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Thanks for joining us for episode 43 of The Ancestral RD podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show!
Today we are interviewing Allison Schaaf, who makes meal time less about stress and more about enjoyment.
Allison Schaaf is a Registered Dietitan and the founder of PrepDish.com, a weekly real food meal planning service.
Subscribers receive emails with downloadable mealplans- including a grocery list & instructions for spending 2-3 hours prepping meals ahead of time.
Here are some of the questions we discussed with Allison:
- How did you get into real food diets and then end up running a meal planning service?
- What are the benefits of the PrepDish system?
- How does planning ahead and being organized tend to improve people’s health or their ability to stick with their goals?
- What tips do you have for people who have a hard time making meal planning a habit?
- How do you recommend prepping and/or planning your meals when you are a single person cooking for just yourself versus a family?
- Can you customize meal plans to make it work for a family that has a lot of different taste palettes?
- What kind of flexibility do your meal plans have with macronutrients?
- What are some of your favorite meals that you’ve included in some of your plans?
- Does PrepDish tend to be seasonal?
- Do you have any great tips for people who want to save time in the kitchen?
- What are your favorite tools to have in the kitchen?
- Free 2 week trial of PrepDish.com for Ancestral RDs podcast listeners
- Allison’s video on how to chop an onion
- Allison’s romesco sauce recipe
- The Flavor Bible
- Chris Kresser’s RHR: How To Test Your Home For Mold, with Mike Schrantz
- Chris Kresser: 5 Things You Should Know About Toxic Mold Illness
Laura: Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 43 of the Ancestral Rds podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld, and over there in chilly New York is Kelsey Marksteiner.
Kelsey: Hey, guys.
Laura: I shouldn’t say chilly New York, as if North Carolina isn’t chilly right now too. We’re in like the twenties and got a nice little coating of ice today. Everything is shut down, as we do in North Carolina.
Kelsey: A shut down. Oh, gosh. Yesterday we went out and the feels like temperature was negative 11. It was not fun.
Laura: That makes me feel better being here. But I heard that you are potentially looking to move. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you are moving, or might be moving.
Kelsey: This is the whole saga of my life for the last month or so, actually, which is that my doctor brought up the possibility that mold might be an issue for me given my heart condition, inappropriate sinus tachycardia, because there’s at least talk that long term mold exposure can kind of mess up the autonomic nervous system. That’s the nervous system that is basically making your body function, doing all the thing that you don’t think about, like breathing, your heartbeat, all that sort of stuff. And so he just said, maybe you should test your apartment and see if you have any mold issues. We did that, and of course it came back high.
And now it’s been an interesting process to look for an apartment, especially in the New York area because it’s kind of tough. I mean, I don’t know that anywhere else would necessarily be better because I can’t really test anywhere before I go because, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Laura, but anyone who lives in New York knows that the rental market is absolutely crazy where literally you’ll go and look at an apartment and you pretty much have to say within a day whether you’re going to take it or not.
Kelsey: Because somebody else is right behind you to take that if you’re not going to take it. It becomes this whole crazy thing of, well, at least I know what I’m dealing with here. Maybe we could get rid of it or something like figure out where it’s coming from. We did an ERMI test, which I actually forget what it stands for, something mold index. Yeah, I can’t remember. But we did that test which basically you take a cloth and you wipe down surfaces that have dust on it and they analyze the dust to see what types of mold are kind of colonizing dust, I guess. And so it doesn’t tell you where the mold is coming from, it just tells you that you have mold. We did that and, of course, found that it was high. But you need dust to be able to test a place. Not only is the quick-moving rental market an issue, but most often when you’re going to look at an apartment, its’ cleaned, it’s ready for the next tenant, so there’s not much dust for you to even test, even if you’re going to test it before you move in to the apartment.
Kelsey: Yeah. It’s like this whole crazy thing, so we’re trying to figure it all out. But it’s so far not very fun.
Laura: Maybe you guys should move to Arizona.
Kelsey: I know, right.
Laura: I feel like the mold frequency there is probably a lot lower than places in the northeast where it’s a little bit moister. I haven’t gotten the place that I live in tested for mold. I haven’t even thought of that and I didn’t realize that was something you could just do on your own.
Laura: I know Chris Kresser just talked to some mold expert on getting your home tested for mold. Is that something that people just generally should do if they can? Or do you think is something that only if you have a health condition that could be related to mold?
Kelsey: I think that if you’re perfectly healthy, nothing’s wrong, maybe there’s no reason to necessarily do it. But if you’re dealing with any sort of health condition, even if it’s just fatigue or something, I honestly would get your house tested because it could be that you’re at the beginning stages of something. I wish I had tested this apartment so long ago because maybe I could have avoided developing this condition. I have no idea, of course.
Laura: How long have you lived there?
Kelsey: I’ve lived here for like five years.
Kelsey: Yeah. So it’s a long time.
Laura: I forget what you called it. You said inappropriate sinus tachycardia?
Kelsey: Yeah. IST for short.
Laura: Has that been an issue for longer than that?
Kelsey: Not longer than that. Yeah. It’s hard to say because I don’t think I got technically diagnosed with it until later, but I have a feeling it started maybe a year or two after moving in. The timeline matches up there, too.
Laura: Can you get rid of the mold if you wanted to? Or is the only option to move?
Kelsey: I don’t know. We haven’t talked to our landlord about it yet because it’s kind of this weird thing where I’m not sure how seriously mold is taken unless it’s black mold, the one everybody knows is terrible, which we don’t have. We just have Aspergillus niger I think is one of them, and there’s another one that was high too, but I can’t remember off the top of my head. They’re not these mold species that everybody knows as really terrible for you. But I do think they still are not very healthy, of course, to be living in long term. But it’s like, well, I don’t know if he will necessarily do anything about it, or would take it seriously. And then I don’t know where we would go from there. If he just brushed it off, it’s like, well, I can’t really do anything unless I’m going to pay for the entire remediation, which in an apartment that you don’t own just doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.
Laura: Right. Yeah, I’ve heard that down here in the south, mold can be an issue. I’m sure the moisture in the air has to do with part of it, but I also wonder with somewhere like New York where a lot of the buildings are super old, I feel like at some point that kind of stuff can happen, especially if you have any sort of water damage or anything like that.
