Boxed lunch

Make-ahead meals pro­vide va­ri­ety, save money, aid in por­tion con­trol

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - DANIEL NEMAN

Some see a re­sem­blance to Ja­pan’s pop­u­lar bento boxes. Some just call it meal prep­ping. And some pre­fer to think of it as bring­ing lunch to work in plas­tic con­tain­ers.

Any way you look at it, it’s one of the hottest trends in food, if you lis­ten to so­cial me­dia. Peo­ple share recipes and take pic­tures of their bento boxes/plas­tic con­tain­ers. Folks can’t get enough of it.

And there are good rea­sons for the pop­u­lar­ity. In these time-strapped times, meal prep­ping al­lows you to make four or five lunches at once and par­cel them out through­out the week — if you don’t mind eat­ing the same thing ev­ery day.

It also cuts back on the cost, be­cause you can buy in bulk when you are mak­ing four or five lunches for your­self or, say, 20 for your fam­ily of four.

One of the most ap­peal­ing as­pects is por­tion con­trol, es­pe­cially for those look­ing to lose or main­tain weight. When you pre­pare meals at home in ad­vance, you can give your­self and your fam­ily just the right amount of food.

With home prep­ping, you can let your imag­i­na­tion be your guide. There are no rules. There are, how­ever, a cou­ple of sug­ges­tions.

Make dishes that are rel­a­tively hearty, and re­mem­ber, they have to stand up to a few days’ re­frig­er­a­tion. Souf­fles are out. Make some­thing that you are go­ing to want to eat sev­eral days in a row, and change up the menu ev­ery week. For a bal­anced meal, be sure to in­clude a pro­tein, a veg­etable and a starch.

And if you work or go to school with oth­ers, please, for the love of God, do not bring in any fish. There is no smell on this earth that is worse than that of fish be­ing re­heated in a mi­crowave.

I prepped three meals: one beef, one chicken and one pork. Sorry, veg­e­tar­i­ans, I just wasn’t feel­ing up to tofu. But beans, tofu or sei­tan are all great sources of pro­tein.

I wanted to keep it sim­ple, so I be­gan with a clas­sic — ground beef tacos.

If you were re­ally pressed for time, you could just buy one of those pack­ets of taco sea­son­ing at the store, but where’s the fun in that? You can whip up a batch of sea­son­ing in a cou­ple of min­utes, and it will taste much fresher than any mix that has been sit­ting around in a foil packet for months.

I put the beef in the con­tainer and topped it with a sprin­kling of chopped sweet onion, sliced fresh jalapenos, chopped to­mato and shred­ded ched­dar cheese.

I filled out the con­tainer with a few soft corn tor­tillas to make the tacos, plus a por­tion of black beans and some homemade Span­ish rice. For fans of His­panic-Asian fu­sion styles, it was a de­li­cious Tex-Mex meal.

For the chicken dish, I made a vari­a­tion of per­haps my fa­vorite go-to meal, pan-steamed chicken. That’s not an en­tirely ac­cu­rate name for it, but I can’t think of a bet­ter one.

I call the vari­a­tion I made Rose­mary Chicken. First, I seared a cou­ple of bone­less, skin­less breasts of chicken in olive oil, chopped onion and garlic. When browned on both sides, I added chicken stock and a large sprig of fresh rose­mary, cov­ered the pan and let the liq­uid sim­mer for 20 min­utes (these were thick pieces of meat).

The flavor of the meat was highly pleas­ant, not over­pow­er­ing — it’s easy to overdo rose­mary. I diced the chicken and put it in the con­tainer, along with green beans that were briefly boiled and then shocked in ice wa­ter and a por­tion of tri-col­ored bow-tie

pasta. It made for a pretty meal, and the col­ors were ir­re­sistible.

For the pork meal, I went a lit­tle fancy. I used pork ten­der­loin to make a recipe cre­ated by celebrity chef Char­lie Palmer. I used his mostly Asian-in­spired mari­nade (soy sauce, sherry, honey, rice wine vine­gar, or­ange juice, fresh rose­mary, shal­lots and gin­ger) to give it flavor, and then broiled the ten­der­loin. Grilling it would have worked just as well.

It only took about 12 min­utes to cook. Af­ter slic­ing, I packed a por­tion in my con­tainer, along with a col­or­ful med­ley of sauteed veg­eta­bles and some sim­ple boiled red potatoes.

It looked great. It tasted great. And for some rea­son I had the strangest de­sire to put pic­tures of it on Pin­ter­est.

