Huntington’s Kitchen gives tips for meal prep

March 11, 2018 GMT

Google the words “Food Prep,” and hang onto your mouse.

These days there’s, oh, about 29.3 million entries about the culinary trend that is colorfully sweeping the globe.

While there are plenty of regional services that can make the meals for you, we thought it would fun to check in with Huntington’s epicenter of all culinary creativity, Huntington’s Kitchen (http://huntingtons-kitchen.org/), for some tips from the Kitchen’s manager Marty Emerson, who runs the community food center that is a partnership between Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall University.

Emerson, who worked on the 2009 TV show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (which birthed Huntington’s Kitchen), said that meal prep is a healthy trend that is what it sounds like, prepping multiple healthy and colorful meals at one time to be eaten over several days.

While it takes some planning and, well, prepping, meal prepping can help folks stick to a diet, eat healthier and can save some time and money.

“A lot of people do it at home, and there’s more and more places that are getting on board with meal prep meals as well, so there are people doing it, people wanting more information and there is so much more to it than saying ‘I want to cook up four chicken breasts, boil a bag of rice and have a head of broccoli and make some meals,’ ” Emerson said.

Here are some of the tips that Emerson has for folks wanting to meal prep at home.

While their early spring calendar is already full, Emerson said they are looking into doing a meal prep class in April to help folks who want to get armed with more tricks on how to to make it work for them.

“We aren’t necessarily give everyone a week’s worth of meals, but everyone will get to eat everything and try stuff and have stuff to take home and show them how easy is to do,” Emerson said. “Even with prepping all of your lunches for work, you can be done in an hour and a half to two hours. The trick is to figure out what you are going to make, make a shopping list, go get all of that stuff at one time, prep all of the stuff up, and the lunches are made for the week and you will be good to go.”

Use a variety of spices to mix things up

One suggestion Emerson has is that even if you use the same basic ingredients, you can use different seasonings to create a good deal of variance on a budget. You can use the same ingredients, just change up the seasonings on it.

“I can put Italian dressing on chicken, and then maybe the next week put salsa on it, the next week could put curry powder or Srirachi on it,” Emerson said. “I did Cajun seasoning on my sweet potatoes, and the next week I could just put salt and pepper on them. I put curry powder on my Brussels sprouts, or I could change out the Brussels sprouts and have buffalo cauliflower bites.”

Make sure the meals are well balanced

“I would have one starch component whatever it is rice, or pasta, potatoes or sweet potatoes or something like that, and then one vegetable which could be a salad or broccoli or whatever you like, and one protein and that can be chicken, fish, beans or eggs, or steak,” Emerson said.

“You can go online and get the fitness apps to show how much broccoli you need for a serving, and you can put that in your container and put it in your lunch, then you can be like ‘I have a one-third cup of rice, I have one-half to a cup of vegetable and have four to six ounces of protein, and I have a complete meal here.’ That way you’ve got lunch packed, and you’re not like ‘I’m hungry’ and end up eating a bag of potato chips, four Slim Jims and a Mountain Dew at lunch.”

Experiment first, then scale up for meal prep

Emerson said that while there is a time to experiment with a dish, when making enough food ahead of time for multiple meals, one might want to stick with a recipe that they have already tested.

“Do what you like to make, don’t try to be like ‘Oh this food blogger makes this wonderful dish and I want to try it.’ Food prep dishes that you know you are going to like and that you know you are going to want to eat. When you do have some extra time at home, then you can try out a new recipe and see if it is something that you would like to eat, then you can incorporate it into your meal prep plan.”

Keep some sauce handy to kick it up a notch

“I keep a bottle of hot sauce at my desk, so if I am not really enjoying what I made that day, I can kick it up a notch and it will be all right,” Emerson said. “If you love ketchup or BBQ sauce, find one that is cleaner and doesn’t have so much sugar and preservatives in it, and keep that in the fridge at work or put it into a little cup to take with you.”

Take advantage of the healthy convenience options

“You are starting to see more and more convenience for meal prep, too. Say I forget to pack my lunch, I can run over to Sheetz and grab some hard-boiled eggs, and they have veggie packs in their grab-and-go section, so there is starting to be more convenience of being able to grab and go get stuff. I forgot my lunch, but have time to run to Krogers and can grab a rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad mix, and there is a perfect meal for the one you forgot.

“In the freezer section, they are starring to get more combinations and flavors for steamer bags. You can grab that rotisserie chicken and a bag of vegetables. By the time you have cut up the chicken, the vegetables are done,” Emerson said.

Don’t just prep meals, prep snacks

Emerson said another great thing to meal prep for the week, especially for folks at work, is healthy snacks.

Hard-boiled eggs are great, and they have the single packages of baby carrots and almond butter or peanut butter. Applesauce is a great snack.

Avocados are a great snack. When it comes to packing snacks, just pack enough for a single serving, rather than loading it up beyond what is recommended.

“You can eat that small portion and be like ‘OK, I just ate a small bag of peanuts and not like I just ate an entire jar of peanuts,’ ” Emerson said. “I have been known to pop a can of cashews, eat a handful, watch a TV show pop some more, and an hour and a half later and I have eaten all of them, and I’m like ‘Oh there is six servings in this, and I’ve gotten my sodium for the next six days.’ ”

Prep your own healthy drinks

“I have seen people make a smoothie base and put it into an ice tray and when they want to make a smoothie, they get some juice and then pop a couple cubes into it, blend it up and you have your smoothie,” Emerson said. “People are also drinking a lot more water these days, and they have all of these flavored packets so you can get a box and put it at your desk and if you get tired of just drinking water, you get out a packet and have orange tangerine water or whatever.”

Use all the kitchen tools you have

Emerson said that to make meal prep easy, be sure to utilize all the convenient tools and makers at your disposal.

“Use all your kitchen gadgets when you are meal prepping, use your Crock Pot, use your Insta-Pot, use your Foreman Grill and use everything to your advantage,” Emerson said. “Throw that roast in the crock pot and then go ‘OK, I can eat on that for three days. Or I am going to make some grilled chicken?’ Instead of firing up the grill, get out your Foreman Grill, slap some chicken on there, pull it off, cut it up and your chicken is done for the week. The Insta-Pot is great because if you have some frozen stuff that you forgot to thaw out before you prep, you can

throw frozen food in that and it gets done, it can hard boil eggs and you can do all kinds of stuff in it. They are great. Rice cookers, you can throw stuff in that and do stuff in that, too. You don’t just have to use your stove and your oven to meal prep. You can use all of your gadgets to make it easy for you so you can throw all of your food into one of your gadgets, go watch some TV, come back and it is done. Work smarter, not harder.”

Don’t over complicate it

“Recipes are everywhere, Pinterest has a gazillion recipes, and if you Google meal prep recipes, it is endless,” Emerson said. “The main advice I would keep with meal prepping is not to over complicate it, and to buy in bulk if you can. Buy that giant bag of chicken, cook some of it and put the rest in the freezer. If you find out you are not going to eat all of that stuff that you meal prepped up. Say you prepped it up on Sunday and then you find out you have a lunch meeting on Tuesday, you can take your proteins and put that in the freezer for later. Some of the vegetables won’t refreeze well, but you can save some of the steak or chicken. Use the freezer section at the store to your advantage, too. Say you want to have chicken or steak fajitas, there are already pre-cut onions and peppers that you can throw in there. Use that to your advantage so you don’t have to be spending all day in the kitchen laboring over making lunch for the week.”