Meal Prep with Physical Limitations

No, I’m not turning this into a cooking blog.  I’ve been asked to share this process by other authors who have physical limitations.

I started meal prepping when I started writing regularly because I would go days without eating a proper meal.  By spending the time to cook enough food for a week, I was able to have healthy, tasty meals again, and all I had to do was pop a container into the microwave.  I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and have worked out some of the kinks in the process so food doesn’t go to mush the instant it hits the microwave.  On any day you’ll find stir fry, curry, chicken parmesan, home made chicken soup with rice, or even pasta primavera hanging out in my freezer.

Three years ago I began to have trouble with my lower spine.  Arthritis makes it hard to stand in one place for a long time.  In the past two months, I’ve been dealing with a new issue in my neck that has left me with pain and weakness in my right arm, making it hard to handle a knife properly like I was until this began.

Thankfully, the meal prep has saved my diet.  So, given that I’ve done this, I’m going to share a recipe and the methods needed to fill a freezer with healthy, filling meals so anyone who has similar troubles can take care of themselves.

For this round, I’m going to go through making pasta primavera.  PLEASE keep in mind that I don’t actually use recipes.  I kind of go with the method of “these things go together” and “add stuff until the ancestors are pleased.”  I’m putting this into actual recipe format just to give a solid base point.  You may want more or less of anything, and I promise, these meals will be forgiving if you do it, mostly.  The biggest thing in this one is to not OVER garlic it and not to OVER pepper.  Taste and then add more is always a good idea.

I also recommend pausing between tasks if you have trouble holding a knife or using your arm for an extended time.  If you have trouble standing to handle all the prep, use a cutting board on a lap desk, or a tv tray.  Pop on a movie and go to it.  You’ll be entertained and get dinner ready.

That said, here we go!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Olive oil
  • Italian seasoning or herbs de provence
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt
  • 1-2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 lb shredded carrots (unless you just want to take up time and energy shredding them yourself, you can buy these in a bag)
  • 2-3 small zucchini
  • 1-2 med broccoli crowns
  • 1 each, green, red, and yellow bell pepper
  • 1 med yellow onion
  • *some people also like to add cherry tomatoes but I don’t as tomatoes and I have an iffy relationship.  Another popular addition is squash which can be cut the same as the zucchini
  • Alfredo or Marinara sauce.  If you buy it, you’ll need two jars.
  • Pasta (Best are bowtie, fettucine, or penne) for 6.
  • Large bowl with ice water

Directions:

  1. Start with cutting the peppers into long, thin strips. You’ll want them about 1/8″ wide, cut lengthwise.  Set aside.
  2. Cut the onion in half, then into strips as with the peppers. Set aside.
  3. Cut the zucchini into 1/4″ slices, like little coins.  Set aside.
  4. Cut the broccoli crowns so that they’re thin enough to cook with the zucchini.  I don’t have a measurement for this, but figure on everything in this dish being 1/4″ or smaller.  Set aside.
  5. Freeze the chicken breasts for 30-45 minutes.  They’ll cut much more easily if they’re chilled thoroughly.  This way you can get consistent cuts and reduce your effort.
  6. Slice the chicken into 1/8″ strips, lengthwise.  Cut the strips in half or in thirds so you end up with pieces that are bite-size or at best, two bites.  Put everything in the fridge and prepare to be at the stove for about 20-25 minutes. (take a good rest here if needed)
  7. In a large skillet with deep sides, put enough olive oil to coat the bottom (not enough to fry, just to prevent sticking and add flavors), add garlic, and let it sit for a few minutes before turning on the heat.
  8. Start the water for your pasta.
  9. Heat the skillet over medium heat and dump in the chicken.
  10. Add a little salt, some crushed red pepper, and italian seasoning.
  11. Stir and turn the chicken until it is cooked through.  Do NOT overcook the chicken.  If you do you’ll have a dry, rubbery mess when you run it through the microwave.
  12. When the chicken is done, add the broccoli and zucchini.  Let these cook about halfway through.
  13. About this time you need to add the pasta to the water, which should be boiling.
  14. When the broccoli starts to become tender, add the other veggies.  You may need to add a teaspoon or two of olive oil at this time, just see how things look and decide if you’re in danger of things sticking without it.
  15. Sprinkle the skillet with more Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes.
  16. Stir the veggies and chicken in the skillet until the peppers are a little more than halfway cooked through.  Remove skillet from heat.
  17. IMPORTANT: Most pastas cook in 10 minutes.  Only cook pasta for this meal prep for EIGHT MINUTES.  If you cook it the entire 10, you’ll have mush in the microwave.
  18. Drain pasta and dump into a bowl of ice water.  This stops the cooking and leaves the pasta just above al dente.  Stir until pasta cools completely and drain again.
  19. Set out 6 freezer dishes.  (I use the rubbermaid dishes that are the size for sandwiches, but you can use larger dishes if you wish.)
  20. Portion pasta into the bottom of each dish.
  21. Add chicken and veggie mix, leaving a space at the top of the dish.
  22. Cover in sauce.  Keep in mind, pasta that is visible will turn crunchy when you microwave it, so spread it around if you need, but literally cover the food.

And there you go, pasta primavera.  If you use the sandwich size dishes, microwave a frozen dish for 4 minutes, stir, and continue microwaving for 2 minutes.  The veggies will still have some body to them and the pasta will be either al dente or just barely cooked past that point.  Oh, and keep the dish covered with a paper towel or something as the sauce will splatter when heating.

Total prep time varies.  If I’m able to do the entire set of veggies without stopping, it’s about 40 minutes of prep and 30 to package.  It sounds like a lot of time, but there’s six meals that you don’t have to spend but 6 minutes on!

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