Everyone knows I am a super lazy person – especially when it comes to cooking (or doing anything, really). Last week I wrote about my Awesome Instant Pot Soup/Stew Templates instead of recipes (because I hate recipes).
This week comes courtesy of my hatred of meal planning.
No, seriously. I hate meal planning. The idea of it totally stresses me out. The idea of having everything planned out ahead of time and buying things for the meals/recipes goes hand in hand with my absolute hatred of recipes and quite frankly, meal planning always sounded like a really white people thing to do. I cannot imagine meal planning with Chinese food.
Also, my mother was able to buy a bunch of ingredients and then look at her fridge every day and then make a bunch of stuff with whatever was available. That is how I think cooking should be and how I cook.
Of course, this type of cooking ALSO stresses me out, so make of this what you will.
But enter the Instant Pot (affiliate link) and my life has transformed.
I am not exaggerating (although I am wont to exaggeration).
I’m not exactly clear on how we used to eat, but it sure wasn’t from me cooking. I’m pretty sure at the end of 2016, my children were 1/3 chicken nugget, 1/3 pizza, and 1/3 miscellany. Thank goodness for vitamins because otherwise my children would have received zero nutrition at all.
As it is, I think my children are also half cacti because they seemed to have grown from just spritzes of water and air and no actual, real food.
Anyhow, I went from slowly using my Instant Pot once or twice a week to at least every week day and sometimes twice a day. But the only reason I can is because I have absolutely zero prep time.
Okokokokok. In reality, that is not really true. But I want to say it is 99% true.
Anyhow, here are my “hacks” for using the Instant Pot with minimal effort. (I say hacks in quotes because I’m not really sure I’m using the term correctly but I can’t think of a better word so this will have to suffice). (Oh, and all links are affiliate links. They don’t affect the price you pay, but should you buy from them, it allows me to contribute modestly to my web site fees.)
1) Prep food ahead of time and freeze in individual serving sizes.
So, this is the part that takes a lot of time. But it’s not every day – and not even weekly. It’s mostly on an as needed basis.
First, I bought a ton of Ziploc small and medium rectangular containers.
Since I tend to overthink things, I want you to know that it took me almost a YEAR of thinking and contemplating storage solutions to food prep. I considered using Ziploc baggies, but I found that wasteful and I didn’t want to contribute more plastic to the oceans. I thought of using my Glasslock containers, but I didn’t like the idea of frozen glass and me buying more of those things.
I also considered using plastic containers, but I didn’t like BPAs and wasn’t sure if they were in the disposable ones. I thought of it so often that even Dr. T was like STOP THINKING ABOUT IT ALREADY AND ARE YOU REALLY USING PART OF YOUR $150/hr SESSION TO DISCUSS THIS??
So, one day while I was already in Safeway, I saw these containers and bought a bunch of them. I have not regretted it. (In general, I prefer the medium containers because I find them to be the perfect serving size for one pot of soup for five people.)
I also use large gallon sized Ziploc bags, too. But I reuse them because I fill them with things that don’t make a mess (eg: cut celery, daikon, broccoli).
After finally deciding on the storage containers, I will buy meat from Costco and then cut and marinate and then put in the medium containers. I will also chop vegetables that freeze well. Then I put them either in the large gallon Ziploc bags or in the small containers.
I have also cut up ginger into slices and frozen them because I have never used up fresh ginger before it turned weird or shriveled up and died.
Then, I put them in the freezer and freeze them. And since the Instant Pot cooks frozen meat just fine, (although it does retain the SHAPE of the frozen meat), there is no need to defrost first.
Note: If you don’t enjoy mushy vegetables that taste like your soup, you perhaps shouldn’t freeze your veggies. But since I don’t mind and don’t care, it serves my purposes just fine.
2) Buy prepared or prepackaged foods.
I know this isn’t strictly cooking from scratch, but quite frankly, I don’t care.
I am not a purist. I have no shame in buying things that have been prepackaged for my convenience.
Thus, I buy packs of sausage, premade rotisserie chicken, peeled garlic, bags of broccoli, cauliflower rice, frozen vegetable mixes, pasta sauce, tofu, chicken stock, coconut milk, etc.
3) Buy foods that freeze well, don’t spoil quickly in the fridge, or are dry goods that can last a long time.
I used to throw away so much produce that it would’ve saved me time to just compost dollar bills. So now, I only buy things that don’t spoil easily, can freeze well, or are dry goods that last awhile.
4) You can put pretty much anything in the Instant Pot and it will come out just fine in stew.
Because the Instant Pot obliterates everything under high pressure, I have found that I can pretty much put ANYTHING in there with my soups/stews and it will turn out mostly delicious.
This may sound gross and was a total fluke, but since I was trying to clear out my deep freezer of things that have lived there since before Gamera was born (that’s over five years for those of you keeping track at home), I LOVE using frozen tater tots in my soups.
Other things I have put in the Instant Pot that initially sounded weird but turned out fine and completely unnoticed: stale bread and frozen sweet potato fries (I had 5 bags of these suckers and my kids HATE them as fries but didn’t mind them as obliterated parts of soup).
There you have it!
Unless I am adding an ingredient I haven’t frozen ahead of time, all that cooking requires of me is dumping a bunch of frozen serving sizes (usually a veggie, a protein, a carb), some stock/coconut milk/water, and seasonings into the Instant Pot, hitting a button, and walking away.
I know none of these ideas are revolutionary, but they have made it possible for me to make lunch and/or dinner in less than five minutes on a daily basis. And though it took a few weeks for my children to get used to the new world order, they are now used to eating home cooked meals and are now 1/4 veggies, 1/4 protein, 1/4 rice, 1/8 fruit, and 1/8 miscellany.
Do you use the Instant Pot? If so, what are your tricks to using it on a regular basis?