This cookbook made me a big believer in meal prep — and it's getting my family of four through the coronavirus pandemic
Jen Jones Donatelli is a full-time freelancer and a mom to 4-year-old twins. She became interested in meal-prepping to help save time and money during the coronavirus lockdown. A friend recommended the book, "Cook Once, Eat All Week," which involves making a variety of easy meals each week using just three main ingredients. All of the recipes are gluten-free — and even her son likes them. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
As a full-time freelancer for nearly 15 years and a mom to 4-year-old twins, I've become a master at multitasking, mostly out of necessity. At any given time, I'm juggling around six to eight clients and roughly the same amount of requests for snacks and cuddles — often simultaneously these days, thanks to the 24/7 togetherness of the COVID-19 crisis. With this in mind, meal prepping always seemed like a logical solution, with its promise of efficiency and potential time and cost savings. But in reality, time (to grocery shop and cook a large portion of food) and desire has always eluded me. Plus, variety is the spice of life, and eating the same thing all week felt a little too "Groundhog Day" for my greedy palate. Enter the 2020 quarantine, when suddenly I was spending more time in the kitchen than ever before. Maximizing our grocery haul and saving money became a priority. The crisis forced me to finally give meal prepping a try, and when a friend in my "moms of multiples" group suggested the "Cook Once, Eat All Week" cookbook by Cassy Joy Garcia, I was all-in.One of the main reasons I was drawn to Garcia's approach is its all-in-one appeal.
Unlike other meal prep methods, Garcia streamlines and simplifies the process by using one "main" set of ingredients that can be used in up to five different meals throughout the week. There's also a good range of cuisines represented, from Asian, Italian, Mexican, to Greek. All recipes feature a protein, a veggie, and a starch.
Each week calls for a different trifecta of main ingredients, like shredded pork-kale-plantains or ground beef-broccoli-potatoes combinations. According to Garcia, the three-ingredient lineups are intentionally chosen to include one protein, one veggie, and one starch; additionally, many of the same staples are used week to week, such as chicken or beef broth, extra-virgin olive oil, and various vinegars and spices. The process starts with a Sunday morning prep session.
This is when all ingredients are prepped and stored, but the actual meals are made gradually throughout the week utilizing the ready-to-use ingredients. These prep-and-cook sessions are short, sweet, and super easy to accomplish after a long workday. For my first attempt, I selected the trio combination of baked chicken breast, bell peppers, and spaghetti squash.
This produced three meals: sweet-and-sour chicken chow mein, chicken souvlaki bowls, and chicken Tettrazini. Each week's set of recipes also includes two "bonus dinners," so I could have stretched this to five meals, but I figured it was best to start small. Cooking this way was pretty easy.
All things considered, I spent about three hours prepping in the kitchen that Sunday morning, fueled by Diet Coke and a steady soundtrack of Prince and Michael Jackson. As the week progressed, my husband and I were happy to discover that each recipe tasted distinct and not similar to each other (and chicken tettrazini was our clear favorite!). Even my 4-year-old son — whose diet mostly consists of chicken nuggets and sweet potato dinosaurs — has been getting in on the action and loving it. My daughter, however, remains committed to her regimen of string cheese and Cutie oranges. In fact, I'm now four weeks into this approach, and we've only had one recipe (of 12) that we didn't love.
We were also relieved to discover more recipes that meet our individual dietary needs — my husband is full keto and low-carb, while I have celiac disease and eat strictly gluten-free. All of Garcia's recipes are gluten free, and she includes substitutions throughout the book for Paleo, grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and nut-free eating. Vegetarians and vegans won't find much to enjoy here, though, as all 26 weeks call for meat as a main component. In just a month, Garcia's meal prep ritual has become an enjoyable and consistent part of my weekend routine.
I can see this good habit actually continuing long past the pandemic. Though it's been hard to note any sort of savings on groceries just yet (we leave hefty tips on Instacart and are stocking up on kitchen pantry items) — I can easily see how this approach will eventually save not only time, but also money. And that's music to this multitasking mom's ears.