A guide to inspire you to eat better during the week using meal planning and sous vide as the technique to execute it. Let's look into the possibilities that sous vide puts at your fingertips when it comes to eating super well with less effort, less time, all while potentially saving you a healthy amount of money at the same time.
While sous vide might have originally been created for fancy cooking, the technique works exceptionally well for regular weeknight cooking too.
During a busy work week, you might neglect cooking because of a lack of time and motivation. And after all, a delicious meal is something that can help us all feel better and make what we are doing worth it.
So take an hour or so of you your Sunday to get prep'd and ready for a great week of delicious satisfying meals. Now let’s talk about meal planning.
What is meal planning & meal prep?
Meal Planning: The process of mapping out your meals for a certain time period (commonly a week), creating a consolidated shopping list and organizing ingredients to be ready to cook.
Meal Prep: Planning out entire meals and cooking them ahead of time. They are then re-heated prior to eating. Think of a "tv dinner," but not in a bad way.
What’s the difference? The main difference between "meal planning" and "meal prep" is that meal prep prepares the entire meal ahead of time and it is re-heated before eating. Meal planning is where the menu is planned out for the time period and actually cooked just before eating.
Benefits of meal planning with sous vide
There are numerous benefits to meal planning in general, but using the sous vide technique to execute the cooking portion definitely makes it even better.
- Eat better through planning
- Saves time
- Reduces stress
- Less food waste
- Saves money - Buying in bulk and buying less expensive cuts of meat that are magically transformed into tender deliciousness.
- Eat healthier through a conscious balance of diet and reduced urges to go off track.
- Brings some predictability to our hectic lives.
- Wash fewer dishes (a hidden benefit of sous vide that is often overlooked).
Who is it for?
- Those who love to cook, eat amazing food, but are busy and have a limited amount of time to cook each day.
- Working from home is perfect for sous vide.
- Great for busy parents (though I don't think there is such a thing as a non-busy parent). You can walk away from the food cooking sous vide while you work or tend to the kids and it will be just fine if the time goes over.
Options for meal planning with sous vide
When it comes to meal planning, there are a few different ways you can approach it. The way you approach should fit your style and it can be easily changed every week. There might be one that works perfect for you, or maybe a hybrid of a few will work best.
- Meal Prep - You shop, prep, and cook the week's meals sous vide ahead of time on prep day. Then you simply re-heat each meal on the day of. These meals can also be frozen and re-heated later. I don't personally use the meal prep method, so I won't be focussing on it in this post.
- Bag, Seal and Cook Sous Vide Later - Prep individual meals ahead of time for the week (what I like to do). They are then cooked sous vide and finished on the day of eating it. These prep'd bags can also be frozen.
- Buy in Bulk and Batch Cook - Make multiple meals from the same ingredients. There’s one (bulk) protein made a bunch of ways. Large cuts of pork or chicken are great for this.
- Hybrid - Cook all veggies on Sunday with sous vide, then sous vide the protein the day you will eat it and re-heat veggies with the protein.
What you need
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- Sous Vide Machine
- Water Bath Container
- Vacuum Sealer
- Sous Vide Vacuum Sealer Bags
- Sharpie Pens
- Kitchen Timer
- Sheet pans and cooling racks
- Sous Vide Cooking Time & Temp Chart
- Sous Vide Cookbooks for recipe inspiration
How to do it
Now that you have a good overview of the options, let's look at how to actually execute a meal plan with sous vide as the cooking method.
- Gather your Recipe Inspiration during the week (always be sourcing).
- Create a Shopping List to shop organized and avoid buying what you don’t need.
- Go Shopping (or ordering). Be sure to stock up on plenty of vacuum seal bags.
- Prep time to organize and bag all your ingredients.
- Execute the dish on the day of (the easiest and most fun part).
Shopping list for one week
This is really the planning portion of all the meals. You can go through all your recipes and make a consolidated list. It's great to do this on Friday or Saturday before your prep day.
Ways to organize your list: You don't always have to use recipes to come up with your meals. You could organize your list by section of the grocery store to make for easy shopping. You can also go about it a little different, and how I like to use my shopping list to actually plan the meals.
Make a table with columns for the different categories of food that you use. For me, it's proteins, vegetables/produce, grains/starches, and other. This makes it easy to have 5 different proteins, vegetables, etc so you can then switch up your menu for the week. This works great when you don't necessarily have specific recipes you will be following.
Sauces can bring it all together, so it's also nice to pick up some easy sauce ingredients when you shop.
Don’t forget lunch ingredients like bread and salad materials to utilize leftovers for easy lunches that take almost no time to put together.
While any day can be your prep day, Sunday is probably the best day so you can get your week off to a great start.
- Print your week’s menu so you know everything that has to be prep'd (think of a restaurant's prep list).
- Write on the vacuum seal bags (before adding the food): Contents, sous vide temperature, the cooking time and the date.
- Tip: Prep and cook veggies while you get your proteins together. Just cool them down quickly and place in the refrigerator.
- Season/marinate, bag and seal all proteins.
- Place everything on a sheet pan or baking dish and it’s into the fridge.
Freeze anything that isn't going to stay fresh before the day you plan on consuming it.
Tips to stay organized
You have been nice and organized to this point, so let’s keep it that way.
