I am a real fan of meal planning. Like a lot of busy parents I love anything that can help me to achieve my goals. I want to be able to have lots of time with my family in the evenings. I also don’t want to be spending hours everyday working on homemade meals, preparing lunches and cleaning. My aim is to try to ensure that I am maximising my time wherever possible. One way that I work on achieving this is by meal planning and batch cooking. When I learned how to prepare salads in advance it was fantastic. I’ve been able to cut down on time spent washing vegetables, cleaning my kitchen sides and packaging food. While the time saved per week is only mere minutes it soon adds up.
There are a few components to the salads that I make. I always use homemade croutons and I always cook my own chicken or other fillings for salads. The reason for this is mostly cost, but also taste. I like knowing what goes into the food that I am serving. By making croutons and cooking chicken I can save money, and always have the basis of a decent salad on hand.
How to prepare salads in advance:
Homemade croutons. These are super simple. I use old bread, usually fancy bread like bakery style bread. Sometimes I’ve made this, sometimes I haven’t. Usually I cut the bread into very small pieces, sprinkle with olive oil, season and then bake in the oven. Then bake until golden brown. I tend to use a low temperature, gas mark 4 or 5. I usually make croutons while I am using the oven anyway, to save energy.
Once I have baked the croutons I use a clip lock lid storage pot to keep them airtight. We always use our croutons up within a month, so I’m not 100% sure how long they last. It is definitely at least one month!
Home baked chicken. If you have ever seen the prepared chicken in supermarkets you will see that it is expensive and it has additives to keep it tasty after it is frozen. I like to get fresh chicken, cook them whole and then thinly slice them. If I am not using the oven anyway I will poach the chicken. This takes under 20 minutes. I add peppercorns, a pinch of salt and a chicken stock cube to the water. This gives the chicken extra flavour and helps to keep it moist. Once I have cooked it (and checked with a meat thermometer) I then leave it to cool. Once cooled I thinly slice and I freeze in sandwich bags. I put around 60-80g of chicken in a bag as I find that is plenty.
When it comes to the actual preparation of the main salad it is super simple. I wash everything together to save water. I separate the iceberg lettuce leaves and pat them dry with kitchen towel. Then I will use two plates, with cherry tomatoes in between, to help me slice them easier. The salad I prepare tends to have cherry tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, spring onions, red or yellow peppers, cucumber and a light salad dressing.
What I do to ensure that the salad is long lasting is use Sistema salad pots. What I LOVE about these pots are the separate areas. I place the salad vegetables in the bottom and then I can separate the croutons, chicken and salad dressing into their own areas. Also, these salad pots come with cutlery which is great. The cutlery clips underneath the top level that comes out. I have croutons in one half, chicken in the other. In the middle there is a little dressing pot (available separately here) and this keeps the dressing from making the salad soggy.
Because the salad is washed, and dried properly it stays crisp and fresh. By separating the croutons they stay crisp and the salad dressing doesn’t ruin the salad either. I love that all the components of a decent salad are there and it can just be mixed together.
So far I have made 3 days of salads at a time. We are yet to have a salad that is not crisp and fresh. I always ensure that I buy the lettuce, and most of the other ingredients, on the day I am assembling the salads. One day I prepared them before so the last salad was made more than 3 days before, nearer 3.5. I wasn’t worried about this as the chicken was frozen when it went into the fridge so took a half day to defrost properly anyway.
I hope this post on How to prepare salads in advance is useful. With a little advance planning you can enjoy a healthy lunch every day. Best of all even if you like to buy high quality chicken, and a posh salad dressing, you can still make this salad for around £1 per person!