In this article I’m sharing a few meal prep tips for clean eating and more specifically how to store and organize your fresh produce and cooked food in order to keep it safe and fresh longer.
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Meal Prep Tips For Clean Eating
Let’s be honest no matter how much you want to eat cleaner and healthier you’re not going to do that until you actually see that carrot clean, peeled and cut (ready to be eaten). Otherwise you’ll just grab a packaged snack – because it’s quicker and readily available.
Many times I avoided meal prepping because I knew that the best food is freshly cooked from scratch. I’m a lazy person and this conflicts so much with my beliefs. To find a middle ground I started to search for better ways to keep the fresh produce high in nutrients and also last longer.
Therefore I’m laying out some of my most useful meal prep tips for clean eating regarding storing and organizing I learned along the way. They will bring you more confidence in meal prepping and help you stick to your clean eating plan.
How To Store Leafy Greens And Other Herbs
Number one meal prep tip for clean eating is to keep your leafy greens fresh, they are the most nutritious and the most perishable items. If you want your greens to last longer, it’s best to hold off rinsing until you’re about to use them. Fill a jar or a water glass partially with water and place the stem ends of the herbs into the water in the jar.
Make sure the leaves are completely dry. If you are storing the herbs in the refrigerator, cover with a plastic bag. Change the water after several days if the water starts to discolor. When stored this way they can last up to 2 weeks.
You can wash a portion of your greens for the next 2-3 days. Just make sure to store them only after they’re dry. After that, store them in glass container with a paper towel inside to absorb moisture, or a zip-top bag, leaving about an inch unsealed for airflow.
Another way to store herbs: cut them up, place in an ice tray, add olive oil, and then freeze. Use the cubes whenever you need them quick.
I like to wash my greens with ozonated water: it naturally disinfects and removes pesticide residues, kills bacteria like Listeria, E.coli and Salmonella, mold and other food pathogens. More about this below.
How To Store Cut Vegetables And Fruits
The best thing to do in order to keep your produce fresh longer is to cut all of your fruits and vegetables before you eat them, for two reasons:
- The longer we keep vegetables before using them, the more nutrients they lose, they already spent many days in transport and storage;
- When a fruit / vegetable is cut, it activates enzymes which destroys its own nutrients.
If you really must slice and chop and you don’t care about nutrient loss so much, then take into account that:
Fruits will last about 4 days after being sliced (some vegetables a few days longer). As long as you store them in an airtight container and keep them refrigerated. Apples, pears, avocado and bananas are an exception since they brown quickly. If you must slice your apples, dip the pieces in lemon juice. Freezing is another good option.
Vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, beets and butternut squash are easily stored in an airtight container, the bigger the chunks the longer they keep fresh. Cut the green tops off, otherwise they will draw moisture from the root, and make them loose flavor and firmness. I like to keep the greens refrigerated in a glass of water and covered. They keep crisp and fresh for up to a week, and I use them regularly in smoothies (after a give them a thorough ozone bath).
Peel the onions and garlic but don’t cut until you’re ready to use them in a meal. Cut onions immediately go bad as they attract the bacteria around the surroundings they are stored in, no matter whether they are stored in the refrigerator or in an open kitchen space.The best way to store peeled onions and garlic is in a ventilated container covered with a paper towel, or leave the lid partially opened. Place it in refrigerator to keep it cool and dry.
When it comes to keeping mushrooms fresh – is best to let them breathe. Storing in air-tight containers or plastic bags will cause condensation and speed spoilage. Instead, place mushrooms in a paper bag (unwashed), just be sure to leave the top open or use the original packaging from the store.
How to Wash Your Produce And When
It is advised to wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under clean water just before eating. Rinsing the produce with tap water when you bring them home will actually increases moisture and accelerates spoilage, microflora, and mold.
Another problem is that sometimes just washing the produce does not remove the pesticides, the harmful bacteria (when it’s an outbreak) or the wax layer from apples, lemons, oranges and bell peppers (meant to extend their shelf life). Even if they’re organic.
