5 Ways to Upgrade your Meal Prep with a Food Dehydrator
If you are like me then you love to find a good kitchen gadget under the tree. I was gifted a Cuisinart Food Dehydrator this Christmas, and it has been such a useful addition to my food preparation! This tool is fairly inexpensive (under $70), and can save you hundreds at the grocery store if you are resourceful.
1. Fruit To-Go: Dried Apples
At 6 grams of fiber for every 10 slices, a few apples sliced and layered along the shelves of your dehydrator make for a tasty and nutritious snack. An added bonus is that this snack requires zero preparation...all you have to do is grab your favorite apples from the grocery store, sliced them up, place them in the dehydrator and let it roll (although I do recommend throwing a bit of cinnamon on them for added nutritional value and deliciousness). It will take 6-8 hours to get your dried apples ready for snacking, so start your dehydrator on a Sunday morning and you will have this snack ready to pack in lunch bags for the week by mid-afternoon. Why is this better than buying them from the grocery store? Mainly because you can control what is being added to them this way, unfortunately many manufactured dried fruit snacks have added refined sugars, artificial colors and preservatives in them. Your dried apples will be 100% organic, and your body will thank you.
2. Better Than Lays: Sweet Potato Chips
If you prefer a savory snack to a sweet one, then you are going to love this simple recipe. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of many essential vitamins and minerals, and when dried, they still pack in 12 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein per cup. There are a few more steps to successfully dry sweet potatoes, but it can still be done with just a pot of water and your dehydrator. Place the sweet potato slices in an ice water bath and bring a separate pot of water to a boil (a blanching pot if you have one). After the water is boiling, remove the sweet potatoes from the ice water and place in the boiling water for 5-ish minutes (also, set the ice water aside for later). Remove them from boiling water and immediately run cold water over them while draining in a colander. Add lemon juice to the ice water bath (1 cup is enough) and place the sweet potatoes back in to cool them off completely. Lastly, drain and place the sliced sweet potatoes on the dehydrator trays. Set the dehydrator to 125F (low-medium) and dry until crisp (which usually takes 8-10 hours). Toss your finished chips in an airtight container with pink Himalayan salt and you can store them to enjoy for up to 6 months!
PS- these are a fantastic snack for your pups as well, and are MUCH more affordable than the store-bought dried sweet potato snacks.
3. A Pantry Staple: Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Okay, so technicalllly these tomatoes will not be sun-dried, but they will taste identical, and take 1/10th of the time and effort to make! I think this recipe is especially helpful if you happen to garden, because it provides you with a way to preserve all of those juicy tomatoes that you harvest each year without feeling rushed to eat them or give them away before they go bad. First, you'll want to slice your tomatoes, spray your trays with olive oil to prevent sticking and lay your slices out on each tray with just enough space to prevent overlap. Next, give each tray of tomato slices a nice coating of pink Himalayan salt, black pepper, basil and oregano (plus any other Italian herbs that you would like to add for taste). Lastly, cover the trays, turn on the dehydrator and let them dry at 140F for 6 hours. For storage, I recommend putting them in airtight containers (I use mason jars) with a bit of fresh basil, rosemary and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. This combo can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-5 days or frozen to enjoy for months or even years to come.
4. A Fun Snack: Fruit Leather
You may be thinking that the words fruit and leather do not belong together, but I would be willing to bet that you have also eaten a fruit roll-up in your lifetime, in which case, you have had fruit leather! The cool thing about this recipe is that it has all of the tasty flavor of a store-bought fruit snack minus the gross artificial coloring, high fructose corn syrup and other toxic ingredients. Every fruit that you use for this recipe will also pack an additional number of antioxidant-rich benefits to the snack that will make your fruit leather not only easy to meal-prep, but great for your health in many ways also. First, you pick your fruit-I love strawberries, peaches, blueberries and even fig for this recipe. Whatever you choose, add 2 cups of fruit to a pot with 3 tbsp of granulated monk fruit sweetener or allulose, and lastly 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Heat these three ingredients on the stovetop for 10-12 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking. Soon they will melt into a compote, at which point you pull them from the heat and let them cool for 2-3 minutes. Next, pour the gooey mixture over a covered tray of the food dehydrator. My machine comes with a plastic covering that is made for this purpose, to cover the holes in the tray and allow for an even pour, but if your machine does not have this piece, you can simply line your tray with parchment paper as well. Lastly, place the lid on the dehydrator and dry for 6-8 hours at 140F. You will know once your fruit leather is done, because when you touch it, there should be no more sticky residue on your finger, only a smooth leather-like surface. Store your finished product in the refrigerator and enjoy! I suggest cutting this fruit leather into 1-inch rows and rolling it up in parchment paper to make for easy-access when snacking or meal prepping for the weeks ahead.
5. The Protein-Punch: Jerky
There are a thousand ways to make homemade jerky, and I am no expert, so I encourage you to go online and check out the many great recipes that the internet has to offer. What I can do is teach you the basics, so that you can build onto this process with whatever marinades and seasonings that you find along the way. Nutritionally, homemade jerky is superior to store-bought brands because it packs the same protein-punch (30+ grams per cup) without the added sodium, artificial preservatives and other questionable ingredients.
First, you have to decide what type of jerky you want to make: turkey, chicken, beef, venison...there are many options, and some are healthier than others. I went with chicken because that is a protein that I typically have on my grocery list any given week. When picking your meat, make sure it is a lean cut because fat does not dry well and can cause your jerky to go bad more quickly. Obviously, all skin and bones should be removed before you begin to prepare your meat for the dehydrator. Sizes of 1/4-1/2 inch strips are great for drying, so cut your meat accordingly and then marinate it for 4-6 hours minimum in the refrigerator. Once that is done, pre-cook the meat until the internal temperature is around 160F (this prevents the growth of bacteria after you store the dried jerky). Next, spread the meat strips onto the dehydrator trays, cover the top, and dry at 160F for 6 hours. Once it is done, you can enjoy immediately or store your jerky in air-tight containers for up to 2 months (unless you freeze it, in which case it will last you much longer).
Food dehydration is a simple and fun way to reduce waste, save money, go green, and practice preparedness! Dehydrated food can last for years when stored properly, it is lightweight, and it often does not require electricity to preserve. These recipes are just a few of the many reasons why I believe a food dehydrator is worth the ~$70 investment. Interested? Check out these links to get started on your search for the best dehydrator for your household and unique meal-prepping needs!
https://www.crateandbarrel.com/cuisinart-dehydrator/s203510?localedetail=US (This is the one that I have and my personal favorite on this list)