We’re all spending a lot more time at home these days. Which means more time in the kitchen. More time chopping, grilling, baking. And then ultimately, more time cleaning dishes, scrubbing pots, and wiping down benches... NO MORE!
There is a solution. And it’s called ‘meal prepping’. Learning how to meal prep for your week ahead will save you both time and money. Sound like something you can get on board with, but have no idea where to start? Then, keep reading.
WHAT IS MEAL PREPPING?
The concept of meal prepping is to prepare meals and/or snacks ready for consumption later.
There a few different methods to consider:
- Ready to cook or snack ingredients - this is the most basic meal-prepping method. Taking time to cut up fruits and vegetables in bulk, ready for cooking during the week ahead will save you clean up and prep time each day. And ingredients should safely last a few days in the refrigerator before they lose their freshness.
- Make-ahead refrigerated meals - this is perhaps the most common method, especially for beginners. This involves cooking a few meals all at once and storing them in portions in the refrigerator. As with the cut-up ingredients, these meals should last a few days.
- Batching and freezing - this is a great choice if you find yourself coming home late and feeling too lazy to cook or if you travel a lot. It’s also a great way to keep fresh ingredients on hand for morning smoothies, like spinach or bananas. You can also avoid food waste and still ensure you have healthy, nutritious meals to hand. As a rule of thumb, frozen items can last up to 2 months in the freezer.
HOW DO I STORE THE MEALS?
There are a few options when it comes to effective meal-prep storage:
- BPA-free containers - this is the most commonly used container. It must be airtight, microwave-safe, and ideally stackable for easy storage.
- Reusable silicone bags - these are popular for cut-up snack items or more liquid-y foods like sauces and soups. They must be freezer safe and washable for reuse.
- Stainless steel containers - these are a great alternative to plastic or glass containers. They can help keep foods crisp and fresh for longer.
Food safety is of utmost importance when meal prepping. Food should always be cooled prior to storing, and properly thawed. And only reheat foods once. Make sure your containers are portioned to feed 1 or 2 people maximum, depending on your household needs, and always label containers with the date it was prepared.
WHY DOES MEAL PREP SAVE ME TIME AND MONEY?
Our time is precious. And the ability to create nutritious meals in less time is a definite plus.
- Buying in bulk - instead of going to the supermarket for single items each and every time you need them during the week, you’ll get much better value for money buying ingredients in bulk all at once. And ordering online will save you even more time.
- Less food waste - if you’re keen to be a more conscious consumer, meal-prepping will help you achieve this. With pre-planned pre-prepared meals, you won’t have ingredients stuck at the back of the refrigerator going bad. You’ll buy and use what you need.
- It's more sustainable - cooking less often, you will purchase less packaging as a result of buying more in bulk. And this will especially help you reduce single-use plastics found in many smaller serve grocery items.
- Multi-tasking - a surprising added benefit of batching your cooking time is creating space to multi-task. For example whilst you cook you could listen to an audiobook, an inspiring podcast, or even learn to speak a few phrases in a new language. You don’t need to sacrifice your downtime on a Sunday. Cook and enjoy it at the same time.
WHAT ARE THE BEST INGREDIENTS TO BUY?
The ingredients you need will ultimately depend on the recipes you decide to make. We suggest only choosing up to 3 different meals to make for your beginner meal prep sessions.
For example, try one oven-baked meal and two stove-top meals. Plus ingredients to create a couple of snack packs or ready to cook cut-up items.
According to The Australian Dietary Guidelines, we should eat a variety of nutritious foods each and every day.
Here are some quick-start ingredient suggestions:
- Protein - whether you are an omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, ensuring you eat enough protein each day is essential to good health. For meal prepping you could include any of the following in your recipes. Red meat, fish, poultry, or seafood are commonly eaten protein sources. For vegetarians and vegans, however, it’s important to include a mix of beans and lentils, tofu, tempeh, or plant-based meat alternatives for a protein boost.
- Grains/Carbohydrates - including healthy whole grains is a must when meal-prepping. They provide a dose of fibre and can help stretch out portions. A few examples include buckwheat, cous cous, quinoa, rice, and pasta.
- Fresh Vegetables/Fruit - when it comes to meal-prepping, a variety of fresh produce is key. These of course will vary based on your tastes. A few we’d recommend including are potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. Even consider the humble apple, it’s great for stewing or juicing.
- Leafy Greens - incredibly nutritious this is a great option to ‘sneak’ into any dish. We recommend greens in as many meals as possible! Try spinach, kale, or rocket.
- Good Fats - often overlooked but an important part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Our favorites include avocados, nuts, and coconut milk (for curries).
- Herbs/Spices - a must for tasty dishes. You could try adding in fresh herbs like parsley, coriander, dill, garlic, turmeric, ginger, or chilli. And at the very least salt and pepper.
- Stocks/Sauces/Dressings - in addition to herbs and spices, sauces and dressings can be what turns meal-prep from bland to delicious! We suggest trying out bone broth, tamari, olive oil, or even miso for a nutrient boost. Ideal for soups, casseroles, stir-fries.
When choosing ingredients make sure they can be used across a few dishes that week. You’ll cut down on your chopping and cooking time significantly.
OK, I’M IN - WHAT DO I DO, STEP BY STEP?
- Pick Your Method - we suggest starting simple with a few refrigerated meals, and work your way up to batch freezing.
- Schedule Your Cooking Time - Sundays are a favorite among many meal preppers but do what works for you. Just allow a couple of hours to cook and clean up.
- Ensure You Have the Right Storage - have your containers clean and ready prior to your meal prep session (the last thing you want is to be digging around the back of the cupboard for suitable containers when you’re about to cook up a storm!)
- Plan Your Recipes Carefully - the recipes you choose will depend on your dietary needs. As with your meal prep method of choice, keep it simple the first time around.
- Make a grocery list - include a mix of healthy protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, leafy greens, good fats, herbs, and spices to boost flavor, and good stocks and sauces to boost nutritional value.
That's it. Time to get those groceries, and get prepping!