Half the battle of cooking a healthy meal is taking the time to cut up all the vegetables you’re using. In fact, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that those who spent more time on preparing food ate healthier meals that included more fruits and vegetables. Prepping all of those veggies at the beginning of the week can help you to make the most of your meal prep time, while encouraging healthy eating!
Start Off Strong
Before you start chopping left and right, be sure you have the right tools. A sharp knife and quality set of meal prep containers will save you time, money, and frustration. Choose glass over plastic containers whenever possible, and be sure to find ones that seal tightly.
Next, you’ll want to be sure to thoroughly wash all vegetables. Greens should be patted dry before storing in the refrigerator, whereas most other veggies can simply be tossed around in a colander for about a minute to remove excess moisture before slicing.
Different types of vegetables should be stored in slightly different ways, though as a general rule similar types of vegetables can receive similar treatment.
Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and beets are easy to store. After cutting, these veggies can simply be placed in meal prep containers, sealed and stored in the refrigerator. The shelf life will vary depending on how the veggies are cut, but these vegetables should last for at least a week. If the leafy parts are still attached to your root vegetables, they can be cleaned and stored like any other greens.
Because root vegetables will lose their water content more rapidly than other cut vegetables, a slightly damp paper towel can be placed at the bottom of the container to help regulate moisture.
Greens and other leafy vegetables are far more delicate than their crunchy counterparts, and will need to be stored more carefully. After washing and patting dry, lay greens out in a single layer on a few sheets of paper towel, or a very clean dish towel. Gently roll up the towel with the greens inside, and store in a zip-top bag, leaving about an inch unsealed for airflow. Greens can last for about a week stored like this.
Onions, garlic, ginger, scallions, leeks and other aromatics that have been cut may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Be sure to check for signs of spoilage before each use, especially with ginger and garlic. It’s important to use tightly sealing glass meal prep containers with aromatics, as they will otherwise impart their flavor to everything in your fridge, including their storage container.
To extend the shelf life of ginger and garlic, these aromatics can be grated into tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray and placed in the freezer until solid. The solid cubes can then be transferred to an airtight container and stored in the freezer for several months. Simply take out a cube as needed and toss it right in the dinner pan.
Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage can be washed, cut, and stored in airtight meal prep containers, as they are particularly susceptible to picking up flavors in the refrigerator. Broccoli needs a little breathing room, and can be wrapped in a dry paper towel and stored in an open glass container. These vegetables tend not to lose their moisture after being cut, and can certainly survive in the fridge for a week or even a bit longer.
Peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados and squashes are technically not vegetables, but they tend to fall into that category during dinner prep. Once cut, peppers can only be stored for two days in the refrigerator before they start to turn slimy. Cut winter squash has a little more time, lasting up to three days in an airtight container. Tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and avocados don’t store very well once cut, so it’s best to store these fruits intact until they’re needed.
Prepping the vegetables for your weekly meals at one time can save you a lot of time, while helping you stick with your meal plan. All you need is a cutting board, a sharp knife and some quality meal prep containers and you’ll be in business.
Written by: Elizabeth Withkowski, N.C. - Certified Nutrition Consultant