Meal prep is one of those really allusive phrases that could mean so many things.
And meal prep will mean different things, depending who you speak to.
Is it simply creating 5 identical meals in plastic containers? Perhaps it’s just eating chicken and broccoli? Or for weight loss, or maybe saving money the key motivator?
In my opinion as a mother of two, business owner, and soon-to-be part time university student; my main reasons for meal prep are that I am, at heart, simply lazy and don’t like cooking after work.
It might sound weird- a lazy person meal prepping? But have you ever heard the phrase “give the hardest job to the laziest person, and they will find the easiest way to get it done”?
Well, that’s me in a nutshell. But, on top of that, I also love that it saves me money and ensures I’m always feeding my family something home cooked and nutritious!
So how can you tell if you’re someone who needs meal prep?
1. You buy take away for lunch or dinner most days
Most take away foods are nutrient poor and expensive!
2. You struggle to eat the recommended 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit each day
According to the NCCI, only 1 in 10 Aussies get their recommended daily dose of veg (and females are more than twice as likely to meet the dietary guideline for adequate intake of veggies.. go girls!). You can read more here.
3. You throw away unused food at the end of every week
You’re probably on the right path in this case; the intention is clear in the action of buying the food… it’s now a matter of using it!
4. You struggle to maintain a healthy body weight, or healthy eating patterns
Keeping in mind “healthy weight” is an extremely nuanced phrase; this could mean something different for everyone. But in general, minimising visceral fat and ensuring you have enough energy are two key things to look for in a healthy weight- even if this looks different for you than for someone else.
5. You’re too tired to cook most days
I fall hard into this category. Working a physical job that also requires my brain to be “on” and interactive all day means I’m always very ready to relax when I get home. Cooking is the last thing on my mind!
How to get started
Do this first step ideally on a Saturday.
Sit down, grab a pen and paper and open up your calendar. Have a look at your week ahead starting Sunday (including the following Saturday), note down the days you’ll be busiest. These might include:
- days with work deadlines
- kids after school activities
- workout or family commitments
You should also include days of the week you know you’re most tired. This is always Wednesday and Thursday for me- my two busiest client days!
Next, write down the meals you want to cook for each day. Choosing simple and quick meals on your busier days will be optimal. For example:
- Home made pizza’s
- Pasta bake
- Sausages and mash
You can also opt for meals easy to make in bulk, so that you can include a “leftovers” day on the menu or use it for lunches! Some of my favourites include:
- Fried rice
These are great because you can pack heaps of veggies in, too!
A sample menu for one of my busier weeks might look like this:
Sunday- no activities planned
Spaghetti Bolognese (make double)
Monday- morning clients, afternoon kids gymnastics
Home made pizza’s and salad (make double)
Tuesday- morning + evening clients
Tuna bake + veg
Wednesday- morning clients + kid singing lesson + evening kickboxing class
Thursday- morning + afternoon clients, kids basketball, evening kickboxing class
Cajun chicken wraps + salad
Friday- morning clients only
Sausages + mash + veg
Saturday- no activities
Leftovers / toasted sandwiches
Once you have your meal plan ready, it’s time to write a shopping list
Check to make sure you don’t already have some ingredients in the fridge, and then write down all the ones you need. Don’t forget seasonings and to include all your usual groceries like bread, milk and butter.
Now, being the lazy person I am, make my list and order my groceries online every Saturday morning. They’re delivered first thing Sunday and I’m ready to go. If you prefer the shopping experience, go for it! I suggest going on Sunday first thing when the supermarkets are freshly stocked and not busy.
Next, it’s time to prepare the basics
I use 2 hrs of my usually-free Sundays to potter casually around the kitchen, listening to a podcast or some music and making the bulk of my meals for the week.
Using my previous meal plan as an example, I will cook a large batch of bolognese sauce, the tuna bake and some taco mince + rice. This way most of the time-consuming parts of the dishes are done, and I just need to cook some pasta or simply re-heat in the microwave!
Tip: it helps to write down the steps to all your cooking and start with the part that takes the longest. In the above example, I put the rice on first, then pre-heated the oven for the pasta bake, then started on the bolognese because it needs to simmer the longest and I can use that time to do the cheese sauce for the Tuna Bake (I use this recipe from Taste.com and just add in various veggies to the mixture before baking, such as:
- sweet corn
- kale or spinach
NB: My son is also gluten and dairy free, so I make all my food GF + DF friendly with substitutes like pulse pasta, gluten free flour and lactose-free cheese; it’s really easy!
You’re done! It’s as easy as that.
Even if the whole process takes a few hours the first time, the next time will get a little better, and a little better the time after that, and so on.
I spend maybe 2.5 hours across an entire weekend nowadays getting my prep done, and it’s rare you’ll see me spending more than 20 minutes in the kitchen any weeknight (unless I’ve had events on and didn’t get around to my prep).
Now you can go forth and enjoy all the spare time my laziness-induced systems and processes have provided you with!