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The Complete Meal Prep Guide
Part 3: The Merged Recipe

The perfect resource for beginner and advanced meal preppers who want to learn new skills and hone existing ones.
This guide is a practical in-depth-look into meal prep.

Introduction

This time we are getting as practical as can be, because it’s time to cook!

Everybody got their apron on? Hands washed? Get Psyched-Soundtrack turned up? Great!

 
In this article I will show you how to prepare and cook the sample meal plan from part 1. The goal is to compress all the cooking into one session. To do this, we will take a close look at and de-construct each single meal.
 
You will find the complete recipes with all the ingredients, cooking directs and tools needed below. Then we take a look at possibilities to improve the whole process by using some of the tips and tricks from part 2 and some more. The challenge many face is the time management and time commitment it takes to prep for multiple meals at once.
 
The solution is to find – and there are plenty – tasks that can be grouped and/ or done simultaneously. Moved into cooking-blocks which are then put into a logical sequence is a strategy that can safe a lot of time. This will be – besides the tasty meals! – the take-home of this article.  At the end I will walk you through the improved version, step by step, and explain the thought process behind each improvement.
 
So, what’s the meal plan again?
Weekly meal planner filled out with delicious meals.

And what does that look on the counter after shopping?

Complete Meal Prep Guide Part3: Groceries on counter
Below you find the recipes for all the meals from part 1. Each meal will be listed as an individual recipe – in case you want to have one in you meal plan. We will then take a step back to get a birds view. What comes next will over time become somewhat automatic or second nature – but no worries if your new to all this, I am here to help!
 
What we are looking for are possibilities to shorten the whole prep:
Identify tasks that can be grouped and done concurrently while other ingredients are cooking.
So, basically, instead of standing around with your hands in the pockets or on the phone we will get some actual work done. Work that you can eat – how great is that?
 
This article will show you how to take that even further by showing you, how to combine several recipes to create one big recipe. To me that’s a ‘merged recipe’.
 
Even if it intimidates you to do several tasks in parallel I will show you that you can actually get something done while another thing is cooking. You can probably imagine to cut a few vegetables while the pasta is cooking, right? See, that’s the kind of possibilities we are looking for that can safe you a ton of time. 
 
You are occupied anyways – so, why not use that time for something useful. Let’s make it quick and get it done!
 
Enough talk, here are the recipes. Please read them and while you read look for possibilities where individual steps from all recipes could be grouped together. Also think about the order: Maybe you can think of an order that each group should be prepared in?
 
After that I show and explain the exact steps how I cooked all meals in a little under 2 hours.

The Recipes

Breakfast

Boil eggs for 8-10 minutes (this is long enough to get a hard egg but short enough so the yolk wont be dry)

    • don’t peel
    • after cooling down put them in to the fridge
    • boiled eggs stay fresh in the fridge for 2-4 weeks when left in their shell

Alternatively: make scrambled eggs with pre-cut vegetables you keep in the fridge like peppers and onion

Beef Salad with pear and mixed seeds

Ingredients:
    • 260gr flank beef
    • 250gr mix salad (1/2 bag)
    • 2 bell peppers
    • 2 tomatoes
    • 1/2 cucumber
    • 1 Pear
    • 50gr mixed seeds
    • spring onion
    Dressing:
    • 20ml olive oil
    • 10ml balsamic vinegar
    • 1tsp honey
    • salt, pepper
    Tools:
    • knife and cutting board
    • small pan
    • 2 big containers for the salads
    • 1 smaller mason jar for the dressing
    Directions:
    • clean the beef, pat it dry, sprinkle with oil and season (salt, pepper or any rub you like)
    • massage to spread the seasoning evenly
    • put the beef in the oven or fry in a pan
    • when done, let cool down and cut into stripes
    • clean and cut vegetables into bite size, place in bowl and mix
    • cut spring online in small rings
    • clean pear and cut into quarters then into slices
    • slightly roast the mixed seeds (you can add a little bit of honey and salt)
    • put aside in a little bowl
    • slightly roast the pear in the still hot pan
    • put olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and honey in the mason jar, close lid tightly and shake
    Place the two containers in front of you and begin to fill them with the mixed vegetables.
    On top spread the salad. Now add the beef, the pear and sprinkle with the roasted seeds.
    Together with the dressing put both containers in the fridge.

