Are you feeling tired, sluggish, run down and, generally, just not feeling your best? Are you relying on convenience food or takeaways in favour of cooking every day? Although convenience food may be convenient and save you time in the short-term, long-term it is not convenient for your health.
Pre-packed food, fast food and takeaways are generally higher in fat, calories and sugar than homemade food. They can also be lacking in quality ingredients, such as fruit and vegetables – which are essential for good health. Not to mention the added strain on your bank balance, but we won’t go into that!
“I want to eat healthier, but I just don’t have the time” is something I commonly hear, both in clinic and from others too. Time can be a very real hurdle, but the key is to work with this, as opposed to against it – this is where meal prep comes in.
Here are some tips to get you on your way to prepping nutritious food that suit your busy lifestyle:
Overnight oats – soak oats in yoghurt or milk and leave in the fridge overnight. Top with seeds, nuts, cinnamon and fruit for a delicious brekkie that you can grab and go in the morning. You can even make this in bulk for a few days and store portions in separate containers to save on prep time.
Smoothies – prep ingredients in your blender the night before, such as spinach, chopped fruit, honey and yoghurt. Simply add milk or water in the morning, blitz and go. You could also add frozen fruit to save even more time, and as a bonus, often frozen fruit work out cheaper!
Keep breakfast in your workplace – e.g. sachets of oats/Weetabix, milk and fruit, etc. This way, even if other options fail you, you will have a healthy option waiting for you at work.
Save fancy stuff for the weekend – omelettes, French toast, pancakes, etc. can all be delicious and nutritious breakfasts, but save these for the weekend when you have more time.
Cook extra dinner and bring leftovers in for a healthy lunch the next day. Aim for a third or half of your plate to be vegetables, a fist sized amount of a carbohydrate and a palm size of protein as a guide.
Set aside 1-2 hours a week where you can prep some meals in advance. Keep these in the fridge or freezer so you can grab a lunch in the morning without too much thought.
Leave ingredients at work – if you have the space at work, you could bring in wraps or bread, some mixed salad in a lunch box and a source of protein, e.g. tins of tuna. This way you can prep your lunches at work each day without too much thought, once you have brought in the ingredients needed.
Depending on your schedule you might opt to prep dinners in advance and leave them in the fridge so that you have something ready when you get in from work.
If you work long hours, it can be helpful to bring pre-prepared dinners into work and leave them in the fridge so that you are not famished by the time you get home.
If you cook daily, you might pre-prepare some vegetables at the weekend that can then just be added to quick and easy dishes. So, for instance, at the weekend you might roast a large tray of vegetables, keep them in a sealed container in the fridge and then add them as needed to omelettes, wraps, or a side to your usual dinner. Vegetables are usually the first thing to get dropped so having them pre-prepared is a great time saver.
Pre-prepare salads in bulk and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for an easy addition to sandwiches, wraps or on the side of a meal.
Frozen veggies can be a life saver when it comes to whipping up quick and easy meals. Simply boil or stir-fry them, add a protein (such as chicken, turkey or tofu) and serve with a carbohydrate (such as rice or pasta) for a balanced meal.
Cook dishes that will cover multiple days – e.g. lasagne, curries, shepherd’s pie, quiche, stew, pasta bakes, etc. These dishes can be prepped in bulk and will save you having to cook every day.
Keep meals simple – just like breakfast, try to save fancy dinners for the days when you have more time. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to prepare to whip up something creative every day.
Tips For Prep Success
Shop online: this gives you complete control over what you buy, and you can even have it delivered to save you time.
Write a list: this can be as detailed or as vague as you wish, but it is good to have some idea of what you need – aim for a variety of fruit and veg, a protein and some carbohydrate.
Schedule in time for prep – Sunday evening usually works best for most people. Try to max it at 1-2 hours, otherwise it will become too much of a burden. This is a good time to make food for 2-3 days or more if you plan to freeze some. For the easiest meal prep tip ever, simply put some chopped veg, chicken or fish fillets and potatoes or sweet potatoes in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until cooked. This requires minimal effort and can work for 3+ days.
Invest in good Tupperware – lunchboxes, lunch bags, cool bags, portable flasks, etc. are all worth investing in to help you to store your delicious food.
Be realistic – keep it simple and do what works for you. My meal prep is so quick and easy, but that means I keep it up consistently. If you try and do anything too complex, you might find that it is just adding stress to your life. The idea with meal prep is to reduce stress and increase nutrition success. Trial and error really are the recipe for success in this case.