Meal planning and prepping is simply planning and preparing meals for the week ahead, or batch cooking and freezing for some time in the future. This is very important when going out to work as it saves time and provides you with healthy meals that can be ready quickly. This is just as important, if not more so, when working from home. It’s very easy when you’re working from home to slip into bad habits where you might just grab a mars bar for lunch if you’re busy or between zoom meetings. The other extreme is deciding to create a healthy lunch that involves lots of preparation. Whilst this might be very enjoyable, and it’s great if you like to prepare homemade healthy meals, it’s probably not the best use of your time if you’re trying to do a day’s work.
Meal prepping on a Sunday is a great way to stay on track with your healthy eating and means that you’re more likely to get to the end of the week not having slipped off the rails. Remember the saying ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
How to meal prep and the benefits?
- Start small if you’re not used to meal prepping as it can feel a bit overwhelming at first. Try planning 2 or 3 simple meals to start with and gradually increasing until you are prepping the whole week’s meals. Fruit is great to chop up and add to a meal, as is cheese and crackers or a smoothie.
- Make notes of meals that you want to eat and stick them on the fridge. Try to make sure that they have a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, using whole foods, and limiting sugar, saturated fat and refined carbs. This is a great opportunity to make home-cooked, healthy food.
- Check what food you already have in the fridge and the cupboard and see what you can use for the coming weeks’ meals. The most important thing is to cook meals that you really enjoy eating.
- Make a shopping list for the meals that you want to make throughout the week and stick to it!
- Choose a combination of recipes which you know how to cook easily and add in a new recipe every week. It’s easy to just cook the same old meals over and over again but it can get boring eating the same things every week. By adding just one new recipe every week, you will have a huge variety of recipes to choose from.
- Only buy what is on the list. This will stop those mindless snacking moments because if it isn’t in the cupboard, then you can’t eat it. It will also save money too, all too often without meal planning and prepping, it’s easy to grab a takeaway or pop into the supermarket every day to grab something quick for tea, which is expensive and not always the healthiest option.
- Keep your kitchen organised and your cooking utensils accessible as this will make everything so much easier. It’s not much fun if you have to empty a cupboard to get to the one thing that you need which is kept at the back. Also, make sure that you have plenty of containers so that you can store your prepped food. These should include a selection of larger containers for things like chillis and curries, and also containers that have divided sections in them to keep certain foods separate and to prevent ending up with a box full of mixed mush!
- Try to cook a few meals in the oven at once to save time and energy. Also, don’t forget to use your slow cooker. This is great for preparing large portions. Extra portions can then be stored in the freezer – it might be that you make enough curry for the following 4 weeks if you are eating it once a week.
- Try to do your meal prepping over the weekend so that you are starting the week off right, and you have all your meals ready for the busy week ahead. Write your shopping list on Friday, shop on Saturday and meal prep on Sunday (this shouldn’t take too long – we’re not talking about prepping all day!) and the more you do it, the less time it will take. Sunday is a great day to meal prep as it’s usually a more relaxed day, you have plenty of time and you can always rope the kids or your partner in to help! However, this isn’t set in stone so make sure you have a flexible plan that works for you and can be adapted or customised. Also make sure to include a treat/more relaxed night too!
- Look at your week and what you have on, any late meetings or children’s dance/swimming classes, and plan your meals accordingly. Think about the times that you’ll be eating and what time you actually have to eat. Meals that generate leftovers are great as you can use them for another meal as well as for lunch the following day!
- Turn this into a habit and it will soon be as easy as any other regular thing that you do. Persevere as it might take a little time, but it will be well worth it!
- Remember why you are meal planning, whether this is to keep your healthy eating on track, save on waste, to save money, or all three.
What Can I Meal Prep?
Here are a few ideas for meals that are easy to prep, either for the coming week or to batch cook and freeze. For breakfast, try not to make it too hard by having something different every morning. It’s easy for me as I tend to eat the same every day lol.
Breakfasts to try:
Greek yogurt layered with fruit and homemade granola with a little agave nectar drizzled over the top. Make this the night before and keep in the fridge. This is great to grab and go if you need to take your breakfast with you.
Overnight oats – soak the oats (and chia seeds) in milk (any milk is fine such as full fat milk, almond milk or soy milk) and leave in the fridge overnight. Simply top with fruit and nuts.
Egg muffins – mix eggs, spinach, tomatoes, onion and a little feta cheese together and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the mixture into a muffin tin and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes. These are super healthy and filling and easy to grab and go. They will keep in the fridge for 4 days and can be frozen.
Smoothie – simply place your choice or milk (I like coconut or almond), fruit, yogurt, protein powder – whatever you like in your smoothie and blend. Keep in the fridge overnight and stir or shake well before drinking.
Lunches to try:
Soup is great to prep for lunch. You can make a big batch of this and freeze. Just put your choice of vegetables, meat, stock, spices, and seasoning in a pan and cook. When cooled, blitz with a blender if you like a smooth soup. Enjoy with dark rye bread or wholemeal bread.
Salad is easy to prep for lunch – use a variety of salad such as lettuce, onion, tomatoes, radish, cucumber, and peppers and add some chicken, fish, prawns or cheese. You can always add pasta for a more filling lunch.
Chicken and guacamole in a wholemeal pitta – again these can be made the night before. Simply fry some chicken in a pan with olive oil spray (or use leftover chicken). Lightly toast the pitta and spread the guacamole on one side. Place the chicken on top and add some spinach leaves. This is great on its own, but I like to add a drizzle of hot chilli sauce over the top. Wrap in foil and keep in the fridge.
Dinners to try:
Curries such as chicken korma, lentil, spinach and sweet potato or vegetable are great to batch cook ahead of time, freeze and heat up when needed.
Pasta – use sauces such as Bolognese, tomato, or pesto. Sauces which use cream generally aren’t suitable for freezing.
Chilli, casseroles, meatballs, and pies (chicken/beef/vegetable)
Remember, a lot of the above can be made in the slow cooker saving even more time.
Have fun with new recipes and enjoy the extra time that you now have in the evenings!
Caroline and Hannah xx