Contrary to popular belief, multitasking in the kitchen is what actually creates meal prep fails. It results in missed steps, burned food because we weren’t paying attention to all items, and most of all stress because we are trying to do to many things at one time.
The recipe for success in meal prep is to sequence your cooking steps. Yes, this requires knowing your recipes real well and knowing the sequence of events that need to take place when making all the food items. Meal prep is so much more easy when you know how to maximize your work space and sequence your cooking tasks in the kitchen.
Sequencing is more like taking action in a sequence of events. Much like storytelling. It is about identifying what parts of the story or recipe, that should occur first, second, third, and then last. It is like knowing the beginning, middle, and ending of a story.
Sequencing helps the cooking process be more organized and easier to prep.
The first action step is to read your recipe and ensure you have all the ingredients that you need on hand. Then you will want to prep your items for rinsing, chopping, and measuring them out so that they are ready to go when the recipe calls for it. This is the part where you will also want to preheat any ovens and gather all your utensils, pots, and pans and make sure they are within reach. This technique is called Mise En Place. Read more about Mise En Place here.
The next step is timing your cooking and knowing how long each food item will take to cook and determine which is the most complicated to make. I always start with the items that take the longest to took and am able to walk away from so that I can focus on prepping the rest of the items that require more of my attention. For example, if I have to bake chicken and also make stir fry, then I start with baking the chicken first because I know I can place it in the oven for at least 30 minutes. While the chicken is baking, then I can make my stir fry because I know that I can make that recipe within 15 minutes and finish it before I have to focus back on the chicken.
Then I always finish with the easier products that just requires assembly, such as my salads or snacks. Because at this point, I’m pretty much done with the heavy lifting of cooking and don’t need to much mental energy to prep these items.
Here’ a sample menu and how I would sequence the steps:
Breakfast: Overnight Oats with Fruit
Lunch: Baked potato with taco meat
Dinner: Baked Salmon with roasted green beans
Snack: Celery Sticks with hummus
- Preheat the oven, gather my utensils such as sheet pans, tongs, spatulas, foil, etc
- Gather all my seasonings such as oil, seasonings
- Rinse and cut any vegetables needed in recipes (for example, the taco meat may require chopped onions, cilantro, and tomatoes)
- Rinse the baked potato and wrap it in foil and place it on a sheet pan
- Season the salmon and green beans and place it on a sheet pan
- Start with baking the potato, salmon, green beans, and set a timer
- While these items are baking, I would prepare the taco meat.
- By this time, all the cooked food will be done and start cooling
- While the food items are cooling, I will prepare the overnight oats and celery sticks and put them in meal prep containers.
- Once breakfast and snack is completed, my items should be cooled down enough to place in meal prep containers and put away.
- Throughout the process, I am removing clutter and placing dirty dishes in the washer so that clean up can also wrap up quickly.
Sure it takes practice to perfect this step, but start with the basics. Try two food items to sequence, and each week challenge yourself to add another food item. Before you know it, you’ll be sequencing your steps around the kitchen!