Kelsey: Although it’s interesting because actually older buildings tend to be less likely to have mold.
Kelsey: Yeah, because they’re made of materials like plaster, which is not a very good environment for mold to thrive in, whereas dry wall and stuff like that where newer buildings are using more, that’s like the perfect environment for mold. You would think that an older building would have more problems, but I think it’s actually less likely. Though in any building, anytime you’re living indoors with indoor plumbing and anything, you can have a mold issue.
Laura: Hmm. That’s something I wouldn’t have known. I would’ve thought that the older the building was, the more stuff that could be growing in there over time. That’s really interesting.
Are you looking in New York? Or, are you looking elsewhere?
Kelsey: We’ve been looking in New York, but we’ve also been kind of exploring the idea of maybe a smaller town in New Jersey, which is so weird to think of, moving out of the city.
Laura: Eww. Only the worst people are from New Jersey. And I can say that because I was born and raised in New Jersey. So I can make fun of them. That’s so funny though.
Yeah, I don’t know with the whole housing market in the New York area, I feel like even in New Jersey, I’d be surprised if you had the opportunity to mold test a place before moving in.
Kelsey: Yeah. I don’t think it’s going to happen, so it’ll be interesting to see how the whole situation turns out. We’ll probably have to test it once we move in and pray that there’s nothing wrong with it, and if there is, try to get out of it I guess. But it sucks.
Laura: Yeah. I would imagine there’s probably a lot of people that are dealing with that issue, and I’m sure most people don’t even know about it.
Kelsey: Yeah. I honestly would recommend anyone with any sort of health condition to test their house, and even people who don’t have health conditions. Like I said before, it could just be before you’ve developed any sort of issue. You never know. It’s a fairly expensive test. I mean, it depends on what you consider expensive. But I think it ends up being something like three hundred dollars for a test, which isn’t terrible, but it’s more money than probably people are willing to spend if nothing’s really wrong.
Laura: If you’re not having chronic health issues that aren’t going away.
Kelsey: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know if everybody would do it just because it is somewhat expensive. But I would say if you have the money to do it, especially if you’re planning on staying where you are for a long time, it’s probably worth doing.
Laura: I wonder if that’s an option if you’re buying a house, if you could run that test before buying it. I mean, I would think at least with a rental, it wouldn’t be easy to get out if, but it’s a lot easier to get out of than a house, unless you live somewhere that the turnover’s really fast. That’s interesting. Maybe we can link to some information about that in the show notes, and also that interview that Chris just did, which I will admit I haven’t listened to yet.
Kelsey: I read the transcript, because obviously I’m dealing with this, and it’s like he bought a house and basically ripped it apart trying to find…because there was mold somewhere in it, and they remediated it. But, even just reading it, I’m like, how am I ever going to find somewhere without mold?
Laura: That was the interview?
Kelsey: Yeah. He basically had a guy come in and they did the ERMI testing, which showed that there was mold problem, and then they had to pinpoint where it was coming from and basically just ripped apart many walls of his house it sounded like.
Laura: Well, it doesn’t sound like that would be an option for moving into an apartment.
Kelsey: Right, exactly. Which makes it tough. If you’re renting, there’s only so much you can really do if there is a mold problem and you want to stay in your same apartment, which makes it a little tough.
Laura: Yeah. That stinks. Well, we have some more light-hearted topic for our interview today than mold, although that’s something that is interesting and certainly could make a big difference for certain people with their health conditions.
But, today we’re going to talk about something a little bit less heavy. We’re going to be talking about meal prep. But, before we get into our episode, let’s hear a quick word from our sponsor.
Kelsey: Alright. I’m very excited to introduce you all to Allison Shaaf, who is a registered dietitian and the founder of PrepDish.com, a weekly real food meal planning service. Subscribers receive emails with downloadable meal plans including a grocery list and instructions for spending two to three hours prepping meals ahead of time. Welcome to the show, Allison!
Allison: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Kelsey: We’re very, very happy to have you here. To get started, I think it would be great for you to just tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into real food and Paleo diets? And then how did you end up running a meal planning service?
Long journey, right?
Allison: Do you want the long or short answer? I’ll go medium. I started out as a personal chef. Even in high school I was working as a personal chef, but was always interested in nutrition just because to me it didn’t make sense to be spending all this time coking food unless it was really going to help you feel better.
Allison: I always kind of had an interest in pairing those two. So I went to culinary school, but also became a dietician just so I could have the nutrition knowledge and be able to have the credibility of that.
Allison: And I ended up starting another personal chef company once I graduated from school. Well, I guess you also asked about the Paleo diet. One thing I realized is a lot of clients that were going on Paleo diets…I worked with different clients that were seeing doctors in town that were putting them on Paleo diets and I was seeing what a difference it made for them. So, that’s sort of where the Paleo diet stated making sense to me. Also along the way I realized I was intolerant to gluten. So, I’ve had to take that out of my diet and it’s made me feel so much better. And as I was working as a personal chef, I was realizing that the system I was using, which was visiting once a week and doing all the meal prep for that week was really a system that if I wrote it down, I could share it with the rest of the world. That’s exactly what I did.
Kelsey: That’s awesome! I think for a lot of people, myself included, when you switch to a diet like this where there just does tend to be a bit more prep and thought that needs to go into everything, it can get really overwhelming. And a lot of times that’s what can hinder people when they start to think about switching to a real food diet. It’s just like, wow, I don’t know how I’m going to have the time for this, never mind purchasing everything, cost, and things like that. But the time is often one of the biggest factors for people.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the benefits of your system, like kind of how you created this system and where you see the benefits coming from it. Is it a time saver for the most part? Is it saving people money? Maybe both? Any benefits would be great.
Allison: Yeah, I would say number one is time. People are busy at I think that’s a huge barrier to eating healthy. But to go along with that is also if you don’t have a plan in place it’s really easy to get to five or six o’clock, and even though you have these intentions of eating this healthier food, when you put off having a plan in place when you get to five o’clock you’re going to make some bad decisions if you’re really hungry and are short on time. So, the benefit really is doing that work ahead of time. And it’s also more efficient that way. If you’re doing it throughout the week and scrambling each night, maybe twenty minutes here, thirty minutes here. If you have to go to the grocery store it’s even longer.