Since I started feeding my baby girl with solids (fresh uncooked food) I’m paying more attention to the food source. If you’re buying from a third party you never know how that fresh fruit or vegetable was handled. Chemical rinses and other treatments for washing raw produce are often used, especially those pre-washed greens in a plastic box or the baby carrots we all know. But are these washes safe and effective when the fresh produce are porous and could absorb these chemicals?
Therefore I’m using 2 more natural and safer methods to disinfect fresh produce before storing or consuming:
1) White Vinegar, Baking Soda Or Hydrogen Peroxide And Water
Rinse and soak your produce in the mixture for 15 minutes. Research has shown that a ratio of three parts water to one part vinegar is most effective. Adding a teaspoon of baking soda to a 4 quart bowl of water is another option. Soak your produce for a few minutes, swish and swirl, then rinse with clean water. Drain, dry, and store as usual.
2) Washing With Ozonated Water:
Ozone, has long been used as a water sanitizer, and ozone-infused cold water is now widely used by the food preparation industry to clean equipment and surfaces that come in contact with food including the food itself. This eliminates the need for sterilization with scalding water or chlorine. Ozone is said to be 50 % more powerful and to act 3,000 times faster than chlorine at 100 times the strength.
Ozone is effective against a wide range of pathogens including bacteria, viruses, mold, fungi and protozoa. Also it’s great for wax and some external pesticide residue removal . It has a lifetime of only 20 minutes in the water after which time it breaks down to oxygen. Therefore it does not leave behind harmful by products as do chlorine disinfection.
In order to get ozonated water you need an ozone generator, the gas is pumped into water for several minutes, and then this water is used as a rinse or to soak the produce for 10-15 min. Then you can take them out and leave to dry on a piece of paper towel. Put the produce into a glass container or a plastic bag with a piece of kitchen paper and keep in the fridge.
This procedure increases shelf life considerably comparing to just washing with tap water. I’m using this method of disinfection for several years now, and I can confirm that it’s worth investing.
Use Safe Containers
Use glassware for fridge storage of fruits and veggies. Many plastics may contain harmful chemicals that can increase spoilage. Alternatively you can use stainless steel containers, jars or BPA free plastic containers.
How Long To Keep The Cooked Foods In The Refrigerator
After food is cooked, it should sit out at room temperature no more than an hour before being refrigerated. Most foods, such as cooked beef, pork, seafood or chicken, chili, soups, pizza, casseroles and stew can be safely kept for three to four days because bacteria can still grow even at refrigerator temperatures.
Potato salads, cooked vegetables last two to three days and fresh salads last one to two days for maximum flavor and freshness. After that, the risk of food poisoning increases plus it loses a lot of flavor and texture.
If you are meal prepping for an entire week keep enough food for 3-4 days in the fridge, the rest freeze immediately and unthaw one at a time when ready to eat.
Let The Food Cool Before Storing
Cool at room temperature for no longer than 20–30 min or let the food sit in an ice bath. Do not store in air-tight boxes, when the food is still hot. It will seal in the heat and moisture, preventing it from cooling quickly which makes it a super vacation spot for bacteria to breed. Plus it will create condensation – making your food soggy and look unappealing.
Also make sure you use a glass container, you don’t want melting plastic chemicals leaching into your food. These are main endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic the body’s natural hormones and thereby cause a lot of health problems.
How To Reheat (No Microwave)
When you’re ready to eat the prepped meals reheat them on the stove or in a conventional oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 F (74 C) so that it is steaming hot throughout. I like to add about two tablespoons of water for every cup of food when reheating in a pan. Slow cookers aren’t recommended for reheating as they may not heat foods hot enough to kill bacteria.
I personally do not use a microwave, food cooked or reheated in the microwave does not taste as good, it has less nutrients plus there is a possibility that it might release harmful radiation.
That’s pretty much it, I hope these meal prep tips for clean eating will help you embrace the healthy eating lifestyle more easily and save you time and money!
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