Sorry about the delay on this one, y’know when life just doesn’t give you a break for an entire week? That happened. Anyway, I’ve had a request to write a post about meal prepping for beginners which is an excellent idea as for many people, meal prep makes or breaks the success of sticking to a meal plan. Let’s jump right in…
What is meal prep?
Meal preparation is exactly what you think it is: it’s bulk cooking your meals for the week and storing them in an entire oil-field’s worth of plastic Tupperware boxes in either the fridge or freezer.
Because life is insanely busy and as we discussed in my last post, the best way to eat healthy and know exactly what goes into your food is to make everything yourself, which admittedly takes longer than shoving a Chicago Town deep dish in the over for 12 minutes (can you tell i’m familiar with the pizza lifestyle?). This inevitably leads to longer cooking time which many of us just don’t have the time for, enter: the glorious era of meal prep.
What are the Benefits?
- Well for one, less washing up. You do most of your cooking on one day and so the rest of the week you’re simply reheating and if you so desired you could even eat your food out of the tub it’s in. I’m not going to lie, the only time my food comes out of the tub is if I’m going to Instagram it.
- Your food is ready for you as soon as you get in from work/gym/uni. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got in after a day of lectures and the idea of even waiting for a pan of pasta to boil is enough to make me not bother eating or just eating every ready-to-consume packet of anything I can find in my cupboards (picture a haggard raccoon with a bag of Doritos, surrounded by empty packets of Aldi white chocolate buttons and you’ll get a pretty good picture). Having something filling and healthy ready to go reduces your chances of snacking on crap or ordering the third takeaway that week (guilty).
- It makes it easier to keep track of what you’re eating and puts you in full control of your diet for the week. You can start the week by planning when you want to eat what. I go as far as to make sure that I have my most filling and comforting meals on days after lots of work and lectures so I have something to look forward to. You can make it so that you have something high-carb after a particular gym class you go to. I even used to plan so that I didn’t schedule any fish meals for weekday lunchtimes as I spent an entire day at work last year hearing about how the Engineering department smelled like fish (in my defense, the Geology department didn’t have a microwave and Kerala green fish curry is so worth it).
Ok, So How Do I Get Started?
I’m gonna break this down for y’all into a simple 7 step list cause you know how I love a good list:
1) First things first you’re going to need a plan, the plan is up to you, based on whatever plan you follow or your own research/macros (see my last post). Whatever it is you do, you’re gong to need to figure out what you’re going to eat and when. If you’re more seasoned and are calculating your macros remember as we discussed last time, generally you eat more carbs and protein on workout days and less on rest day.
2) Write your plan down, in the Useful Stuff tab you can find a template which is similar to the one I’ve used over the last year or so which you’re welcome to download and use. Some plans already give you your daily menu, if that’s the case you can skip this step.
3) Buy yourself some plastic containers and some digital weighing scales. And by ‘some’ plastic containers I mean ‘a buttload’. Any kind will do, all that matters is that they have lids and are microwave safe, you’ll be breaking the bank buying the fancy clip-lock ones so I literally just get them in packs of 5 for like 60p from Home Bargains because I’m classy like that. I’d also advise getting various sizes.
To give you an idea I probably have about 15x regular, rectangular, 1-meal-sized ones, 6x regular square ones that are a bit deeper and big enough to store a liquid meal like soup, 5x bigger bowl shaped ones that can store larger portions of curry, overnight oats or bulk cooked veggies like green beans, 6x small rectangular ones big enough to store a portion of greek yoghurt or fruit, 8x very small square ones big enough to hold a portion of almonds and finally about 78 million protein shakers.
Regarding protein shakers I would definitely recommend the brand SmartShake (I’m not being paid to say that I just love them), mostly because they shake really well but also they have extra compartments in which you can store your supplements and snacks and I can swap the colours around between all my shakers like the child I am. Remember though I prep for an entire week and have accumulated a lot of boxes over time, you don’t need this many to start. Cheaper substitutes you may also already have are:
- Takeaway boxes (for meals and veggies)
- Jars (for snacks and sauces)
- Thoroughly cleaned out milk bottles for soups or smoothies (pour into a bowl before reheating)
- Plastic resealable freezer bags (try to wash and reuse these instead of discarding, y’know save the planet and all that)
You can pick up cheap digital weighing scales here and Clas Ohlson currently have some real snazzy ones on sale for £5, this is the set I have. Digital is more accurate and a lot quicker as you can pop a new container on and tare them without having to wash out the same container between each ingredient.
4) Clear space in the fridge and freezer. I don’t need to explain this really but you’re going to need space to put all those boxes!
5) Make a shopping list and go shopping. So you have your meal plan. Now you need to go through the recipes and write down every ingredient and only the ingredients you need. The beauty of meal prepping is that you never end up wasting food because you know exactly what you’re going to be eating for the week before you do the food shop.
You may have to shop around for the best prices but this will come with experience, as you’ll be buying a lots of meat in one go it is worth checking what offers the supermarkets have on or musclefood.com but usually I find that a local butchers is cheaper for what I need. The same goes for greengrocers and vegetables.
