In my corner of northwest Montana, July 4 is the unofficial start to tourist season. The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research reported that more than 2.4 million people visited Montana last July—more than double the state’s population—and that half of those visitors entered Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and a long list of other stops. Those numbers downshift quickly: By October, there are again more residents than visitors in the state.
Like these tourists, I try to cram as much as possible into this short summer season, both in the garden and on a sailboat. I’m harvesting and processing at least 3 times a week and sailing just as often. This requires some intensive scheduling and as many shortcuts in the kitchen as possible.
One of my key tricks is to prep once and eat twice. I’m not just talking leftovers, although I make plenty of oversize meals to reheat later in the week. Instead, my “one prep, two meals” plan creates two separate meals from similar base ingredients and freshens them with new flavors. It’s the easiest way I know of to avoid feeling like you’re eating the same meal day after day yet speed up later-meal processes.
A “Solid Formula”
J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats nailed it when he wrote, “One prep for two meals is a pretty solid formula for good eating with minimal effort.” The recipes I’ll share this month are regulars on my summer calendar for exactly this reason. I’ve even applied this concept to better meals while cruising islands and camping in the front country.
We race sailboats Tuesday evenings, so I use the one prep–two meals formula most often early in the week. Here’s a standard schedule:
- Monday evening. One prep for dinners Monday and Tuesday. Enjoy Monday’s meal.
- Tuesday day. Work.
- Tuesday, 5:30 pm. Finish the Monday-prepped meal and pack it. Drive to the yacht club.
- Tuesday, 6 pm. Picnic at the lake before rigging the boat.
- Tuesday, 7 pm. Leave the dock for the start line.
When I choose the right pairing of recipes, it really does just flow. Instead of feeling stressed, rushed, and behind schedule, I can enjoy not just the waterfront meal but also preparing it.
Perfecting Meal Prep
When people think of simplifying meal prep, they often look at setting aside a chunk of a weekend day to fill their fridge with grab-and-go or reheatable food for the entire week. It’s an admirable goal, and it can work well for those who have full workweeks and free weekends. But I find that hours of prep on a free day can make chopping, mixing, and cooking—activities I enjoy—feel like chores. I prefer to prep in smaller, two-meal doses for this and many other reasons:
- Fresh first. Two-meal prep keeps all your ingredients fresh and vibrant. Harvest in the same small batches, and it reduces the time you spend in the garden each session and the time the food spends in the fridge or on the counter before each meal.
- Flexible plan. Trying to plan and shop for a week of dinners at one time can be as tiring as prepping all of that food in one sitting. It can also make you feel locked into your plan, thrown off by a poor harvest or an unexpected night out. Two-meal segments are easier to shift.
- Prep and eat. If you’re prepping a whole week of meals, you can get to the end of the session and still be asking, “So what’s for dinner tonight?” But tacking the prep for one future meal onto your current dinner prep is like getting bonus time: You might hardly notice that you did extra work tonight, but tomorrow you’ll definitely notice that the meal comes together faster.
The Big Picture
A cruise through the blog makes it clear that I am often in the kitchen preparing for more than just two meals at a time. Sometimes I do just prepare one evening meal, eat it, clean up, and start from scratch the next day. Sometimes I make one meal that we eat over several days. And I spend lots of time on seriously advanced prep: canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating, and more.
If you never seem to plan ahead in the kitchen, give this month’s recipes a try; for even easier meal prep, put some time into reviewing your pantry. If you already have a weekly meal-prep schedule that works for you, stick with it; you can incorporate this month’s recipes into your weeklong plan. If your summer season is focused on preserving your harvest, keep your evening meals quick and simple with extra produce or even your fresh trimmings: Pasta That Pops when you’re bagging tomatoes, Asian Cabbage Salad when you’re starting a batch of Head-Cabbage Kimchi, Fresh Improv Stir-Fry after a mixed harvest, or even no recipe required dishes.
Twice as Tasty
This month, I’m sharing some of my favorite recipes to prep on a Monday night and enjoy at home Monday and as a lakeside picnic Tuesday. Next week, I’ll share some fish recipes that are easy enough to get the one prep–two meals treatment but fancy enough that I make them for Twice as Tasty Live events. Later this month, I’ll share a risotto pairing, plus tricks for making risotto taste freshly made on night 2. I’ll also give a couple of my favorite cruising recipes that can be made at anchor—or in a campsite—and enjoyed as two separate meals. Happy summer!
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