Simplify your life AND eat your veggies!
Over and over I hear from patients how hard it is for them to prepare healthy food every week… It takes mental and physical energy to decide what to make, shop, and prepare food each week.
We get caught up in daily life and can easily fall off track…
Over the past 10 years or so, I have developed a highly efficient routine for weekly veggie prep (and sometimes other stuff) each week.
This guarantees that I eat at least a few servings of veggies every day (one of my 5 Keystone Habits for Health!), I have healthy lunches to bring to work, and minimizes the time and energy I spend thinking, deciding, shopping, and preparing healthy food.
I suggest using this system to prepare healthy lunches for weekdays as a first step to eating healthier while freeing up some time. It takes me only about 1 hour each week, maybe 1.5 hours if I’m moving slower.
This system uses a few productivity strategies:
- Simplicity: focusing on one thing at a time to change your life
- Systems: more important than setting goals!
- Reducing decision fatigue: automating your routine to remove decisions
- Batching: doing things in large batches once, avoiding repetition
Roast turkey (or beef), kale salad, carrots + snack (your choice)
- On Saturday or Sunday each week, buy and prepare the following foods for your lunches for the whole week
- On Sunday night, place 1 salad, 1 container of carrots, 1 container of turkey or beef, 1 jar of salad dressing, and 1 fork into your lunch bag for the following day.
- Repeat this preparation each evening.
- You can also add a health(ier), home-baked snack to your lunches (check out some of my recipes for ideas).
- 300-400g sliced turkey breast or roast beef (from deli counter)
- 2 pound bag of unpeeled carrots – I usually choose organic
- 1 bunch of curly kale (green or red/purple) – I always use organic kale so I can be more lax about washing it (see below)
- 2 large red or orange bell peppers – I always use organic peppers because they are on the Dirty Dozen list of produce with the highest pesticide loads.
- ½ to 1 cup dried cranberries, cherries, or raisins (optional)
- ½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- Salad dressing of your choice (optional: I don’t like salad dressing, but it seems like most other people do!)
- Large cutting board
- Large sharp knife
- Large salad spinner (OXO Good Grips 10.5 inch salad spinner)
- Large soup/stock pot
- Metal steamer basket (Adamo large steamer)
- Wooden spoon
- 5-6 sandwich-sized food containers (Starfrit Lock & Lock square 600mL)
- 5-6 smaller snack-sized food containers (Starfrit Lock & Lock rectangular 350mL)
- 5 small round glass containers with lids (Glasslock Baby square 210mL)
- 1 very small, airtight glass jar
- 1 small to medium lunch bag and 1 fork
From start to finish, all these steps, done in this order (plus cleanup) should take about 1 hour, although it might take you a bit longer when you are getting started.
Begin with carrots:
1. Chop ends off all carrots.
2. Scrub each carrot lightly while running under water. Time saving tip: Don’t peel the carrots, just rinse/wash them to get most of the dirt off.
3. Place scrubbed carrots in sink filled with fresh water.
4. Remove carrots from water, rinse again, and put aside to drain.
Start the kale:
5. Rinse kale if needed. Time saving tip: I check if I can see any dirt on it, if not, I don’t bother rinsing.
6. Stack 3-5 kale leaves together on cutting board.
7. Cut strips of kale perpedicular to the stem, about 2cm wide.
8. Line up those strips, then cut the other way, creating bite-sized pieces of kale. Time saving tip: Keep the stems in – less effort, more crunch (fibre!).
9. Remove top from salad spinner and place chopped kale in there. Repeat steps 6-8 until all kale is chopped and in the salad spinner, waiting for steaming.
10. Place metal steamer basket in stock pot and add water until the space beneath the steamer basket is filled but the water does not come above the bottom of the steam basket.
11. Place top on stock pot and heat at high heat to boil.
12. While you’re waiting, place 2 layers of paper towel (about 1.5 to 2 sheets each layer) on a flat part of your counter, out of the way.
Complete the carrots:
13. While waiting for water to boil, place 1-2 carrots aside and cut the rest of the carrots into sticks/strips.
14. Place carrot sticks in snack-sized food containers to store in the fridge. These will stay good for at least 1 week, if not longer. You will probably have extra carrots, so put these in a larger container to keep in the fridge.
15. Cut the 1-2 carrots you kept separate into thin disks and put aside in a bowl. This is to add more variety to your salads, but I usually omit carrot disks in my salads.
Back to kale:
16. The water should be boiling by now, so remove the stock pot lid and dump in the chopped kale, then replace the lid. Set a timer for 45 seconds.
17. Place the basket portion of the salad spinner in an empty sink. Time saving tip: Use the salad spinner basket as your strainer too (less cleanup!).
18. After steaming for 45 seconds, remove lid from stock pot and stir the kale, getting kale at the bottom to the top. You can tell when some of the kale is cooked when it is brighter green or darker red/purple (depending on the type of kale you used), but some will probably still be raw, this is why it is important to stir.
19. Replace the lid for another 30-45 seconds. At this point all the kale should be lightly cooked (changed colour to bright green or darker red/purple).
20. Dump out the contents of the stock pot into the salad spinner basket in the sink to drain the water.
21. Remove the metal steamer basket, then shake the salad spinner basket with the kale in it a bit to get rid of more water and then put it back in the bowl of the salad spinner.
22. Put the lid on the salad spinner and spin the kale a few times to get any remaining excess water out. Drier kale will stay good longer and retain its curly, crunchy texture.
23. Lay out the steamed kale on the paper towel you prepared earlier and leave it 10-15 minutes to dry/cool down.
Complete the salads:
24. While waiting for the kale to dry, rinse and chop 1 pepper into bite-sized pieces and put aside in a bowl.
25. Lay out your 5-6 sandwich-sized food containers on the counter.
26. Distribute the carrot disks you chopped earlier equally across all 5 containers.
27. Distribute the pepper pieces you chopped earlier equally across ONLY 3 containers. Later in the week (usually Wednesday evening for me), you will chop up the 2nd pepper and make up the rest of the salads for the rest of the week.
28. Distribute about half the dried fruit and nuts (which are optional, leave them out if you don’t want these in your salads) across ONLY 3 containers (keeping the rest in the fridge for use later in the week as explained above).
29. Distribute the cooled kale equally across ALL 5-6 containers and put the lids on the containers.
30. At this point you should have 3 containers with completed salads (kale, peppers, carrots, and fruit/nuts) and 2-3 containers with ONLY kale and carrots in them (because these will keep fine for the rest of the week, but the peppers and fruit/nuts should be added later to prevent them going bad or getting soggy).
31. Distribute the sliced turkey/beef equally across your 5 small round glass containers and replace the lids.
32. Fill your very small, airtight glass jar with salad dressing. This is a portion for one day and each evening you will refill this container to bring with lunch the next day.
Voila, everything you need for healthy lunches all week!
If you want a smaller lunch, you can do what I do and have the kale salad with your breakfast (yes, veggies a breakfast!) and bring the rest (including a snack) as your lunch.
I don’t usually have much time for lunch, so it is typically my smallest meal of the day and I don’t have time to chew both a kale salad and carrots!