One of the biggest barriers often faced when venturing into a healthier way of living is a lack of time. Unless we have access to a personal chef (imagine!), living a healthier lifestyle requires us to spend some time and effort preparing ourselves - and our kitchen - for the week.
A healthier you really does start in your own kitchen. This makes sense, given it’s a food environment we largely have control over - that is a powerful statement.
But, the neat thing is you don’t have to become a slave in the kitchen in order to eat healthier, because let’s be honest a lot of us either don’t have the time or we’d rather be doing other things with whatever free time we do have!
The trick isn’t to work harder, but rather smarter. This is where the wonderful world of meal prep comes into play.
WHAT IS MEAL PREP?
Meal prep is when we plan and/or prepare food in advance. Most of us will be doing some form of this already; for example jotting down dinner ideas or doing a grocery job during the week. However, a proper meal prep routine streamlines this further and gets us really efficient with our time.
Through a meal prep routine we can:
a) Significantly cut down, or virtually eliminate, the time we have to spend preparing food each day = great if we’re time poor!
b) Ensure our food environment is reflective of our wellness goals = great if we’re working on aspects of our health!
c) Save money = great if we’re on a budget!
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to go about a meal prep routine - the most important thing is keeping it manageable to your lifestyle, because this leads to sustainability. Let’s jump into it!
Aka fail to plan, plan to fail. The planning phase is all about setting up your kitchen for the week and getting a plan of action in place when it comes to foods. Here’s how we recommend going about this:
1) Start by reviewing your upcoming schedule for the week. This will give you a loose idea of when you’re eating out versus at home, so you know how many meals to organise.
2) Do a kitchen inventory. Before you begin writing a meal plan, check what food is already in the kitchen. This is a great budget-friendly practise to get into the habit of, as it's all too easy to spend on ingredients we’ve forgotten we have, leading to food waste.
Simply write down ingredients you come across that could be used in a meal the coming week e.g. leftover tins of tomatoes, half open bags of rice with a twisty top, a lone meat pack or frozen veggies….
Take the opportunity to be food safe and throw out expired or old food while you’re at it - make sure to empty ALL of those tupperware containers that are starting to look scary!
3) Plan meal ideas or what you’d like to eat across the week. This could be rigid across meals where you write down a very Monday-Sunday meal plan, or flexible where you loosely pick out recipes to make.
If you’re looking for inspiration, go through some cookbooks or check out online! Check out the Feel Fresh Nutrition recipe blog here for ideas!
Be resourceful by using ingredients you have on hand already. Maybe there is an half-empty bag of rice, a few eggs and some frozen veggies - bingo, egg fried rice!
Once you’ve finished writing your meal plan, pop it up on the fridge so you and everyone else knows what’s on the menu.
4) Write a grocery list of the ingredients needed to make your planned meals - once again be resourceful and double check stock before you jot down an item.
5) Do you shop and stick to your list! Take a pen with you and make sure to check off each item as you go to keep on track.
Our kitchen is stocked - next up is the prepping phase. This is when we spend time in the kitchen preparing food in advance. While this process requires a slight time investment, it will end up saving you ample time during the week. There are a number of different ways you can go about this:
1) Batch cooking. This is a very popular method where you prepare larger than normal portions of a recipe, and then freeze or refrigerate leftovers to enjoy in the future. This approach is great for the time-poor, as it means you’ll have readily available meals on nights you can’t or don’t feel like cooking - sort of like making your own heat-and-eat meals!
Simply double, triple or quadruple a recipe, and then portion away leftovers for another day.
Meals that freeze well include pasta sauce, curries, casserole, meatballs, mince bolognese, soup or soup stock.
2) Leftovers. This is when you cook a little extra food at dinner to carry over to work the next day for lunch. This will cut down on prep time at lunch, and help prevent eating meals out, which can get otherwise spendy!
3) Precook elements of meals. This is when you fully cook parts of meals to use in different ways throughout the week. This method offers variety, flexiablity and creativity at meal times - you can go with how you’re feeling on the day as to what to prepare. For example:
If you roast or buy a chicken at the start of the week, you might use the breast at lunch in a sandwich and the legs at dinner the next day.
Or if you roast up a big tray of veggies to use in lunch salads over the next few days, you could also pair some at dinner with a quick pan-fried steak. You can see how this will start to save time!
4) Pre-prepare raw ingredients. This is when you prep raw ingredients in advance, to save time when cooking from start. This means meals are super fresh, and it’s a great method for those who are time-poor but enjoy cooking. For example:
You could pre-cut a stack of veggie for stir-fries, keeping them in sealed containers in the fridge until ready to use.
You could pre-marinade meats and 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 - just make sure not to dress until ready to eat!
You could portion, bag and freeze smoothie ingredients for super speedy breakfast smoothies in the morning.
Stay tuned for our next post looking at meal prep meal ideas!
This blog was written especially for our friends at Westpac NZ, who we’re excited to be assisting with their workplace wellbeing this year. It’s thrilling to see a company go the extra mile for their staff!