Planning & Prep
Updated: Jan 4, 2019
What is Meal Planning and Prepping?
Essentially meal planning is a system that allows you to plan anything from a few days to 2 weeks’ worth of meals (or more) at one time. It also involves preparing your shopping list, shopping for all ingredients, preparing those ingredients and storing them correctly. Some people only plan and prepare their dinners, some plan and prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, some plan all their meals but only prepare lunches. However you choose to do it is up to you, your lifestyle and what works best for you. The truth is we are all busy. We are all looking to simplify our lives and create a way of being organised. Meal planning and prepping helps us navigate the day-to-day task of eating healthy and nutritious meals with minimal fuss.
Why Meal Plan and Prep?
Meal planning and prepping is one of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy diet.
Regular meal planning helps you:
• Eat more healthily - We are all mostly creatures of convenience and are hardwired to take easy options and our nutrition is no exception. Increasing the availability of healthy food in your house will increase the ease of making the right choices. If you keep healthy meals in your fridge, you will eat them.
• Save money - shopping from a list means you buy only what you need and cut back on impulse purchases. It is also a great way to save money if you are the type of person who would rather order a takeaway or go out for dinner instead of cooking a meal at the end of a long, hard day. Meal prepping makes it possible for you to have prepared meals at the ready whilst only cooking once or twice a week. Lunch time at work is also a common problem area. Going out for lunch on your work days can get expensive.
• Save time - planning and prepping meals in advance means you don’t have to consider what to make every night. Let’s face it who wants to spend lots of time in the kitchen at the end of the day.
• Minimises waste - ensuring you only have on hand what you need, as well as helping you use leftovers during the week. No more sad looking avocado left at the end of the week! • Prepare for busy weeks/months - batch cooking when you have time gives you back-up frozen meals for those nights when it’s not possible (or desirable!) to cook.
How To Get Started
1) Pick a day of the week that you will put aside for planning and prepping. Most people choose Sunday, so they are ready to start the week afresh. However, choose the best day for you. It may be you choose to plan on a Saturday, prep for half of the week on a Sunday and prep for the remaining half of the week on a Wednesday…the choice is yours. Remember you DO NOT have to plan AND prep on the same day. You can plan a few days before you prep but we recommend you shop on the same day or the day before you prep so your food is still fresh.
2) Come up with a meal plan of the recipes you are looking to prepare. Your recipes are the most important part of meal prepping. You have to find recipes for meals that taste great and will store well in the refrigerator for a few days. Planning out your recipes will also make sure you don’t forget anything during your shopping trip and be tempted to pick up unhealthy foods. Having a plan and sticking to it will save you time and money.
As you create your plan think about:
• What is happening during the week - check for upcoming events such as nights out, birthdays, busy periods, holidays, etc
• Including fresh food (a simple green salad or steamed vegetables are perfect to add nutrients to each meal)
• Asking yourself if you can make a sauce/dressing instead of buying a packaged/processed version
3) Write a shopping list and go shopping. Once you’ve completed your meal plan, it’s time to write your shopping list. Write a list of all the food you need to make the meals you have chosen. Think about how you can get food to stretch out, for example rather than buy lots of different pieces of chicken could you buy 1 whole chicken instead. Next go through your fridge, freezer and cupboards and double check if you already have any of the food on your list (adjust your list accordingly). When shopping only buy what is on your list. DO NOT be tempted to buy anything not on your list!
Tips on how to save money on your shopping:
• If you are buying fresh fruit and vegetables, choose those that are in season as they are usually cheaper.
• Don’t shy away from the frozen section! Buying frozen fruit and vegetables (where suitable for your recipes) usually works out a lot cheaper and the nutrients are usually higher in these foods as all of the goodness has been ‘locked in’ during the freezing process,
• If cheaper buy in bulk. This does not always work but sometimes buying in bulk works out more cost effective. Just make sure you have the space to store it all. If buying and freezing meat it is much easier to portion out before freezing. Make sure you add the date to any food before adding to the freezer.
• Check out the reduced section. Nearly all supermarkets have a reduced section which hold lots of bargains.
4) Start prepping! Depending on your recipes you may need to cook ingredients individually and/or you may need to cook recipes as a whole.
If cooking ingredients individually:
• Many people start with cooking their meat first. The easiest way to do this is in the oven. Cooking meat this way means it pretty much looks after itself and if you use the same tray to cook multiple pieces of meat it reduces the washing up! Don’t forget to add to the meat any seasonings/marinades you want to use. Once cooked allow the meat to cool before adding to an airtight container and storing in the fridge.
• You can also prep tofu beforehand. Drain the tofu and remove as much excess liquid as possible by pressing between paper towels. Slice or crumble the tofu (depending on your recipe) In a large pan, heat some oil over a medium heat. Add any seasonings to the tofu and place in the pan. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the tofu is heated throughout. Wait for the tofu to cool down and store in airtight containers in the fridge.
• Whilst this is cooking you can start to cook any grains or legumes you may need. You can batch cook any quinoa, pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils etc. With so much going on it may be a good idea to set timers or write down timings, so you know how long everything has been cooking for. There is nothing worse than ‘stuck to the bottom of the pan quinoa’!! To add some extra flavour, you can cook your grains in vegetable, chicken or beef stock rather than plain water. Again, wait for the food to cool before adding to an air tight container and storing in the fridge.
Whilst you have your pans on to cook, now is a good time to hard boil any eggs you may need – these are great to add an extra protein boost to salads, stir fries or snacks.
• Next sort your veggies and fruit – clean, peel (if necessary) and chop! If you are leaving some raw, store in an airtight container straight away in the fridge (these are perfect for snacks on the go, making salads in 2 minutes or quickly adding to a pan for a quick and easy stir fry). If you are roasting any veggies add them to a baking tray or roasting tin, add some oil and any seasonings you are using and roast in the oven. Some vegetables will be ready before others, so you will need to keep an eye on these. You can sauté your vegetables or steam them as well.
• For fruits you can add them into little freezer bags and create smoothie bags to be stored in the freezer. To make a smoothie in the morning all you need to do is pull out the bag from the freezer and blitz in a processor. Add some of your fresh veggies or avocado for an extra nutrient kick! Once these are all cooked separately you can start to assemble any relevant meals such as salads, burrito bowls, fillings for tortillas etc. Don’t add any dressings until you are ready to serve as these can cause salads to go soggy.
If you are cooking whole meals:
The best meals to batch cook are:
• Shepherd/Cottage Pie
• Breakfast muffins
All of the above can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer.
Remember to check your plan each night to know if you need to defrost any meals for the next day.
You can also prep overnight oats. These are such a simple breakfast idea which can last for a few days in the fridge, so you never have to rush again in the mornings.
Next go to Recipes to access ‘prepare ahead recipes’ to inspire you when planning your own meals!