Preparing meals in advance is a sure-fire route to improving your nutrition. But knowing when to meal prep (or even how to do it) can be confusing and often leaves people turning to pre-packaged or frozen meals that leave a lot to be desired as far as nutrition goes. Below we’ll show you why meal prepping is important, plus five methods to getting ahead of the game and readying your meals, without having to resort to “ready meals”…
Why Devote Time to Planning and Preparing Your Food?
“Meal Prep” often gets associated with bodybuilders and fitness models and people think that it’s not for a regular person who just wants to stay healthy; be a little fitter and stay in shape. But everyone can benefit from getting ahead of their weekly nutrition plan. Most of us are busy people, and keeping on top of eating healthy meals can be difficult. Even if you know what you should be eating, getting time to prepare it each day can be tricky. Then there’s the mental space and distraction that comes with attempting to decide what to eat every day, when your brain already has so much info to juggle. By getting a handle on your meal prep, you can dodge some of that daily time and brainpower consumption, while still making strides towards better nutrition and health.
5 Meal Planning Methods
Develop a Day Of Discipline
This is sometimes known as “The Sunday Ritual”, but in today’s increasingly flexible working world, we can expand this to any day off, or simply your quietest day (whatever that looks like for you…). This is the perfect opportunity to save time when things are more hectic at other periods during the week. Use this day to plan out your meals. Decide on exactly what you’re going to eat for each of your main meals (snacks too if you can) and note them down.
Once you have a list, work out all the ingredients you may need and head to the shops (or if you’re really organised and thinking well ahead, get the ingredients delivered). Once you’ve got your components, you can make any dishes from your list that are easy to store, and set them aside ready for the week. Or you can simply chop up the vegetables etc so that it’s ready to throw in the pan on the day you need it.
Whatever works best with the meals you’ve chosen, get the prep done on this day and it’s done for the week.
Meal Prep in the Morning
Rather than scrambling around for meals in the evening once you get home after a hard day, why not start the day the right way and get all your meal prepping done up front?
This isn’t for everyone (some would prefer the extra time in bed) and it will take a little practice to get efficient at it. But when prepping breakfast, give yourself another half an hour and prep what you’ll need for your lunch and dinner too.
Then when you get home it’s simply a case of heating it up/putting it in the oven to cook, while you have a more relaxed evening.
Have a Go-To List
Successful sports teams and booming businesses all have repeatable and reproducible processes. These become so automatic that they take little thought or stress to complete. And indeed, those that are the most successful at increasing and maintaining their health and fitness, also stick to certain processes when they’re eating.
By trying to make every meal completely different, day to day, week on week, you give yourself the mental burden of having to come up with new meal ideas every time. Even with an array of cookbooks that can be pretty discouraging. So to get round that, create a shortlist.
Create a list of six or seven staple dishes that you know are good for you; that you know how to make well; and with ingredients that you’ll regularly have at home. When you’re deciding what to have for the week, pick as many as you need.
That’s not to say that you never branch out, try new recipes, or shake things up a bit. In fact, leaving 1 or 2 days each week for trying new dishes (or ones that you know but didn’t make the shortlist) is probably a good idea. You likely still need a little variety to keep things interesting. Ideally though, to be consistent, the majority of the meals you prepare for yourself would be from your shortlist.
However you approach cooking your meals (whether it’s the day-off method or morning routine, or you continue to wing it on the day…), this tip is one of the easiest and most effective to implement.
Whenever you choose to cook, make more than you need for that meal and put the excess aside for another day. Do this for a few dinners and you’ll have a freezer full of meals that are good to go whenever you need them. Just reheat, and eat!
Of course, this can depend on how much fridge/freezer space you have, and how strong your Tupperware game is. Plus, it lends itself to certain meals more than others (please don’t do this with steak!).
But if you get it right (one pot dishes like chilli are great for this), you’ll save a lot of time and energy.
Now, earlier we said that part of the point of prepping was to get away from unhealthy pre-packaged or frozen meals. But if you’ve come to the conclusion that prepping sounds too much like hard work, or you don’t have enough room to store all the great meals you might knock up… you do still have other options.
There are myriad food delivery services now that can send freshly prepared, highly nutritious meals direct to your door. Depending on which you go for, they’ll either provide you with the ingredients to cook your meal, or give you a pre-cooked meal which just needs heating up.
Obviously, it’s up to you to be selective with which meals you choose, and how they fit in with your eating plan, but the key is that they’re readily available when you need them.
Also if cooking at home really isn’t for you, or you find yourself eating out regularly, you can also do your “prep” by selecting a few local restaurants that you like, scouring the menu and choosing several meals that work for your nutritional needs.
That way, in a pinch, you can head out to eat without worrying that it will upset your health and fitness plans.
Have a think about how you prepare your meals at the moment and whether you could streamline the process.
Try a couple of the tips above and leave a comment below to let us know how it went!