Allison: But, if you can knock all of that out in a few hours over the weekend, then over the course of the week that’s really going to save you a lot of time just because you’re not having to get a cutting board out each day, and then wash the cutting board and all that. When it’s done at once is just really is a lot more efficient use of time. And it does save money on the groceries just because the way the plans are set up. It’s if you use half an onion in this dish, use the other half in maybe a soup that week. And I find that’s really something that people struggle with is they buy all these fruits and veggies and everything, but then they go bad, and they have waste, and they end up throwing them away. After a few weeks of that it’s really discouraging, enough so that sometimes people stop buying vegetables because they hate to see them go to waste. When you have a plan in place it’s a lot easier to actually use everything that you buy.
Laura: That’s something that I struggle with is going to the grocery store and having a plan because I usually just go and say, what looks good? I want this or those vegetables are on sale. I mean, I don’t throw things out. I end up cooking them and using them somehow anyway. But it does kind of just pile up in the fridge. And I can understand how most people wouldn’t be using wilted lettuce the way I might use it. Having a plan, I’m sure, helps people a lot.
Allison: Yeah, absolutely.
Kelsey: Cool. So with this two to three hours that people are spending, I’m just thinking of someone like myself who is super disorganized. I’m thinking of my meals last minute and it never really works out as perfectly, of course, as I hope it would. And I know that when I do plan my meals ahead of time, I am so much more able to stay on top of the goals that I’ve created for myself. Where if I know that I want to stick to this sort of macronutrient ratio, or I definitely want to be avoiding these certain foods for the next month or something, planning that ahead of time makes a huge difference.
Can you tell us a little bit about maybe clients that you’ve worked with where they just found that a system like this where they’re planning ahead of time, and sort of creating these pockets of time where they’re prepping, and just making sure they’re really organized with everything. How does that tend to improve their health or their ability to kind of stick with their goals?
Allison: Yeah, I mean like you said, it really is if you are trying to cut out a certain food or stick to a certain way of eating, it definitely makes it possible to do that just because when you have the food already there and ready to go, there’s really no excuse to reach for something else.
Allison: Whereas if you don’t have that plan in place, it is easy to get caught up and run out of time, and if you’re really hungry you’re going to need to eat something. You can’t say well, wait. Let me run to the grocery store, and then do the chopping, and then preheat the oven. And then it’s a few hours later and at that point you’re like ravenous. That’s been a big thing.
But then also going back to that time thing. I know especially for some of the busy moms out there, they’ll say how they have a busy work day and they get home and instead of spending that…even if it’s only thirty minutes they were spending beforehand of scrambling to get dinner done, now instead they’re spending time with their children. One mom actually wrote in and sent an e-mail, and she really put it in a way that made sense. She was like, yeah, that thirty minutes may not seem like much, but when I don’t have much time with my little girl, that thirty minutes extra each day that I get to spend with her in the evenings is just like, I couldn’t even put a price on that.
Kelsey: That’s so sweet. And I think that is huge even for myself. I don’t have kids, and Laura doesn’t have kids, but we’re always busy it seems like. And it makes such a big difference to just have things that are very easily put together.
Kelsey: Even if you are spending a little time, obviously, prepping whatever meal you’re going to eat at that point. But, doing that prep work ahead of time, or making meals that can last you more than a day or something…that really, really helps.
Do you have any other tips that can help people to get into planning mode? At least for me, I know my brain just is very disorganized like that. So when I do it, it’s great, but I often have trouble implementing it. Do you have any tips or people, perhaps like me, who know that they do better with planning, but kind of have a hard time getting into it and making it a habit?
Allison: Yeah, sure. The first is just before you go to the grocery store, have a list. And if you struggle with going to the grocery store buying things that are tempting, or if you’re hungry, then do an Instacart, or use the shopping service that a lot of grocery stores have…these online shopping services. But, if you order your groceries online, well then you’re not going to be as tempted to buy these other products that are around.
Allison: Having some sort of list in place before you go to the store is really helpful. Just kind of jotting down what your week looks like, how many dinners am I going to need? Because sometimes too, people think, oh I need to plan seven days of dinners. That’s just not the case for most people. Even if you could get two or three meals planned, that’s a great start. And for some weeks, that may be all you need depending on what your schedule looks like.
And then also just doing double, like increasing a recipe and making twice as much as what it calls for and freezing some. That is a good way to have sort of some emergency meals. The next time you’re making a chili, double up, or make an extra lasagna and have that in the freezer. And then that way when you do get busy and you don’t have time to make something, you have a little emergency freezer meal that you can count on.
Kelsey: Now, do you also recommend slow cooking things so that you have this big batch of food to last you more than a couple meals? Or do you tend to just take a recipe that’s maybe for one person, if you’re just one person, and doubling it and then using it later as a freezer meal? Or do you do a combination of both?
Allison: Yeah, definitely both. People love slow cookers, and I have to say I’ve really gotten into the slow cooker as well. It’s so easy to throw that in morning and forget about it. I actually, a few months ago, put together a handout that was…you sit down and spend two hours chopping and putting all these freezer meals together, and you stick those in the freezer. And then over the next few months, any time you need a meal, you just pull it out and throw it in the crockpot. Those were really popular.
Kelsey: I bet. I know at least for me, I just got an instant pot for Christmas. It can be a slow cooker too actually, but it’s a pressure cooker and six other things that it does. But it’s pretty awesome. And just having recipes that I can grab, and just basically chop up ingredients, and throw it in a pot, and not think about it is amazing. And I think for people who are busy and don’t have a lot of time, those sort of either slow cooker meals or pressure cooker meals are a life saver. So, I can imagine that those recipes did very, very well for you.
Laura: That’s actually been something I’ve been doing recently. At the local Whole Foods I shop at, they’ve been selling these crockpot tray mixes where it’s like chopped up meat and stew meat cubes, that kind of thing, a bunch of veggies that are pre-chopped, and then some kind of sauce that goes with it. I don’t know if it is Paleo. I mean, I think the sauce has canola oil in it or something, so it’s not totally Paleo. But I’ve been finding that doing two of those on the weekends, maybe on Sunday I’ll cook two of them, a couple hours of one and a couple hours of the other, and then save six to eight meals total in the freezer. So now I have ten meals that are frozen for the days during the week that I’m just like, oh my gosh, I have nothing to eat in the fridge. Let me jump in the freezer and grab a meal.
