I was just interviewed for an upcoming episode of Tips of the Scale — a really inspirational podcast about people who have lost copious amounts of weight and seized control of their lives. One of the topics we discussed were food choices and how to fit in food preparation with otherwise busy lifestyles. I shared one of the tricks that my wife came up with. This has helped us immensely for eating food that is both delicious and healthy.
One of the most important things we do is buy in bulk and prep several meals at once. I will use chicken as a example because it makes up the majority of our pre-prepped meals. I buy a flat or two of boneless, skinless thighs from our big box store (BJs in my case).
Notice that I did say thighs. The principles can be used for breasts as well, but I prefer thighs. Chicken breasts dry out very easily on the grill and are harder to work with. Thighs on the other hand are juicier and can withstand grilling much better. Also, the calorie count etc is not that different between them especially with the skin removed. The article The Nutrition of Chicken Breasts Vs. Thighs explains some of this. They often are less expensive as well.
After I bring the chicken thighs home, we divide up the chicken into heavy duty resealable freezer bags. My wife Leslie will have several sauces and marinades prepared. She mixes the chicken with the marinade in the freezer bag and makes sure that it will lie flat and any extra air is released. We then stack the bags in the freezer. Clean-up is very easy because it is all being done at one time and a lot of the mixing can be done in the bags.
When we want to have a meal, we pull the bag out the night before and place it in a plastic container in case it leaks. Trust me on this. I have cleaned the refrigerator a half dozen times now. Freezer bags don’t always hold up perfectly.
After the chicken thaws over the day, I will grill it for dinner and it is delicious.
The magic of the process is in the freezing and unfreezing. When we get the chicken, it is not frozen, so it can absorb the marinade. While it is freezing, it is doing just that. Then when it is thawing again, it is absorbing more. But since there is a freezing and thawing involved, it is not becoming over saturated. This gives a nice balanced texture and flavor.
By cooking the chicken on the grill, the fire is also burning off any excess marinade and sauce and helping keep the calories down while sealing in the flavor. And the chicken only takes 10-15 minutes to cook, so it’s very convenient. Add a salad and we have a nice healthy dinner.
Here are some of the recipes that we use for our meal prep:
White Barbecue Sauce (Southern Living AUGUST 2005)
Yield: Makes 2 cups
Prep time:5 Minutes
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon Creole mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
Whisk together all ingredients until blended. Store in the refrigerator up to 1 week. Prepare all in a large bowl, (reserve some for dipping) add 9-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, toss & place in freezer bag. Thaw & grill.
Lemon and Rosemary Marinade Chicken
- 2 large lemons
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano, optional
- 1 Tbsp dried thyme, optional
- 1/4 cup of olive or salad oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 chicken thighs
Slice lemons, place in ziploc bag, and squeeze out some of the juice. Throw in the remaining ingredients. Mix together well. Add the chicken and mix well. Marinate for at least 4 hours. Freeze. Excellent grilled.
Leslie’s take on Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce Recipe
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard (drop to 1/4 & add spicy brown & smoked mustards)
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 tsp Hungarian Paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (to taste)
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper (optional) – Leslie hates black pepper, but if you are a fan add it
- (Added 4 drops liquid smoke and some low sodium soy sauce)
Great for prepping chicken thighs, freezing, & grilling.
Coco-Thai Chicken (My Favorite)
1 can Coco Lopez or other sweet coconut drink base
Thai seasoning blend (to taste) recipe below*
Place both items in large bowl, mix thoroughly. Add boneless, skinless chicken thighs; stir to coat. Bag, freeze, thaw, & grill. Awesome!
*Homemade Thai Seasoning Blend Recipe
This spice blend can be used to impart Thai flavor to meat and seafood, or veggies or grains. You can also use it as a dry rub. To make an easy Thai marinade, toss a generous scoop of this seasoning mixture into creamy coconut milk.
- 1/2 tbsp dried cumin
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp freshly ground white pepper
- 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp ground dried hot Thai chilies, or to taste
- 2 tbsp dried lemongrass
- 2 tbsp dried lime zest
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp dried ginger
- 2 tbsp dried mint
- 2 tbsp toasted unsweetened coconut, ground
Instructions: Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)
Other non-chicken recipes
Here are some other recipes that we enjoy using the same prepping ahead principle and the grill.
This first recipe is one that tastes better over time. It is like chili and tastes better over time as the flavors meld.
Green Chile Hominy Casserole with Chorizo
- 2 poblano chiles or 1 can of green chiles
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 pound Mexican chorizo, removed from casing and crumbled (frozen & chopped)
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 15-ounce cans of hominy, drained
- 8 ounces low fat sour cream & half Greek yogurt blended in equal parts
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (smoked cheddar, cubed)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Method: Roast the poblano chiles under the broiler or on grill until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place chiles in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chile steam for 20 minutes. Take the chile out of the bag and rub off the skin. Remove stem and seeds and cut dice chiles. Preheat the oven to 350. On medium-low heat, heat the vegetable oil and then cook the crumbled chorizo while occasionally stirring in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet until brown, about 8-10 minutes. With a slotted spatula, remove the chorizo and drain any excess grease from the skillet, leaving 1 teaspoon. Add to the skillet the diced onions and jalapeños while occasionally stirring, cook on medium-low heat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the diced poblano chile, chorizo, hominy, sour cream greek yogurt blend, lime juice and half of the cheddar cheese. Stir until well combined, taste and add salt and black pepper and adjust seasonings. Top with remaining the cheddar cheese and bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Yield: 4-6 servings
Stout Marinated Steak Tips (Leslie & Eric’s Favorite)
Recipe courtesy Chef Wolf, Lobster Shanty, Salem, MA
Cook Time: 5 min Serves: 10 to 12 servings
Trim silver skin and icky fatty parts from your flap meat and cut them into 3 or 4-ounce chunks, or whatever size you like. Put them into a container with a tight fitting lid; don’t forget to leave extra space for the marinade. (Put marinade in bowl, add meat, divide into freezer bags; any left over marinade is good with chicken, but best with beef. Make sure your bags don’t leak, this can create a very sticky mess!)
In a large bowl whisk together the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, molasses, brown sugar, pepper, pepper flakes, and garlic. Add the stout- careful, it will foam a bit. There is really no need to add salt; the soy and Worcestershire are plenty salty.
Pour the marinade over the tips and gently stir to coat evenly, if you don’t use all the marinade it will keep for 2 weeks, refrigerated in an airtight container. Refrigerate the meat for 8 hours or overnight. (Will keep, refrigerated for 4 or 5 days) and then cook as desired.
Greek Lamb Burgers (6 servings) – (Cooking Light)
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 pound lean ground lamb
- 3/4 pound ground turkey breast
- Optional: add cooked & well squeezed & chopped spinach to mixture.
Form into patties and grill. Serve open faced on pitas and drizzle with feta/yogurt sauce.
Sauce: Greek yogurt, feta, squeeze lemon juice, green onion, oregano, garlic salt.
3 (6-inch) whole wheat pitas, cut in half
Amount per serving – burgers only (Cooking Light)
Calories from fat: 34%
Saturated fat: 4.4g
Monounsaturated fat: 3.6g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.8g
mashed sweet potatoes over browned ground turkey, onion, carrot, spinach, & seasoning. May want to tweak this with cinnamon and curry, adobo seasoning, evaporated milk, 2 wedges of laughing cow veggie cheese, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup wine, dash celery seed, salt. Bake in 13×9 pan, cool, cut into pieces & freeze. Nuke on high 3.5 min or so.
There are many possible options available when prepping food ahead of time. Definitely explore and experiment. You may come up with your own creations to share with me.