about the cleanup? Are there magic kitchen elves that come with this method? What aisle of the grocery store do I find those in?” Well as nice as that would be, no kitchen elves here. However within this method lies a snappy Mary Poppins-like trick that renders cleanup negligible.

 

Remember that grace period that I mentioned that you will have during the cooking process? That will provide you plenty of time to clean the prep dishes and utensils you have used. As one dish after another makes its way off the heat and into a storage unit, you can clean it while other dishes are still cooking. That way you will be done cleaning before your food is even done cooking! Over time you will develop such a flow with this process as professional chefs do that it will keep you busy, having fun and efficient without thinking twice about it. The setup provides the guidelines for you and all you have to do is follow through.  Before we get into a detailed outline of these steps and tips for their particulars, I would just like to bring your attention to the idea that this preparation approach to kitchen mastery can be adapted and applied to any aspect of life. Many of us can feel frayed and pulled in several directions throughout the day with all that is demanded of us. We may be left tracing our steps back for something we have forgotten, repeating a task because in our rushed mind we forgot a crucial step of the process, or complicating an assignment that becomes more time consuming because we did not take the time to clarify the objective and the steps to achieve it from the start.  Remember the scene of the kitchen setup, stepping back and taking in everything in its place? It is going to take time on the first couple of tries to make sure that you have absolutely everything you need out and ready without having to go back for it in mid-swing of things. That’s just a natural part of learning a new approach. The more you do it, the more familiar the process becomes and you will remember from previous times exactly what you need and when its usefulness comes into play.  This is finding the rhythm and flow in the process, and that is essentially what we are going for here. Once you find your rhythm in anything, the process moves smoothly and time stops leaking out of your day. You move from one thing to the next fluidly; the stop/start process of transitioning from one task to the next, as well as correction/re-correction in mid-task, gets ironed out along with the extraneous minutes spent doing so.  Once you get familiar with it, you are encouraged to try applying this method to other areas of your life and see how you can turn what feels like a “busy, hectic life” into a streamlined flow of work where windows of time start freeing you up to a pace that feels comfortable. On that note, you might like to look into the Pomodoro technique that is designed to do just that for workloads. What we are going to start with here however are some tips and a different approach to meal making that will be dubbed ‘restaurant style’. It is so called because this approach is the typical method that chefs use in restaurant kitchens in order to be able to quickly serve their guests savory meals.

 

Do you think that every time someone orders a salad the chefs reach into the fridge to grab a new head of lettuce and whole bell pepper to chop up right there on the spot for each order? Of course not, that’s why they have specific positions for people called ‘food preppers’ that come into the restaurant at 5 or 6 in the morning to prepare the meat vegetables for the chefs beforehand.

 The food preppers chop up all the vegetables individually, store and seal them in separate containers, and then the chefs can just grab the proportioned amounts of the already prepared foods whenever an order that calls for them comes up. BAM! Restaurant style. You are going to learn to use the same method for your week’s worth of meals here.

 There is actually little needed explanation beyond what has already been mentioned. First you need to figure out what vegetables you are going to use for the week by creating a menu for yourself of the meals that you would like to have for the following week. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Once you know what recipes you are going to use and the ingredients required to make them you can figure out the amount of each ingredient that you will need to prepare for the week.

 Let’s say for a safe amount that you can assume two of each vegetable will be enough for your cooking needs. Then for example, you will have two large red onions, two green bell peppers, two red bell peppers, three cucumbers (because why not), and half of a head of romaine lettuce. On the weekend you will go out to buy all of these ingredients, bring them home, wash each of them to clean off the excess pesticide residue and grubby fingerprints of people before you who have touched them, and then proceed to chop and slice them into edible sizes.

 Once prepared, you can store each of these ingredients individually in separate containers and keep them preserved in the fridge. They will last you the week, and you have just saved yourself hours per day of food preparation. Because they are in their raw form, you can now just go into the fridge and grab a little bit of this and a little bit of that and throw it together for a salad, or cook it up quickly in a fry pan for a nice stir fry, or put a handful of a small medley into some scrambled eggs to make an omelet and so on.  This method frees you up to decide what you would like to eat on a whim without having to do so much planning ahead. It does involve a bit of cooking throughout the week, which means time for you, so the choice is yours but now you know that you have that option for yourself. You can do the same for meats, such as lightly seasoning and baking a bunch of salmon fillets or chicken breasts at once and then storing them in the fridge.  Cooked meats last longer in the fridge than raw meats do (about one week), and when you are ready to have your meal you can pull them out and reheat them in less than half the time it took to initially cook them. They will be lightly seasoned to provide some flavor, but not too much so that they can take on the flavor of whatever dish you plan to make. Furthermore, they will be available to convert into any dish, whether it be chopping them up and throwing them into a soup, stew, stir-fry, or just leaving them whole next to a side of veggies and quinoa with a prepared sauce to go over them.  If you prefer an alternative route, you can always prepare the vegetables as previously mentioned and then use them to concoct all the recipes that day for the meals you have planned for rest of the week.