Your meal prep tips
November 7, 2016 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I love prepping meals for the week but feel like there are better ways of doing some things - maybe you have some tips to share on cooking with the purposes of reheating?

As noted above, what tips or tricks have you learned for successful (flavorful) meal prepping? I prep Sunday for Monday-Thursday breakfast, lunch, dinner. Any tips on best way to pre-cook chicken breast so it actually tastes good at reheat? Any ingredients you really recommend for meal preps and any you avoid? Any other tidbits are appreciated
posted by xicana63 to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Stop eating chicken breast. Lentils, beans, and split peas are cheaper. Some kinds of fish (e.g., cod, pollock, tilapia, and skate) are leaner. Most things, including dark meat chicken, are tastier.

If you insist on eating chicken breast in bulk, you can poach it until just barely done, shred it, and drench it in sauce or soup until the surrounding liquid provides most of the flavor.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:16 PM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Chicken thighs are more flavorful and less expensive.
posted by bunderful at 7:18 PM on November 7, 2016 [14 favorites]

My usual suggestions are to find recipes for types of dishes that reheat well, and avoid types that don't. Then revel in your leftovers, rather than cooking/assembling every night.

Good reheaters: soups, stews, curries, pasta sauces, baked beans, chili, sloppy Joes; basically liquid-y things are pretty safe bets and often improve on the second or third day.

Worth trying: things with a lot of sauce, like many stir-fries or braises

Things to avoid usually: deep-fried or pan-fried things (like hamburgers), dry things like roasts (they often dry out), and fish (overcooks upon reheating). There are always exceptions, but dry or crispy dishes are the least likely to reheat well.

I like to store pasta sauce mixed with the cooked pasta - it keeps the pasta from sticking together and I like how the flavor of the sauce soaks in.

Dishes that were enlivened with lemon juice, vinegar, or other acids will usually need another shot of acid after storage.

Crunchy accents like fried nuts or crumbled bacon should be stored separately to stay crisp, and added right before serving.

Leftovers get a bad rap, but they can be a fine way to eat well if you develop a repertoire of good reheaters!
posted by Quietgal at 7:29 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I make a lot of chili, soups, stews. I've seen some articles that recommend putting the ingredients for soup/ stew in a ziplock back in the freezer, so you can put it in the crockpot, go to work, and come home to freshly made supper. It sounds great, just haven't tried it yet.

Try beef burgundy (boeuf bourguigion), chicken marbella wth noodles or rice. I was pretty broke for the last year, so there was a lot of variation on some combination of beans or lentils, beef/ chicken/ sausage, veggies and different herbs - chili powder/curry/ Italian herbs.

Breakfast is usually muffins - Mark Bittmans infinite ways muffins, this week it's pumpkin-walnut-apricot-bran muffins.

To break the boredom, I often get flour tortillas and make lunch burritos - try pepperoni, tons of mixed greens, a tiny amount of dressing, or BLT wraps. Occasionally, breakfast burritos with a microwave-scrambled egg, salsa, and some leftover rice. I don't eat dairy, so add cheese wherever you choose. If I feel organized, I'll have refried beans, and some sausage for breakfast burritos, with the egg, salsa and a little rice.

Basically, mix it up.
posted by theora55 at 7:44 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

For chicken breast: you can poach and shred or chop chicken and don't reheat it - if you want it in a hot dish, heat the sides or sauce and the add the cold chicken. Also, chicken on the bone (even white meat) is more flavorful.
posted by vunder at 7:53 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Blackened chicken breast can be sliced up and put into tacos, eaten on sandwiches or just served over salad or grains. I use a basic recipe like this one but it's easy to cook up a few pounds of chicken breasts, keep some in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. I also really like things like chili split into portions in advance and served with fresh whatever (greens, cheese, crackers, tortilla chips). You can get a big loaf of foccacia, cut into strips, freeze them and then brush with olive oil and grill on a panini press or grill sort of thing. Serve with hummus or more olive oil.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 PM on November 7, 2016

I'm happiest with leftovers that are tasty without reheating--salmon with orange glaze, for example. Reheated leftover chicken is best with a flavorful pan sauce. (Note about that link though: I make a super-gelatinous chicken stock, and I don't add any gelatin. I freeze the stock in 1/4 cup pucks in a muffin tin so it's always available.)
posted by mchorn at 7:58 PM on November 7, 2016

Chicken thighs are more or less better, but! I do breasts anyway, and the trick is that if you need to reheat them, you need to cook them just to faint pink (which is actually edible, but people freak out). I make sure to pound them out so that the thickest part is just about as thin as the thinnest, and I like to brine and grill them but there's also these methods.