It’s funny when you’re when you’re preparing those in advance, you don’t necessarily realize how much time you’re going to save or how much effort you’re saving. But then two weeks later when you open the fridge and it’s empty and you have to eat lunch and you only have thirty minutes, it’s really nice to be able to jump into the freezer and grab something that’s already made and it just needs to be reheated.
Allison: Wow, that’s awesome! I haven’t seen those at Whole Foods.
Kelsey: I know. I haven’t seen that.
Laura: I don’t know if it’s just a local thing. And like I said, I don’t think that they’re technically Paleo. So, I’m kind of cheating by using them. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just so lazy that I don’t even want to chop my own vegetables. It’s terrible. But, with the sauces, I think that there’s probably some ingredients in there that if I really looked into them, I probably wouldn’t be eating them so much. But, who knows? I feel like I trust Whole Foods for the most part, except for the whole canola oil thing.
Kelsey: Yeah, that’s pretty convenient. I wish I had that option. That’s awesome. But it brings us to a good point for anybody who doesn’t have super-convenient options like that. Laura, you lucky girl. This this idea of prepping maybe once a week for a couple hours is really, really awesome.
Do you recommend, Allison, that you just kind of set aside those two hours in one day, like on the weekend or something, or whatever I guess people will have free time, that you just kind of dedicate that time to prepping solely?
Allison: Yeah, exactly. The less distractions, the better, because if there’s a lot of distractions, if you’re having to switch to do something else, then that does end up taking more time. But, if you can really set aside that two hour time clock, then it really is pretty easy.
And I find lot of people do it on Sunday afternoons, but then there’s people that have all sorts of different days. Some of the moms are like, well Monday when the kid goes to school. Or some lady was saying she does hers on Thursday night just because it works and then she has food for the weekend. Just whenever you can find that time, really.
Kelsey: And what goes into that prep time? Is it mostly chopping vegetables and things like that? Or is there some cooking that typically gets involved in that time? Or is it really, truly like a prep time?
Allison: It’s both. Some of it depends on the week. But it’s definitely chopping veggies.
Allison: There’s a gluten free plan and a Paleo plan. So, for the gluten free, there’s cooking any grains. If there’s a rice or a quinoa, those are usually cooked on prep day. Any marinades are put in a blender and made. If there’s any baking, sometimes there’s frittatas, so those are done. Sometimes sweet potatoes, I have those baked ahead of time. Just baking a sweet potato from start takes a long time.
Allison: Those are always baked in advance. If there’s a mashed cauliflower, that’s made in advance. But they’re not quite finished off. A fish would never be cooked through on prep day, just because I don’t want it to be leftovers you’re eating. It’s more something that’s almost been made and then you kind of finish that off.
Kelsey: Got it. Okay. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Even for people who aren’t necessarily using a plan, but are just thinking more about prepping in general and being a little bit more organized with their meal planning, how do you recommend prepping and/or planning your meals when you are either a single person cooking for just yourself versus a family? Because I know that really can be two very, very different things. Do you have any tips for either side?
Allison: Yeah. What I’ve found is usually the plans serve about four people, but that’s meant to be two adults and two small children. So larger families end up having to increase the portion sizes. And couples can do okay. What they’ll usually do is have the leftovers be their lunch because it’s just dinner meals. And then for the single people, they can cut it in half and then have a leftover lunch. Or they can keep it at four servings and just freeze a few of the meals. Everything’s numbered so they can go through and kind of pick and choose and take a few dishes off. Really with portion sizes and all that, I say a lot of it is just kind of knowing what works for you and your family. If you look at it, this is whether you’re following a meal plan or not, but when you’re planning your meals for the week, you probably have a good idea of how many ounces of protein you eat each night. You need to make sure you protein for every night, and then at least one or two veggies each night. I like to usually do a leafy green plus some sort of starchy veg each night.
Allison: You can kind of look at it that way, too. So if you’re going to make that list for the grocery store and you know you’re going to be home for at least three nights, then you need three different proteins, and they can be the same protein or different, and then at least three or four different veggies to pair with that. Just kind of thinking through each meal and what the actual needs are going to be.
Kelsey: Right, okay. When we’re thinking about families, too, I think that that’s another big stumbling block for a lot of people when they’re switching to a real food or Paleo type of diet is like, oh, my whoever family member, I don’t think they’re going to like this, or they’re really not into this. Have you ever found that meal planning and organizing everything along the meal lines, I guess, does that tend to help the whole family get adjusted to a different type of diet a little bit more easily?
Allison: Yeah, and you know it’s really hard. I’m not there at the dinner table at night with these families. I hear from some people like, oh my gosh, my kids love this. Then others are like, oh my gosh, my kid would never eat this.
Allison: You know it really depends on the kid. And I get a lot of requests for “kid friendly foods.” It’s really hard to do. I’ve cooked for a lot of families with the personal chef business and some kids just love broccoli and other kids love asparagus. So there’s no one vegetable that’s like, this is the kid friendly vegetable. It’s just exposure and time after time. And I think it’s really easy to get frustrated, but really it can take ten plus introductions of a food before they find something they like.
Allison: I just heard the other day a mom that was talking and she explains that to her kids taste buds change over time. As an adult I’m sure you’ve found there’s’ certain food you wouldn’t tough as a kid, now you love them.
Allison: I think sometimes putting that into perspective for your kids and saying, you know your taste buds are changing. I know you didn’t like Brussels sprouts when we had it a few weeks ago. But maybe your taste buds are more advanced now. So kind of putting it in that perspective and making them realize you’re growing up and you’re expanding your tastes.
Kelsey: Right. And it makes sense to just sort of vary your food as much as possible too with kids, especially just kind of expose them to a lot of different things to see what they’re liking right now. And of course that will change over time and you should be reintroducing things over and over again to see if they will like them now or in a different context. Steam versus roasted, or something like that.
Laura and I talk a lot about the importance of eating a very variable diet, you know lots of different types of food. And I think a lot of us tend to get stuck in just the recipes that we know and like and we use them over and over again, which is fine. And you can certainly change the vegetable that goes with that meal whenever you’re making it, and you can try to vary it within that. But I do think that there’s something to be said for being exposed to different recipes on a regular basis, which sounds like something that you are probably giving people with your meal plans. Does it tend to be very different recipes from week to week? Or do they kind of stay within the same realm?
