Last Updated on September 29, 2020
In these weeks where we’re all staying home, preparing the day’s meals can start to feel a little like Groundhog Day—wasn’t I just standing in this exact same spot yesterday, making this exact same grilled cheese sandwich? And possibly the day before that? Even for the most devoted home cooks, 24/7 meal prep is a grind.
What constant cooking does offer though, is a chance to streamline your process.
No one wants to be starting from scratch at every turn, so we’re all about optimizing our time in the kitchen or at the grill and getting a few steps ahead for the next meal. By applying a little forethought (but not much-added effort), you can set yourself up with enough prepped ingredients to carry you through a handful of meals—while making tonight’s dinner.
Fill the Grill
Grilling is a simple pleasure that somehow feels even more pleasurable now—and if you’re going to the trouble of lighting the thing, you might as well cover the grate with food. Here are some ideas for how to spin new meals from ingredients you made during your weeknight cookout:
Dinnertime is as simple as humanly possible these days. Grilled sausages and peppers, thick slices of grilled bread, and a big leafy salad hit the center of the Venn diagram of easy and delicious.
Throw on a couple of extra sausages and peppers—then slice the cooked links to toss into a frittata or a quick sausage-broccoli calzone. Or for the next day’s lunch, split lengthwise and sear, then stuff into a hoagie bun with a pile of grilled peppers and onions on top. Just like being at the ballpark, sort of.
There’s no such thing as too much steak, and—going out on a limb here—salad might be the meat’s highest calling. Try dicing flank steak and adding it to chewy farro; toss with handfuls of chopped arugula, a fistful of torn mint leaves, some juicy cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of shallot vinaigrette. Go for a more composed situation by layering cold sliced steak alongside half-moons of avocado, rounds of cucumber and romaine leaves, or mix together chopped-up steak with corn, black beans, chunky bits of avocado, and pico de gallo. Bottom line—extra steak won’t stay extra for long.
Having more than enough chicken on hand is like money in the bank when it comes to bulking up tomorrow’s lunch or the next night’s dinner. Grilled chicken can do anything—shred into your quinoa and greens at lunch or turn into taco filling; fill out a rice vermicelli salad or stuff into a pita with plenty of shredded vegetables and a yogurt-tahini sauce.
Fill the Time
If you’re going to be in the kitchen anyway, might as well make the most of your time there. Here are some suggestions for using kitchen time more effectively, giving you cooked ingredients to stash in the fridge as the building blocks for future meals.
Watch the pot
If you’re making pasta, what can you do while you wait for the water to boil? Bang out some prep for later in the week, that’s what. Chop up a head of cauliflower here, whisk up a vinaigrette there. Simmer some steel-cut oats on the back burner. By the time the water’s ready, you’ll be ready to cruise through the rest of the week.
Blanch your veg
Speaking of that pot of water, before you cook the pasta, you could drop some broccoli in there to blanch; you could lower in a sieve of greens and let them cook into more mellow, tender versions of their raw selves. Remove the veg from the water and add the noodles for your dinner. Chill the greens with icy cold water and set them aside for another meal.
Take a break
You know how workplace experts are always telling you to get up and move during the workday? This time, when you’re ready for a 15-minute break, head to the kitchen and make a quick sauce or dip—buzz up a romesco sauce or an herb pesto to spoon over grilled meat or stir into grain bowls. Mix together some pizza dough, or organize your freezer while looking for a packet of meat to thaw.
Take a break, part 2
It’s called takeout. But really, if you can keep meals simple and the prep efficient and streamlined, you won’t need to go big on ordering in.