Meal prepping for the week ahead is part of my Sunday routine. It helps me put a nutritious meal on the table quickly after a long day.
It’s also a task, though, that can be time-consuming. Recently, I decided to enlist the help of a kitchen tool that had been sitting in my pantry, unused, for months.
Enter the Instant Pot, a multicooker that’s a programmable pressure cooker, slow cooker and rice cooker all-in-one. It also sautés and steams and some even make yogurt. (Instant Pot is the most popular multicooker. Other brands include Breville, T-Fal and Phillips.)
For time-crunched cooks, it’s the pressure-cooker function that’s the draw. It allows you to cook whole grains, dried beans and lentils, soups, stews, whole chickens, even frozen meats, in a fraction of the time that you would on the stove or in the oven.
Another bonus: Pressure cooking helps retain vitamins and minerals in foods, thanks to the quick cook time and pressure steaming. Only a small amount of water is needed to create steam, so water-soluble vitamins aren’t leached away.
I’m an Instant Pot newbie, so I haven’t yet used it to make one-pot multi-ingredient meals. I do, though, now rely on my multicooker to batch-cook nutrient-packed ingredients that I use to assemble meals throughout the week.
The following four foods are regulars in my meal prep lineup, but don’t stop here.
Dried beans – for example, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas – are perfect for the Instant Pot because they cook in one-quarter to one-half the amount of time as they would on the stove. And you don’t need to soak them overnight before cooking.
Add unsoaked black beans to the multicooker pot, cover with at least five centimetres of water and use the high-pressure setting to cook for 20 to 25 minutes. (Follow your multicooker’s complete instructions.)
Black beans are a staple in my diet. They’re packed with plant protein and satiating-fibre (15 grams in one cup) along with plenty of folate, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants.
I add black beans to tacos and burritos (to replace half or all of the ground meat), green salads, chili and soups. This week, I am going to up my Instant Pot game and make black bean chili with leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
This nutty-tasting, protein- and fibre-packed whole grain (one cup has 14 grams of each) takes about 35 minutes to cook on the stove. In the multicooker, it’s ready in 10 to 12 minutes.
Place one cup of rinsed whole-grain farro and three cups of water in the multicooker. On manual setting and high pressure, set for 12 minutes. Quick release the pressure and drain the excess water.
I toss farro into salads, stir it into soups and stews and use it to make grain bowls and pilafs. I also enjoy it reheated for breakfast and topped with chopped walnuts, dried apricots and Greek yogurt.
It takes 45 to 60 minutes to roast this squash (delicious if you have the time), but only five minutes on high pressure in the Instant Pot. Add one cup of water and place the halved squash (seeds removed) on the steamer rack.
Acorn squash is a nutrition heavyweight. One cup cooked delivers 9 g of fibre along with folate, calcium, magnesium and slightly more potassium than two medium bananas.
I eat it on its own, but I also use cooked squash to boost the nutrient content of smoothies, pasta sauces and muffin batters.
Cooking eggs in the Instant Pot saves me only a few minutes compared with boiling them. I pressure cook them now because they’re always so easy to peel.
Use low pressure to hard-boil eggs. Fill the pot with one cup of water and insert the steamer basket. Place the eggs on top and cook for eight minutes (for hard yolks). Manually release the pressure and transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool.
They’re ready for breakfasts, snacks, salads and sandwiches.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.
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