Allison: They’re pretty different. Yeah, because we’ve had subscribers that have been with us for a few years now since the beginning. I’m definitely always recipe testing. I’m always doing new ideas. There’s a few sides that’ll be rotated in and out. But each week is different. There’s really not a lot of repeats from week to week.
Kelsey: Cool. That helps to kind of get people exposed to different types of cuisines. Even just different spices can make you think or feel differently about a vegetable. I know for myself, I will like certain vegetables in one context, but not really like them if it’s just plain, or if it has a different sort of spice that I feel doesn’t necessarily go well with it. That makes it really a lot easier, I would think, to just get yourself used to trying different things. Because most of us, like I said, tend to sort of just stick to the same things over and over again unless we’re sort of pushed into trying something different. So that’s where I feel like this could be very useful.
Allison: Yes, I’m definitely getting people to try to do things.
Laura: I’m sure you get a lot of people who come to the service because they just don’t know how to cook. I know that sounds kind of bad, but I have a lot of clients that really struggle with the whole Paleo or real food approach because they just don’t know how to put food together.
It’s funny, and I think, Kelsey, you might be the same as me where we are really, really, again disorganized, just kind of throw things together. I’m like, okay, what’s my meat? What’s my vegetable? What’s my starch? Okay, just put them in a plate together. Not a lot of thought involved in the recipe. For me, it works. Honestly, I don’t care that much. I like food and I like eating good tasting food. But I also don’t care if I just need to eat something, I’m not opposed to eating a totally discombobulated meal.
But, I think with people who are new to this, or if they have families, or if they’re feeling a significant other, obviously there’s a little bit more pressure to create food that tastes good and kind of cohesive as a meal. And I would imagine that that’s a big benefit of the Prep Dish service is that you have recipes that have been thought through by an actual chef and it isn’t just like, oh, I’m going to just throw the spice on and see what happens.
Allison: Yeah, for sure.
Kelsey: Does it get easier when you’re using a service like this for a family who kind of has a lot of different taste palettes within their family unit? Obviously, kids will tend to have sort of a different taste palate. But even with adults or older kids who just have sort of different ideas about what they like. I mean, can you customize things to really make it work for a family like that?
Allison: Yeah. They’re pretty easy. Once people do it, I always say takes a few weeks of kind of jumping in there and trying it. But if people have been doing it for a while, it’s definitely easy and kind of like, ok, well I see that there’s carrots, but we prefer using sweet potatoes in this dish. So people usually figure out how to make them their own pretty easily.
Kelsey: At least for me, I know with recipes, especially if I’m using something like a service where it does sort of give you a bunch of meals for the week or a bunch of recipes for the week to think about, I’m the kind of person that I never truly follow a recipe perfectly. I don’t know if a lot of your subscribers are like that, too, where they’re kind of just swapping things in and out that they think they’d like a little bit better. But I know that’s probably what I would do and what I tend to do. And it sounds like that can work pretty easily with the type of meals that you’re describing. Like you were saying, it’ll be sort of a vegetable, a starch, and meat. Right, typically?
Allison: Yeah, exactly. So, they’re very easy to customize. And I know when I do the meal plans, because week to week that’s how I do my meal prep. But I definitely get in there and I’m like, okay, but I don’t really want green beans, I want this instead. Yeah, I’m definitely doing it and I know most people are. For the first few weeks people usually follow them closely to kind of get a feel for it, but then they end up sort of swapping things out making them their own.
Laura: What kind of flexibility does your planning have with macronutrients? That’s something that with a lot of Paleo recipe books and a lot of online recipes, I struggle to find recipes that contain adequate carbs for a lot of my more active clients. Do you have any advice on how to adjust recipes to fit macro needs? Or is that something that you just double portions, or reduce portion sizes of certain things? Just because a lot of Paleo recipes tend to be very low carb, very high fat, and for some of my clients it’s not really what they need to be doing for health or athletic performance perspective.
Allison: I don’t necessarily focus on doing sort of the macro thing, but I do provide the nutrition information so people can kind of check out. The gluten free plans are definitely not low carb. So people who are okay with doing like white rice, and quinoa, and stuff like that, then the gluten free plan is going to be better. The only difference is that the gluten free plan does have some of those grains and also includes legumes from time to time. But, not always. People can always choose week to week.
And with the Paleo plans, I don’t personally eat low carb, so I end up making them more just based on what I’m cooking at home. And so most of the Paleo meal plans are not as low carb. I do a lot of sweet potatoes. I do sometimes use potatoes. I always list that as optional because I know that’s a weird gray area with Paleo people. And also things like plantains, and winter squashes and all that. So I would say compared to a lot of Paleo meals, Paleo plans are not as low carb. But, I also know that people do want low carb. They can just take out some of the starchier vegetables and it’s easy enough to find.
Laura: Sometimes I feel like it’s easier to cut carbs out of a recipe than to add them in if they’re not there.
Allison: Yeah, that’s true.
Laura: On the other hand, a person can just have a baked sweet potato on the side of a dish if they need some extra carbs. But I wish I was better at designing recipes. I’m terrible at it and I have all these clients are like, I need more carbs. Or what Paleo carbs do I eat? I’m just like, I don’t know. Just have a potato. I’m sorry.
I didn’t think that your recipes seemed like super low carb, or ketogenic, or anything like that. But it is difficult when you have people who need actually high carb intakes to get a Paleo meal plan that works for them. So I was just curious if you had any insight into what adjustments people can make if it really is just about increasing certain components of a meal.
Kelsey: So just sort of taking, let’s say it was a potato that was in that meal, just literally doubling that or kind of getting however much they think they need carb wise from a meal?
Allison: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it sort of like the same thing I was talking about with customizing for the proteins. Yeah, I may list that it’s a four ounce portion of salmon, but if you know your family eats six ounce portions of salmon, then get that amount. And on the carbs, if you know that a few plantains for people actually needs to be six plantations for your family, just kind of increase it that way.
Kelsey: For a lot of your meals, I know you mention, of course, that there is the protein, there’s the vegetable, and the carb. Do those tend to be all somewhat separate so that people can, like you were saying, just increase the portion size of one of those? Or are there sometimes recipes where the carb, or vegetable, or something is completely within the meal?
