Equipment, Storing and Reheating
Before jump in and start making multiple meals at the same time lets discuss some important differences between meal prep and one-off meal cooking. Meal prep requires some additional equipment along with storing and reheating strategies.
You can find this TOOL CHECKLIST under the Guides tab in your Members area as well.
It divides essential kitchen tools from suggested meal prep tools.
Give it a review; you don't need to run out and get anything for the Yellow Belt Cook-Along. You can get by with just the items listed as Everyday Cooking Essentials (which you probably already have), a roll of tin foil and some storage containers or plastic wrap.
During the Orange Belt we will re-examine meal prep tools and kitchen preparedness.
We've also put together an Amazon Store for Meal Prep Essentials.
Let's Talk Storage
How Long Does Food Hold Up In The Refrigerator?
People have a wide range of sensitivity around the freshness of food. In my household we routinely eat cooked foods that have been stored in the refrigerator for seven days, even more.
We trust our noses. When in doubt we throw it out.
We tend to eat the vulnerable foods earlier in the week and the heartier stuff later.
- vulnerable = seafood, berries, cut fruit, leafy greens
- heartier = meats, grains, root vegetables
- Everything else falls in between.
When just starting out, I recommend you store only 3 days worth of meals in your refrigerator. Get comfortable with that. Extend to four days. Then to five. Sometimes you won't eat everything within five days and have to be vigilant when checking for rot.
Quality and freshness of food when purchased may affect its shelf life. Farmers market and organic foods tend to last longer.
What about freezing your prepped meals?
Some things freeze better than others. Rule of thumb: If it has liquids inside, keep it outside the freezer.
Liquids contract when frozen and destroy the integrity of the item resulting in limp, soggy defrosted ingredients. Watery items include leafy greens, soft veggies and most fruits. Avoid these unless you plan to just throw them in a blender.
Firm items include root veggies, most meats, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. These are good freezer candidates. Also, ingredients sitting in liquids freeze well; think soups, stews, and blended items.
I use my freezer for UNCOOKED items rather than cooked items. We freeze uncooked meats and vegetables that are on deck for the next meal prep.
There is a whole camp of meal preppers who use crock pots and freezer bags to make meals for the month. That's not my thing, but it might fit the bill for you, so here's a good place to start.
To Go Containers
We do an in-depth look at storage containers in Taking Your Meals To Go which comes up during the Orange Belt Week.
HOW TO REHEAT YOUR MEALS
How you reheat your meals can make all the difference. The trick is to do it without overcooking or drying out the food.
Here's the secret:
Reheating your ingredients simply involves bringing them up to a temperature you enjoy. It does not mean cooking the ingredients again. They should be cooked properly already.
If you cook instead of reheating, you will dry them out.
Take a chicken breast for example. When you cook it the first time you need to cook it until the middle of the chicken breast reaches 165 degrees for food safety. Once you killed anything bad that might be living in the chicken breast you don't need to bring it up to 165 again. If you do you will OVERCOOK it.
Think of it this way, you could eat the meals entirely cold.
- From a safety point of view that would be perfectly fine. Any beef, chicken or fish that you cooked properly the first time will be safe to eat provided it was kept in the refrigerator for less than five days. Longer than five days? Be sure to give it a sniff test. The fresher the ingredient was to begin with, the longer it will last in the refrigerator.
- Salads are a prime example of a cold dish, but wraps and cold pasta dishes work just as well.
You can let ingredients come up to room temperature.
- Pulling your ingredients from the fridge a few hours before mealtime and letting them come up to room temperature is a dicey practice from a food safety point of view but if you are confident in your ability to sniff out anything foul, it is a great technique for dealing with lunches at work or on the go.
Most meals will contain ingredients you want to eat hot.
There are three ways to reheat your food. Let’s take a look at the how and why of each.
Put the ingredient(s) in a pan over medium heat. You might also add a shot glass amount of water or vegetable stock to keep it from drying out.
Cover the pan with another pan to keep the moisture in.
As soon as you hear things sizzling in the pan it should all be done. Taste a piece to find out. Remember you are not cooking the ingredients, just warming them up.
This allows you to monitor the process and make adjustments on the fly.
This is your best option when you feel like spending a little time with it. You can combine ingredients, do some taste testing and adjusting of flavors as things warm up.
OVEN OR TOASTER OVEN
Pull all the items you need to reheat for your meal and put them on a roasting tray.
You might consider adding a bit of water and covering with tin foil to keep things from drying out.
Set the oven to preheat to 400 degrees and put the roasting tray in.
When the oven beeps at 400 degrees everything should be up to temperature.
Pull the ingredients and check to see if they are warm enough for you. If not, put them back in for however long needed.
This allows you to set it and go do other stuff until the buzzer goes off.
Arrange the entire meal on your plate cold and then nuke it for 1 – 3 minutes.
When serving multiple people you can assemble each plate and microwave them one after the other. Or you can microwave each ingredient and put them on the table buffet style.
Microwaving is the quickest way to get your meal in front of you with little clean up required. The downside is that microwaving certain foods can mess with their texture and moistness. Some people believe the microwave can destroy the nutrients as well, but the jury remains out on that point.
QUICK TIPS ON PACKING YOUR MEALS TO GO
- It’s a good idea to pack all the ingredients for each meal together in as few containers as possible for grab-and-go.
- Use tin foil or parchment paper to separate items you plan to reheat from those you don’t.
- Put wet ingredients on the bottom of the container and dry ingredients on top. For instance, tomatoes, cucumbers and your dressing could all be on the bottom of your container while your leafy greens rest on top.
We take a deeper look at packing meals to go in the Orange Belt Lesson Taking Your Meal To Go
Questions and Comments on This Lesson?
Drop me a note in our private forum The Dojo Lounge. I will respond during office hours.