Meal prepping has become extremely popular within fitness in the last couple of years & not just because of it's time saving benefits. By planning meals in advance, it can cut costs & reduce food waste, whilst helping you stick to a healthy routine. I particularly love how it prevents me from eating junk, as when I crave food I already have a meal prepared & have no excess food in the cupboards to get distracted by. This has really helped me with my fitness goals & ensures that I meet my daily macros too - and it can help you too! A common pitfall when trying to eat healthier is that when we're hungry & have no healthy alternatives readily available, we reach for unhealthy foods, that are a quick & easy solution. This is because when we're hungry, our bodies will crave carbohydrates, a source of quick release energy; unfortunately we normally reach for the wrong types of carbs - such as biscuits - resulting in our downfall. So lets put a stop to that, with my Meal Prep 101 - a guide to everything you need to know to succeed at meal prepping.
STEP 1 - PLAN
"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
Before you can cook, you need to plan. It may be a good idea to start small, by prepping only 2-3 days at first. Here's a few key steps to planning a successful week of meal prep.
1. Pick a day to plan. I like to plan on Sunday, so the food is fresh for the new week & prepped by Monday.
2. How to plan your meals? This stage is key, you must ensure the meals fit around your schedule, not the other way around!
- For example consider the questions: Can you reheat meals at work? Do you get home late from work? Do you go to the gym after work? Your daily routine should determine when & what types of meals you eat - for example the main, cooked meal of the day might be best at lunch. Or you might prefer 2 cooked meals in a day.
- There are 4 main areas to consider when planning a meal. Protein - meat, fish, beans, eggs, cheese, yogurt... Starch - whole grains, complex carbs, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice, pittas... Veg - spinach, beans, red peppers, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower... Healthy Fat - unsalted nuts, seeds, peanut butter, oil, avocado, fish... Just a few healthy suggestions. It is important to include each area within your diet, as each is required for a specific reason, such as carbs are essential for energy!
- Once you know what type of meals you're eating throughout the day, use an app like My Fitness Pal to easily work out your portion sizes, in connection with your daily calorie allowance. This app easily helps me plan the portion sizes of my main 3 meals, followed by what snacks I can have in between, so that I know I am within the calorie allowance. If you want to take it a step further, the app also includes your other daily macro nutrients - it has really helped me to increase my protein intake & decrease my sugars.
- Now you know the number of meals & snacks you're eating per day & the portion sizes, you can decide what needs meal prepping & how many days to meal prep for. I would suggest only prepping for a maximum of 5 days in advance, for optimum freshness!
3. Write a shopping list. Once you know your meals, the number of days you're prepping for & how much ingredients you need, you can write a precise list, so that you have no food going to waste & no extra food to tempt you later.
4. Schedule in chef days. I like to cook everything on a Sunday, but this can be quite ambitious depending on what you're cooking. So perhaps planning to cook Sunday & Wednesday might be easier? Once again, it is whatever works best for you. Remember the more ambitious the recipe & the more meals you're prepping for, the longer it will take, so two cooking days may be essential.
5. Progression. Once you've mastered this, you can start to think of adding variation. For example you could cook 5 meals on a Sunday, freeze 3, then cook another 5 of a different meal on Wednesday & freeze another 3, to build a variation of healthy meals to choose from in your freezer. Personally I don't mind eating the same meal for a week, plus it's easier, but most people like variation, so try changing it up midweek!
Once everything is planned, the meal prep itself should be more straight forward. Here are a few helpful tips that I've used to save time in the kitchen & make the whole process a lot smoother!
- Seasoning is your new best friend! Forget ready made sources - most are full of sugar - instead look to more natural herbs, spices & condiments, to really give the most basic food a kick! Start gradually collecting them as & when you need them, as they're a great investment to any kitchen.
- Cook in a batch. Particularly if you are grilling, baking or boiling. For example boil veg, pasta & eggs together, starting by putting the food that takes the longest in first & adding the others when needed. Or perhaps grill or roast the veg & meat together on one pan. Saves time & dishes.
- Slow cookers are the easiest way to meal prep. Simply chop up ingredients, add a liquid & leave it for the day! There are so many healthy recipes to try - soups, casseroles, pulled pork, chilli con carne - just have a google.
- Prep in batches. Weigh all ingredients at once, chop all ingredients at once & prepare everything ready for cooking, then you can focus purely on the cooking.
- Not everything needs to be cooked. For example, for breakfast, I measure out my portion sizes in advance only. Or if you're having raw veg that week, it can be prechopped & stored in an air tight containers.
Fresh Smoothies - Precut all the vegetables, weigh all the ingredients & store each portion in an air tight container. When you're ready for a smoothie, all you'll need to do is empty the contents & blend. For optimum freshness, prepare for 3-4days in advance.
Baked Mixed Veg - Cut all your veg for 5 days in advance. Mix together olive oil, rosemary, garlic, lemon juice & oregano in a dish, before drizzling over the veg & mixing it in well. Bake for 30mins (time depends on amount, so be sure to check). And there you have a batch of baked veg ready to go with any meal for the week ahead.
Moist Chicken - A big issue with meal prepping can be dry meat. The meal may taste great on day one, but by the end of the week the meat is dry & chewy. And this is because we overcook it on day one. To avoid this, sear chicken breast for 2 minutes each side, on a high heat, in coconut oil to get that crispy outer. Then turn down to a medium heat & cook just long enough for the chicken to be white throughout. Add lemon juice whilst cooking to add moisture & flavour & remove from heat straight away when cooked.
STEP 3 - STORE
It is important to store your meals correctly, not just to keep them tasting fresh, but to keep them safe to eat too. Firstly I would invest in some good tupperware - BPA free is ideal, so that you can heat your meals up in it, otherwise you can only use them for storage. Plus insulated meal bags & cooler bags are a good idea for the warmer weather, to keep meals fresh whilst travelling. Allow precooked meals to cool first, then store meals for 2-3 days in advance in the fridge, the rest should be kept in the freezer. The meals kept in the freezer will last around 2-3 months, so writing a date on their box may be helpful. When defrosting, put in the fridge the night before you wish to eat it & ensure it's fully defrosted before cooking.
STEP 4 - REHEAT
An equally important stage. With cooked meat & fish especially - if you're not eating it cold - you need to reheat the meal thoroughly, so the meal is hot throughout, not just warm. It's best to stir the meal in between heating, to ensure it's fully cooked. I personally prefer reheating my meals in a glass dish, as not all plastic is microwavable, so make sure to invest in BPA free plastic containers or use a bowl!
STEP 5 - RECORD
It is so important that you still enjoy your food, or this healthy habit won't last. I like to keep a record of my favourite meals, the easy meals & the meals to avoid, plus any changes I would make to recipes. It's a helpful reminder whenever I'm stuck for inspiration.
If you need some extra inspiration on recipes to try, here's a few of my favourite Instagram accounts for healthy, clean recipes, so go & take a peak!
From left to right, top to bottom - @deniceemoberg @dannysfitfood @fitmencook @thebodycoach @clean_eating_alice @chris.rocchio_fitI hope this has been helpful - it has been a post I have been planning for some time, to make sure I gave you the best tips & tricks to make meal prep effortless! Personally meal prepping has made it so much easier for me to eat healthy & keep to a routine, so I really hope it helps you, just as much as it has me!