Allison: Here’s one of the menus. It’s a sesame ginger salmon with curried eggplant and cauliflower. That would kind of be all separate. But then there’s also a chili that’s on there, so that wouldn’t be. But I guess things like a chili, you could pretty easily if you wanted to add some sweet potatoes to that, you could. And I know that there’s apricot glazed chicken thighs with broccoli and sweet potatoes. I mean a lot of times they’re separate. But I guess actually it’s probably usually two or three of them that are the protein, veggies on the side sort of set up. And then there’s usually one dish per week that’s more like a soup or a chili. The soups and chili’s tend to be a little more time intensive, so I don’t include more than one or two of those a week just because keeping them separate tends to be a less time intensive dish. I’m always really aware of keeping things to that two hour time mark.
Kelsey: Perfect. Okay. Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. I was trying to find the right way to describe that. But perfect. So it’s one or two of the altogether sort of meals, and then everything else tends to be separate. If you are someone who needed to really increase just the carbohydrates for example, you could kind of pick more of the separate ones. You can make extra of the ones where everything’s separate and then forgo the bigger, all-encompassing meals if that’s what you needed to do.
Allison: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s right.
Kelsey: Cool. I’d love to know maybe some of your favorite meals that you’ve included in some of your plans. I know it sounds like you’ve been doing this for a while and there’s probably a lot that you can choose from. But, any favorites that you have?
Allison: Yeah…gosh. Some of my go-tos, and they’re re so quick and easy too, one of them is like a mustard chicken thigh. I think one is a maple mustard recipe, but I usually just do grainy mustard with chicken thighs and bake it like that with a roasted root veggie on the side. My husband loves mustard, and so that’s just like a really easy go-to for us if we’re tight on time. I guess probably because I just mentioned this, but there’s a curried eggplant and cauliflower recipe that’s really tasty that’s coming up next month. When I was reading you those options I was like, oh, I need to make that. I haven’t made that in a while.
Kelsey: Sounds good!
Allison: Gosh, I mean it really depends. In the summer, there’s a lot of salads that I love to have. But in the winter I’m all about soups and chili’s, more things like that. So it depends on the time of the year what my favorites are.
Kelsey: Does Prep Dish tend to be seasonal?
Allison: Yes. Yeah, it’s very much so. I try and keep the produce as seasonal as possible. That’s kind of hard because you know grocery stores offer things pretty much year round. You’ll see a lot more pomegranates in the late fall and the winter squashes in the late fall. In the summer I do more stuff on the grill. I don’t do anything on the grill in the winter.
Kelsey: Okay. Nice. That’s great.
Allison: Popsicles in the summer. Those are always kind of fun. It’s just like blended fruit. That’s fun for kids.
Kelsey: Yum. That sounds delicious. I’m ready for popsicles even though it’s negative however many degrees it is today here. You’re in Austin, so you’ve got some nice weather, I’m sure.
Allison: Well I actually just moved to Puerto Rico.
Kelsey: Oh wow! I didn’t know that.
Allison: Yeah. So we’ve got really nice weather here.
Kelsey: Even better.
Allison: Although I hear Austin been really nice, like unseasonably warm this February.
Kelsey: Yeah, beautiful. Well that’s great that things tend to be seasonal. I know for myself, I try to kind of stick with those things when they’re in season. And I guess it depends on where you are in the world what is seasonal. But are most of your meal plans kind of geared toward American supermarkets, and farmers’ markets, and those sort of things?
Allison: Yeah. I’m from Kansas and so when I go back home to Kansas I check out the grocery store. Whenever I go to small town grocery stores, I try and go through and see what they have. In Puerto Rico it’s been interesting, too. I go to a grocery store and I’m like, okay, can I do a Prep Dish week fully through?
I do have some subscribers that are in Australia, which causes a little bit of a problem just because they’re opposite seasons.
Allison: So I do end up sending that. But, if it’s summer I’ll send them some winter meals plans and vice versa. If I get enough of them, I keep telling them if they tell more friends about Prep Dish I could start sending out a separate Southern Hemisphere meal plan.
Kelsey: I know, that’s the problem with doing things online. It’s like you get people from everywhere. So it can be a little tough sometimes to make sure, especially when you’re doing food stuff that things are always in season. But that’s great, and it sounds like that’s a growing population that you’re kind of dealing with from a meal planning perspective. So maybe people can expect some more stuff like that. Like you said, you’ll create a whole separate thing for them.
Kelsey: That’s great. Any favorite cooking tips that you have? We talked about your favorite meals from Prep Dish, but I’d love to know if you have any great tips for people who especially really want to save time in the kitchen. Because like we’ve been talking about, I think that’s one of the biggest barriers for people is just that they do not feel like they have enough time.
Allison: The first one is to make sure that your knife skills are up to speed. An important part is make sure you have a good quality chef knife and don’t try and use a paring knife to do chopping. If you’re going to be eating more veggies, it’s great to buy the pre-chopped when they’re available, but at the end of the day you’re going to have to do a little chopping. And having a nice cutting board, not a glass cutting board, but a nice, solid wooden cutting board and a nice chef knife will get you through. And if it if you feel like your knife skills could use some work, then there’s a lot of classes. Usually Whole Foods, and in Texas, Central Market, the grocery stores offer some knife skill classes. Or culinary school would offer a little knife class. I think learning sort of basic chopping skills is so important. I’ve actually been doing some little videos on that as well.
There are some things like looking for simpler recipes. I’m constantly kind of trying to figure out how to make my recipes even more simple. I just recently started adding one hour meal prep plans each month. So I have plans that can be prepped within only an hour.
Allison: What I’ve found with that, it’s finding the veggies that don’t have to be chopped, so things like pre-sliced mushrooms, or cherry tomatoes, or pre-chopped broccoli, Brussels sprouts that don’t need to be trimmed. All those things are really fast to prep because they really don’t require any prep. And then really simple marinades, so things like a balsamic vinegar marinade that’s just balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. The mustard I was talking about earlier, like a nice grainy mustard just on its own could work great with chicken or even on salmon.
