If your life is anything like mine, and it seems that it is from the recent survey I did on Facebook, you often don’t have the time to lovingly prepare your next meal. In fact, sometimes modern day life can be so busy with work, family and social commitments that you don’t even get the chance to sit down to a proper home-cooked meal. This opens you up to the risk of falling back on quick and easy meals that are oftentimes not the healthiest options. There is a way to avoid this though, and I’m sure you’ve all heard of it – bulk prepping your meals in advance.
All over Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest you see posts showcasing beautiful lunchboxes prepped and ready for the work week. I don’t know if you ever feel intimidated by these beautifully styled work lunches. If you are though, you wouldn’t be the first one to feel that way! After a busy day at the office or with the kids it can seem like too much to ask – cooking a meal and prepping for the next day (or the next three days’) lunch just isn’t going to happen. But don’t despair I have some handy meal prep ideas up my sleeve to help you get started.
It’s a lot easier to prepare meals in advance if you have an idea what you want to eat for the next couple of days. I suggest taking a few minutes when you have a break to jot down your ideal meals for the next few days, or even brainstorm for the whole week ahead if you’re comfortable with that. This will help you make sure that you have the right ingredients in your fridge or cupboard when you actually get time to do some prep later in the week.
You will be surprised, but with just a little bit of planning you will start to see which foods work well together. For example, if you buy a few chicken breasts you could use them in a creamy casserole accompanied by cauliflower rice, or in a salad. Once you’ve planned what you would like to eat the coming week you will see opportunities for pre-cooking certain elements of different meals all in one go.
2. Start small
I strongly suggest that you don’t tackle the whole week’s meals when you first attempt meal prepping. Focus on preparing two meals in advance. A great way to do this is by cooking a larger portion and saving the leftovers for lunch. You can even make enough to allow you to pop a portion in the freezer for later that week (bonus meal). Three meals taken care of in one!
Or, if you would prefer to start even smaller, why not focus on packing your snacks ahead of time? Pre-pack this week’s biltong or nuts into handy portions, boil some eggs on Sunday and keep them in the fridge for the week ahead. Eggs last up to a week in the fridge so they are an ideal snack or meal component to flex your meal prep muscle. Maybe rinse some fruit the night before and make sure you take it to work with you. Even these small adjustments will go a long way to helping you make healthier choices during the work day.
3. Prep doesn’t mean cook
I know I used to think that it was useless trying to prep meals if I couldn’t set hours aside to do it. Don’t make that mistake, every little bit helps! Anything you can do to help the process along is better than nothing. If that means you spend a few minutes over the weekend taking out the vegetables you will need for your next two meals and chopping them so they are ready to be made into a salad, or cooked on Monday then that’s perfect. If you don’t have the time to actually get to the stove don’t stress about it. Put on one of your favourite songs, whip out that chopping board and knife and get going! Maybe even rope the kids in and make it a family affair, this will also teach them the skill of planning and being prepared.
4. Experiment and have fun
Some people become bored of eating the same meals. Bulk prep certainly doesn’t require you to make five chicken salads ahead of time! I must admit that it makes life easier to work with the same base, but why don’t you experiment a little? Perhaps try frying a few chicken breasts on a Sunday and use that for Monday and Tuesday’s salad while substituting it for chickpeas or tuna on the Wednesday and Thursday. Particularly busy clients even buy a pre-made salad and then add the protein that they prepped ahead of time while they’re at the office. Depending on your budget there are ways you can make meal times relatively stress-free!
5. You decide
It can be hard to find the time to do any meal prep if you have a very busy schedule. Before you know it those easy meals are looking very attractive, even though there are healthier alternatives. Seeing meal prep as an investment and not a chore helped change the way I felt about it. Just think of all the time you will be saving during the week if you manage to do quite a bit in one go! Maybe you could even block off some time in your calendar if you find that scheduling helps you. Always remember that any meal prep you can do will not only free up more of your time during the rest of the week, but will also help you on your journey to becoming healthier!
If you pre-pack your snacks for the week you are saving yourself from the afternoon slump by choosing snacks that will slowly release energy during the day. No more running down to the vending machine to grab a chocolate or a packet of chips! If you are very pressed for time I recommend that you carefully choose the meals you prep in advance. Where in your day could you do with a few extra minutes? Perhaps it’s early in the morning when you are rushing from school or gym to work. Then I suggest you make a couple of smoothies that you can grab and have breakfast as you go. If you get home very late at night and dinner time is particularly stressful perhaps you could chop and cook some key ingredients for your next few evenings so you can have dinner ready in a flash, without the stress.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you can’t prep a full week’s snacks and lunches don’t be negative about yourself or your abilities. Think instead of the one or two healthy snacks that you managed to pack for the week ahead and congratulate yourself. Focus on how good it felt when you had something healthy right there as you got hungry. Decide to work on feeling that way more often. Celebrate every little good food prep choice you make, and if the week suddenly spins off its axis with work or your kids’ homework just forgive yourself and commit to trying again next week. In order for food prep to become part of your routine it has to become a priority, but you also have to recognise that life sometimes throws surprises at you. So don’t be devastated when you have to make a quick plan.
Another piece of advice I can give you is to get to know how long food will last in the fridge because this will help you prep more effectively. You can focus on buying foods that will last longer to give you a little more leeway in case you don’t actually get around to opening your fridge when you thought you would. Maybe print out this guide (http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/shopping-storing/food/how-long-food-last) and stick it on your fridge so you have the info readily available.
7. Use tried and tested recipes
I’m sure there are a few healthy recipes you already know off by heart that you can start out with. There’s nothing quite like cooking a meal you know will be a hit, so I advise that you start there. But in case you are short on recipes, or if you just want a few new easy meal ideas, I have put together a list of my personal favourites for you here.