For anyone on a low income I just want to take this opportunity to point out that although a massive food shop may seem daunting financially, take it from a student that once you have your oils and spices in your cupboard, your weekly meal prep shop can be as low as £25. Of course it can be a lot higher too depending on what’s on your menu but remember, that’s under your control. If you set aside an hour to do your price research you can make a meal plan that is clean, healthy and doesn’t break the bank!
6) Get Cooking. Ideally you’ll need a good half a day set aside to do this but it depends on what you’re making and your availability of course. This is where a lot of people say ‘I just don’t have the time’ but trust me, you can make it work for you. Personally, I cook a entire weeks worth of food, snacks and all, in one day (for meals that can be prepped in advance). On weeks where I’m very short on time I will prep for maybe 3 days worth and then schedule another mini prep session halfway through the week.
Before you begin get out your knives, chopping boards, digital scales, kitchen roll/cloth and Tupperware and common spices you’ll be using, we want this to be a fast operation with everything to hand, fill up a sink full of hot soapy water because you’re going to be washing up between every couple of meals. I learnt the hard way that unless you clean up as you go along your kitchen will look like a hurricane had a casual stroll through it. Also keep all your cupboards open for the duration for easy access and minimal gunge on your cupboard handles.
Meal prep is about making life easy for yourself so take that ethos into the kitchen with you. Depending on what I’m cooking sometimes I will weigh out all my meat for each recipe first, sometimes I will chop, weigh out and portion all the veg for each meal, that way you can literally whizz everything in the pan and it takes less than 15 minutes for the actual cooking of each meal.
Some meals are going to be more complicated and will take longer, get them out of the way first. Nothing worse than spending what feels like 56 years cooking and you’ve still got to do 2 big ones that involve a blender. You just end up saying you’ll do the rest tomorrow (Pro Tip: you probably won’t do the rest tomorrow, you have nothing healthy on hand to eat and so you end up buying a sad and overpriced chicken tikka sandwich and a milky way from the university shop). That’s why it’s a good idea to do your meal prep in the morning because you won’t get tired as easily and want to give up.
7) Store It All. Now to put all your delicious food into your Tupperware, admire your hard work and post it on Instagram. You might be wondering what you can and can’t freeze/make ahead/how long things will keep.
As a general rule, liquid based meals like curry, soups ratatouille and casseroles can be frozen. Most meats can be frozen though I advise against freezing cooked salmon fillets as the texture just isn’t the same after defrosting. I also avoid freezing fresh cooked vegetables like broccoli and green beans and mashed potato, they lose a lot of their nutrients and go pretty soggy. You can freeze things like overnight oats so you can make big batches and freeze, then just take out of the freezer the night before you want it and heat it up in the morning though I wouldn’t freeze standard oatmeal. You can most certainly freeze berries to just throw on your oats or pop into a blender for a smoothie, for smoothies its also handy to keep a supply of ice cubes in the freezer too.
As a general rule, things will keep in the fridge for 5 days BUT I would limit that to 3 days tops for anything with dairy/dairy substitute (e.g. chia pudding, overnight oats) because there are few things worse than dodgy dairy or questionable almond milk. Same goes for anything with fish in (freeze it or make it on the night you want it). Don’t bother making anything with avocados in ahead of time, it will go brown and gross.
If you want to know about a specific foods demands for storage then just drop me a comment.
Tips and Tricks
- You can make breakfast for a week in 15 minutes if you prep smoothie bags. Just throw in the required fruits and veg for one smoothie in a zip-lock/press-seal food bag and on the morning, take it out of the freezer, dump it in the blender with some almond milk, a couple of ice cubes and protein powder if you use it and you have breakfast quicker than you can say, ‘Let me Instagram this sh*t’.
- You can freeze bananas and because they never fully freeze, you can put them in a blender to make a healthier ice cream substitute with a creamy texture. Now every time this gets suggested by popuar websites like Buzzfeed the comments are rife with inexplicably infuriated people cyber-yelling ‘that’s not ice cream wah’ but those people are haters because I promise, especially with added flavours in there you can barely taste the banana and the similarity in texture to ice cream is uncanny. It aint no Ben&Jerries but it will do for those days you need a sweet fix and its not treat day, you aren’t ruining the sanctity of ice cream by having banana ice cream and don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise.
- For meals you can’t make ahead, you can weigh out the veg and ingredients you’re going to need ahead of time so it will be quicker when you do have to make it. For example, for my oatmeal I make little bags containing the appropriate measurements of oats, chia seeds, flaxseed and cinnamon and then just pop it in the pan with some almond milk the next morning.
- Providing you have enough Tupperware you can box up your snacks for the week too in advance. I divvy out my berries into little tubs and my almonds and walnuts, then I can just grab a tub and put it in my bag before uni.
- My final tip is do NOT make anything you know you don’t like. You will not look forward to that meal and will be more likely to go off your food plan. Make delicious things that you know you enjoy, like I said previously, healthy, clean eating CAN be delicious and enjoyable but you have to make it that way.
Happy meal prepping everyone, let me know how it goes! If you have a specific topic you want me to write a post on just drop me a comment.
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