As a society we’re getting busier and busier, rushing between work, family and relationship commitments, a social life, and everything else we try to squeeze in-between. Very often the intention to eat healthily is there – if we don’t we simply won’t feel our best, whether now or down the line. But ensuring we’re organised and our kitchen is loaded with healthy nourishing food for the week does require an element of preparation, and if we’re not prepared that’s often when the convenience factor kicks in - whether manifesting as a trip to the bakery for a speedy croissant because we forgot to pack our lunch, or gorging on one too many mini muffins at the staff morning tea because we didn’t organise snacks from home. The convenience factor has us justifying our more detrimental food choices, simply because they offer a quick solution to that gnawing feeling in our stomach - biologically something we’re not meant to ignore.
Two of the biggest barriers often faced when committing to a healthier lifestyle is a) lack of time and/or b) effort. Unless you have access to a personal chef (imagine!), committing to a healthier lifestyle requires us to spend some time and effort preparing ourselves and our fridges for the week ahead. A healthier you really does start in your own kitchen, a food environment you have control over. But the neat thing is you don’t have to become a slave in the kitchen to eat healthily - the trick isn’t to work harder, but rather to work smarter. Welcome to the wonderful world of meal prepping.
What is meal prepping?
Meal prepping is when you plan and prepare meals in advance. What it means is that:
a) You significantly cut down, or virtually eliminate, the amount of time spent in the kitchen preparing food each day = great if you’re time poor.
b) It ensures you’ve got nutritious meals on hand and ready-to-go = great if you’ve got health or fitness goals in mind.
c) You’ll wind up saving money, as cooking in bulk usually decreases the over-all cost of a meal = great if you’re on a budget.
So where do I start?
There is no right or wrong way of going about meal prepping - the most important thing is to keep it manageable for you. Try striking a balance between prepping what meals you tend to fall short on (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks), and how much time you have available to dedicate to meal prepping. Sustainability is important, so keep in mind that even if you just have time to prep one or two meals ahead, this can still make a world of a difference.
There's two ways you could largely approach your meal prepping:
- You may like to prepare meals in their entirety, so you've got complete meals on-the-go. The perks of this approach is that it's a massive time saver during the week, and helps with sticking to performance goals (e.g. when your tracking macronutrients).
- Or, you may like to prepare elements of a meal, which you can use as the basis of preparing other meals, e.g. roasting a whole chicken, then using the breast shredded in a salad one day, and then the drumsticks, along some cooked potatoes and veggies, another day. The perks of this approach is that it can help prevent any boredom repetition of meals, as you've still got flexibility around how you throw you dishes together.
In regards to when to prep, that's also up to you - some like doing all their meal prep on the Sunday before the working week (try searching #mealprepsunday on Instagram, it's totally a thing), others like to break it up throughout the week. Here's a step-by-step guide:
Planning is key in keeping your meal prep session as quick and easy as possible. Before you go out and do your weekly food shop, sit down and plan what you'd like to prep for the week ahead. You may want to jot-down all of your meals, that is, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks (immensely helpful if you’re on a budget or working towards a health/fitness goal), or maybe just lunches and snacks for the working week. Meal prep aside, I recommended weekly menu planning to everyone, ESPECIALLY families. It’ll save you stress during the working week, especially when evenings roll around and you have no idea what to cook. It’ll also save you money as you’ll know exactly what you need to buy when you go out and do your food shop, opposed to the haphazard shelf-grab until your trolley looks like there’s a week’s worth of food in it.
To help keep costs down raid your pantry/fridge/freezer for any ingredients that you can use in your coming weeks meals and try building some dishes around that. Maybe you have 1/2 bag or rice left? A few frozen fish fillets? A tin or two of lentils? You'd be surprised how much money this simple step can save! Once you've got your menu sorted then make a list of anything extra you'll need to pick up from the supermarket - then when you go do your shop only buy what’s on your list!
What you chose to meal prep is up to you, and options really are endless. Here are some ideas to get your going:
- You could batch cook meal bases for easy weeknight meals and freeze ready-to-go portions e.g. pasta sauce, curries, casserole, meat balls, mince bolognese, basil pesto, soup or soup stock. Simply cook rice or pasta when you serve.
- You could prepare snacks for the coming week e.g. boil eggs and keep in the fridge, portion out nuts into containers or chop up veggie sticks.
- You could portion, bag and freeze smoothie ingredients for super speedy breakfast smoothies in the morning.
- You could pre-cut veggies for quick and easy stir-fries for the coming weeks dinner. Keep containers ready-to-go in the fridge.
- You could prep some yummy healthier treats to keep your sweet tooth at bay throughout the week – try making a tray of bliss balls and enjoy 1-2 as a snack.
- You could try cooking a little extra dinner each night to carry over to lunch the next day – too easy!
- You could pre-marinade your meats and then keep portions in the freezer ready to defrost for dinners.
- You could whip up a giant garden salad or coleslaw to keep in the fridge for lunches and dinners the following few days.
- You could bulk cook portioned meals for healthy and speedy lunches and dinners– aim to include a serving of starchy carbohydrate (kumara, rice, potato, pumpkin, quinoa), a protein (chicken, fish, beef, lentils, salmon) and lots of veggies (broccoli, carrots, beans, asparagus…).
- You could stew fruit to enjoy with porridge or yoghurt – great if you’ve got fruit trees that are hard to keep up with.
Well done, you’re almost there! A few last things to ensure your food is stored properly:
- Make sure to package your food well. One of the wonderful things about meal prepping is that it’s all ready to go for you when you need it, so investing in a variety of containers is great idea to keep meals portioned and efficiently stored. Snack-lock bags are also a great idea – just make sure to remove air by pressing out of bag and seal well.
- Be mindful of differing storage times for foods. Different items of food will last for various times in the fridge/freezer:
- Salads: refrigerator 3-5 days, don't freeze well.
- Soups and stews (with veggies or meat added): refrigerator 3-4 days, freezer 2-3 months
- Cooked meats or poultry: refrigerator 3-4 days, freezer 2-6 months
- Hard cooked eggs: refrigerator 1 week, don't freeze well
- If using a recipe from a cookbook/online make sure to check if there's any recommended storing instructions.