Episode 098: Easy Keto Meal Prep with Jenny Castaneda of Cook and Savor
One of the first things that get sacrificed to our ever-busy schedules is eating healthy, nutritious meals. From personal experience, I know that the key to this is always being prepared, which is why meal prepping is a very handy skill to practice.
In this episode, I'm joined by Jenny Castaneda of Cook and Savor, a 100% gluten-free blog where she shares quick and easy recipes, healthy living and meal prep tips.
You'll hear Jenny share:
How she manages to make healthy home-cooked meals while working a 9-5 as a woman in tech
Three tips for anyone to get started with meal prepping or even if you already do this and want to take it to the next level
How to keep food fresh throughout the week and what she stores her meal-prepped food in
How she makes healthier versions of traditional dishes from our shared Filipino heritage
All about her brand new book, Easy Keto Meal Prep (releases on October 8th)!
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Naomi: One of the first things that gets sacrificed to our ever busy schedules is eating healthy, nutritious meals. Am I right? Learning from personal experience, I know that the key to solving this problem is having a plan and then executing against it, so always being prepared, which is why meal planning and meal prepping is a very, a very handy skill to have and to practice often.
Joining me in this episode is my friend, Jenny Castaneda. Jenny is the founder of Cook and Savor, which is a 100% gluten-free blog where she shares quick and easy recipes, healthy living and meal prep tips.
Jenny has built quite a large community that she helps empower with her knowledge and the right tools that they need to really make healthy eating a sustainable lifestyle. She's a firm believer that stocking your fridge with easy, nutrient dense meals will help you save time, money, and most of all, reduce your overall stress level. Isn't that what we all want?
In this interview, you will hear Jenny share quite a few things. First of all, we talk about our shared heritage, being Asian women, Filipino women, and how she has been able to create healthy versions of a lot of our traditional foods.
You'll also hear how she manages to make healthy home cooked meals while working a very demanding 9-to-5 job as a woman in tech. She shares three tips for anyone who wants to get started with meal prepping or if you already do it, how to take it to the next level. She shares how to keep your food fresh throughout the week. I was super interested to hear about this, and then also what she uses to store her meals. Finally, she shares all about her brand new book, Easy Keto Meal Prep, which releases very soon on October 8th. Without further ado, let's get to the show. Hi, Jenny. Welcome to the show.
Jenny: Hi, Naomi. Thanks for having me.
Naomi: I am so excited to have you on. I have been waiting for you to come on and talk about your new book for a long time because I know you've been working on it for so long and so hard. Before we get into that, for those who don't know you and haven't met you before, can you introduce yourself and tell us who you are and what it is that you do?
Jenny: All right. Hey, everyone. My name is Jenny Castaneda. I am the blogger behind Cook and Savor. My blog is mostly about 100% gluten-free recipes that are easy, delicious, and meal prep friendly. If you've never heard about me before, I'm pretty much the person who meal preps all the time. Every Sunday, you can log into Instagram. I'm CookandSavor on Instagram. That's just one word. I share about my entire meal prep on Instagram stories.
In addition to having a blog, I also share about safer skincare products, nontoxic household products, both on my blog and Instagram. Just to let you know, this is pretty much my side hustle. I do have a 9-to-5 job. I work for the state of California in the IT industry, and I'm pretty much there Monday to Friday working, but I still find time to work on my blog and my side businesses.
Naomi: That's so impressive. I have a 9-to-5 as well as we have both commiserated about and chatted about this often. Having a 9-to-5 job, let alone in tech, which it's very time demanding, how did this whole food blogging come about? How did you get into it?
Jenny: My blog started as a hobby way back in 2013 because I was working out a lot back then. I wanted to eat better because I started from ... I came from like a Weight Watchers phase for a few years. I like to count calories. I like to eat low fat. At that time, I thought that was awesome. In 2013, I was like, oh wow, there's this awesome thing called paleo and everyone is doing it and everyone at the gym was doing it so I was like, I'm going to give it a try. I started an Instagram. I started a blog, and I started sharing recipes because my friends were like, hey, I want to see those recipes that you're cooking. That was it. It was a hobby at first and then it pretty much grew from there.