But dishes where you can avoid hard-reheating of chicken is best. Wraps, salads, or just something you can reheat on its own and then put the chicken in to warm up gently is best. (Also, make sure you have/keep a sharp knife - I like to cook breasts, chill them, and then almost shave slices on an angle through the meat. Doesn't take a lot of heat to warm that through, and it stays soft and doesn't get stringy.)

I make a lot of casseroles, and I add extra liquid. They usually have some sort of absorbent component, either a little low-carb pasta or a half-batch of bechamel, and I'd rather use an extra little can of tomatoes or more chicken stock or something so that when it does cool and firm up it's still not extremely firm. My go-to weekly casserole is tomatoey-sauce with ricotta or cottage cheese, half a bag of frozen California Blend veg, and frozen meatballs - they stay quite soft in the blend but hold some texture so it's not just sludge once it's cooked in the oven, cooled/frozen, and reheated again.

This time of year, I make a lot of veg-base soups, like butternut squash or cauliflower pureed with chicken stock, and make protein to pack separately - loose or sliced Italian sausage, kielbasa, chicken, turkey, tofu - so I can reheat the hell out of the soup and then put the protein in after to get warm. This is where salads - traditional lettuce or tabbouleh/quinoa/pasta/bean - ride shotgun nicely, as does garlic toast or similar.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:10 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Undercook most ingredients slightly, and use more spice than you normally would; it'll come out of the freezer better. Let things cool -- I use an uninsulated mudroom for this -- before sealing and putting in the freezer to avoid too much condensation and subsequently sogged food.

If you are at a loss for what to make, stroll the frozen food aisle of your supermarket; if a company can freeze it, usually, so can you. Homemade frozen pizza is terrific.

I like to make giant quantities of stuff and freeze it in silicone muffin trays, and put the little pucks in freezer bags -- I can pop out assorted curries and grab a naan and have a meal, or pop out assorted mid-Eastern food, ditto. Or I pre-package meals with assorted stuff so I'm not stuck eating a box of one single dish.

Paninis freeze surprisingly well. Even thinly sliced plum tomatoes and arugula/rocket will play nice in a panini press post-freeze. (Also: marinated veg, sauerkraut, cheese a-go-go, pickled anything)
posted by kmennie at 8:36 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

My go-to is usually Indian food - dal, tandoori chicken in a sauce, veggie curry, and saag paneer. I make a couple types of chutneys and take different variations using these components everyday so I don't get bored. It actually tastes better the longer it sits, because the flavors meld.

Lamb meatballs with pomegranate glaze are always a hit. I keep pitas (reheat in the toaster), feta, tzatziki, and sliced onions and tomatoes in the fridge so I can slap together a quick sandwich at lunch. The glaze keeps the meatballs moist.

I also make a lot of chicken pot pie, steak and mushroom pie, and other casserole-type stuff. Basically any meat is stored in a sauce or glazed so it doesn't dry out.

I also make 'rainbow salad' which is really lots of chopped up fruits, veggies, and herbs that keeps nicely because there's no lettuce or dressing.
posted by ananci at 9:54 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

The tool I use most for this is a Vaccuum Sealer. Then you can freeze or keep fresh just about anything.
I presoak/precook a lot of beans and pasta and then mix and match sauces (premade) to keep things interesting.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 9:57 AM on November 8, 2016

Chicken thighs are more flavorful and less expensive.

This. and I have yet to find a recipe that isn't made better with this swap. Especially crock pot recipes that lead to more dryer than normal stir fry.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:27 AM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

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