Life can be busy! There’s a reason that the crazier our schedules get, the more fast and convenient foods creep into our every day. Because, let’s face it, they’re exactly that – fast and convenient. After a big day, with nothing ready at home, it’s too easy to swing by a takeaway shop. A big part of making healthy choices easier is being prepared. That’s where ‘meal prep’ comes in.
Meal prep is the premise that one or two days a week, we cook and prepare food in bulk. Meaning that for the next few days we have snacks and meals on hand, ready to grab and go. Now that’s fast and convenient.
The trouble is, when people picture meal prepping, they often picture hours sweating in the kitchen, followed by dozens of containers filled with boiled chicken and broccoli. But, meal prep, like anything, is a learned skill we can get better at over time and when done right, meal prep adds variety and deliciousness to our week. Not to mention, meal prepping is far more economical than buying food out.
Below are my six steps to efficient, economical and delicious meal prep.
1. Picking your moment
Firstly, decide when it suits you to prep. I typically set aside two hours, but usually I will get it done much quicker than that! Sunday afternoon works well, as it’s a good way to get in the mindset of a great (and organised!) week ahead. Whilst you’re still getting used to the idea, put a reminder on your phone as though it’s an appointment you can’t miss.
2. Start small & often
Clear the kitchen of clutter, put on some relaxing music or even light a candle. Making the environment welcoming means that rather than making it a time where you feel chaotic and frantic, it can be a time where you feel calm and organised.
3. Buying the right foods
As a Dietitian, I believe there is a secret formula to a healthy and delicious meal prep and once you know it, things get much easier! Here’s my weekly shopping list:
- Two types of leafy greens – I find kale and baby spinach last well (and can be frozen for bakes and smoothies if you don’t get through them) but pick your favourite! Mesclun, rocket and cos are also great.
- Three different vegetables – try carrots, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, capsicum, cucumbers, the options are endless.
- Two proteins – I opt for one vegetarian (i.e. hummus, chickpeas, lentils, tofu) and one meat based option (i.e. chicken, tuna, salmon, meat balls). Vegetarian proteins tend to have a longer shelf life so work better later in the week.
- Two carbohydrate options – brown rice cups, chopped and roasted kumara or pumpkin, whole grain pasta, couscous and quinoa make for good options!
- At least three ‘frills’ – these are vital. Frills are the little things that add variety and deliciousness to your meal – and are very easy to forget in meal prep. I aim to add at least two tablespoons of frills each meal. Some of my favourites are toasted nuts and seeds, crumbled feta or other cheeses, dried cranberries or sultanas, loads of fresh herbs, spice rubs or mixes for your meats and vegetables, dressings and dips. Choose different options each week to branch out, extend your palette and never get bored. Variety is key!
- Two snack options – at least one being a fruit or veggie based option. Whole fruit is great on the go, as are carrot and cucumber sticks. Other options could be bliss balls, muesli bars, or crackers with cheese and hummus.
4. Make it economical
One of the perks of meal prepping is being able to save money you’d usually spend on takeaway foods, but to actually make that a reality you need to shop smart. Choosing fruits and veggies that are in season is vital. Here’s a great tool to know when’s the right time for each type of produce: Seasonality Calendar – The Produce Company.
Don’t be afraid of canned foods like chickpeas or beetroot, or frozen veg such as peas and stir fry mixes – they’re just as nutritious, very cost effective and delicious when done right.
It’s also important to not make the mistake of buying too much at once, there’s no worse feeling than things going off in the fridge. Start small and build up the following week if you need larger portions.
5. Get in the flow
Once you’ve purchased your items, it’s time to prep them. Getting in the flow means preparing several things at once, which will save you time. Flow takes practice, so don’t be surprised if you feel a bit chaotic to begin with. Having a timer or two in the kitchen can help you to keep track of things that are cooking. Get your water on the boil for your potatoes and grains, turn on the oven for your roast veggies and meats, and chop up all your veggies before you get started.
6. Storing it correctly
Storage matters. I see people storing all their identical meals in containers at once. I often find that it’s not long until the meal is looking a little lackluster and the flavours grow tiresome and repetitive.
I prefer to prepare my veggies, grains, meats and frills but then store them separately in the fridge. One or two days in advance I quickly combine my ingredients into a meal ready to go. Not only does it feel fresher and reduce food safety concerns, but I can make each meal a different combination of flavours to keep things varied. Better still, it means each item can serve as a ready to eat snack too if I get peckish. A good tip is to take crunchy items (i.e. nuts and seeds) and sauces in a separate small container and add just before eating. Your meal will feel good as new!
Like any new habit, meal prepping can take a while to become accustomed to, but once you’ve got a handle on it, nutritious food has never been easier! Give meal prepping a go next week, your health and wallet will thank you!
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Dietitian, My Food Bag
As My Food Bag’s nutrition guru, Catherine makes sure all our recipes and products follow Nadia’s ‘Nude Food’ philosophy. She works closely with departments across the whole business including the Development Kitchen, Innovation and Marketing! “I have always loved people, food and science in equal parts, so I decided to base my career off nutrition science and become a Registered Dietitian. I like helping people to understand what I like to call ‘down-to-earth’ nutrition – no fads, detoxes, or buzz words here!” Her My Food Bag journey started a few years ago, when she was part of our Customer Love team during her studies. Before returning to My Food Bag, Catherine worked as a clinical Dietitian at a hospital.
When it comes to food, this foodie’s favourites couldn’t be more different! On the one hand, she can’t go without a good bread (especially a sandwich loaded with veggies!), and on the other hand she sneaks spinach into anything and everything that she can. When she’s not working, you’ll find her getting outdoors, escaping the city for a big walk and a picnic lunch, or enjoying the sunshine with live music and friends.