I’m seeing a lot of suggestions on social media sites for meal preparation tips, but two of the most popular ideas are problematic, in my view.
First, precutting fruit and vegetables sacrifices nutritional value as well as texture. Juices and moisture bleed out, and vitamins oxidize. Depending on the age of the produce when you bought it from the store, it can actually mold or wilt in as little as two days. Expensive items like capsicums (peppers) get soft around the cut edges, lettuces brown, herbs get limp, and so on.
The other “tip” I find less than satisfactory is using bagged, precut ingredients. These often seem to me to have a chemical taste, and since they’re mechanically prepared, stems and cores are often part and parcel of your purchase. This can make for an unattractive plate.
Two ways to minimize “protein” prep time which actually enhance taste and nutrition, and can also be real money-savers, are sous-vide cooking and marinating. Buy cheaper cuts of meat and poultry, and marinate for up to three days in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Be sure to observe the guidelines length of time in the marinade to avoid a mushy texture (see my other posts). Cooking marinated meat or poultry sous-vide (in a vacuum bag) further enhances taste and bioavailability. Properly sealed meals cooked sous-vide can be frozen for weeks, thawed, and reheated.
Is there any way around the vegetable preparation challenge? One option is to expand your conception of salads by using vegetables to make “salades composées.” These arranged salads can incorporate leftover meat/poultry, canned ingredients such as tuna and anchovies, cooked vegetables such as potatoes, beets, carrots, and green beans, and they’re a perfect way to use flash-frozen vegetables. Thaw, steam, and chill in a water bath. Another option is to use beans and legumes to make main course salads. Cook ahead, freeze portions, then thaw and season.
A few final points. Don’t cut leafy, light green vegetables with steel knives – the cut edges will brown and look unappealing. Tear them instead. And don’t dress your salads ahead of time, particularly salads with delicate ingredients. They’ll wilt in the dressing. When you season ingredients for sous-vide cooking, season evenly before bagging. Happy eating!