Chicken salad with feta, honey and mixed seeds

Ingredients:
    • 260gr chicken breast
    • 250gr mix salad (1/2 bag)
    • 100gr feta cheese
    • 2 bell peppers
    • 2 tomatoes
    • 1/2 cucumber
    • 50gr mixed seeds
    • spring onion

Dressing:

    • 20ml olive oil
    • 10ml balsamic vinegar
    • 1tsp honey
    • salt, pepper
    • Tools:
    • knife and cutting board
    • small pan
    • 2 big containers for the salads
    • 1 smaller mason jar for the dressing
    •  

    Directions:

    • clean the chicken, pat it dry, sprinkle with oil and season (salt, pepper or any rub you like)
    • massage to spread the seasoning evenly
    • put the chicken in the oven or fry in a pan
    • when done cut into stripes
    • clean and cut vegetables into bite size, place in bowl and mix
    • cut spring online in small rings
    • rinse the feta of its water and cut into small squares
    • slightly roast the mixed seeds (you can add a little bit of honey and salt)
    • put aside in a little bowl
    • put olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and honey in the mason jar, close lid tightly and shake
    • Place the two containers in front of you and begin to fill them with the mixed vegetables.
      On top spread the salad. Now add the chicken, the feta and sprinkle with the roasted seeds.
      You can add some more honey over the feta.
    • Together with the dressing put both containers in the fridge.

Curry Chicken With Rice And Pineapple

Ingredients:

    • 260gr chicken breast
    • 1 can pineapple or 1/2 fresh pineapple
    • 250ml coconut milk
    • 500gr broccoli
    • 1 onion
    • 1 clove garlic
    • 1 chilli
    • curry powder
    • 200gr rice
    •  

    Tools:

    • knife and cutting board
    • 2 pots
    •  

    Directions:

    • put rice into the first pot add 1tsp salt and fill with water
    • with the lid on bring the water to a boil
    • once boiling turn to a gentle heat and leave to stand for about 15 minutes
    • while the rice is cooking clean the meat and cut it into small pieces
    • finely dice the onion, garlic and chilli
    • the second pot will be used to fry the meat and make the sauce
    • add some oil to the pot and heat it up
    • fry the meat together with the onion, garlic and chillis until slightly brown
    • add a bit of salt and pepper
    • occasionally check the rice, when ready rinse and set aside
    • while the meat is roasting cut the pineapple into squares, keep some of the juice for later use
    • if you use fresh pineapple put the other half in your breakfast or have it as a snack
    • pour the coconut milk into the pot, flush the can with water and also pour into the pot
    • add pineapple, curry powder and stir
    • close lid and bring to a gentle boil, leave to stand for a few minutes
    • stir from time to time
    • salt to taste
    • separate broccoli tips and mix under curry sauce
    • take off the heat and let cool down

Spaghetti "Bolognese"

Ingredients:

    • 260gr ground beef (80/20)
    • 2 Bell peppers
    • 250gr onions
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • 1 carrot
    • 1 can tomatoes (chunky, with herbs)
    • 200gr spaghetti
    • 2 tbsp tomato puree
    • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    • 1 tsp paprika powder
    • salt, pepper, herbs de Provence (dried)
     

    Tools:

    • knife and cutting board
    • 2 pots
     

    Directions:

    • cook pasta according to the recipe given on the packaging
    • take second pot and with a little bit oil beginn to roast the ground beef
    • dice the onions, garlic and carrot into and add to the pot for roasting
    • season with salt, pepper and paprika powder
    • mix well until the ground beef becomes crumbly
    • roast until a setting forms at the bottom of the pot
    • deglaze with red wine or vegetable stock and stir until the setting have dissolved from the bottom of the pot
    • repeat this process 2-3 times
    • meanwhile clean and cut the bell peppers into to small squares
    • add peppers, canned tomato, herbs de Provence, balsamic vinegar and tomato puree and mix thoroughly
    • close lid, bring to a boil and leave to stand on a gentle heat for 20 minutes
    • stir from time to time
    • season to taste with salt
    • take off the heat and let cool down

