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Meal prep 101: What I learned after a week of cooking for myself 

click to enlarge BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS I highly recommend breakfast smoothies for other toast junkies like me. I went into my days with so much more energy after chugging a tasty glass of spinach, fruit, and almond milk. - PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • Photo By Peter Johnson
  • BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS I highly recommend breakfast smoothies for other toast junkies like me. I went into my days with so much more energy after chugging a tasty glass of spinach, fruit, and almond milk.

Real food talk: Cooking for yourself is hard.

Sure, it's easy during the festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas, when you have a date coming over for dinner, or on the days you actually feel like it.

But cooking consistently, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Meal prepping week after week? That's a different story, especially for a scattered, single knucklehead like me. It's a lot easier to drop into one of SLO's alluring restaurants for lunch and kiss goodbye the extra $10 (or more) spent.

I realized—well actually, my editor helped me realize—that this "Flavor" issue presented a good opportunity to challenge my eating-out habit by making all my own meals for a week and writing about the experience. Empty-walleted from the aforementioned spending, I accepted the challenge.

My first stop wasn't the grocery store, but Google. I have a few favorite recipes of my own, but I wanted to find a couple of nutritious dishes I could make in bulk and that would keep well in the fridge. Thankfully, the web knows no bounds when it comes to recipes and general cooking advice. After perusing a few cooking blogs, I picked out a vegetable quinoa bowl and a chicken stir-fry for dinners/lunches and, for breakfast, a spinach-heavy smoothie. I took screenshots of the recipes on my phone and took off for Trader Joe's.

Back at home, I dusted off my food processor and blender (having used neither since I moved to my current apartment in September), sharpened my knives, and readied my measuring cups. I threw on a vinyl record and got cooking. It took a few minutes to get my momentum going, but after about 15 minutes I was in the meditative and satisfying flow of cooking—the quinoa cooking on a burner, the sweet potato slices roasting in the oven, and the almond butter, ginger, and lime dressing churning in the food processor. After everything was ready, I mixed it all in a big bowl with the other vegetables and stuck it in the fridge for future lunches.

click to enlarge DRESSING THE QUINOA This quinoa vegetable bowl recipe called for an interesting almond butter, ginger, garlic, and lime dressing that turned out delicious. But it looks like hummus. - PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • Photo By Peter Johnson
  • DRESSING THE QUINOA This quinoa vegetable bowl recipe called for an interesting almond butter, ginger, garlic, and lime dressing that turned out delicious. But it looks like hummus.

The next morning, instead of my usual sourdough toast with butter and coffee for breakfast, I crammed a couple handfuls of spinach, a banana, frozen pineapple chunks, and almond milk into the blender and—wow. That drink gave me five times more energy and vitality than what I normally feel in the morning. That evening, I cooked up the chicken stir-fry for my second lunch/dinner option. Now I'm set for the rest of the week. I managed to get through it without spending a penny more on food, and I actually felt better.

My meal prep process wasn't perfect or very efficient. I don't have a system or schedule nailed down. I found out that preparing meals for yourself all the time isn't easy. But I imagine it's like a muscle you have to use to make stronger, and, boy, is it an important muscle. There are so many benefits to taking responsibility for your food—financial, nutritional, and personal—that I hope I can keep the routine going. Especially with all the expertise and recipes available online, all it'd take is a little bit of planning and effort. Bon appetite!

Meal prep recipes

Breakfast smoothie

Recipe courtesy of whatsgabycooking.com

1 tbsp almond butter

2 cups spinach

1 cup vanilla almond milk

1/2 ripe banana

1/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks

Optional: 1 tsp chia seeds or flax seeds

Quinoa bowl with sweet potatoes

Recipe courtesy of makingthymeforhealth.com

click to enlarge MIXING IT Here's the finished product: a giant bowl of quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, and other veggies. Perfect for a quick lunch at work. - PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • Photo By Peter Johnson
  • MIXING IT Here's the finished product: a giant bowl of quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, and other veggies. Perfect for a quick lunch at work.

1 cup quinoa

1 cup shredded cabage

1/2 cup diced green onions

1/2 cup cilantro

3/4 cup chopped almonds

2 sweet potatoes

1 tbsp salt

Dressing

1/3 cup almond butter

1/3 cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves

3 inches peeled ginger

3 squeezed limes

filtered water for consistency Δ

Staff Writer Peter Johnson is neck deep in quinoa at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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