Fun fact: if you were to prepare all meals at home, you’d shift, on average, 4.2 meals from restaurants to home cooking per week. At an average cost of $12.75 per meal (or $232/month), you’d save yourself about $8.75 for each of those meals. In other words, the average American would save $36.75 per person per week by moving all of their meals from restaurants to home-prepared meals.
From an economic perspective, this is compelling. From a health perspective, I tell my patients that eating your meals at home, cooked by you, will be the optimal choice. So even if you eat out a few times a week as treats, or order in, the bulk of your meals should be home prepared.
I think the biggest misconception is that you have to be able to put together elaborate recipes or spend loads of time prepping to eat healthy. And I really like to dispel that myth as quickly as I can. It is true that you do need to plan and prep, but that can be as quick as 15-20 mins sitting down either alone, with your spouse, or with your family to discuss the meal plan for the week.
This is not a cooking blog post—there are plenty of people much more talented than me who can show you have to make elaborate recipes, and you can find them pretty much everywhere you look. I didn’t want to do that because frankly, very few people have time to create a recipe from scratch on a Tuesday. What I wanted to show you is how a combo of flavors can help you put a flavorful meal on the table in less than 30 mins, using something I call a “prepcipe”.
Prepcipes work because they use flavor profiles: complementary spices and aromatics that liven up proteins and veggies without the complication that comes with measuring ingredients. They can be inspired by different cuisines or based on what you have in the house that day. Luckily, aromatics and spices take a long time to go bad, so you can prepare your kitchen by having lots of flavors on hand. All you need is to heat up then mix in the other components into the protein or veggie, and cook until done. Here are a few of my favorites:
Prepcipe #1: garlic + ginger + scallions + chili garlic sauce + miso + soy sauce (or coco aminos)
This is a great combo for an Asian inspired meal. Miso stays good in the fridge for a long time, ginger can be chopped into chunks and frozen, then easily defrosts under heat. Coconut aminos are a much lower sodium alternative to soy sauce. This prepcipe goes great on salmon or tofu, or mixed in with cauliflower rice.
Prepcipe #2: chili powder + paprika + onion powder + garlic powder + cayenne pepper
This one is a latin inspired combo that I love to use on a protein when making DIY fajitas. Chicken or beans flavored with these spices will be a healthy main when paired with low carb tortillas, sauteed onions and peppers, some salsa and avocado.
Prepcipe #3: garlic and onion powder, paprika, dried parsley, dried dill, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper
This combo tastes like Doritos! It has a Ranch-like flavor that makes ground turkey or chicken taste delicious. Nutritional yeast is often used by vegans to add a cheesy flavor to a meal so this is the special ingredient here.
Two great tools to have on hand for cooking prepcipes are a nonstick skillet and a dutch oven. A non-stick skillet, because it can be used for proteins, eggs, veggies, and pretty much anything! A dutch oven, which we use in our house every night for vegetables, because it heats up quickly, holds heat really well, and steams everything nicely. This is especially helpful for a big batch of food, like a stir-fry.
You may have noticed I haven’t added any recipes for starches. I believe that starches should be quick and easy, without any fuss at all, not even a prepcipe. High fiber grains like farro and quinoa can be boiled with water, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put in the fridge to eat throughout the week. Beans or lentils can be made the same way, and even canned beans retain most of their health benefits.
All of the prepcipe flavor combos can be used on any dish. The Brussels sprouts can be made with that Asian combo, the fajita mix can be used on the salmon, or whatever works for you. The best part of prepcipes compared to a traditional recipe is that you don’t have to measure anything! You put a little in, taste, add more if you need. Start conservatively. My goal is to have you cook by feel and taste without staring at a recipe. I want to free you from the cookbook!
Lastly, I wanted to give a quick shoutout to my favorite spice store, Penzeys. If you ever get the chance, please check it out in Menlo Park (find other locations here). They are a literal spice candy store with tons of mixes that really make cooking interesting.
Stay tuned for a virtual class later this year that will bring the prepcipe concept to life!