Naomi: Were you always into cooking?
Naomi: Tell me more about that because ethnically, we share some same ethnicities and obviously, we're both Filipino. My Filipino family has this great love for cooking that was never passed down to me.
Jenny: You're missing out.
Naomi: I know. I'm trying to make up for it now. Tell me. Did you always have this love for it and then how did you, I guess as a follow-up question, how did you start to develop your own recipes? Because I think that's such a talent in and of itself. How does one even begin to learn how to do that?
Jenny: Pretty much I've been cooking since, I don't know, I was five, six, seven. Part of my chores at home to help my parents was to be my mom's sous chef. She's like, if you want to play outside, you need to help me in the kitchen. I was pretty much introduced to cooking really, really early on. We would watch shows on TV. We would watch every Sunday and say, oh my, God, we're going to copy that and we're going to make the same recipes at home. It started when I was young. My mom is a really, really great cook. I loved everything she made, and I pretty much caught on to that. She would teach me how to cook. She would teach me different flavors, and I realized, oh wow, I can actually pair together different things and cook by taste and by smell without having to measure anything.
That's how I started cooking. I started developing my recipes when I started to cook for myself because I would go out and say, okay, this is a recipe that I think I can make at home or this is a dish that I think I can recreate at home. That's how I started making recipes, and that's how I started putting recipes on the blog too.
Naomi: I was going to ask you. Do you prefer to come up with recipes, create your own brand new recipes or take something that's already been around and then put your own flare on top of it?
Jenny: I do both. Sometimes if there's something that I like that I've eaten somewhere but there's something about it that I like to tweak or there's an element that I didn't like or an ingredient that I think can be substituted for something else, then I would tweak it and make it my own. Sometimes I'll also create recipes randomly and say, okay, this is a recipe that I came up from scratch and I wanted to share it. Again, there's really millions of recipes out there and there's really no one unique recipe anymore. For me, I think sometimes when I create something, it's unique to me, but maybe someone else has created the same thing that I didn't know about.
Naomi: I never thought about recipes and cooking as a form of creativity, and that's what I've really come to realize and learn that it really is a form of expression and experience.
Jenny: Yes, exactly.
Naomi: I come to really appreciate that. I guess my next question is did you grow up eating a lot of more ethnic foods, Filipino foods, and then if so, because I did and I don't like just the way that my family makes it, but they're not healthy at all. How did you figure out how to eat healthier versions of them?
Jenny: First and foremost, Filipino food is never ever healthy. It's always greasy. It's fried. There's MSG. There's soy sauce. There are those chemicals, beef bouillons. I could go on and on about it.
Naomi: Exactly. How do you create a healthier version of it without sacrificing all of those great flavors?
Jenny: Yeah. Well, unfortunately, you can't really create healthier versions of every Filipino dish out there. What I did was I just picked the ones that I really love. I pick easy ones such as the beef tapa, which is marinated beef. I have the chicken adobo. Then, I have more a tomato-based stew chicken. I have chicken tinola, which is a ginger chicken soup. As you can see, it's more chicken trend on my end. I prefer to eat more chicken and beef instead of the pork versions of Filipino food just because I want it to be less greasy. I just did substitutions. The major substitution for soy sauce, which is one of the primary ingredients in Filipino cooking is coconut aminos. I have bottles and bottles of coconut aminos at home because if you can replace soy sauce with that, then that's a really healthy version of Filipino food.
Naomi: Funny you should mention soy sauce because in my family, it goes on everything, for every meal. I don't even carry soy sauce in my house anymore. When my family comes to visit and they're looking for it, and I'm like, sorry, I have coconut aminos, and they look at me like, what's wrong with you?
Jenny: Yeah. Well, here's a funny thing. Sometimes I have Filipino followers and they look at my recipes that are healthier versions, and they would tell me, what's the substitute for coconut aminos? I'm like, nothing. It's a healthier version of this dish.