On a side-note: You might notice in some of the pictures that I changed or added some of the ingredients while shopping. That happens from time to time. The chicken was changed for turkey because the butcher sold all the chicken. Also they had big packs of pasta on discount so I got fusilli instead of spaghetti. Left-over mushrooms where added to the “bolognese” and I tried canned cherry tomatoes (worth a try!) instead of the chunky. This is all fine. Just make sure to get products similar to the ones you planned to get. Similar in this case means (almost) nutritionally identical.

Time for Improvement

Okay, so these are the meals and their recipes. If you’d cook them i sequence, one after another, you’d probably need 3-4 hours. Puh!


What can we do about it? How can we get this done faster? How can we safe time?

The answer: With a merged-recipe.


A merged-recipe is exactly what it sounds like. You combine ALL steps from different recipes to create a SINGLE big recipe.


Here is how’d you do that:

  1. Put food groups, products and components of a meal that are cooked the same way into one group.
    Example: Meat is a group. Paste and rice is a group. Sauces is a group. And so on.
  2. Prepare the groups in a logical order. Consider the attention (while cooking) and space (on the counter, the stove, …) they need.

Example: The meat can be cooked in the oven. This keeps your counter free and requires little attention. Pasta and rice also require very little attention. Only space needed is the stove. To make the sauces you need space on the stove and space on the counter to cut the ingredients. The sauces need the most attention and block the stove for a longer period of time. Also they required that some of the ingredients are cut to begin with the cooking.

This list is from taken from part 2 that explains this technique in a different way:

outline for a merged recipe

Any meals that you want to or require cooking can be handled with these steps. More detail on that in the next paragraph.

Go and try this: The next time you read a bunch of recipes which you want to put on your meal plan remember these questions below.

    • What needs the most attention?
    • What needs the least attention?
    • What needs the most prep (=cleaning, cutting) before you can begin to cook?
    • What can be cooked with little to no prep?
  •  

  • This works best with meals you are familiar with and have already cooked.
    Unless the recipe is super simple I’d recommend you to try a new and more challenging recipe in a separate session. You could also try that either at the front or the end of a prep-session. Once you feel comfortable implement it into a following the prep-session.

Blocks of Cooking

With these steps in mind I rearranged all the steps of all the recipes into blocks. These blocks play an important role: they free up time because they allow me to move all steps into a logical and time efficient order. You also want to think about the space you have in your kitchen and for how long it will be occupied.

 

For illustration these are the blocks that I found most useful for the recipes of this particular meal plan.

 

Block #1: Meat

Individual steps:

    1. preheat oven and prepare the meat according to the original recipe
    2. spread the meat on a backing sheet (I used a deep casserole) and put it in the oven
    3. set timer to 20 minutes (or set it to 10 minutes, flip the meat, season and set time for another 10 minutes)
    4. for the curry cut the chicken into small pieces
    5. set aside in a bowl to marinate with a bit of soy- and hot-sauce like Tabasco if you like it spicy

You can start to portion rice and pasta, fill pots with water, add salt and bring it to a boil.
When the timer goes off take the meat out and set aside for cooling. Depending on the thickness of your cuts this might happen while you cook rice and paste. Keep in mind to have some space where you can put the meat once it’s done.

 

Block #2: Pasta & Rice

Individual steps:

    1. cook pasta and rice according to the recipes given on their packaging
    2. meanwhile clean all vegetables and begin to cut those that you need first (onions, garlic, chilies, then peppers)
    3. rinse pasta and rice, set aside
  1.  

Rice-Tip: Place rice in cold water, bring to a boil and allow to soak over a very low flame. That saves time and energy.

