Get stuck into meal prepping
by Zoe Hill, www.eatingvegetables.com
What if there was one change that you could make that could potentially save you up to hundreds of pounds a month, improve your health and vitality and save you time and effort? That change is meal prepping. This is a term coined by bloggers and health gurus all over the internet for the method of preparing the majority of your meals for the week on a chosen day and budgeting for them all in order to better plan your grocery shop thus reducing waste and cost. Meal prepping means that you only buy what you will actually use to create delicious, healthy recipes that will prevent the need to buy pre-prepared, processed and pricey foods.
It may seem like a big commitment, but by learning to multitask you can actually reduce your cooking or preparation time to only a couple of hours a week. Most people choose Sunday evenings as their time to do the meal prep. This may seem like giving up some of your weekend, but it will actually become a very relaxing activity which will save you more time throughout the week. What’s more, you will always have delicious and healthy meals ready to eat, which will reduce the urge to snack and will allow you to better fuel your body to get through busy working days. Buying your own ingredients in larger quantities is also much less expensive, as you can plan your meals to use the same ingredients several times in different ways throughout the week.
We have put together a list of tips and tricks that will ease your transition into preparing your food in advance.
1. Clear your cupboards and obey the list (and DO NOT shop hungry!)
Before you decide what you will be making for the week, do an inventory of what you already have in your cupboards. Try to choose recipes that will use up leftover ingredients. The last of a bag of rice, some leftover frozen vegetables, or a small serving of sauce left in a jar can all be used in new dishes with the help of a little imagination. Once you know the recipes that you will be making, you can draw up a shopping list for the rest of the things that you need.
We really recommend learning to use google as it is an incredible resource. Type in the name of the ingredient that you want to use, plus “easy recipe” and you will immediately have dozens of ideas, literally at your fingertips.
Choose three or four basic batch recipes that you want to make on the week’s batch cooking day. These recipes should not take more than one or two hours. An example would be a large tray of roasted vegetables, a bean or lentil based baked dish, or a casserole. Try to make these relatively flexible foundations for your meals to which you can add different seasonings and additional foods relatively easily. Whole food ingredients are often cheaper and you may find good deals on fresh produce, particularly if they are in season and locally grown, at farmers markets.
2. Bulk buy and prepare staples
When you buy foods like dried pulses, nuts, seeds and grains in bulk, you can save phenomenal amounts of money. It may require an initial investment, but places like Costco, or even ethnic aisles in supermarkets have incredible savings per kilo when you buy larger bags and packets. You will get very good prices for each serving and a large bag can be a stable ingredient in your meals for months. Consider shopping online for whole grains, beans and pulses, especially if you live in a remote location, and when buying in bulk this can work out cheaper.
Store ingredients in airtight, dry containers to best preserve them for long periods of time. Many items can last years in this way and can actually be a lovely way to decorate your kitchen if you invest in attractive mason jars.
Preparing bigger batches of beans, lentils or chickpea, and rice, quinoa or another grain, to serve as a base for several different meals and recipes can be a cost effective and time saving tip when meal prepping. You can separate a large batch into several smaller ones and season each differently, adding vegetables, nuts or seeds as you wish. Grains such as quinoa can also be used in either a savoury or a sweet dish, providing more flexibility when you are cooking for a whole week of meals.
3. Freeze it!
We would always encourage you to eat as much fresh produce as you can get your hands on, but we do realise that this may not be possible, either economically or practically, for everyone. Luckily, most research actually suggests that frozen produce retains a lot of its nutritional value, especially when frozen very soon after being harvested.
Frozen vegetables are available at a much lower price than fresh and are very useful to have on hand so that you can easily add a portion to your meal. They are also a great way of reducing waste, as they will keep for long periods of time, even after being opened. The only vegetables that may be less nutritious when eaten from frozen are cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts), because they need to have time to activate the enzyme responsible for generating the beneficial phytonutrients. This means that after cutting, a time period of around 40 minutes should be left before cooking. When frozen, these vegetables have not had time to activate the enzyme reaction.
Some other good ideas are portions of frozen fruit smoothie mixes, perhaps with added oats and nuts, so that you can tip them into a blender and have a nutritious breakfast in minutes.
You can also cook large batches of food when meal prepping, portion it into freezer-proof containers, and have quick, healthy and delicious hot meals that are ready to reheat and enjoy when you don’t feel like preparing anything.
You might think that meal prep means that you will be stuck in a structured eating pattern. Whilst it may be a great tool for those who want to reduce grazing, this doesn’t work for everyone, and may leave you feeling deprived. We recommend preparing some delicious and healthy snack portions along with your main meals. Small pots of roasted nuts, portions of hummus and crudités or fruit, and even small portions of roasted vegetables or homemade granola bars are really useful to have on hand. Being able to easily grab a healthy option is vital to maintaining a healthy diet if you are someone who likes to snack throughout the day, and this is something that meal prepping can really help with.
For kids, this is also a great way to encourage them to eat more vegetables and fruit. Thinking up interesting and tasty snacks that will pack in nutrient dense foods can be a great way to turn potentially problematic snacking into a positive tool to improve their health.