Naomi: How funny. Have you figured out how to make healthier versions of lumpia and pansit yet?
Jenny: Lumpia, pansit. I do have a healthier version of pansit in my first book, One-Pot Paleo, so it uses rice noodles. Rice is not really paleo, but that's my version of paleo.
Naomi: It's a gluten-free version.
Jenny: Yeah, it's a gluten-free version, so I have it there. It's very easy to make. Lumpia is a little bit tricky because of the wrapper. Some people use the rice wrapper from the Vietnamese spring rolls, but once you fry them, they get too oily, so I still have to play with that.
Naomi: Have you tried the coconut wrappers that I've seen recently?
Jenny: Yeah. I'm not a fan.
Naomi: I have to ask because that is my favorite. Especially around the family get togethers and holidays, somebody always makes it. I'm like, I can't have it. I'm not-
Jenny: Yeah. You can just eat the inside.
Naomi: Which is what I do.
Jenny: Yeah, exactly.
Naomi: How did you get into meal prep? For those of you who do not yet follow Jenny on Instagram, every Sunday, she does a pretty extensive meal planning demonstration of what she and her family does every week. Walk us through how you got into meal prep and then what your process is to prepare for your Sunday meal prep.
Jenny: Meal prepping is fun. I know a lot of people hate meal prepping because it takes away time on the weekend, but I've meal prepped on and off ever since I started cooking for myself because as I mentioned earlier, I work a 9-to-5 job. The last thing I wanted to do when I get home is cook because I get home ... I think I got home around 7:00, 7:30 before because I worked out after work. I'm like, I'm going to meal prep. I've been doing it, and I took it to the next level back in 2015. You know Diane and Tony, so Diane Sanfilippo and Tony Kasandrinos are two of my friends who I started doing macro counting with. We did a macros program back in 2015. We counted everything that we were eating. In order to do that successfully, you have to really meal prep.
Naomi: What do you mean by taking it to the next level?
Jenny: Taking it to the next level, meaning, I have to cook for the entire week. I used to just meal prep one to two days in advance. Now I'm like, okay, if I have to be successful in doing this macros program that we did for three months, I have to meal prep once a week for the entire week so I don't have to weigh and measure and worry about anything I was eating. That was it. It was hard at first and it took me a while, probably about a month to get used to it. After that, meal prepping was easy for me. It's like brushing my teeth. It's something I put on my calendar and say, okay, Sunday I need to make sure I got groceries. I have to devote two to three hours to meal prep, and that was it.
Naomi: How do you go through your process? Do you just select a couple of recipes I guess earlier in the week, make your shopping list, and then do all the actual prepping and cooking on Sundays, or how does that work?
Jenny: What I do for meal prepping, I do my planning on Wednesday or Thursday of the week. It depends on what I feel like eating. First of all, what am I feeling? Do I want to eat Mexican food? Do I want to eat Asian food? Do I want to eat American food? What kind of recipes do I want? How much time do I have? Sometimes I don't really have a lot of time, so most recipes that I make are the easier ones. I just throw them together, put them in the Instapot or pop them in the oven. Those are the main factors that I use when I'm planning for meal prepping on Sundays.
I always make sure that I have a combination of beef, chicken or pork and a fish dish for the week. I also plan for super simple sides so nothing complicated because if I'm cooking for the entire week, which is about six to seven recipes, which is a combination of main dishes and side entrees, I can have a side that takes 10 ingredients and 20, 25 minutes to prepare.
Naomi: That's a good point because like I said, I'm still honing in on my cooking skills. Back in the day, I really learned how to cook by reading blogs. There is a lot of blogs out there that have so many ingredients because you need an eighth of a teaspoon of this one spice. I was just like, I can't follow this blog anymore because it's too much and it takes too much time.
Jenny: Yes. Well, the funny thing is that my most popular recipes are the easiest recipes. They're all no-brainer recipes. I have this one called salt and pepper chicken. It's pretty much just salt and pepper on chicken breasts. What sets this apart is the method that is used to cook it to make sure chicken breasts doesn't dry out, so it's something that you can just prepare in two or three minutes, have it cook in the oven and take it out, slice it and prepare it and have it ready for the week.
