Top Tips From A Meal-Prep Pro

Everyone knows that smug person who arrives at work with a perfectly packed healthy lunch. Ok, so in my case this is me. Since recently discovering Instagram, I’m realising that meal-prep has become a social media movement – who knew I was so down with the cool people.
Given that I don’t post pictures of my wonderfully well-planned healthy meals on online, I have to admit meal prep isn’t always so glamorous and at times can be a real drag. But whenever I find myself thinking about ditching the weekly prep, I remind myself what it felt like to be 20kg heavier. My planning efforts might not be able to take all the credit for my weight loss but I know it’s a big contributor.

Think about it, if you know when you’re going to eat you’ll avoid making bad food choices when you’re hungry. If you know what you’re going to eat you’ll remove the guesswork, be able to track your daily intake and hit your nutritional targets more easily as well as be inspired about your food choices. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring; planning meals you really enjoy is key.

I often get asked how I find the time to eat the way I do. My answer is always the same – I don’t find the time, I make the time. So, once a week, usually on the weekend I spend a couple of hours preparing and cooking things for the week ahead that will help me make fast, easy and healthy meals.

If I’m going to loose some of my weekend to meal prep I might as well make sure I’m in the kitchen for a good time not a long time. I put on a favorite album and loose myself in the process. Cooking can be a great way to unwind, de-stress and practice mindfulness. Sometimes (when I’m feeling more energetic) I will involve the kids. Cooking can be a fantastic teaching experience across so many areas – maths, science, health and it is also a perfect opportunity to connect and enjoy some quality time with them.  

Meal prep is not a short-term diet or a quick destination. It’s a lifestyle practice that we should all adopt. So how do you get started if you're a total meal prep newbie, and how do you avoid spending hours slaving away in the kitchen?  Check out my top 5 tips to help you get it right.

 

1. Get inspired

 

Feeling inspired will help you muster up the energy to prep delicious, healthy meals. Set aside some time to browse your favorite cookbooks, trusted online blogs, Pinterest boards and social feeds or even sit down and watch a cooking show. Another great place for inspiration is your local farmer’s market.

 

2. Make a plan

This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t get this part right. Start by making a list of what your week looks like. Do you workout on certain days where you might need to pack an extra healthy snack? Do you have a work lunch booked for Thursday? Is it going to be really hot on Friday in which case the soup you were planning might not be too appetizing?

Next go through and check that your plan is balanced. Do you have 5 serves of veg and 2 of fruit planned for each day? Do you have a healthy mix of protein and complex carbs? Have you planned for snacks? Are there a couple of little treats in there for balance?

Now you need to create a shopping list. It helps if you make sure your cupboard is stocked with the basics like olive oil, herbs and spices. When making your list check that it fits within your weekly budget. There’s no point cleaning out your bank account so you can snack on caviar all week (unless that’s your thing of course…)

Finally you need to think about the prep involved and estimate how long it will take. Meal planning is a great way to keep healthy, but we don’t want it to be at the expense of all your free time. I find it helps to focus on preparing meal components instead of full meals. For instance I might prep a veggie frittata, which I can quickly heat on a night I come in late and also have with salad for lunch the next day. Another night I might have a grilled chicken breast with some roasted veggies, which I can save and add to some quinoa and leaves for a salad the next day.  You don’t have to have all of the meal prepared you just want to think about ways you can cut down on time and make it quick and easy when you need it. In some cases you might plan meals that don’t have any pre-preparation involved – stir-fries are a great example of this. You can buy a fresh vegetable stir-fry packet, add in some tofu, chilli, ginger, garlic and soy and serve it on rice noodles that only take a few minutes to cook.

 

3. Shop Strategically

 

If you’re prepping on the weekend groceries will need to be done towards the end of the week. Find out which day works best for you as shopping too far in advance means your ingredients won’t stay fresh. And seriously think about when the best time to go is. If it takes you twice as long on a Saturday morning because you have to battle the crowds, don’t go then. Be strategic and consider online grocery shopping. This can be a perfect way to do your shopping on the go and have it delivered exactly when it suits you.

When shopping don’t forget to check the use by dates on the fresh items you purchase. You don’t want to buy salmon for Friday if the used by date is on Wednesday.

 

4. Up your Tupperware game

When you’ve done all of your prep you’ll need somewhere to store it. Make sure you’ve got a good collection of containers and lots of different sizes. Choose your containers wisely - BPA-free Tupperware or lunch boxes are a must, as these harmful chemicals can seep into your food, especially with repeated heating. Exposure to BPAs has been linked with ill effects on the brain and behaviour.

And if you don’t want to be spending half of your time looking for missing lids, keep the Tupperware cupboard organised!

 

5. Double up and freeze, freeze, freeze

Think about what you’re making and where possible, make double and pop half in the freezer. This saves loads of time and is great for those inevitable times you haven’t done any prep for the week ahead. There will always be times life gets in the way and while being organized is important, we don’t want it to take over. Freezing means this is not a problem. Soups, marinades, quiches, fish cakes, currys, chillis, casseroles and pasta sauces all freeze really well.  I try to plan one item every week where I can do this.    

 

You don’t need to be counting calories to benefit from this approach. As always balance and common sense is the key. As long as your plan is well balanced with minimal processed foods and you don’t over eat, you will reap the benefits.  Being consistent with your prep will not only help you attain your health goals, it can also help you save you time and money, reduce food waste and can even help reduce stress or anxiety associated with food choices. 

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