- Place everything in the fridge or freezer in an organized and safe way either by meal or by type (vegetable, protein, etc.). I like to use sheet pans to keep all the bags and prep'd food on.
- Add the sous vide start times and temperatures to your calendar with a reminder for when you will need to drop the food in the sous vide for that meal.
- Keep your menu out and visible.
- Cross items off when they are consumed. Add notes about things you cooked so you can replicate next time or make changes.
Day of the meal
It's time to execute your plan. Your planning and prep make this the easiest day and what you did it all for. So be sure to enjoy it.
- Know what time you need to start the sous vide (calendar reminders are great).
- Drop the food in the water (set your timers).
- Finish the dish - Whether it's searing or saucing, etc.
- Enjoy - This is what all of that was for.
- Plan for tomorrow’s lunch with leftovers.
Some meal planning inspiration
A 5-day meal plan with different proteins and veggies each night.
- Meatless Monday - Sous vide cauliflower steaks with lemon and olives + cauliflower purée for a vegetarian night.
- Seafood Night - Sous Vide Salmon, Farro Risotto (eat fish within a day or two so it’s freshest)
- Chicken Night - Arugula Pesto chicken breasts with an arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette.
- Steak Night (steak, potatoes and a veggie)
- Pork Chops, or pork tenderloin with carrots, herb carrot top pesto
- Dessert for a special night? Absolutely! Sous Vide Crème Brûlée is an easy one and you can make it Sunday night and it will last the whole week sealed in a mason jar.
- Bonus: Breakfast for dinner sous vide eggs go great on toast or salads.
Bulk buying inspiration
One of the best ways to save time and a ton of money is to buy in bulk. Cooking bulk with sous vide makes it all so much easier (and of course delicious) at the same time.
Almost nothing is as economical, satisfying or diverse in it's uses as a pork shoulder.
- Cut off steaks for Pork Shoulder Steaks (yes, steaks from pork shoulder are absolutely amazing)
- Make Sous Vide Pulled Pork
- Use some for BBQ pulled pork sandwiches
- Use some for a ragu to be served on top of polenta, fresh pasta or gnocchi
- Crisp some up in a hot skillet to use with crispy carnitas tacos, burritos, quesadillas or even on a salad.
- Use some for a Sous Vide "Pork Roast"
- Sweet & Sour Pork
Yes, these are all from ONE pork shoulder. The cost per meal is so small, I'm not sure it can even be calculated. 😉
There are also tons of great leftover options for lunches. Since it's so much pork, you can cook and freeze most of it (or freeze half the whole pork shoulder and re-visit it later).
Buying chicken in bulk at a store like Costco makes it quite economical. And with chicken, the possibilities are virtually endless.
- Sous Vide Pesto Chicken can be used all week on salads, in pasta, on pizza, in sandwiches and probably 100 other ways.
- Same with making Sous Vide BBQ Chicken
- Buy a whole chicken and break it down into different parts for multiple meals. They can all be cooked differently with different marinades, seasonings, sauces and sides for completely different meals with the same chicken.
- Use the leftover bones to make chicken stock to use in soups, risotto, sauces and just about anything else can benefit from a good quality chicken stock.
Buy a cheaper cut of steak maybe in quantity. Cheaper, tougher cuts can be transformed into being super tender when cooked sous vide. Split the steak up and try it with all kinds of different marinades for a big variety for steak dishes.
Eggs are one of the cheapest ingredients that is magically transformed by sous vide.
Just put a sous vide poached egg on a salad, toast, in pasta or whatever your heart desires to elevate a dish and give it a healthy protein boost. Breakfast for dinner with sous vide eggs and sous vide potatoes is also a wonderful treat.
Don’t forget lunch tomorrow!
That amazing steak (or whatever you cooked that week) turns into a satisfying sandwich or protein on top of a salad for tomorrow’s lunch. Don't forget to make your own vinaigrette in bulk that you can use for the whole week.
Top 10 tips for meal planning with sous vide
- Start simple so it’s not overwhelming. Once you get the hang of it, start to experiment with more complex dishes after you get the hang of it.
- Not everything has to be cooked sous vide.
- Always buy the freshest ingredients and keep them chilled properly during the whole process for food safety and freshness. If something isn’t going to last for the days until you plan on cooking it, just freeze it until needed.
- Label the bags clearly (before filling) with the contents, and sous vide cooking time, temp and date right on the bag so it's super easy when it’s time to drop them in the water.
- Keep a clean, organized refrigerator and freezer.
- Write out your week’s menu on a chalkboard. Jot down ideas and items for your shopping list too.
- Prep and cook your veggies for the week on Sunday (with like temps), then cook proteins on the day you want to eat and re-heat veggies at the same time.
- Make extra for lunch tomorrow (a steak sandwich or steak and eggs? Yes, please). Or right onto a healthy salad (of course with a vinaigrette you make yourself)
- Get creative and experiment. Try new things. You can’t really mess things up (too badly) when cooking sous vide.
- Share the love! - Giving a meal to someone else is such a great way way to show you care, and maybe inspire them to try sous vide, too!
That's it for now. I hope this was somewhat of an inspiration to the possibilities of how sous vide can make improvements to your daily life beyond what you might have thought of before. Let me know if you have ay questions in the comments.
Always take food safety very seriously and follow guidelines for cooking and storage to stay healthy.