I also have a recipe called beef tapa. I know you've seen me make it multiple times on social media. It's something that we prepare at home. It's super easy. Even will is the one ... Will is my husband. He's the one who prepares it. It takes about five minutes, and then your marinate it. I think there's about five ingredients or less, marinated overnight. The next day, take it out and then just pan fry it and it's done. Recipes like that are the best.
Naomi: Speaking of your recipes, you have a book coming out soon. Are those recipes in your new book? Tell us about your new book.
Jenny: My new book is called Easy Keto Meal Prep. As you know, I love meal prepping. I can do it. I can talk about it on and on. I used to talk about meal prepping with this Trader Joe's checkout guy when I was writing my book. I did keto I think mid-2018 last year, and I did it because I was suffering from brain fog. I was feeling fatigued. I was feeling really, really lethargic. I was like, okay, I think I'm eating too much carbs, and I wanted to really scale down the amount of carbs that I'm eating. I'm like, okay, I'm going to try keto because I've heard a lot of good things about it. I did feel amazing with keto, so I decided, okay, I wanted to incorporate keto in my meal prepping. The concept for my book was born during that time.
Just as a quick background, so Easy Keto Meal Prep is a comprehensive four-week meal prep guide. It's there to help provide you with an easy to follow game plan so that you're stocking your fridge with nutrient dense and tasty meals that you and your family can enjoy for the whole week. In the book, there are two methods to cook. There's a traditional cooking that happens on a Sunday where you cook everything in one go. If you're the type of person that says, okay, I just want to get this done and over with, you can do it in one day. If you're a little bit pressed for time, you can do it in two days, which is either a Sunday or a Wednesday so you can cut it in half so that you have two days to do your meal prep.
A lot of the recipes in this book use simple ingredients so you won't find those gigantically long ingredients that you see from other recipes because that's not how I roll. A lot of them are readily available at grocery stores, so you don't really need to hunt for that one specific ingredient. I think the only special ingredient that I have on there would be probably fish sauce, but I think it's available in a lot of grocery stores now.
Naomi: That's a good point to bring up because I know that when I talk to some of my clients or even some of my relatives about trying new recipes to them, a lot of the fear that holds them back is that they're not even familiar with the ingredients that are in the recipe. That's a really good point to make there.
Jenny: I don't want to use a lot of complicated ingredients. If you have a regular grocery store, if you have a Trader Joe's or a Whole Foods or a Sprouts or any of those other grocery stores near you, then you can make the recipes in this book.
Naomi: I think Safeway even is having a lot of ... I think the ingredients that we have come to cook with, they're becoming more and more mainstream. I think like places like Safeway carry them now.
Jenny: Yeah. Remember before when coconut aminos was just found at Whole Foods or online and now everyone carries it. Even Trader Joe's carries it for pretty much half the price of other regular brands.
Naomi: The book itself has a meal plan and recipes to assist, not just a recipe cookbook.
Jenny: Yes. There are four done-for-you meal plans so you don't have to think about what to eat, what grocery list to come up with and how you should plan and prep for cook days. The only thing you need is to pick the week. The way I structured it is the easy week is week one. If you're a newbie to meal prepping, you can start with week one. After you've done that, you can move on to week two and then week three and then week four. It gradually increases in complexity while still preserving the simplicity of the recipes, if that makes sense. If you follow these four-week meal plans, it'll help get you into the habit of preparing your meals weekly. As I said earlier, once you get into the habit of cooking and prepping, you don't even have to worry, oh my God, is it meal prep time? Do I really have to do this, yada, yada, yada? All those excuses that we think of just to get out of meal prepping.
Naomi: My version of meal prep was always to make more of a dish so that I would have leftovers. I can't even say that I am a very experienced meal planner because I see the way you do it and the way other people do it. I'm like, yeah, I don't do it that way. For somebody like me who wants to try it but haven't necessarily done it before, what's three pieces of advice or tips that you might have either to get started or even what are the best tools that you recommend having in your kitchen?
