You know those weeks when there’s so damn much going on that you can already feel yourself teetering before the week even starts?
Well, we tend to have a lot of those around here. So even though I have a meal planning system set up with essentially my whole year of meals planned out, I still have weeks where a formal plan feels like too much to put on myself or anyone else.
So what I came up with is called Freestyle Meal Prep.
What is Freestyle Meal Prep?
Freestyle Meal Prep is what I call it when you don’t really have a formal meal plan or meal prep plan but you do know that you need food easy and ready for the week, if you’re like me and have crazy weeks sometimes where this would be really your lifeline for sticking to your anti-inflammatory diet all week with no planning.
This is really important when you’re managing inflammation and/or blood sugar levels, because your diet is the number one thing you can change to keep inflammation under control.
Now a lot of meal preppers who rely on the ‘cook once eat twice’ method will usually cook meats and then chop veggies at the start of the week but I like to do the opposite of that. Instead, I like to chop and cook veggies and any grains or other complex carbs that I might use during the week, like quinoa, rice, beans, or lentils and then cook meat the night of.
Here’s why I flip that around:
So number one, we found that when we cook meats and then reheat them for our dinners they tend to end up pretty dry so they don’t taste nearly as good and then if you have leftovers you’d really just end up reheating those all over again making it taste even worse.
We have a lot of complainers in our household and that’s one of the main things that they complain about is the meat being dry. Also, meats in particular build up histamine as leftovers and I personally have a histamine issue that makes it better for my allergies and inflammation to just cook meats fresh the day of.
Number two is that studies are showing that cooking carbohydrates and then letting them cool and then reheating them again actually increases the amount of resistance starches significantly.
What this means is that those carbs aren’t causing that huge blood sugar spike. Instead, it’s keeping you at more of a steady blood sugar level over a longer period of time keeping you feeling full for longer.
This trick with resistant starches is important because it helps feed your good gut bacteria which helps with inflammation but it also keeps that blood sugar more steady which also helps with inflammation. So it’s kind of a two-fold punch there.
Learning to plan meals around veggies
And then number three: Moving into an anti-inflammatory diet will really just show you how amazing you can feel by eating more plant-based, plant-forward, or sometimes called a flexitarian style of eating. And doing this makes it really easy to just cook all the veggies up front since they store and reheat well and then plan meals around all of the veggies instead of meats.
This actually saves me a ton of time and is my go-to when I don’t have the brain power or the time to do actual meal planning and prep for the week while still getting all those meals on the table for my family at night and then also having lunches for me during the week.
And this method really is super simple so let’s get into it!
How to do Freestyle Meal Prep
So first things first– when I do freestyle meal prep I have my list of seasonal veggies and just add whatever sounds good that week to my grocery order. If you don’t do grocery orders online and you actually go into the store, just take your seasonal veggie list and choose the produce off of there that is appropriate for that season.
Step 1: Get out your prep foods and supplies
So to get started I get all that produce out. I get out my cutting board, my good knives, and a pan to roast the veggies on. Then I go ahead and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Some people like to use a Sil match to roast veggies on because stuff doesn’t stick, but I found it really hard to find one of these that fits my pan perfectly. I do still use this for things that I bake that won’t leak into the oven, but for roasting veggies I found a secret kitchen tool that I accidentally stumbled onto.
It’s a barbecue grill mat and I’m telling you nothing sticks to this! They usually come in a pack rolled up all nice in a box (linked below).
And what I do is actually cut them to fit my pans that have lips so that they fit perfectly. And I’ve done this with baking sheets and I’ve also done this with CorningWare dishes.
(Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link, so if you decide to purchase this product, I made a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra charge to you.)
Now for this summer meal prep session, I’ve got zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, green beans, bell peppers, and onions, and I wanted to try fennel this week. Fennel looks a little bit like a celery plant but it has a flavor that’s more like anise, a little bit like licorice. It’s definitely not for everyone but at least wanted to try it out.
Step 2: Wash and chop
Once I make sure that everything’s been washed, I get started chopping.
What’s so easy about this whole process is that there’s almost no wrong way to do it. I literally either slice or chop the veggies however I want as long as I get the pieces all about the same size. This just ensures that all those vegetable chunks cook at about the same rate.
Squash and zucchini
For the squash and zucchini I just slice them in half lengthwise and then just chop slices all the way down.
