For those of you who follow me online or know me at all, it is no secret that my biggest passion other than training is food! I love buying it, cooking it, and of course eating it. It’s the most important factor in your overall fitness. On average, I eat four meals per day plus snacks, all homemade. That way I am always in charge of quantity and the quality of the foods I eat.

My wife Idel and I both have busy careers. I regularly work twelve-hour days averaging 50-60 hours per week at the gym. She works for a financial firm and the hours are not much better. This means is that any excuse you have about not having enough time…STOP! I have heard it all, and it is all BS. You “have” to make the time.

I know what you’re thinking...”But you like to cook and I don’t!” True, but cooking doesn’t have to be hard and healthy food can taste great. I am going to show you how we set ourselves up for success with some easy preparation. However, like all things worth having, it will take some work and dedication. You must work together as a team. One person cannot handle the entire load of shopping, prepping, cooking, and portioning all your meals. After a few weeks you will develop a routine, after a few months a habit, and after a few years it is just part of your lifestyle.

10 Easy Steps to Better Food Prep

  1. READ A COOK BOOK. My first, and maybe the last you will ever need, is Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs. Julia is a legend. You can get it on Amazon for about $25. It is loaded with all the technical cooking “do’s and don’ts” you will ever need. From sautéing, to grilling, to making a Chiffonade cut, this book is great for learning how to cook. Other than that, there are tons of healthy eating cookbooks to suit any palate.
  2. WATCH SOME COOKING VIDEOS. YouTube is a great resource for “how to” anything…. Really anything is on YouTube. Type in any meal you can think of and someone is cooking it. I learned by watching Mom and the Food Network back in the day…when they actually showed cooking!
  3. GET A QUALITY KNIFE. Nothing makes prepping more miserable, especially for a newbie, than a dull crappy knife. Having a good knife in the kitchen is the difference between driving a new car or an old beater! My favorite is Yoshihiro. They are expensive, but will last forever and the Japanese steel sharpens easy. While you are at it, get yourself a diamond sharpener for it. Never use an automatic sharpener on a good knife.
  4. STORAGE. You need something to put all this awesome cooked food into. Don’t cheap out here. Get PBA free or glass storage containers for your food. They last longer and are safe to microwave. Glass is the best. It’s super easy to clean and does not retain any smell or residue like plastics will. My favs are: Snapware and Meal Prep Haven.
  5. PLAN/LOG YOUR MEALS. This is a critical step. Decide what you like to eat the most and make variations of it often. We like to designate a different theme each week. One week Italian, another Asian stir fry, and don’t forget the Cuban food for the wifey. This is a great way to explore new foods and keep it fresh. Keep a food log for the first 6-months until you get a good hold on your nutrition.
  6. CREATE A “MUST-HAVE” SHOPPING LIST. Depending on the types of food you like and how often you actually cook you will have to replenish them often. Make a list and save it. At Fresh Direct, they store all your past orders and allow you to shop from them. This makes it easy to restock the essentials.
  7. ORDER ONLINE. THIS IS A GAMECHANGER!!! Today it is so easy to get QUALITY ingredients delivered right to your house. I have tried a few different delivery services in our area, but our “go to” is Fresh Direct. They have a great selection of organic and all-natural foods that we like. I still run to the market sometimes, but ordering online almost completely eliminates one of the worst chores of cooking (going shopping). Who wants to spend two hours in the local super market on a Saturday? After shopping you have to truck all the food home and start cooking; by that time, you’re already sick of it. Now imagine this: I order the food while watching TV on Thursday or Friday; schedule a delivery for Saturday morning between 6-8am, wake up and the food is at my front door! No Brainer!
  8. SUNDAY IS PREP DAY IN THE RIGGIO HOUSEHOLD. Sunday is sacred in our house. We like to cook the bulk of our food for the week on Sunday. That gives us a fresh hot meal for Sunday dinner and lunch for Monday through Wednesday. We very rarely give up our Sundays for anything. That is the time for us to spend time together, and prepare for the week. To make foods that translate well to reheating, stick to grilled meats, sautéing with olive oil, and steaming. Otherwise, make chili’s, stews, and other crock pot style of meals. They will last for up to a week in refrigeration, and still taste great.
  9. SPLIT THE DUTIES. I am the cook in our house but my wife is my sous chef. She helps me prepare the meals we are cooking, and usually cooks one day on her own. Generally, I cook on Sundays and she will cook on Wednesdays. That covers all our food needs for Monday-Saturday. We work a cheat meal in for date night on Saturday and usually have a nice breakfast that we make on Sundays.
  10. REPEAT STEPS 1-9. Consistency is the key. If you do this over time, it will get easier and easier. I promise.

Recipe Time!!! Here are few of our all-time favorite recipes that we make all the time.  They are all super easy and tasty.  Try them all and let me know what you think.

SOFRITO FLAVOR BASES

Add these Sofrito’s to kick up your meals and make then taste great.  Make these flavor bases ahead of time and freeze in ice cube trays for later. 

Latin Sofrito - In a food processor blend 1 green, 1 red bell pepper, ½ onion, 10-15 gloves of garlic, ½ cup cilantro, lime juice from 2 limes, salt and pepper.   Blend and add olive oil slowly until fully blended semi smooth. 

Mediterranean Sofrito – In a food processor blend 1 green, 1 red bell pepper, ½ Spanish onion, 10-15 gloves of garlic, ½ cup basil, juice from 2 lemons, salt and pepper.   Blend and add olive oil slowly until fully blended semi smooth. 

