Have you ever purchased a beautiful assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables on grocery day, only to throw it out on trash day? I’m ashamed to admit that I used to do that ALL the time. I always bought my produce with good intentions. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let it go to waste the next time. I even really like fruits and veggies, but I never wanted to do the work.
We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us right? So why don’t we eat more of them? For me, it was convenience. It seems like so many other things are easier. You can’t get a salad or a piece of fruit out of a vending machine, but you can certainly get chips or candy bars. That means that lack of planning would often lead me to grab something for a snack that was not really good for me.
Over the years, I have found ways to make it convenient to grab the nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. Preparation is key. Having a head of lettuce or a stalk of celery in the fridge doesn’t do me any good when I’m pressed for time.
How can you make it easier?
Plan time for prep
Plan time to prep your produce soon after you get home from the store. I used to try to make myself do the prep before I even put the groceries away, but that was too overwhelming. There were times when I either didn’t have the time or was too tired or hungry after shopping to do it. Then I would feel like a failure and the prep would never happen because I didn’t have a plan for when to do it. Now I make meal prep a regular part of my routine. I even schedule it on the calendar if I know I will have a lot.
Use small increments of time
You don’t have to do everything at once. Let me repeat that. You DO NOT have to do everything at once. Why do we feel like if we can’t do everything then we shouldn’t do anything? It takes me 5 minutes to throw together my mason jar side salads. It may take even less than that to separate baby carrots and sugar snap peas for snacks.
If you have 10 minutes, do something that takes 10 minutes. Maybe that isn’t the time to start cutting up 2 dozen bananas, but there is definitely SOME prep that could be done in 10 minutes. Utilize your small pockets of time. (Jessica Turner talks about this concept in her book The Fringe Hours. I am counting the days until I can get my copy!!)
Store produce in individual servings
Now that you have planned time for prep and completed your washing/chopping, it’s important to think about how to store your produce. Having a large bowl of salad or chopped up fruit is great, but what happens if you are running late? Chances are you won’t take the entire large serving with you. If the goal is convenience, having individual portions on hand will be key!
My goal is to make the healthy options just as convenient as the not so healthy options!
What I do:
- Cut bananas and freeze for smoothies
- Wash and separate grapes into 1 cup servings
- Wash and separate raw veggies into snack packs
- Buy single serving fruits (apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, etc.)
- Buy pre-cut packages of fruit (melon or pineapple chunks) or veggies (baby carrots, sugar snap peas, pre-cut celery, etc.)
- Make mason jar salads
- Buy canned fruit and separate into portions (pineapple, peaches, pears, etc.)
- Buy frozen fruit and vegetables and separate into portions (mushrooms, peppers, berries, tropical fruit)
As you can see, I use snack size bags to create individual servings. This makes it easy to just grab a serving when I want it without having to take extra time to get things ready. When I am truly hungry, the amount of prep time is a huge influence on my choices. Having the grapes prepped is a HUGE help to me. If I don’t have this done, I will either ignore the grapes or end up eating the whole bag. My hubs likes to have smoothies for lunch. Having the bananas pre cut and frozen makes it easy for him and also eliminates the need for ice.
I don’t think I would ever eat raw veggies if I didn’t have them cut up and ready to go. I would grab chips for a snack instead because they wouldn’t require me to wash or cut up anything first. Having my dips pre-measured really saves me too. It is way too easy to overeat. We tell ourselves that we can estimate a portion, but it is next to impossible to eyeball 2 Tablespoons when eating out of the container.
I love fresh fruit and vegetables, but I don’t always have time for the chopping. If you know you won’t have time for prep in a given week, buy fruits and veggies that don’t require any prep or have been pre-cut for you at the store! It is hard to find the balance between saving money and saving time. For me, it’s better to spend a little extra to have the healthy options on hand.
I usually buy baby carrots or carrot chips for convenience. Sugar snap peas are another great veggie snack that you don’t have to chop. Grape or cherry tomatoes also work well as snacks! Celery and cucumbers require some chopping but it can be done pretty quickly. Bell peppers and jicama are great for snacking but take a little more time prepare.
When I started using mason jars last year, it really changed my life and the amount of salad I was eating! My lettuce always seemed to go bad before I could finish it, and I had issues storing complete salads without something getting soggy or gross. I was amazed by the difference it made when I started storing my lettuce and salads in mason jars. I typically buy pre-cut greens (romaine, spring mix, spinach, etc.) to save on time, so I assume chopping it yourself would make it last even longer.
These days I won’t even open a bag of lettuce without having my jars ready to go. Most of the time I will throw in some shredded carrot (purchased pre-shredded) and grape tomatoes to make side salads, but other times I will put just plain lettuce in jars for storage. For my side salads, I use the pint sized wide mouth mason jars. On weeks that I am having entree salads, I will use my quart sized wide mouth mason jars to make my Italian Pasta Mason Jar Salad or the Chinese Chicken Mason Jar Salad. You can see jars and accessories in my Amazon store in the Kitchen Tools section.
You can buy canned fruit that is pre-chopped if you are careful to select fruit that is canned in 100% fruit juice or water rather than syrup. Now there are even lots of choices for individual portions of fruit (in plastic containers) in the canned fruit aisle. Of course you might pay more for the convenience, but it’s better than not having fruit at all.
Another great time saver is buying fruit already frozen. The key for me is separating it out into individual servings. I would never take the time to measure out a serving in the morning before work. Not only that, but it’s annoying to pull the bag out of the freezer and scoop out a serving each time you want it. By spending a little time up front separating the fruit, you will save TONS of time and aggravation in the long run. I actually think it saves me time to separate it all at once because I am not repeating the same steps over and over each time I want to have some!
I also absolutely love buying frozen vegetables in bulk and separating them into servings. I do this with peppers as you can see in the pictures, but I also buy recipe ready frozen mushrooms, frozen broccoli, and frozen brussels sprouts. I use frozen vegetables as side items of course, but I also use them in Chicken Philly Sub meal kits, Chicken Stir Fry meal kits, and Chicken Pepper enchiladas.
Once the prep is done, throwing a meal together is so much quicker and easier. For example, if I had to take the time to chop up peppers and mushrooms before I could cook breakfast, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I would have found another option or made the eggs without the veggies. I know it might seem lazy, but it’s just what happens. When I’m hungry, I don’t want to wait for a ton of prep time!
I hope this gives you some good ideas on how you can do advance preparation with your produce items to make your life easier!!
What are your favorite meal prep tips?