Meal prep and planning doesn't have to be a chore

  • Members of the Stevenson High School Food Revolution Club host a cooking class for Fittest Loser contestants in Lincolnshire.

      Members of the Stevenson High School Food Revolution Club host a cooking class for Fittest Loser contestants in Lincolnshire. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Prepping this recipe I learned from Stevenson High School's Food Revolution club -- lemon chicken with zoodles -- takes about 15 minutes and can easily be done ahead of time. Cooking it takes maybe 20 minutes, and BAM! -- a healthy, veggie-packed, super delicious dinner on the table. And since there are only two of us of eating it, that means Brian and I will have lunch for the next day, too.

      Prepping this recipe I learned from Stevenson High School's Food Revolution club -- lemon chicken with zoodles -- takes about 15 minutes and can easily be done ahead of time. Cooking it takes maybe 20 minutes, and BAM! -- a healthy, veggie-packed, super delicious dinner on the table. And since there are only two of us of eating it, that means Brian and I will have lunch for the next day, too. Brian Shamie | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted3/25/2018 7:15 AM

I always like to tell people I do my best work under pressure.

It's true, and it's partly what led me into journalism. But it's also true I end up doing work under pressure because I'm kind of a procrastinator -- time management and planning ahead are, shall we say, not my forte.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's especially a problem when it comes to meals. Oh, sure, I always have big plans for my meals (Hey! Let's have [insert healthy food here] this week!) I just don't usually end up actually planning my meals (Wait … what? … I'm not going to the grocery story and chopping things!).

That, in addition to not loving to cook? Well, there have been times over the years that, if left to my own devices, I'd end up eating a lot of french fry-based meals. As in, only french fries. (What? They're easy, sort of a vegetable and better than a tube of cookie dough, right?)

Luckily, my boyfriend, Brian, makes sure I don't live on fries these days; he loves to cook and is very good at it. But we work different shifts -- he works days, I work second shift -- and we both have pretty busy schedules. So, earlier this year, I started thinking that maybe I should start cooking more often. It would be healthier and less expensive than picking up fast food, plus it would give Brian a break.

But … ACK. It takes hours to prepare healthy meals, right? I don't have time for hours of boring food-prepping nonsense.

But, it actually does not take hours! And I have a group of students from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire to thank for teaching me that.

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The Fittest Loser contestants and I were invited to a cooking class led by the school's Food Revolution club. The group, which a student started two years ago as a community service project, aims to teach people about healthy eating in fun ways, according to faculty sponsor Sara Lohrmann.

All I knew going in was that it was a cooking class, and I fully expected to be sitting and watching someone else cook, try a few samples, and done.

Imagine my surprise when Lohrmann explained the students would be guiding us through preparing three healthy meals to take home.

Yikes. This could be a disaster.

I looked at my watch and wondered how fast Brian could get there to take my place.

I shouldn't have worried. These bright, enthusiastic (and also very patient) students were great teachers.

I learned how to properly hold a kitchen knife and chop safely (I am accident-prone, so this was important information). The teens showed me the best ways to do things such as chopping vegetables and juicing lemons; they also shared tips about creative ways to change up the recipes if I wanted to or had different ingredients on hand.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Plus, I got to chat with them about fun things like our favorite kinds of food, movies, music and video games. I even minced garlic for the first time!

Before I knew it, in less than an hour, we'd all prepped three meals. And get this: IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.

Oh, and the meals! They were delicious!

We made a dish with chicken, tomatoes and zoodles -- zucchini noodles, made with a spiralizer -- that was so good, I went out and bought a spiralizer a few days later so I could make it again at home.

We also made chicken fried rice using grated cauliflower in place of rice (which I've already made again) and a perfectly spicy chicken, sweet potato, and asparagus skillet that will also definitely be going into the permanent menu rotation.

While the meals were absolutely delicious for sure, the real lesson was that they were also healthy, easy-to-prepare (even for a kitchen klutz, like me) and, best of all, a whole lot more interesting than my usual salad of spinach, chicken and black beans that I've been eating pretty often lately.

Here's the thing: For me, for a variety of reasons, cooking healthy meals has always been a bit of a challenge. Thank you, Food Revolution club and Ms. Lohrmann, for showing me that, with just a little prep and planning, it definitely doesn't have to be.

• Melynda Findlay is a multiplatform editor at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 19 years. Thanks to Stevenson's Food Revolution club, she now knows cooking can be fun and, perhaps more importantly, how to mince garlic without cutting off a finger.

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