 

Block #3: Sauces

Individual steps:

    1. begin both sauces according to their recipe by frying the ground meat in one pot and the chicken in the second
    2. add the vegetables that are cut (onion, garlic and chili)
    3. cut remaining vegetables and add little by little
    4. finish the sauces according to original recipe

 

Block #3:

Individual steps:

    1. move one of pots aside and put a small pan on the still hot plate
    2. to roast the mixed seeds
    3. cut pears into stripes
    4. always keep an eye on the seeds – they might pop like popcorn and can burn quite easily
    5. fill seeds into a bowl
    6. brown the pear stripes in the pan without any oil or butter
    7. fill mason jars with dressing or portion into individual jars

To shorten that session even more you could leave most of the vegetables for the salad uncut. The problem with salads is that it gets watery over time. At the end of the week that neatly packed salad will look pretty sad and wont taste as good as fresh. If you ever opened a container with a salad that sat in you fridge for 5 days you know what I am talking about.


And let’s be honest: It takes maybe 10 minutes to cut a few vegetables, grab the loose salad from a bag and add the meat, cheese and seeds that are ready.

 

My advice is to make fresh salad(s) the night before – that’s about 10 minutes. Make sure to have all the other ingredients ready available. The only real prep needed for the salads of the sample meal plan are the meat, the pear and the seeds.

I kept half of the peppers for the salad. That’s it.

The Merged Recipe

I promised you my thought-process behind all this and here it is:

The meat takes the least amount of prep and attention if you cook it in the oven. Clean and cut the meat, put it in a baking dish or casserole, sprinkle with oil, season and then move it into the oven. Another thing that needs little attention are pasta and rice.


While the meat is cooking in the oven you can weigh both (pasta and rice), fill pots, add salt and boil the water. Both blocks are cooked before the sauces. Meanwhile we begin to clean and cut all veggies and make sure the boiling pots don’t spill over. Make sure the veggies that are needed first get cut first!


The sauces require the most attention and ideally most of the veggies have already been cut when beginning. Once done, set pasta and rice aside (strain, let cool). Now that we have the veggies ready and enough space on the stove we can begin to make the sauces.


As per recipe you begin with the remaining meat. While the meat is sizzling you continue to cut the last veggies and because we have some/ most of them already waiting to be cooked we are ahead of time. All we have to do is add another ingredient and return to cutting. Step by step.


Once the sauces are in their final stage – that’s when you add liquid, season, stir and leave to stand – you can take a big breath an pat yourself on the shoulder. The hardest part is over! You have done it! Clean up a little, finish the salads, begin to fill the container and enjoy the view.

As mentioned earlier its makes sense to do most of the cutting for the salads on individual days. This way the salad is always fresh and because the meat, seeds, feta and pear are ready it is done in under 15 minutes – including clean-up.

 

Done!

 

All that cooking done in under 2 hours and if you clean up little while you cook the aftermath is not worth mentioning.


You can start to fill the containers and let them cool down. I usually leave them in the kitchen over night with a lid on. Don’t tighten it so the steam can escape. In the morning I move everything into the fridge or freezer. If you prep mid day the meals should be cooled down in the evening and ready to be moved into the fridge or freezer.

 

Remember to pat yourself on the shoulder and have a little treat to stimulate your reward system. This helps building good habits for the future.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely possible to reduce cooking time with a couple of smart decisions. Think of blocks rather than individual recipes. Most recipes have similar steps that can be done at the same time (think “combining/ merging”). Move everything that needs a bit more prep to the end of the session. Usually that are sauces or individually cooked vegetables that you want to spread over the containers later.

  1. Get an overview
  2. Find meals and tasks within your meal plan that require different levels of attention
  3. Group tasks or different parts of a meal together
  4. Clean and cut in the time-shadow
  5. Move the steps that require most of the cutting to the end of the prep

Final Words:

Now it’s up to you. Take some time and create a few of these “merged recipes”. It will serve you well and safe many hours of cooking if you plan ahead and think just a little bit. This merging process will get easier and you can try recipes that require a little more attention.


That being said: I would never try to cook a big multi course session when prepping for the week. Keep it simple and add variation by seasoning. And most importantly: Enjoy the foods and what you have accomplished.

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