Meal prepping can sound so trendy and cliché! However, it is just that: preparation.
It is everything we have been told to do, or have read about, when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And it’s really your best bet when you’re trying to eat nutritious meals, to avoid processed foods, to lose weight or to avoid waste.
It is almost impossible to avoid manual labour when you choose to eat healthy; we just need to accept it. But while it may seem tedious for some, for others it’s a breeze and a source of excitement and creativity: the planning, the searching for recipes and the experimentation… So let’s aspire to that.
Prepping like a pro
Whether you have health goals, are trying to eat more nutritious meals or just want save time, experiment with meal prepping until you find your stride. Since we’re all individuals and not everything is suitable to everyone, seek out the rhythm that works best for you.
Cook entire make-ahead meals or separate meal elements to save in the fridge or freezer for later. Take it up a notch with batch cooking when you prepare multiple meals to save time on preparation while creating all the dishes for the week. Scale it down, on the other hand, by dividing prepared food into single-serving containers and, voila, a few meals for one! Dishes like soups, stews and lasagne work wonderfully.
Ingredients prep is another option if you like your food served immediately after cooking. Make your salad dressing or marinade beforehand and chop your veggies prior in order to save time.
Remember to let your food cool down to room temperature before placing it in the fridge or freezer. To speed up food thawing, submerge your container in cold water.
9 tips for meal prepping
Get containers. It is important to have a range of containers for storing your food. Your old plastic containers, zip-lock bags and South Africa’s favourite – Tupperware – will come in handy here. Clear plastic containers are great as they allow you to identify your dishes easily, but glass containers are the best. Try labelling your containers for added simplicity.
Know how to store food. Not all foods are created equal, so be sure to check how to store different food types. Starting from cleaning your containers to avoid contamination and contamination of flavours, know which foods keep well in the fridge and for how long. For meal prepping it is advisable to use most foods within five days: Refrigerate only three days’ meals and freeze the rest of the two days’ worth. Three months to a year in the freezer is the generally acceptable amount of time, depending on the type of food. Food safety is important in meal prepping, so check for specifics when it comes to storage.
Block out time to plan your meals and go shopping. Scheduling a time to shop – and preferably a recurring time – is advisable so that you build up a habit. Try making fresh, organic produce that is in season (see regular Facebook and Instagram posts that list seasonal food) your base and involve the family to choose recipes and make a shopping list. This will make shopping quicker and easier and help you avoid buying unnecessary stuff. Be sure to check your cupboards and pantry for what you already have to avoid duplication and waste.
Start small. It may be overwhelming just to think about meal preps. Start small and with your tried-and-tested or favourite recipes, so it doesn’t feel like such a big task. You can also start with the meal that is the most inconvenient to make, to get it over and done with quickly. I started with snacks and found that having nuts, dates or veggies helped to satisfy my afternoon sugar cravings. Do not forget the snacks.
Choose one meal to start with. Get breakfast-making out of the way to allow time to prepare lunch boxes in the morning. Cut your fruit and freeze it in order to make smoothies or enjoy fresh fruit with yoghurt and granola for variety. Same with overnight oats or cooked oats. Before you know it, you will have progressed to a whole week’s meal prep. Yes, you can!
Make-ahead meals. Soups, curries or stews, frozen cooked oats or smoothie packs (cut and frozen fruit) for breakfast, or cut veggies for salad jars for lunch are some of the ways one can prepare multiple meals. The only thing you may need to do is preheat your oven and chuck in your veggies – it’s dinner without the hassle after work.
Cook a batch. Wholegrain foods are great for cooking in batches. Make enough rice for a couple of dinners or cook enough beans to freeze for the following month.
Date night. Be sure to factor in date nights and work lunches so that you don’t waste any meals.
Create themes to add some fun. From meatless Monday to homemade-pizza Friday, having themed meal plans helps to create variety and keep things exciting in the kitchen. It also takes away the time and stress of thinking about what to make each evening.
Adopting meal prepping saves money and avoids waste since you only buy what you really need; it saves you time – giving you back more hours to do the things you really love; and it also gives you peace of mind, knowing exactly what has gone into your meals. There is no right or wrong way – try it, see what works for you and finally, do adopt one or two clichés!
This article was written by Siyabonga Mngoma and published by Abundance Wholesome Foods.