Beef Tacos

1 ½ tea­spoons chile pow­der ⅛ tea­spoon garlic pow­der ⅛ tea­spoon onion pow­der ⅛ tea­spoon crushed red pep­per flakes ⅛ tea­spoon oregano ¼ tea­spoon pa­prika ¾ tea­spoon cumin ½ tea­spoon salt ½ tea­spoon black pep­per 2 tea­spoons oil

⅓ cup finely chopped onion 1 pound ground beef

½ cup wa­ter

Chopped sweet onion, for gar­nish Shred­ded cheese, for gar­nish 12 soft corn tor­tillas

2 cups cooked black beans

2 cups cooked Span­ish rice Fresh cilantro, op­tional gar­nish

In a small bowl, mix to­gether chili pow­der, garlic pow­der, onion pow­der, red pep­per, oregano, pa­prika, cumin, salt and pep­per. Set aside.

Heat a large skil­let over medium-high heat and add oil.

When hot, stir in onion. Saute 2 to 3 min­utes, un­til soft. Add ground beef and saute un­til browned, break­ing up clumps of meat with your spat­ula or spoon. Drain fat. Add sea­son­ing mix­ture and wa­ter and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til liq­uid is nearly evap­o­rated.

Sug­gested meal prep: put ¼ of the beef in each of four con­tain­ers with a sprin­kling of chopped sweet onion, shred­ded cheese, 3 small tor­tillas, ½ cup cooked black beans and ½ cup Span­ish rice. Gar­nish with cilantro, if de­sired.

Makes 4 servings.

Rose­mary Chicken

1 ta­ble­spoon olive oil 2 ta­ble­spoons finely chopped


1 clove garlic, crushed 2 bone­less, skin­less chicken breasts, about 12 ounces each

Salt and ground black pep­per

½ cup chicken stock

1 large sprig fresh rose­mary 3 cups cooked green beans 2 cups cooked tri-color bow tie pasta tossed with a hand­ful of halved cherry toma­toes

In a large skil­let, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute 2 min­utes. Add garlic and saute 30 sec­onds. Sea­son chicken breasts with salt and pep­per and add to the pan. Cook un­til bot­tom side is golden brown; flip and cook un­til new bot­tom side is golden brown.

Add stock and sprig of rose­mary, sub­merg­ing the rose­mary in the liq­uid. Cover, lower heat to a steady sim­mer and cook un­til chicken is just cooked through, 15 to 20 min­utes, depend­ing on the size of the chicken.

For meal prep: Cut the breasts into cubes. Place ¼

of chicken in each of four con­tain­ers along with ¾ cup green beans and ½ cup pasta.

Makes 4 servings.

Pork Ten­der­loin

2 pork ten­der­loins ¼ cup soy sauce ¼ cup dry sherry ¼ cup honey

2 ta­ble­spoons rice wine


1 ta­ble­spoon or­ange juice 2 ¼ tea­spoons minced fresh rose­mary

1 ½ tea­spoons minced shal­lots ½ tea­spoon minced fresh gin­ger

1 ½ pounds boiled red potatoes

4 ½ cups sat­uted mixed veg­eta­bles

Re­move sil­ver skin from ten­der­loins and place pork in a bak­ing dish without crowd­ing. In a medium bowl, mix to­gether soy sauce, sherry, honey, vine­gar, or­ange juice, rose­mary, shal­lots and gin­ger and stir or whisk un­til thor­oughly com­bined. Pour mix­ture over pork, cover with plas­tic wrap and mar­i­nate, turn­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, at least 2 hours. Leave the bak­ing dish out­side the re­frig­er­a­tor if mar­i­nat­ing for a few hours; re­frig­er­ate if mar­i­nat­ing overnight and bring to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore cook­ing.

Cook un­der broiler or on grill un­til pork is just slightly pink in the mid­dle, 10 to 13 min­utes. Re­move from heat and al­low to rest a few min­utes be­fore slic­ing.

For meal prep: Slice ten­der­loins. Place ⅙ of ten­der­loin, 4 ounces potatoes and ¾ cup mixed veg­eta­bles in a each of six con­tain­ers.

Makes 6 servings.

St. Louis Post-Dis­patch/TNS/CRISTINA M. FLETES

One of the

most ap­peal­ing as­pects of pre­par­ing meals ahead is por­tion con­trol, es­pe­cially for those look­ing to lose or main­tain weight.

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