Jenny: Let's talk about my top three tips. There's a section in my book that talks about this. I'm going to share three of them. The first one would be keep it super simple. As I mentioned earlier, again, that all the recipes have to be super simple. Make sure the recipes you're cooking don't have more than 10 ingredients, including salt and pepper, just so that you're not overwhelmed. Make sure all the ingredients are available at the stores. They're ingredients that you already have in your cupboard. Make sure they're the ones that you really like and your family enjoys them. That's my first tip.
The next one is, it's a no brainer, but make time for meal prepping like how we make time to-
Naomi: That's true because I make time and then I read the recipe and I'm like, oh, I have to marinate this for six hours.
Jenny: Yes, or overnight.
Naomi: That screws me up.
Jenny: Because a lot of times, people will say, okay, I can't meal prep because I don't have time. My thing is if it's important to you, you'll make time for it. If it's not, then you'll make an excuse. If eating healthy and having ready to eat meals in the fridge is important to you, then you'll make time for it. It doesn't have to be a long time. As long as you can meal prep for an hour, that's more than enough. I mentioned that I meal prep three to four hours sometimes because I have to share it on social media. If I don't meal prep and share, it takes me no more than two hours.
Naomi: Plus, you also have a family that you're meal prepping for as well.
Jenny: Yes. That takes time to have to meal prep for everyone. My last tip would be many hands make light work. When I meal prep, my husband, Will, helps me meal prep. I don't do it alone. I used to do it alone before, but it took me so much longer. Now he's the one that's designated to cut, chop, peel. Some of the recipes, he's just like, okay, I'm on this. I know how to do this. He's designated to do some recipes and do prep and then clean up, which makes things so much easier on my end. That's my third tip.
Naomi: Follow up question, and this might be a surprise to you. When it comes to meal prep, obviously then you're going to have to store all this food that you have. What are your best food storage tips in terms of how do you keep your food as fresh as possible in the way that it was finished, and then what do you use to store your food in?
Jenny: First of all, I use glass containers only. I have glass containers. I like Pyrex. I like Glass Lock. Everything that you can see a Target or a T.J. Maxx, you can buy it from there. Those are the ones that I like because I don't like-
Naomi: Do you have links to these on your website?
Jenny: Yes, I do.
Naomi: I'll include it in the show notes.
Jenny: I don't like using plastic containers because the food will be sitting in them for a long time and sometimes we microwave the entire container, so I don't like microwave in a plastic, so they have to be glass. In order for them to stay fresh, I make sure that the meat and the vegetables are packed separately because sometimes the vegetables go bad faster and they leak liquid and then you don't want to combine different flavors in one container. As much as possible, I pack everything separately. If I do a stir fry vegetable, I put it in one container. If I roast some, I don't know, probably my carnitas recipe, I put it in one container, and then I put sauces in a different container. There's going to be a lot of different containers, but they have to be that way so that they last longer in the fridge.
The question that I get most often is that, oh, are you sure that that can store in the fridge for more than three to four days? Can you eat that longer than three days? I'm like, yes. I've eaten food more than five days and it's still good. If your fridge is broken, then that's the only time you worry about eating food that's longer than three days. If your fridge is working fine, then you can eat it as long as it doesn't smell bad. You always have to make sure you do the sniff test and say, okay, this still smell good.
Naomi: Yeah, I stretch that out for as long as I can. It lasts a long time whether people believe it or not. I see people throwing stuff away and I'm like, that's still good. I know it's only been two days. It's still good.
Jenny: My rule of thumb is it's good until five to seven days, even for vegetables.
Naomi: I was going to say, so you keep sauces separate as well?
Jenny: Yes. Sauces are separate as well. I have those round ball Mason jars, so I put them there. I just mix and match food and meals together depending on what I feel like eating.