Kelsey: I feel like sauces are awesome, and marinades. They make such a big difference when you start to get bored with your food. I have a lot of clients who will tend to need to be fairly restrictive with their diet, which of course is what we’re working on so they don’t need to be restrictive anymore. But in the time that they need to be restrictive they get so bored with food. And I’ve had clients where they even start to get food aversions because they’ve just been eating the same foods for so long that it just doesn’t even taste good to them anymore. And that’s one of the things that I always tell them is, let’s try to find some sauces, or marinades, or things like that where we can make the food taste pretty much completely different. Right? So that it just doesn’t taste like the same food, even though they are technically I guess eating the same food a few times a week.
Allison: Another one that is really great is smoked paprika. So if you just take a tablespoon or two of smoked paprika, maybe a cup of olive oil, and some salt, and you put chicken legs in there for at least a few hours, but ideally overnight in the fridge, and then bake that, that is so good.
Kelsey: Yum. I love smoked paprika. Delicious. Any other good sauces or marinades that you can think of that just for people who are starting to get on this is this idea of doing more planning and just making their meals taste a little bit better?
Allison: Yeah. I like using citrus a lot. I did just like lemon juice and maybe some lemon zest with salt and pepper. And then if you have some herbs in your cabinet, like tarragon or basil, you can kind of play around with any of those. Some more time intensive ones that I really like are a chimichurri that has fresh herbs in it. Recently I’ve really gotten into romesco sauce, which is roasted tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and garlic. And then you puree that with toasted almonds and hazelnuts. Oh my gosh. I can just lick the bowl clean. That is so good!
Kelsey: That sounds good.
Allison: I’ll use it on everything.
Kelsey: Do you put that on meat and vegetables? Or does it tend to just be meat?
Allison: Both. Yeah. You can put on veggies. I actually took a cooking class last fall in Spain and they did it with veggies. But now I’ve taken it home and kind of modified the recipe a bit. Actually, in Spain they put a piece of bread in it to thicken it.
Kelsey: Oh, wow.
Allison: But then I like it on salmon or with flank steak. I’ll, after I cook the flank steak, slice it really thin and dip it in the romesco sauce. But it’s really good with veggies, too. I’ll do a mashed winter squash and mix in a little bit of that romesco, and it’s so tasty. I made plantain chips the other day and dipped it in there.
Kelsey: Yum. That sounds so good!
Laura: These are all things I would never think to do.
Kelsey: Yeah. Right.
Allison: Well I was testing it, so I had a ton of romesco sauce and I couldn’t let it go to waste. I did freeze some of it.
Laura: You’re like putting it on ice cream.
Allison: I know!
Laura: Or putting it in your coffee or something. I wonder what this tastes like!
Allison: I did eat it for breakfast with eggs and stuff.
Kelsey: Yum. I don’t know, there’s something about sauces that just totally changes the meal. It’s great. It’s a wonderful tool to use. I know you talked about mustard sauces, citrus sauces, and what was this one called? Romesco?
Allison: Romesco. Yeah.
Kelsey: Romesco. I don’t know why I’ve never heard of that, but that sounds delicious. Anything else?
Allison: I think the recipe, I can give you the link. I think that recipe is up on the on the blog.
Kelsey: Oh, perfect! Yeah. I’m sure our listeners would love to see that.
Allison: But, the chimichurri I was talking about that. There’s a lot of different ways to make that one. But kind of like some herbs. Oh, there’s one that I make for fish that’s just lemon juice, fresh basil, and olive oil, and then drizzle that over a baked fish. Sometimes the simpler, the better, right?
Allison: But it’s just really, really tasty.
Kelsey: I guess you can pretty much do anything with the combination of citrus plus basically any herb you can think of would probably make some sort of delicious sauce together.
Allison: Or cilantro and lime. I love that for shrimp or anything sort of Mexican. Even on pork chops or something.
Laura: And I think it doesn’t have to be that complicated. And a lot of times these ingredients you just end up throwing into a blender together and blending it up.
I’m assuming you’ve heard of this book before, Allison, but this was one that was recommended to me by Diana Rogers. It’s called The Flavor Bible. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that before. I would assume you have.
Allison: I’ve heard of it. But, no, I don’t have that one.
Laura: Apparently, and I haven’t seen it, but apparently it’s this flavor combination guide where any ingredient you can think of, they’ll tell you what other things go with it. And then it helps you create flavor combinations.
Allison: Nice! I’ll have to look into that. That would be awesome to have when I’m like trying to come up good ideas.
Laura: Yeah. And I think, for me, I always just assume things are going to go together. I’m like, maybe this will taste good. A lot of times it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I still eat it. But I think having a resource like that where you’re like, ok, well I know I have some balsamic vinegar, but what else could go with balsamic vinegar other than just olive oil? And like you said, maybe there’s mustard, or maybe there’s some kind of spice that goes well. So I think knowing how flavors pair together can be really helpful because that’s where I think a lot of people either avoid them because they’re afraid to mess up, or they’re like me and they mess up and they’re like, well this is gross, but I guess I have to eat it.
Kelsey: I’m not going to waste my food.
Laura: So knowing that things in advance are going to taste good, I think, can take a lot of the fear out of cooking more diverse recipes and sauces and that kind of thing.
Kelsey: Now, Allison, since you’ve been talking about a lot of cooking related activities, obviously, what are your favorite tools to have in the kitchen? You mentioned a good chef’s knife, which I totally agree with. But are there any other favorite tools that you really tend to use most of the time when you’re cooking?
Allison: Yeah. I mean, I try not to use a lot of fancy tools, but there are a few. A blender or a food processor, and I say for the most part you can have one or the other. I went a few years without having a food processor and when I would go into a client’s home I’d always make sure they had one or the other. And if they didn’t, I was bringing mine.
Allison: Just because with sauces and marinades, it’s good to have a nice blender or food processor. Something that sounds silly, but having a trash bowl by your cutting board, that’s really important because it’s super time efficient to take the scraps and have a place to put them. I catch myself doing it sometimes. I’m like, oh, I’m just going to do this quick little meal, and I’m going back and forth to the trash can. I’m like that’s such a waste of energy to do that.
Kelsey: Or you’re like me where you just have scraps all over your counter.
Allison: Yeah, there’s that too. But yeah, a nice trash bowl. A zester is something that I use quite a bit, just because as we were talking with citrus, and even using it to grate ginger. Or if you can find fresh turmeric, I’ve been grating that sometimes. So a zester is nice to have.
