Organisation and planning can help solve most problems that arise from trying to live a healthy lifestyle in the busy, convenient and confusing time we live in. Being organised and planning meals ahead of time is a tried-and-tested way to make better food choices. Choosing food when you’re hangry/in a rush/on the road can easily lead to overeating and less than ideal meals.
Research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine of a group of 1319 adults found a greater amount of time spent on home food preparation was associated with a higher diet quality, including the intake of significantly more vegetables, salads and fruits. It found those who spent less than an hour per day on food preparation spent significantly more money on food away from home and frequently used fast food restaurants compared to those who spent more time on food preparation.
Meal prep is the foundation of food organisation. Because most people don’t have an hour to spend on food preparation every day, it makes sense to prep things in bulk in one or two days to save that time throughout the week. Meal prep is one of the most effective tools I’ve found to date to lose weight.
Successful meal prep is an art form, like when mums have seven different components of Sunday dinner ready and piping hot at the exact same time. If you don’t go in with a plan of attack, you can easily waste hours reading recipes and waiting for certain ingredients to cook. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you here are 17 meal prep hacks to make your cooking session a whole lot easier.
1. Pin everything
How many delicious healthy recipes have you spotted on the Internet? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? And how many of these recipes have you prepared? I’m guessing that number is significantly lower. Pinterest is the perfect tool to compile recipes and food ideas so they’re easy to find again later. When planning your upcoming meals, you’ll be able to find those delicious recipes that had you almost drooling on the train home from work. Don’t forget to follow us on Pinterest for lots of healthy recipes and meal prep ideas.
2. Create a plan
The biggest lie I tell myself? I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it.
Don’t rely on a rough idea in your head. Make a physical plan. If you’re a paper person, print and fill out a meal plan (there’s plenty to choose from in the Shape University Library) and hang it in your kitchen. If you’re a tech lady, save a copy to your smart device for easy reference.
3. Make a list
A comprehensive shopping list can make or break a meal prep session. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than forgetting to buy or running out of a crucial ingredient mid-prep. Before you go shopping, write down ALL the ingredients you need for the recipes you’ve chosen. Yes, all of them. Then physically make sure the ingredients you think you already have are in your fridge or cupboard, and that they’re still edible. To save money, choose recipes that have similar ingredients so you can buy them in bulk. To save time, arrange your list in groups such as produce, meat, deli, frozen and pantry. Luckily, the hard work is already done for you in the meal prep plan above.
4. De-clutter before you start
A clear bench = a clear mind. Remove any clutter from your bench space before you begin. Splattering an important paper with marinara sauce is no way to start a productive week.
5. Get matching containers
This one isn’t just for the Instagram photos. Having matching containers will make it much easier to stack and organise things in the fridge and/or freezer. But you can also stack ceramic bowls covered with plates, ready to be put straight in the microwave. If you’re going the plastic container route, opt for BPA-free.
6. Turn the oven on once
Whether you just don’t want to heat up your house in summer or you’re trying to save electricity, meal prep means you only have to turn the oven on once. If you prepare baked oatmeal cups for breakfast, roasted chickpeas for lunch and baked chicken and vegetable dinner in one afternoon, you can place them all in the oven at the same time.
6. Choose seasonal recipes
I avoid turning the oven on like the plague in the middle of summer in Sydney which is why I usually choose seasonal recipes. Summer is the perfect time for stir-frys, salads and rice paper rolls. Whereas winter is better for roasted vegetables, cauliflower pizzas and curries that you can leave to simmer for hours. It’s also a bunch cheaper to shop seasonally, too!
Look at the common ingredients between the recipes you’re preparing. If you need brown rice for two recipes, make sure you cook enough for both in one pot. If you need onion for two different dishes, chop both at the same time. Use the cooking time of one recipe as the prep time for another.
8. Reuse pots and pans
You can multi-task with utensils to save on washing up. Chop up all the vegetables you need with a single knife and chopping board. Use the same bowl you just used to hold chopped vegetables to mix together salad ingredients. In the meal prep plan below, I cook a batch of chickpeas in a large pot. I then quickly rinse and reuse the same pot to cook brown rice for the sushi salad. This neat little trick means less cleaning up at the end of your meal prep session. But as always, beware of cross-contamination. It’s best to work with fruit, vegetables and legumes before touching meat.
9. Keep it simple
If you’re new to meal prepping, start by preparing snacks or a single meal like breakfast for the week. Once you’re comfortable with that, try preparing two different recipes. Trying to prepare a week’s worth of food in one day is a mammoth task so build up to it.
10. Don’t be afraid to freeze
Many recipes like curry, stew, soup and stir-fry can also be frozen. Making meal prep recipes that are freezer-friendly means you can prepare extra big batches of food. This technique is perfect if you can foresee a busy few weeks up ahead or have a bunch of ingredients near expiration. What’s the best way to find out if something can be frozen? Sacrifice a portion to the freezer after a big meal prep and see how it turns out after you defrost it.
11. A slow cooker will change your life
It took me quite a few months of meal prepping the hard way before I gave in and spent $45 on a slow cooker, and it has changed. my. life. Slow cookers are the perfect appliance for meal prepping because they’re designed to prepare a bulk amount of food. They’re also great for healthy cooking because you don’t need to cover the pan in oil to stop things from sticking and burning. The best thing about slow cooker recipes is that most just involve throwing a few ingredients in the pot, setting and forgetting.
12. Chop, chop, chop
I don’t find chopping up ingredients to be an overly riveting task, so I love to get it all out of the way in one go. I usually spend the first 15 minutes of meal prepping gathering and chopping ALL the vegetables I need for the recipes I’ve chosen. If you’re strapped for time, you can also meal prep ingredients to be cooked during the week.
13. Bulk prep ingredients
The batch prepping idea from above isn’t just restricted to chopping vegetables. You can bulk prep anything from fruit, legumes, meat, toppings, spices and everything in between. Just make sure you store it properly if you’re not cooking it straight away. You can also bulk prep and freeze ingredients to be cooked at a later date. This works perfectly for ingredients that are near their use-by date and as a time saver.
14. Leave some things for serving
Although the general idea of meal prep is to prepare things ahead of time, there are certain ingredients that are best left out of your meal prep containers until you’re just about to eat. These include salad leaves, avocado, coconut flakes, nuts, cheese, fresh fruit and pretty much anything that you want to be crunchy in a dish. You can still prep these ingredients by placing them in separate containers or a zip lock bag. Some casseroles and stir-frys taste better fresh too.
15. Organise your fridge
One of the biggest problems newbie meal preppers face is trying to fit a week’s worth of food in the fridge, especially if you’re sharing the space with a family, dorm or roommate. This is where having matching containers can make all the difference. Before you start cooking, sort through the things that are already in the fridge – you might even find a few ingredients you didn’t know you had. If you’re not so tight on fridge space, try organising shelves by meals types: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
17. Treat yo’self to some quality tools
As Gandhi once said, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Investing in good quality meal prepping tools is an investment in your health. Not only will you save time, but the entire meal prepping process will be easier and much more enjoyable. This doesn’t mean you need every Tupperware gadget out there (but seriously, how good is Tupperware?!), but investing in some decent cooking utensils and storage containers will have you waiting for Sunday to come around so you can meal prep with them.
Let’s chat below! Which one is your favourite meal prep hack?