Eggplants are tricky for some because they are part of the food family called nightshades. Nightshades cause inflammation in some people, but this isn’t a guarantee. Research has shown that nightshades causing inflammation is highly personal to each individual and any conditions they have, and the best way to know if you personally react is to do an elimination diet.
I like eggplants because they’re pretty filling but they have a soft texture without being mushy with liquid. Eggplant slices are really great for eggplant parmigiana, so it may help to slice it if you’d like to use it that way. I’ve been told by an Italian chef before that they sometimes do that and leave the skin on to help the eggplant slice stay intact during cooking.
But I also like to peel mine and cut it into those kind of half slices or half moon slices to roast as well. One thing I’ve learned through the years about eggplant is that you may need to switch your peeling tool depending on the thickness of the skin.
In this meal prep session I tried my larger knife and it wasn’t working very well so I then tried my peeler which is actually really sharp but it wasn’t doing that well either. So for safety’s sake I moved on to a much smaller paring knife which worked great.
Next I chopped my fennel. Now fennel is like a large celery bulb in shape and texture. I just sliced the end off where the root is and then sliced off the stalks and then just sliced up the large bulb.
It can be a little difficult to do it this way just because the pieces fall apart a little bit, but just kind of do the best you can. Then lay the slices out and just drizzle them with oil and season them and everything before you roast.
Bell peppers and onions
Then I moved on to my peppers and onions. now for bell peppers I usually will cut off the top and then I’ll work the knife around the insides to pull out that seed pod. Then I’ll turn it upside down and give it a tap to get all those seeds out and then flip it upside down to cut it into slices. I did the same thing with my green, red, and orange bell peppers.
Then when those were done I peeled the skin of my onion. If I’m making something like maybe pico de gallo for a Mexican dish I’ll go ahead and cut some onions into smaller pieces, so I did go ahead and do a little of that. And then I cut the rest of it into larger slices to roast with the bell peppers.
Other veggies that don’t get cooked
The last thing in this session that I did was chop green beans. I do like roasted green beans, but I knew that we wanted fish one night this week and I love sauteing green beans during the summer because the fresh ones taste really great when they still have a bit of crunch to them.
So the green beans did not get roasted but they did get put into a storage container in the fridge.
Once I’ve got enough veggies to fill a pan I place all the chunks in sections.
The easiest way to prep roasted veggies–especially when you don’t know what actual meals you’ll be cooking for in the week yet–is is to do just the basics of oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder if you want.
I used avocado oil because it has good monounsaturated fats, which is great for pulling down inflammation, and it also has a high smoke point. You can use the mister if you want a lighter coating of oil rather than it being drizzled.
Then everything’s ready and goes into the oven. We have a double oven so I actually take full advantage of that on days like this when I’ve got several pans to cook all at the same time. I’ll just leave the light on in there so I can check in case something may need to come out a little earlier.
The general time that I cook veggies is about 30 minutes.
Cooling + storing meal prepped vegetables
The last step is getting them out of the oven, letting them cool a bit, and then getting them into containers to store in the fridge. In our house, we use glass Pyrex storage containers that are rectangular shaped. I’m not sure who thought using round containers inside of a square-shaped fridge was a good idea of it in our house it pushes other dishes around and nearly pops them out of the fridge regularly, so we use square or rectangular shaped.
And then when they’re cool enough put the lids on and you can stack them nice and neat in the fridge until you need them during the week.
Creating ‘freestyle meals’ during the week
Once you have all of your veggies prepped ready to go in your meal prep container stored in the fridge, during the week, basically you just have to pair the veggies with different meats or sauces or flavor profiles to create just about limitless combinations for meals.
So this particular summer week we did:
Grilled salmon with sliced tomatoes and those sauteed green beans,
A low-carb version of eggplant Parmesan with tomato sauce and a side salad,
Fajita bowls with peppers and onion where we cooked chicken added canned black beans and then sliced avocado and brown rice,
And then I paired sauteed tofu with squash zucchini and pesto and that can easily have chicken subbed in for the tofu.
So if you’d like a printable PDF for freestyle meal prep for crazy busy weeks that include some sauce recipe options, there is a link below 👇, and if you grab that you’re also going to get a discount on the four week seasonal anti-inflammatory meal plan kit that has four whole weeks of anti-inflammatory dinners, lunches, breakfast and snacks, desserts, smoothies, and even cocktails!
Let me know in the comments: What meals have you made during freestyle summer meal prep?! 💖 🍍