For the meal planning side of things, it’s nice to have good containers. I have some glass containers that I use that have sort of the snap-on lids, and those are really good for keeping food fresh. And they’re nice because they can go in the freezer. They can also go in the oven if you need them to. I wouldn’t take them straight from the freezer to the oven.
Kelsey: You said they were glass?
Allison: Yeah, they’re glass. I think Glasslock is the brand. They’re from the Container Store. I even have labels that I put on mine, like little replaceable labels. I used to use those with clients.
Kelsey: And I’m sure labeling can make things even easier like when they’re in the fridge. Maybe you forget what’s even in there, so a label would be nice.
Allison: Especially the freezer. If it’s not labeled, I’m like I have no idea. Did I make that last week? Or did I make that six months ago? I’m not sure.
Laura: See, that’s my problem. I just have this pile of frozen meals, and I just kind of grab one. I’m like, alright, right let’s see what this is. It’s like I’m already guaranteed to be eating it. So probably labels would be a good idea to invest in.
Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. Then anything else? I know for me, a blender is great. I actually tend to use a stick blender. Do you use those at all? Or do you just go for the true, big blender?
Allison: I don’t, just because I don’t have one. But I have in the past when I’ve had one on hand or if clients had one because sometimes they’re easier to clean up. I do think that through when I’m going to use a tool, I’m like, okay, what’s the cleanup involved? Because sometimes some of those little tools out there it’s like, okay, it’s nice to use a little slicer to cut your eggs with. But if I’m only cutting one, the cleanup takes longer than the time you’re saving.
Laura: The banana slicer.
Allison: I’ve seen that one, too. It’s like, whose doing all your dishes?
Kelsey: Yeah, really.
Kelsey: Anything else?
Allison: The stick blender is great. I mean, it kind of depends if you already have a blender out or not.
Kelsey: Right. True. Any other tools that you would highly recommend? Or even like with a knife, obviously you’re looking for a good chef knife. Do you have a particular size that you tend to use or recommend? What should people know about even just those general tools that we all have in our kitchen, but maybe some things that we don’t know about them, or don’t even think about them that we should be thinking about?
Allison: Yeah. So a few things with knives. They do need to be sharpened regularly. I tend to even forget this, and then I get it sharpened, and I’m like, oh my gosh. Why did I wait until now? Those should be sharpened ideally a few times a year, but at least once a year, but probably two to four times a year.
Kelsey: And is that like a pro-sharpening? I have a sharpener at home and I am the first to admit that I rarely use it.
Allison: Using those helps. But then take it in and get it professionally sharpened. I think it’s Williams-Sonoma does it sometimes. There’s a little kitchen store in Austin that I’ve used. And then sometimes even Whole Foods I think has these knife guys come in. But there’s places all over that do it professionally and I would recommend doing that. That’s the one I’d recommend doing at least once or twice a year. It makes a big difference. So, do that. Once you do it you’ll realize the second you go to chop again.
Kelsey: What have I been doing with my life?
Laura: Some nicer knife companies offer lifetime sharpening.
Allison: Oh, okay.
Laura: I know my parents have Cutco knives which, say what you will about their quality, but they get free sharpening for life. So there are some brands out there that will do that. Definitely if somebody has a knife that they’re not sure about, just check the brand website.
Allison: Oh, nice. And then in terms of style of knife, I’d say part of it’s what feels good in your hand. I use a Wusthof Santoku, which is sort of a thick blade. I use the five inch one for probably ninety percent of my chopping just because to me that feels good in my hand. I do have a larger chef knife that works well any time the veggies are longer, like a cauliflower or a squash because you need a little more strength to get through it. But for the most part, I use my five inch Santoku Wusthof.
Oh, and on those, make sure that the blade is built all the way through the handle. It will help with your chopping a lot versus a lot of the blades are just kind of glued onto the handle. And it does make a difference in the chopping. And I think with Wusthof, it’s getting their classic brand is what they call it.
Kelsey: Yeah. I think that’s what I have, actually.
Kelsey: Which I like those a lot.
Allison: But then my husband had, I think Shun is the brand. And I use his knife because it’s there and I really like that one as well. But some of it’s just a preference. The global ones look really pretty, but I don’t know. I don’t like the way it feels my hand as much, so I don’t use those.
Kelsey: Right. It comes down to practicality, I guess. If you’re not going to use it, or you don’t want to reach for it, then what’s the point? You’ve got to find something that works well for you.
Allison: Exactly. And not a paring knife! Please don’t use paring knives to try and do much chopping.
Kelsey: I am a little bit guilty of that sometimes. But now that I have a good chef’s knife, I think mine is eight inches I think, which I use for pretty much everything. But I used to be one of those people that tries to cut things with a little, tiny paring knife.
Allison: I know. I used to go into homes to do cooking lessons. You are not the only one.
Kelsey: Yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of us out there. But, I’m learning. I’m learning. I’m getting better.
Allison: Well, that’s good.
Kelsey: Probably should take a knife class. I think that’s a really good idea actually, because it probably can save you a lot of time. I know at least when you watch a chef chop an onion, I’m like, oh my God. How do you do that so fast? That would save me so much time.
Allison: I just did a video on how to properly chop an onion. That was always one of the first things I taught when I did cooking classes, was how to chop an onion.
Kelsey: We’ll have to link to that, too, so people learn how to do that. Where can people find your stuff online?
Allison: I’m at PrepDish.com. But I set up a special link for this episode that’s PrepDish.com/ancestralrd.
Allison: And on there I have a two week free trial that I’m offering.
Kelsey: Awesome! Yeah. I’m sure people will love that because I do think that Prep Dish sounds like something that a lot of people would do very, very well with. Especially if you’re someone who is busy, you don’t have a lot of time, and you just want to kind of have someone tell you what sort of foods you need to buy at the grocery store and how to prep it and save your time.
Allison: And then I’m also at Prep Dish on social media. So Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
Kelsey: Great! Well, thank you so much, Allison. This was a great episode and I’m sure people have learned a lot. I know I have learned a lot, meaning that I need to go watch that onion video. So thank you for your time today and we’ll talk to you again soon, I’m sure.
Allison: Sounds good! Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
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