Do you find yourself grabbing fast food or unhealthy snacks to eat just because you’re too busy to stop and make a proper meal? You’re not alone. There are many reasons you may choose not to cook on a daily basis, but the main reason for this is simply a lack of time.
When you have to work, manage a household, look after pets and children, it all becomes quite overwhelming and the thought of making a nutritious meal may seem like too much. Instead, you order pizza or grab fish and chips on the way home. It’s simpler, but it tends to cost more and is far less nutritious than if you were to cook at home.
Meal prepping is the key to eating well, without spending a lot of time preparing food each day. Instead, you dedicate a few hours on a day you can spare them to create quick and easy meals that you can then eat almost instantly at any point throughout the week. It’s a smarter way to manage your food.
Which Method is For You?
Not everyone wants to prep the same way, so consider what makes you choose not to cook. Is it the fact that you don’t have anything ready to go? Would you cook if everything was ready to toss into a pot? Or is your energy level at a point where you only want to throw something in the oven or microwave and heat it?
If you enjoy cooking, but rarely do it because it takes so long to cut the veg and get everything ready for the act of cooking, consider prepping ahead. You can chop onions, herbs, and other vegetables ahead of time and keep them in separate containers in the refrigerator. Then, when you’re ready to make a meal, you just grab the items you need and get straight to cooking.
However, some people just want a meal that is already prepared and only needs to be heated up. This is easy enough to do if you cook multiple meals in a day. For example, you can cook up quinoa and chicken, as well as some vegetables, or make chilli in a large amount. Set those up in the fridge and you don’t need to worry about what to eat each evening!
You can either prep only dinners or all three meals. The trick is to plan as much as possible.
Plan Your Meals
What do you enjoy eating? Make a list of your favourite recipes and then plan to double or triple them. If some are good for freezing, you can make a large batch and freeze the extra. However, for the purposes of planning out your week, you can double the recipe and have it twice in the week to reduce the amount of prep necessary.
It is helpful to make up a calendar so you can be sure you’ve filled all the meal slots. Your meals don’t have to be elegant; just make sure they’re things you enjoy. Even if you only plan to prep the ingredients, it’s helpful to have a menu planned out. Usually, you’ll only plan for a week when starting out, but you can later expand this if desired.
Write down the ingredients you’ll need for the recipes you’ve selected. You should double-check the list to ensure you have enough of everything. For example, if you need a pint of yoghurt for two different recipes and plan to double them, you need to be sure you put enough yoghurt on your list.
Pick a Day to Prep
Which day will you prepare all of your food? Depending on how complex the preparation is, you will need anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day. Most of the time, with regular meals, you can plan for around 4-5 hours.
Choose a day when you won’t be interrupted by anything else. It works best if you just focus on what you need to get done and finish it all at once. Weekends may work well for you, or if you like to stay up late, you may choose an evening when you have no plans.
Do Your Shopping
A simple way to speed up your shopping is to order online. This saves a lot of time and you’ll have everything delivered to your door. Getting food delivered is easy to do these days, so take advantage of it.
Another option is to order a few things online and then do your last minute shop to load up on the items you need, such as fresh fruit and veg. Either way, you will need to plan your groceries for the day before or the morning of your prep day. This ensures that everything will be as fresh as possible and will have the best flavours. Fresher food will also last longer.
You should also make sure you have enough containers to store all of your meals and ingredients in. Again, this doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but you definitely want the ability to put a lid on the container to keep everything as fresh as possible and prevent food from drying out.
Making Your Meals
If you’ve selected to only prepare ingredients, you can settle in and start chopping and measuring. If you have meat to marinade, then go ahead and mix up the marinades and put the meat into them, then set in the refrigerator for use when you’re ready to cook. Vegetables can be chopped and measured into containers. It’s helpful to label the containers with the recipe you plan to use them for!
With everything pre-measured, it’s just a matter of tossing it all together and cooking for a quick and easy meal. Just follow the recipes you’ve chosen. While this does speed up the meal prep, it isn’t quite as fast as actually making the meal ahead of time.
If you’ve decided to make up the entire meal, you’ll want to start by cooking up all your proteins. For example, if you need chicken for three dishes and beef for another or seitan for a couple, you need to cook all those up first. While those cook, you can chop and prep the veg and anything else that needs doing.
Try to cook multiple parts of your meals at once. Remember, they don’t need to finish at the same time, because you’ll be reheating later in the week anyway.
Once things have been cooked, you can either package separately or combine the ingredients for each recipe and seal. Place in the fridge, well labelled, to eat on the designated day.
Meal Prepping Ideas
Not sure what to make for your meals? Ideally, they’ll have more than one function so you can make several meals out of one thing. Here are a few examples:
Chilli con Carne can be eaten as is the first night, perhaps with some cornbread. The second meal can be burritos made with chilli, cheese, and some fresh tomatoes rolled up in a flour tortilla and fried. You can also serve the chilli over rice or spread it on bread for a whole new meal.
Try prepping a couple of proteins, two or three grains, and a handful of vegetables to keep on hand. To make up a quick meal bowl, add one-third grain, one-third protein, and one-third vegetables. Top with a sauce of your choice, cheese, or nuts and seeds for a tasty meal bowl that you can change up every time. Proteins might include chicken, ground turkey, bacon, beans, tofu, etc. Grains can be pasta, barley, quinoa, or rice and you can use any type of vegetable that you like, chopped and prepped, fresh or cooked. A bowl might include a bottom layer of quinoa, topped with beans and chicken, then a handful of fresh tomatoes and parsley with a red pepper sauce and some sunflower seeds. Nutritious and fast!
For breakfast, try making egg cups. Beat together twelve eggs with a little milk and pour into muffin cups. You can then add in whatever you want to each cup, from crumbled bacon and sausage to green pepper and onions. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, plus some cheese and bake until set. These freeze very well and can be reheated for a nearly instant breakfast.
Meal prepping can change the way you eat for the better. It does require some planning, but you will find that it is well worth the effort when you no longer need to order in or grab fast food just because you don’t feel like cooking.
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