06 March 2021

Weekend Cooking: The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook by ATK

Review of The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook by America's Test KitchenI'm not sure why meal prep books are so popular right now, perhaps it has to do with COVID; I don't know. That's all to say that perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to see that the new cookbook from America's Test Kitchen was called The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook (Random House; March 2).

I'm a huge ATK fan. Their recipes are always spot-on thanks to their extensive research and testing, and the recipes I've made from The Ultimate Meal Prep book have been delicious.

Despite the title of the cookbook, this is really more for meal planners than for meal preppers. At the heart of the cookbook are 25 weekly plans of four recipes and a bonus recipe (I'll explain in a minute). The beginning of the book includes tips for storing food properly, cooking ahead, and preparing veggies for the week to come. There's a lot of good information there, and even experienced cooks will learn something, like reheating strategies and how to properly store leftovers.

Each meal plan consists of five dinners meant to make the most of your grocery list and pantry. So, for example, if you need to buy fresh rosemary, that herb will show up at least twice that week so there's no waste. If you still have leftover herbs, ATK tells you how to dry or freeze them, so you don't have to throw them out.

ATK starts each meal plan with a description of why it works, what can be made ahead, how long the components of the meals will keep, a prep-ahead checklist, a grocery list, a pantry item checklist, and more. Some of this information is repeated with each individual recipe. Variations, substitutions, and serving suggestions are also provided.

The grocery list and checklists are based on the four main recipes. The fifth recipe each week is called a "pantry meal" and is meant to be a filler for households that need that extra recipe. For example, bigger families may not have any leftovers, but couples may find they need only the four dinners to make it through the week. The recipes for the suggested pantry meals are collected at the back of the cookbook.

Here's the good: The recipes are easy and doable even if you don't take advantage of any of the prep-ahead advice. The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook includes active cooking time for each recipe, which is a help for busy cooks. If you're new to meal planning, having a suggested weekly plan can be a godsend. If you're an old hand at meal planning, ATK's meal plans will work as a springboard to help you mix and match their recipes with your own. The pantry meal section is great for coming up with quick meals that use what you already have on hand. Nutrition information for each dinner is given at the back of the book. The meals are not assigned specific days, so you can be flexible about what you eat when.

Here's the not so good: The cookbook is very meat heavy. As most of you know, we're about 50 percent vegetarian, meaning I alternate fish/meat dinners with vegetarian dinners. Most of the meal plans in The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook include four fish, meat, or poultry dinners and only one vegetarian. People hoping to cut down on their meat eating will have to tweak many of the meal plans.

Review of The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen

Just for fun, I decided to try one of the suggested meal plans. I picked Week 13. I made a couple of changes, though. ATK suggested shrimp burgers one night, but we went for grilled salmon instead. The rest of the dinners were Steak, Mushroom, and Spinach Rice Bowl; Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Asparagus Salad; Tortellini and Vegetable Soup with Pesto; and a pantry meal of Coriander Spiced Couscous with Chickpeas. The steak bowl was supposed to topped off with a fried egg, which we opted out of, since the steak was filling enough for us. The suggested pantry meal was a lentil dish, but we had just finished a big batch of lentil soup and didn't want to repeat. The meals were delicious and easy to make and worked well for us. Some dishes lasted two nights, and others gave us enough leftovers for lunch.

The scan above comes from the promo material and shows the cover page for Week 3. Don't the meals look yummy? Click the image to enlarge it.

Recommendation: As I often say, you don't have to meal plan or prep to use the recipes in a meal prep cookbook. America's Test Kitchen's The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook can be used by non-planners as a source of easy, quick, and delicious weeknight dinners. Meal planners will appreciate ATK's suggestions; sometimes it's nice to have an already put-together plan. Meal preppers may learn new tricks. Vegetarians and people trying to reduce their meat consumption can still use many of the recipes but will find it harder to follow the suggested meal plans. Vegans should look before buying.

Coriander-Spiced Couscous and Chickpeas

Review of The Ultimate Meal Prep Cookbook by America's Test KitchenServes 4-6
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1-1/2 cups couscous
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1-3/4 cups broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen peas
  • lemon wedges for serving
For the couscous: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and wipe the skillet clean.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add carrots, onion, salt, and cook until softened and just beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, coriander, and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and chickpeas and bring to simmer.

Stir in peas and couscous. Cover, remove skillet from heat, and let sit until couscous is tender, about 7 minutes.

To finish: fluff with fork and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lemon wedges.

BFR's Notes: I added some leftover crumbled feta cheese on top. Recipe and scans shared in the context of review; all rights remain with the original copyright holder.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)


Tina 3/6/21, 8:17 AM  

ATK has never led me astray. I used to get the magazine subscription & still use their beef stew recipe, it’s the best. Great lineup of meals, will check that one out.

Mae Travels 3/6/21, 8:22 AM  

Reviews like this always make me feel as if I’m missing something — I never plan meals much ahead of time, just try to use up whatever needs to be used up. So I own no books dedicated to planning. We are now mainly vegetarians, with some fish, so that’s another reason to skip this one. I’ll look forward to your next vegetarian book review!

be safe... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

sherry fundin 3/6/21, 9:25 AM  

mr wonderful does the cooking and i do the cleaning. works out great for us
sherry @ fundinmental

Jackie McGuinness 3/6/21, 10:23 AM  

Just added this to my wish list at the library. You are right, many of the meal prep books were out on loan.
I think I'm a pretty good meal planner and organizer as well as cook but we can always learn something. I like the idea of using up herbs. I am always buying coriander (I love it and that smell) but then three weeks later I am throwing out a soggy smelly mess. I always promise myself that I will save it before then but never do. Same goes for buying herb plants. I love the idea of having fresh herbs but they end up going to waste.

gluten Free A_Z Blog 3/6/21, 10:29 AM  

I have to admit I'm not much of a meal planner, although I have basics that I keep in the freezer such as frozen vegetables, frozen berries, and a few tv dinners for my husband for "snacks"- I always have salsa as well and lots of lemons, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. The only thing I prep is the salad for 5 days at a time. Thanks for the review

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! 3/6/21, 5:35 PM  

ATK does have great books! We have recently begun menu planning, with everyone so busy, trying to merge two households at mealtime is too confusing without at least a guideline!

(Diane) bookchickdi 3/7/21, 1:27 PM  

I'm an ATK fan as well, and I find the use of repeating fresh herbs in a week's recipe very appealing. I get annoyed when I open my refrigerator and find that I have to toss out herbs that I haven'e been able to use.

Claudia 3/7/21, 1:32 PM  

I know I could learn some things about better food storage and re-use of left-overs. Though may try the book first from the library.

Laurie C 3/7/21, 5:27 PM  

My meal planning is slipshod, but I still want to do it myself and wouldn't want to follow ATK's plans! haha I suppose with limiting runs to the supermarket, people have needed to start planning meals more than in pre-COVID days.
You make a good point about still being able to use the recipes in the cookbook without becoming a meal planner or prepper, but I feel like I probably wouldn't find the individual recipes to be that different from the other cookbooks I already have (including several ATK ones) so I'd probably choose a different cookbook if I'm not interested in devoting the time to becoming more organized in my shopping and meal planning right now.

Marg 3/7/21, 6:39 PM  

We do sit down and plan what we are having for dinner for the next week, but we don't really plan it. For example, if we were to buy rosemary we wouldn't consciously make something else that needed it so we would end up throwing it out. It's like we are half planners! lol

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 3/15/21, 1:13 PM  

I've been impressed with the ATK books I have read. Thanks for sharing this book. I'm a planner and I think it would be a good one for me.

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