There is nothing worse than coming home from work or a busy day, whether it be during the week, or the weekend, and having to prepare a healthy meal for your family. My first tip is going to improve how long you spend preparing each meal. And believe it or not the time it takes to do this will give you more freedom to enjoy your family, while also being able to put your feet up.
I know what you are thinking, that there is only one way to do that and it is to hire a Nanny. Well ok, that would be wonderful if you can afford it, but most of us can’t.
When you come home from the grocery store with your busy schedule to get everything done in a short time frame, you likely hurry to unload and put away groceries so you can achieve numerous other chores and errands.
I propose you change the way you put away your produce. Don’t just stuff it in that vegetable drawer, or in back of the refrigerator, for it to get lost until you find it a few weeks later, slimy and gross. As you wrinkle your nose in revulsion and wonder what it might have been previously.
First produce is expensive, and second now you have to go back to buy more to make the meal you wanted, or third ever so dramatically, throw your hands up in the air and order out. The latter though as fun as it sounds will cost more than the produce, and is not in any way healthy for you. Let’s look at a better plan to save you money and get you healthy.
Firstly, if you wash and soak your produce right away in vinegar water, you clean all the residue from sneezes, coughs, bacteria, and pesticides if you don’t buy organic. I know that sounds gross, but really think about it. People walk through the produce section sneezing, coughing, talking, and laughing and generally even if they use their hand to cover their mouth they likely did not go find somewhere to wash their hands before picking up and checking how tender that beautiful peach is.
Secondly, you preserve the length of time it stays fresh. Thirdly, if you prepare it so it is ready to go for your meals in advance, it benefits you after a long tiring day at the office.
Lastly, it keeps you on track with the meals you planned for the week.
What to Do
Once I am home from the grocer, I pile my vegetables on the counter next to the sink. There are a few you don't want to wash until you are ready to use them, unless you use them within a day or two. Those would be mushrooms, asparagus, basil, broccoli and cabbage. If I am not going to use them in a few days I wait till I am ready to use them before I soak them. Asparagus likes to be kept upright in a glass of fresh water, covered with a produce bag in the refrigerator. Basil is very delicate and should be handled gently and kept on the stems until ready to use or it will turn brown quickly. Broccoli, cabbage and mushrooms get moldy quickly with any moisture left on them, so it is best to not wash them till right before use.
Taking a large bowl (I like using my salad spinner without the spinner), fill my bowl with cool water and I just use about 1/2 cup white vinegar. If you have a really large container like a couple gallons increase that to 1 cup vinegar. I change my water depending on how dirty it gets frequently.
I place the cleanest produce in first like apples, bell peppers and tomatoes. Then I slowly work my way to the ground vegetables and herbs such as celery, carrots, radishes, green onions, and cilantro. I let each vegetable/fruit soak a minimum of 10 minutes, but preferably 15-20 minutes, while I am putting away other groceries.
I use large kitchen tea towels on the countertop to absorb moisture from produce, and gently lay them out when they are finished soaking, and pat them dry with a paper towel. Leave moisture on carrots and celery, in fact when I cut celery in stalks, I add about a tablespoon of water to the baggie I store it in.
Leaving leafy greens to use the spinner on the salad spinner, helps to remove a lot of excess water, then pat dry with a paper towel. I make ahead salads for the week at this time, or you can use prepackaged romaine , spring mix, spinach so that it is ready to go.
While the next produce is soaking I start dicing, chopping, cutting in strips clean produce depending on each meal I have planned for the week. Leafy greens should be sandwiched between paper towels in a gallon freezer bag to keep fresh.
Wrap cucumbers and zucchini in aluminum foil until ready to use. I have glass containers, that I have switched to for reasons I will explain in another post. But you can use plastic if that is what you use.
I leave 2 red bell peppers whole after soaking since I use them in place of bread for chicken salad etc. I place bell peppers whole in either a freezer bag or my vegetable storage container with a produce baggie covering it and place in the vegetable drawer.
I repeat the process with remaining produce and stack in the refrigerator according to when I am going to use them. It is easier for me working from left to right, just like reading in the U.S. The top shelf of my refrigerator contains all my produce containers marked Sunday meal 1 and 3, then Monday meal 1 and 3, then Tuesday meal 1 and 3, and so on. I do not store meal 2 on top shelf because I usually use the whole sweet peppers stuffed with some type of yumminess, or my mason jar salads. I then place meal 2 ingredients on second shelf while leftovers are on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator.
Use whatever method works easily for you. Homemade condiments, dressings, olives and the like are in my refrigerator door shelves. Being able to grab Sunday meal 1 from the top left front side, that is precut and ready to go.
Sauté the vegetables for a frittata and grab the eggs just below which keeps me on track with my meal plan, and makes everything so much faster when I need that extra time.
Meal 3 for the evening is left behind where meal 1 was, and if it is something that needs marinaded or placed in crockpot, I do that while breakfast is cooking.
There is nothing worse than reaching for Friday’s meal and finding it mushy. Anything that can be frozen and cooked while frozen with maintain the freshness. Diced and chopped sweet bell peppers and onions, get vacuum sealed and placed in freezer.
I recommend when any produce is on sale to always buy a lot, especially if it is something you tend to use frequently. Following the same guideline cleaning, cutting, and placing in the amount you generally use, then vacuum sealing to preserve them longer, mark with sharpie and place in freezer.
If I am making something with zucchini noodles or Zoodles as I call them, then I leave the zucchini whole after soaking, dried and wrapped in aluminum foil, till ready to use. It is recommended to dry brush mushrooms to maintain that crispness, but I have always soaked in vinegar water just before cooking, then lay on towel, and pat dry with a paper towel, and they have always been scrumptious.
Depending on if I have gone to the farmers market, or bought excess to store because its on sale, depends on the time it takes to run through these steps. I would say no more than an hour to one hour and a half. At first this sounds intimidating, and a lengthy process however, once you get it down you will be on your way to saving time and money.