Have you been doing it wrong? Chances are, you have.
In our kitchen today, Chef Kat Marris, Fresh & Balanced, shares some common meal prep mistakes that could make you sick.
• About Chef Kat: (as told by her) I am chef on a meal prep and healthy cooking mission! I run an online meal prep program designed to take the stress out of meal prepping and healthy eating. I also teach meal prep cooking lessons and corporate wellness presentations. I am also a food blogger and write about meal prep topics and provide healthy recipes on my blog, Fresh and Balanced. My goal is to help you eat healthier and feel better one meal at a time.
• Why is it so important to pay attention to small details when cooking for meal prep? You don’t want to get sick! There are a few overlooked mishaps that can save you from a stomach ache or wasting a bunch of food.
Tip 1. Avoid cross contamination! Common mistake is to chop/slice vegetables, fruit and even bread on the same cutting board you cut or handle raw proteins like chicken, beef or fish. Make sure you fully wash the knife, board and countertop in between cutting proteins and anything else. I suggest using two cutting boards, one exclusively for handling proteins and one for vegetables, fruits etc…
Also make sure you use the right cutting board. Avoid plastic as the grooves made by sharp knives that occur over time can trap bacteria. Finally, always wash your hands!
Tip 2. FULLY cook all proteins! A trend I have heard of with meal prep is to undercook chicken and “finish cooking” the chicken in the microwave before you eat it. Always fully cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees before cooling. Use a thermometer and use it the right way!
Common temps for proteins
145 degrees for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb and allow to rest for three minutes
165 degrees for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
165 degrees for leftovers and casseroles
Tip 3. Cool your meal down fully before placing in the fridge! Don’t put a hot meal directly into the refrigerator. Do not allow food to sit out at room temperature for hours to let it cool down. Divide larger batches of food (like chili, stew etc..) into smaller containers with about two to three inches in depth, and then put it in the fridge. Never put super hot food in the fridge or freezer because it will make your fridge work harder and can raise the overall internal temp of the fridge, allowing bacteria to grow. Once the food reaches about 70 degrees, it’s fine to put in the fridge.
If you’re not reheating a meal, like the chicken and grape salad, be sure you keep the item cooled and stored at the proper temperature (under 41 degrees) and throw it away if it’s been in the “temperature danger zone” (between 41 to 140 degrees) for four hours or more.
Tip 4. When in doubt, throw it out! Warning signs a meal has gone wrong are foul or “off” smell, slimy or moldy, extremely wilted or food is breaking down.
A strategy you can use to avoid worrying about your meal going bad is to prep mid-week. You can also freeze meals and thaw mid week if needed.
Meal Prep Chicken and Grape Salad
Makes 4 servings
4 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
8 cups romaine or baby spinach
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, sliced in half
1 (7oz) package sharp white cheddar, crumbled
1 cup walnut pieces
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar or balsamic dressing of choice
Evenly divide romaine or spinach between four meal prep containers. Top with shredded rotisserie chicken, grapes, cheese, onion and walnuts. Pour balsamic vinegar or balsamic dressing in small cups and store on the side until ready to eat.
Spicy Turkey Chili
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 small jalapeño pepper, diced with seeds removed
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz) can no-salt-added kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add ground turkey and stir and cook until no longer pink. Add bell pepper, onion and jalapeño to the pot. Cook and stir over medium heat for three minutes until veggies just start to soften. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer chili on medium low heat for thirty minutes. Serve over whole wheat pasta or zucchini noodles.
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