Asian Sofrito - In a food processor blend 1 green, 1 red bell pepper, ½ onion, 10-15 gloves of garlic, ½ cup cilantro, lime juice from 2 limes, 1-inch cube of fresh ginger, 2tbsp Sesame Sauce, 1tsp Red Chili Paste, salt and pepper.   Blend and add olive oil slowly until fully blended semi smooth. 

JOESTRONG BREAKFAST BOWL

  • 16oz organic 2% Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup organic steel cut oats cooked (I use trader joe's they come precooked and frozen also organic)
  • 1 banana cut up
  • 1/2 cup berries of choice
  • Handful of almonds and walnuts
  • Coconut milk for MCTs
  • Ground flax
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp hearts
  • Vanilla protein if you want but it has a lot

Mix everything in a bowl and divide into two servings.  let sit in fridge overnight to thicken.   In the morning it’s like pudding!  Taste awesome and has about 500cal, 50g protein 80-100g carbs, anda ton of fiber and good fats!  This has really helped my energy and fill me up. Great if you have a lot of morning clients or workouts!  Give it a go and post to IG and tag me! 

CUBAN WHITE BEAN TURKEY CHILI

Here my recipe for today’s turkey chili.  Chili is the best…it’s so easy to make.  You can pretty much add or delete anything you want to a chili. This one is an adaptation of Idel’s family recipes.  The spice blend is what really gives it the authentic flavor.  Mine’s a secret but you can make/buy your own! 

Recipe

  • 1.5 pounds ground turkey breast
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 2 red 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 1 pound cubed butternut squash
  • 1 large yucca
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 16oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes 
  • 1 bag dried or 2 cans small white beans
  • 1 cup fresh corn cut of the cob
  • Garlic
  • Limes
  • Cilantro
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Dried Oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Cuban Spice Blend (cumin, chili powder, dried garlic, onion…)

Heat large Dutch oven.  Brown turkey with 1 Tbsp of olive oil then add some spice blend, add sofrito (1/2 cup or so) and cook a few minutes (don’t burn).  Add tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, carrot, yucca, corn, squash, beans, and water to cover.  Place ham hock, bay leaves, oregano, and 1 whole jalapeno in center and cover to simmer for 1 hour.  After an hour re-season with spice blend salt & pepper.  Partially uncover and cook 2 more hours checking and stirring every ½ hour. 

Finish with a little more sofrito, and use some fresh cilantro and low fat sour cream to plate.     

LEFTOVER FRITTATA

  • 12 Eggs 8-Whites 4-Whole Eggs
  • Leftover Veggies /Sweet potatoes /rice/ or anything else you like!   

Turn broiler on high. Wisk Eggs with some salt & pepper.  Sauté Veggie in pan with 1TBSP of olive oil. Pour Egg mixture over top.  Lower to medium heat cover and cook 5min.  Transfer uncovered to broiler until just cooked and starting to brown a touch. Cut into wedges like a pizza and serve.  Makes 6-8 servings.

ASIAN STIR FRY WITH LEMON GRASS

  • 1-pound boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs
  • 4-Cups of chopped mixed stir fry veggies (snow peas, broccoli, carrots, peas, baby corns)
  • 4-6 Cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1tsp Sesame Oil
  • 1tbsp Low Sodium Soy Sause
  • ½ tsp Chopped Ginger
  • 1tbsp avocado oil for cooking

Get a large wok or sauté pan really hot.  Add Avocado oil.  Add chicken to brown. Remove and set aside.  Add veggies, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce. Cook 3min until slightly cooked.  Add chicken back in.  For sauce add a touch of water and let mixture cook for five more minutes. 

ORGANIC CHICKEN CACCIATORE WITH OLIVES & ORANGES

Ingredients (Makes 4-6 servings)

  • 1-cup up 2.5-3.5lb organic chicken
  • 1-cup sliced zucchini
  • 1-cup red/orange/yellow bell peppers sliced into rings
  • 1/2 –cup of onions sliced
  • 6-8-whole garlic cloves
  • ½-cup mixed olives
  • 1-large naval or cava cava orange sliced thin
  • 1-28oz can chopped organic tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, tyme, rosemary)
  • 3-tbsp olive oil
  • Some dried Italian herb mix

Marinate chicken with one clove of garlic diced, some of the dried herb mix, olive oil, some orange juice, and the zest of one orange.  Mix and let marinade for up to 12hrs but at least 30min.  Heat oven to 425°.  In a deep cast iron pan drizzle some olive oil and place zucchini, peppers, garlic, and onions on the bottom of the pan.   Arrange chicken on top.  Cover with tomatoes, herbs, dried herbs, and olives.  Place orange slices on top of chicken.  Season with salt & pepper.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45min-1hour.

Slow Roasted Mojo Chicken – Marinated Whole Chicken in Cuban Mojo marinade.  Served with roasted squash, grilled plantains, and avocado.

Marinate chicken in Mojo for 12 – 24 hours. Roast over indirect heat from 2hrs.  Baste with additional Mojo every 30mins.  In the last 30min baste with some Mojo mixed with honey. 

MOJO

  • Juice from 2 navel oranges
  • Zest from one orange
  • Juice from 6 limes
  • Zest from 2 limes
  • Lots of chopped garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Cumin, Paprika, Salt & Pepper
  • Olive Oil

Mix Ingredients in bowl and whisk in olive oil slowly until mixed.  Let sit for at least an hour.

If you liked these tips and recipes, you can connect with me via social media at https://www.instagram.com/coachjoestrong/ or by email at JRiggio@VarsityHouseGym.com

Bon Appetite!

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