5 Easy Meal-Prep Dinner Ideas for Winter


Our friends at Imperfect Foods are reimagining grocery delivery. Their mission: to eliminate food waste and build a kinder, less wasteful world. So we’re sharing smart recipes and meal-planning tips that make the most of their grocery delivery offerings—from the wide variety of produce to their budget-friendly pantry goods, like pasta, grains, and coffee (pro tip: Don’t toss those used grounds!).

It’s become more and more common for all of us to ship everything straight to our doorsteps, especially during these times. There are definitely some silver linings to this shift: It’s convenient, safe, and has created a new daily highlight of checking for deliveries.

Grocery deliveries are no exception. Getting a weekly box of groceries might be a fairly common occurrence now, but it was a new adventure for me 12 years ago, when my husband Mike and I were living in Japan. One day, while walking past our neighborhood natural foods store, I noticed vegetable-laden boxes lined up outside of the shop. Without even knowing all of the details—the box featured locally grown produce and other items—I knew I wanted to participate.

Thanks to our weekly grocery box, I tried things I never would have picked up on my own: warabi (immature bracken fern fronds, similar to fiddleheads); moroheiya (leafy greens often used to thicken soups and stews); and konnyaku (a gelatinous yam cake). Some items I really loved and others I gained an appreciation for, but every week was an exciting culinary adventure that ultimately sparked a desire to write about exactly what I was cooking and eating.

These days, my weekly box arrives from Imperfect Foods. Based on the name alone, I knew right from the start that it was sure to be a match for my food scrap-loving mentality, though I didn’t know just how great of a fit it would be.

I had been under the impression that Imperfect Foods was solely focused on saving “ugly” fruits and vegetables, so I was excited to learn that’s just one piece of what they do. Sure, some produce might have visual imperfections, but they also address other common reasons why food might get wasted, like surplus inventory, undervalued parts (think: broccoli leaves), and items with expiration dates that are only a few months out.

Imperfect Foods lets you choose the plan that fits your family’s size, select from organic or conventional produce, and allows you to remove items you don’t want. (This is an option I find particularly handy if I already have, say, a lot of lemons and don’t need more, but I would encourage you to leave in any items you might not be as familiar with so you get the joy of discovery and experimentation!) Imperfect Foods also offers other produce that isn’t imperfect, as well as a surprisingly large variety of responsibly sourced grocery items, all in hopes of making it as convenient and easy as possible for folks to get high-quality groceries that cost less and help build a better food system. What a win-win.

When making my grocery selections each week, I take stock of what I already have, see what catches my eye in Imperfect’s ever-changing offerings, and make a plan for what most of that week’s dinners will be. Thinking about how you’re going to use your groceries forces you to consider what order you should use the items in. For instance, tender berries should be consumed earlier in the week, whereas there’s no rush to eat a winter squash. This practice also makes you regularly keep track of what’s in your fridge, thereby reducing the likelihood that you’ll completely forget about a bundle of spinach greens until they’ve turned into an unrecognizable pile of green goo at the bottom of your crisper drawer.

Here are the five dinners I planned around a recent Imperfect Foods order. You’ll see that one box of groceries can go a long way, especially since not every item is listed below. I often eat the fruit I receive (grapes, apples, grapefruit) with breakfast or lunch and other items as snacks (sugar snap peas, chocolate-covered almonds). Along the way, you’ll see I made some substitutions based on what was available that week, and hopefully you’re inspired to do the same with your cooking. I firmly believe recipes are made to be riffed on—run with an idea and make it your own with what you already have on hand.

1. Lentil Bolognese

This Versatile Lentil Stew from Emiko Davies is a good one to kick off the week with, because the leftover lentils are exactly as titled: versatile! For their first use, I recommend her suggestion of treating the dish as a plant-based bolognese sauce and tossing it with some freshly boiled pasta. Serve with a simple salad on the side and you’re done (Imperfect Foods even has salad kits if you want to make things even simpler).

Ingredients from my order: Lentils, yellow onion, carrot, extra-virgin olive oil, penne pasta, Romaine lettuce (for the salad), and cucumber (for the salad)

2. Breakfast for Dinner

What is it about eating breakfast for dinner that makes it feel extra special? Make Tad’s Roasted Potatoes, a batch of Jennie Cook’s Zucchini Butter, top everything off with a fried egg or two, and maybe add some toast if you’re feeling really peckish, and call it a day. Or a dinner.

Ingredients from my order: Potatoes (the recipe calls for old white potatoes, but new potatoes work, too), fresh sage, fresh thyme, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, zucchini, and eggs

3. Mushroom Lentil Tacos with Tahini Yogurt Sauce

Tacos are an often-requested meal in our house. Our daughter likes them because she has control over her universe (in the small-scale sense of what she puts on her tacos). I like them because they can come together pretty quickly—in this case, because it puts to use the lentils you cooked earlier in the week.

Ingredients from my order: Lentils (use the cooked leftovers from meal #1), mushrooms, garlic, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, and spinach (used in place of the arugula)

4. Sweet Potato Zucchini Salad

This is a fairly simple salad, but surprisingly substantial. As author Rivka says, it’s more than the sum of its parts. Double it to guarantee you have leftovers for lunch, and give it additional heft by adding roasted root vegetables, roasted chicken, or dollops of ricotta.

Ingredients from my order: Sweet potatoes, zucchini, can of chickpeas, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, and ricotta

5. Winter Noodle Soup with Coffee-Roasted Squash

There’s nothing like curling up with a cozy bowl of noodle soup in the winter—especially one that can be customized just how you like it. This soup can be an excellent vehicle for other odds and ends lingering in your fridge at the end of the week (swap in different herbs, maybe add some spinach, shredded kale, or leftover roast chicken). Just make sure to give the ingredients time to cook if they’re raw or add them closer to the end of the cooking time if they’re already cooked.

Ingredients from my order: Coffee, butternut squash, extra-virgin olive oil, yellow onion, celery, carrot, garlic, broth (vegetable or chicken), lemon, spaghetti, and fresh thyme

Of course, plans change, and your week might not work out exactly as planned—maybe you decide to order delivery instead of cooking one night. That’s fine! Just take the time to figure out whether the ingredients you were going to use will be okay for another day or two, or if you should take a step to make sure nothing goes to waste (like turning tender herbs into a sauce or roasting and freezing root vegetables). After you do, it’s time to get ready for next week’s adventure in a box.

What’s your favorite recipe to use up odds and ends in the fridge? Tell us in the comments!

In partnership with Imperfect Foods, we’re sharing clever recipes and tips that keep food scraps and leftovers from ending up in the trash. Think: winter noodle soup with coffee-roasted squash and a chocolate tart with rosemary-quinoa crust (stay tuned!), for starters. To make all these dishes and then some, sign up for your own Imperfect Foods grocery plan. It’s totally customizable, plus you can add additional staple items (from pantry must-haves to eggs and dairy) to your weekly order so that your fridge and pantry stay stocked.

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