Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Quick & Easy Meal Planning & Prep for Athletes, Part 2

This post is part of an ongoing series of articles addressing meal planning, prep, and menu ideas for endurance athletes. To view the previous article in this series, please click here.

Today, I'll be offering a list of food prep shortcuts and practical strategies that athletes can use to save time and better plan their meals.

1. Multi-task in the kitchen. Chop the vegetables while you're waiting for the water (for the soup or pasta, etc.) to come to a rolling boil. Soak the lentils overnight for the next night's dinner while you're unwinding in the evening after dinner. If you happen to come home for lunch, set out the kitchen tools and non-perishable ingredients and you plan to use for that night's dinner and place them on the kitchen countertop before you leave to go back to work. You get the idea. Try to multitask in the kitchen as much as possible to expedite meal prep as much as possible.

2. Delegate small, easily manageable, age- and skill-level appropriate (!) food prep tasks to your children or other family members. This time-saving strategy is also a great way to involve your entire family in a fun group activity. Not only is it great for family bonding and bringing everyone closer together, but it's also an opportunity to get them excited about food and cooking, and to educate them about food preparation and healthy food/lifestyle choices.

3. Use thinly sliced cuts or tenderized meat whenever possible, since these preparations will take less time to cook. When made in a grill pan, thinly sliced or tenderized boneless chicken breasts only take about 4-5 minutes per side. Not only does food cook faster, but a grill pan will also drain any excess fats/oils away from the meat. Toss together a salad and some fruit for dessert, and you're all set for dinner. :)

4. Use your outdoor grill. Grilling can be a lot healthier than letting ingredients soak in oil or their own fats. If you've got a good attitude and a hearty constitution, you can actually grill outside all year round. My own family has been known to grill in the dead of winter. Yes, even when it snows. We just put on our parkas, hats, and gloves and go outside and grill. :) A word of caution when grilling in outerwear: Please leave the scarves inside of the house, unless you want to catch on fire. ;) Of course, make sure your grill has a hood before you attempt grilling in adverse challenging weather conditions. Lol.

5. Fill your hydration system bottles in advance and store them on a refrigerator door shelf.
That way, you'll have them ready at a moment's notice. This is especially handy for those times when you might be half-asleep (and thus, a little bit forgetful) as you head out the door for your early morning workout. ;) If you're like me, you've got a lot of available fridge door shelf space, because that's where all of the refrigerated, processed/pickled/preserved food in many households would typically go. ;) After all, there's no need to store something that doesn't exist in one's house. :)

6. Find quality kitchen gadgets that cut your prep time in half. They don't have to be expensive, just well-made and functional. Start out by equipping your kitchen with the most basic and practical of time-saving devices -- i.e., tools like a chef's knife, lemon reamer (and/or citrus juicer -- the glass jars fitted with a citrus juicer attachment are particularly practical), vegetable peeler, jar opener, tongs, cooking and baking spatulas, cutting board, strainer, colander, funnel, soup ladle, basting brush, whisk, salad spinner, blender, food processor, etc.-- and then, if you have the means and the kitchen space, expand and supplement from there (i.e., microplane zester, oil diffuser, meat mallet/tenderizer, mandoline and slash-resistant safety gloves, immersion hand blender, electric stand mixer, etc.). However, only buy what you know you'll truly use and have enough room to store. This way, it'll be easier to keep your kitchen clean and orderly, versus letting it slowly slide into a cluttered, organizational nightmare. ;) Nothing wastes more time and energy than the frustrating (and sometimes fruitless!) task of searching for buried kitchenware and then, once found, having to gingerly untangle/extract them from the other surrounding kitchen implements lest it cause a major cacophonous disturbance. Simply put, one's kitchen prep should not resemble a game of Jenga. ;)

7. Make sure you're using the correct, as well as the best, tools and the techniques for the job. Kitchen prep goes a lot faster when you know which tools to use and how to use them. :) Here are some quick tips to help you in that regard:
  • Use a chef's knife to chop vegetables and sharpen it when necessary. While a paring knife or a steak knife might still be able to do the job, a sharpened chef's knife will allow you to chop a great deal faster. :) If you don't have much previous experience or skill in this area, watch YouTube videos to improve your knife skills and then practice these techniques the next time you're preparing food in the kitchen. 
  • Use the edge of a spoon to peel fresh ginger instead of a vegetable peeler. Not only will you preserve more of the ginger this way, but the peeling will actually go much faster. This is because you can get a better and much closer grip with a spoon, plus there are no blades to worry about. Also, due to fresh ginger root's rough and knobby surface, a spoon does a better job of peeling around the bumps and hard to reach spots. A lot of the time, a peeler just won't cut it, quite literally. :)
  • Learn the quickest way to peel garlic. Most intermediate-level amateur chefs already know the traditionally recommended method, i.e., whacking a garlic clove with the side of a chef's knife. However, did you know that there's a much better and faster way that to peel garlic doesn't even require a knife? And the best part? It won't leave your hands smelling like garlic. :)

And thus ends part 2. There are more quick and easy food prep shortcuts and strategies yet to come. (Part 3 will, of course, continue where part 2 left off....)

-Corey (a.k.a. "Cyberpenguin.")

For more tips on healthy eating, sports nutrition, and wellness, feel free to follow my public Facebook feed, recipe/nutrition blog, Cooking with Corey, and/or running blog, See Corey Run. My recipes and sports nutrition insights will also be featured in an upcoming series of nutritional lifestyle books for athletes. For more information, please visit The Athlete's Cookbook Facebook page.