This wellness expert’s meal prep tips are weekday eating game-changers

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So long, Seamless...hello, home-cooked heaven.
You might say that Calgary Avansino is the Marie Kondo of healthy cooking.

The London-based wellness expert—a former fashion director at British Vogue—has totally nailed the art of fridge, freezer, and pantry organization. A huge proponent of prep days and batch cooking, she believes that the key to trading take-out for home-cooked meals is having a strategically stocked kitchen. It’s a concept that she explains in detail in her new plant-based eating guide and cookbook Keep it Real.

KEEP IT REAL JACKET “Getting organized is probably the most important part of healthy eating,” she says, noting that it’s especially important for those of us with full-time jobs and busy social calendars. “The first step is being conscious about your meals for the upcoming week and how you’re going to add more plants into them. And the easiest way is to have those ingredients washed, prepped, and ready [in advance].”

The good news is you don’t need a ton of time or space to make this happen—just 30 minutes on a weekend, plenty of storage containers (Avansino recommends using glass with locking lids), and your fridge and freezer (even if they’re apartment-sized). Once you’ve got your raw materials sorted, you can throw them together in less time than it takes to post a dinner pic on Instagram. “None of my recipes are fancy, and that’s what I want people to understand,” says Avansino. “Just throw good ingredients together and they’ll taste good.”

Ready to become a meal prep pro? Keep reading to discover the must-have items Calgary Avansino always stocks in her fridge and freezer to make weekday cooking a breeze—plus recipes to get you started!

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Chia Seed Pudding

For the fridge

Pre-chopped veggies
The trick to eating more vegetables, says Avansino, is slicing and dicing them ahead of time. “When you come home from work and you’re stressed and tired, you can toss things together and create something healthy without a lot of time,” she says.

If space is an issue, fill your fridge with versatile veggies like Avansino’s big three: spinach, zucchini, and green beans.

“I always get spinach and chop it roughly in advance…you can use it in omelets, sautéed with protein or on pasta,” she says. Green beans can be added to just about any salad or soup—or snacked on raw—while zucchini can be eaten roasted, raw, in bowls, spiralized into zoodles…and even thrown into smoothies. “I use it in quite a lot of my smoothies because it gives richness and lots of vegetable goodness without a strong flavor,” Avansino explains.

Nuts and legumes
These are a small fridge-friendly way to get a hit of plant-based protein and healthy fat, with almost zero effort required. “On Sundays I do three bowls on my counter – I soak nuts, dried beans, and lentils,” says Avansino, who claims soaking makes them easier to digest. “You can cook them that night or the next morning, and you have them ready to throw into a salad, a bowl, or to use for veggie burgers or hummus.” The same goes for canned beans—just rinse and portion.

To-go breakfasts
“I’m really into prepping your breakfast beforehand because I find it alleviates so much stress in the morning and you can take it with you to work,” says Avansino. Make the recipe below, portion it out into portable containers, and you’ll never have an excuse to chow down on office danishes again.

Purple Power Chia Seed Pudding
2/3 cup chia seeds
3 cups almond or coconut milk (unsweetened; from a carton)
2 Tbsp desiccated coconut
2 Tbsp flaked almonds, toasted, plus extra to decorate
1/3 cup frozen blueberries (use frozen as they turn everything bright purple– fun!)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Soak the chia seeds with almond or coconut milk in a bowl or jar, then add in the other ingredients for flavor. Give it all a good whisk together and then pop in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Serves 4.

Recipe extracted from Keep It Real by Calgary Avansino, published on February 11, 2016 by Yellow Kite


KEEP IT REAL by Calgary Avansino. Hodder & Stoughton Publishers 2016

In the freezer

To save herself time going back and forth to the grocery store, Avansino stocks up on large amounts of greens and freezes them (since they wilt quickly in the fridge).

Here’s how it’s done: After washing and chopping your greens, spread them out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and stick them in the freezer overnight—this keeps them from clumping together. The next morning, portion them out into individual-sized freezer bags so they’re ready to be thrown into smoothies, stir-fries, soups, and more.

Who knew quinoa was a freezer food? “I usually make well more grains than I need and put half in the fridge to eat immediately, and half in the freezer,” says Avansino, who always has frozen brown or wild rice and quinoa on hand. “They defrost really fast and you can just add them in to whatever you’re making.” Just make sure to portion them out before freezing.

One-pan dishes
Avansino likes to make big batches of soup, pasta sauce, and single-pan dishes on her prep day, portioning them out into individual servings so that they can be “pulled out and reheated to eat with a salad on busy days.” This vegan lasagna is a particular favorite. “I love the comfort of baked pasta dishes, so I wanted to create a lasagne that was oozing with plant-based goodness, but still made me feel all fuzzy inside,” she says.

Vegan Lasagna
Ingredients (for the tofu sauce):
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 14-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
5 Tbsp tomato purée
2 bay leaves
25 ounces firm tofu
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 large handful of basil leaves, chopped
1 large handful of flatleaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Ingredients (for the lasagna):
3 large zucchini
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 1/2 cups fresh spinach (or frozen, thawed and drained)
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
7 ounces dried, no pre-cook lasagne sheets
1 cup mozzarella and/or Parmesan (optional)

To make the sauce, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, then add the chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sauté for around 10 minutes or until soft. Then add the tomatoes, tomato purée and bay leaves. Stir well, turn the heat to low, and let the sauce simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, pat the tofu with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and then crumble in the tofu. Cook for 5–7 minutes, until the excess water from the tofu has evaporated and the tofu and the pan appear dry. Stir in the cayenne pepper and remove from the heat.

Once the tomato sauce has cooked and reduced, remove from the heat and stir in the tofu. Stir well to combine and leave the tofu to infuse in the tomato sauce while you prepare the zucchini.

Cut each zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Heat a griddle pan over a medium heat, lightly brush the zucchini slices with the oil and griddle them in batches so you achieve nice char marks and the zucchini are tender. As they cook, remove them to a large plate. Season lightly with salt and pepper and repeat to cook the remainder.

If you are using fresh spinach, place half in a large colander, sit the colander in the sink and boil a kettle of water. Pour the boiling water over the spinach; this will cook the spinach so it wilts. Refresh with cold water, then squeeze out the excess water and place in a sieve while you repeat with the remaining spinach. Once all cooked, give it a final squeeze to extract any excess water still remaining, then place on a chopping board and chop well. Season with salt and nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the bay leaves from your tomato sauce and add the chopped basil and parsley. Season to taste.

To assemble the lasagna, spread one ladle of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9×12-inch baking dish. Arrange a single layer of lasagna sheets on top, followed by a third of the wilted spinach and then a third of zucchini, then sprinkle with cheese (if using). Then add another layer of sauce and repeat the process two more times so your lasagne has three layers of pasta sheets and finishes with a layer of sauce and (if using) is topped with cheese.

Cover the lasagna with aluminium foil and bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes or until the pasta sheets are cooked. If you have added cheese to the top of your lasagna, remove the foil and cook for a further 10–15 minutes or until the cheese has begun to turn golden.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. If you are going to freeze it, let it cool completely and then place in the freezer in individually cling-wrapped portion sizes.

Recipe extracted from Keep It Real by Calgary Avansino, published on February 11, 2016 by Yellow Kite

You know how to edit your fridge and freezer—now here’s how to build a healthy holistic pantry. And if you’re hungry for more quick and easy dinner ideas, check out what your fellow readers swear by.

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