This is the third article of the three part Meal Prep 101 series. Check out the first two Meal Prep 101 articles From the Beginning and Creating a Plan to get you up to speed for this Prep Day article!
Mise en place
Three words to describe the most important task that the chef must complete prior to cooking. Mise en place in French means “everything in it’s place.” Take a moment to clear the counter of obstructions, and take out the trash or compost. Ensure that your knives, cutting boards, pots, pans, utensils, and anything else you will need are clean and ready for use. By doing this before you start, you create a blank slate to create your masterpieces and help the process run smoothly.
Prior to heating up the oven, think about how you can break down the meals into similar components if you plan to create more than one dish at a time. Breaking them down into the following steps can help you to streamline your cooking.
1. Have what you will need out and grouped according to recipe. Start by pulling out all the items you will need (spices, produce, grains, etc.) and set them items aside in their own space by recipe. i.e. you are making chicken soup, create a “group” out of the chicken, broth, celery, carrots, and rice that the recipe called for on your counter. Grouping the items will help to keep things organized so you don’t accidentally mix recipes. Place your recipe with each group to mark what the ingredients are for.
- TIP: Now is a good time to preheat your oven or grill.
2. Clean and chop. First, remove the produce that needs to be processed from each group. Thoroughly wash, peel, chop, or dice all produce and legumes you will be using. Use bowls to help reorganize your processed produce and legumes, then place back into their appropriate recipe group. If using a spice mix or making a dressing, add what you will need to small bowls and return to group. Lastly, clean and prepare any meat, seafood, or poultry. Doing this step last will help to reduce any cross contamination with your produce.
3. Tidy as you go. Taking a moment to tidy up your kitchen as you go along i.e. cleaning knives, cutting boards, strainers, etc. as you cook will greatly help to reduce the amount of cleaning up you will have to do once you have completed your cooking.
4. Play with fire. Cook your meals according to recipe. As you advance your cooking skills you will find that recipes are more guidelines as opposed to hard rules to follow (that being said, when baking, it is best to follow the recipe precisely to ensure a proper end product). As you cook more often you will also become much faster and a recipe that initially took 2 hours for you to prepare will be slashed to 30 minutes. Have fun as you cook! Put on music, dance, pretend you are a cooking show host, have a drink, or laugh alongside a friend as you cook. Cooking is a wonderful was to express creativity and relax.
5. Organize the finished products. As your dishes cook up, organize them into meal sized portions. Have ready leak proof containers, glass containers, or a food wrap to cover meals to be had at home so you can dish out the appropriate amount of each meal into your containers. This is where portion control is important. If you based your meal plan off of the 4 serving recipe to last you 4 meals then you should divvy it up as such or you will have more or less than what you planned for. Break out a scale or measuring cups to ensure you are dividing up the meals evenly. If you have extras (i.e. rice, meat, veggies), often times you can freeze them and save them for next weeks meal plan.
6. Clean up. Since you have been tidying as you go. This last step should be mostly wiping down counters and taking out the trash. Think about a clean kitchen and the satisfaction of knowing your meals are taken care of for a while. Imagine how great you will feel as you start your week with mise en place.