Naomi: Do you bring your own lunch to work and how do you pack it for-
Jenny: Yes, I bring my lunch to work, and I also pack them in glass containers. It weighs 10 pounds because I have to bring breakfast and lunch and snacks and everything in between.
Naomi: You have separate containers that you put them in to carry to work and then you just mix everything as you're bringing it at work.
Jenny: Yes. If I am bringing a meal that has a sauce, I have to put it in a tiny glass container. I have a container for breakfast, and then when I have another container for lunch, and I have extra containers for sides.
Naomi: No, this is really informative information because clearly, it's what I'm wondering about. How do you bring this to the office now? Because that's what people are going to do and that's what they're going to want there.
Jenny: Yeah. Glass containers are heavy. There are some containers that are BPA free plastic. If some people are okay using that, for example, you can bring it on those plastic containers. You bring a natural plate to work and then you can just transfer and microwave it there. That's fine too. I just don't like microwaving in plastic.
Naomi: No, I don't blame you because also just because something's BPA-free, that doesn't mean it's not BPF-free or BPS-free. It's just the marketing terms that brands figure out having it around. I too use glass storage for when I'm at home.
Jenny: Yeah, it's a good workout. My purse is probably eight pounds. My lunch bag is 10 pounds.
Naomi: Plus, if you have a gym bag.
Jenny: A gym bag. It's like a workout getting from my car to the office.
Naomi: That's funny. Where can people find your book?
Jenny: My book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.
Naomi: When does it come out?
Jenny: It comes out October 8, Tuesday. That's less than a month from now.
Naomi: Awesome. Can people order it now, pre-order it?
Jenny: Yes. You can pre-order it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. I highly suggest ordering from Amazon because I know that when the prices change, if it goes down way lower than the list price on release day, that's the price you get.
Naomi: Awesome. How can people connect with you? You guys, seriously, if you don't already follow Jenny on Instagram, you need to before Sunday. You don't want to miss the show.
Jenny: Yeah, there's a show on Sundays. You can connect with me on Instagram. Again, it's Cook and Savor, C-O-O-K-A-N-D-S-A-V-O-R. That's just one word. I share all of my meal preps on Instagram stories, so make sure your stories are turned on. If you're a new follower and you wanted to see my past meal prep stories, you can just go over to my Instagram highlights and I have them on there by date.
Naomi: Awesome. I love watching your Sunday stories. In fact, it's because of your stories that I actually got myself an air fryer that I actually haven'r taken out of the box yet. It's still sitting in the box because I have to make room for it in my kitchen, but it inspired me to get one.
Jenny: Yes. An air fryer is so awesome. There are no air fryer recipes in my cookbook because I know a lot of people don't have one yet, but I use it a lot at home.
Naomi: You show it in your stories.
Jenny: Yes. If you live in a place like mine where there's really bad ventilation in the kitchen and there's always smoke whenever you're cooking, the air fryer is a lifesaver because it doesn't smoke at all.
Naomi: Good to know. Well, thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate it.
Jenny: All right, thanks, Naomi.
Naomi: I'm excited to get my hands on your book and give everything a try.
Jenny: All right. Awesome. Thank you so much.
Naomi: If you enjoyed this episode, it would mean the world to me if you would subscribe to this podcast, write a review or even share it with someone who you know would enjoy it too. In the meantime, you can find the show notes for this episode and all other episodes over on my website at www.livefablife.com. There you can submit a question to be answered right here on the show, sign up for weekly updates, insider access, and get behind the scene scoops and learn how we can work together too. Most importantly, thank you so much for being here. I can't wait to connect with you again on the next episode of this show. See you next week.
Naomi Nakamura is a Functional Nutrition Coach who helps professional women who struggle with everyday health concerns, that if left unaddressed can add up to big problems. She helps them bring their body back into balance by learning how to uncover and address the root causes of their complaints, and how to address them through improved diet and gut health, and reduction of stress and exposure to environmental toxins.
Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, is an avid fan of Bay Area sports, and can often be found exploring the area with her puppy girl, Coco Pop!
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