The ultimate beginner’s guide to meal prep, with personal chef Alex Rahme
As a business owner and Mum of two, meal prep has become a staple part of my routine.
When I prep my food ahead of time, I know I will make better food choices. This means I’m also less likely to waste food, because I’ve spent time preparing it. (The other night I found myself munching on re-heated parsnip chips in front of the TV… true story!)
The benefits of meal prep include:
- saves time on cooking through the week
- reduces poor food choices
- helps with weight loss or fat loss goals
- controlling how much sugar and additives you eat
- knowing exactly how much oil, butter and sauce is being used
- better control of portion sizes
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a varied diet to increase life expectancy and reduce the risk of disease. More information can be found here.
It’s really easy to fall into the habit of recycling the same meals, week after week.
While it’s the easy option to just repeat meals, without a variety of foods in our diet, we run the risk of developing food intolerances. This is due to lack of diversity in the gut’s microbiome. While the studies on microbiome are still very new to science; it is becoming more widely accepted amongst nutritionists, dieticians and doctors that the gut plays a key role in our overall vitality. Read more about this here.
I have figured out some food prep that works around my schedule, but I won’t try to pretend I’m an expert on food.
So, I asked my friend Alex Rahme, to step in and help me out. Alex works as a Personal Chef and PT in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, giving her clients the best of both worlds! She studied her diploma of hospitality, majoring in commercial cookery back in 2012.
She says: “My dedication to the art of cooking lead me to work in many prestigious establishments in Sydney and across Europe. My training began at a small cafe and I quickly blossomed into a Commis Chef at Aria Catering, working alongside celebrity Chef Matt Moran for two years.
Since then, Alex has worked all over the world in some very prestigious restaurants. She was kind enough to help out with some of her tricks to help us meal prep novices avoid costly mistakes!
J: What tips could you give to someone trying to plan their meals ahead for the week, for the first time?
A: Have a plan for the week, or at the very least for the next three days. That way you’re limiting the amount of trips you make to the supermarket. I set aside five minutes every week to brainstorm what I want to eat that week and from there create my grocery list. The more you have planned things out the more efficient your time in the kitchen will be.
Think about what protein sources you feel like having and build on each meal from there.
Consider taste AND macronutrients. Say I felt like Salmon. This food is high in protein and fat. I know I need to pair this with carbohydrates to achieve a balanced meal, so I’d boil some rice and blanche some leafy greens too. I’d then look at a simple sauce to include. Taste, tick ✅. Macronutrients, ✅.
Something I find that saves time is picking five different coloured vegetables and sticking to them for the week.
That way I know I’m still getting in a diverse range of vitamins and minerals without having to spend hours cooking a million different components.
PRO TIP: Clean as you go. There’s nothing worse than finishing meal prep with a stack of dishes to do after.
J: What ingredients or products would you be inclined to spend more money on for better quality?
A: In a perfect world, I’d prioritise all produce to be of a high quality. Realistically speaking, in our household, we prioritise quality protein sources, buying them from our local butcher and the fish market.
If I lived near an Aldi, I’d happily do my fruit and vegetable shopping there as it’s cheaper, being a slightly lower grade in produce.
J: Do you use pre-made sauces, seasonings and stocks in your cooking?
A: Pre-made sauces, not so much as they are often high in preservatives. I much prefer to make my sauces from scratch.
As an example, a really simple Teriyaki sauce would include:
- soy sauce
- lime juice
If you are short on time, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a few pre made sauces. I would just be mindful of moderation and reading the nutrition content before purchasing.
I do cook with seasoning and stock. The great thing about herbs and spices is they add so much flavour to your meals AND are super low in calories. Win win.
J: Probably the biggest problem I have with meal prep, is the time it takes to cook 5 or more meals at once! What tips could you give someone to help cut down the amount of time spent actually making meals in bulk?
- Trial out eating the same lunch for two days in a row and the same dinner for two days in a row. This will cut your meal prep in half.
- Buy vegetables that are pre-prepared. Baby Spinach, Cauliflower Rice, Zucchini Noodles, Pre cut Pumpkin, Coleslaw mix – the list is endless. Two other really good ones include raw garlic and raw ginger that come in a tube. These have been game changers for efficiency in my own cooking.
- Make a prep list in an order that will be most efficient.
- Following on from my last tip, plan meals and your cooking out so you are able to use the stove and oven at the same time. If we use my salmon dish as an example, I would have a list looking like this:
- Brown rice on
- Pot of water on for blanching
- Salmon in the oven
- Prep green veges
- Make sauce
- Blanche green veges
J: I’ve heard of some people only half-cooking vegetables during prep, so they finish cooking during reheating. Any thoughts on this, or similar tricks and tips to keep meals tasty at the end of the week?
A: I do this mainly with vegetables that I have blanched, as anything green will have the tendency to overcook in the reheating process. All other vegetables I cook all the way through.
I would definitely consider cooking two times per week, instead of once at the beginning of the week.
That’s what I do for my clients as I find that fresher is better and meals don’t always hold for five plus days.
Make sure all ingredients have been cooled down before you pack them in containers. This will help them stay fresh.
A variety of food over time is important for getting in a variety of vitamins and minerals so don’t be afraid to switch things up every week. Different vegetables, different cuts of meat, different herbs and spices. Keeping your tastebuds stimulated is important and may help you stay on your meal prep bandwagon.
So there you have it! The tricks and tips from a meal prep expert.
- Plan ahead, make a list
- Pick a protein, then pick the veggies and carb to go with it
- Rotate veggies every week for variety
- Buy good quality meat and fish, but veggies can be cheaper
- Make your own sauce where possible, but stock and seasonings you can buy
- Make a list for the cooking process; from longest to shortest task
- Clean as you go- save yourself a mountain of dishes