There is a lot of misconception about meal prep being only for bodybuilders and people who want to lose weight. But meal prep is basically just making your meals ahead of time and storing it in a fridge or freezer until you are ready for it.
The practice is beneficial to everyone because when you pre-plan your meals, you are more likely to make bad dietary decisions down the track. If you are worried that meal plans can cause you to spend more, meal prep actually helps you budget your food-related spending.
Benefits of Planning Ahead
While most of us have the “carpe diem” attitude towards our meals, meal planning actually helps us in a lot of ways. Aside from knowing what is on the menu, you can take control of what you put in your body.
While there are a lot of healthy frozen meal brands out there, you can never be a hundred per cent sure that what you eat is top-notch quality; but if you cook it yourself, you can be sure that the ingredients are fresh and well prepared. If you have members of the family who are on special diets, such as gluten-free or nut-free, you can be sure that what you have made will not cause any issue.
How to do it?
Research Meal Plans
Meal prep ideas are everywhere! Social media like Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube have a lot of healthy eaters showing you how to do it properly. There are lots of bodybuilders who have Youtube videos on how much they spend buying ingredients, these can help you budget and plan a menu for the coming week. A lot of research is done for you, all you need is to pick one that suits you best. I personally follow the videos of Downshiftology on healthy recipes and this is what I found recently:
But I hate eating the same thing every day!
The best thing about planning meals is knowing that you can change things up. Even if I eat chicken breast for a whole week, I can change the sauce, the vegetables or even how I cook the chicken.
Taking the plunge
The scariest moment arrives: you decide that you really want to start doing this! As for me, I only prep my lunches, as I cook dinner every day due to fussy eaters.
So after planning your meals, drafting out a rough menu, what is next? Setting budget and time for it. This is important, but be open-minded. You will develop a plan for how much time and money you need for weekly meal prep, as every family is different.
Before I start buying ingredients for meals, I will always do an inventory. If freshness is utmost important for you, then inventory can help you decide what to buy when you are doing a big shopping.
Writing down a list of what you need keeps your budget in check. It also stops food at home from going bad before you have a chance to use it. Of course, do not forget things like containers, cooking utensils and pantry items.
Shopping for Food
You can either stick to the list or be a little bit flexible during fresh food shopping. Some items like vegetables often go on special when they are nearing expiry. If you are going to cook it within the day (like I do), you can pounce on the opportunity to save some money. Some stores also offer to buy in bulk specials, which is great when you know you will use it.
Getting started with food preps
This can be a family event, get your children to help clean the vegetable while you marinate the meat. Meal prep time can also be family time, and it is a great practice to encourage children to be interested in learning how to cook. Children with cooking skills are less likely to make poor dietary choices when they grow up, so this is a great learning opportunity for the family.
Also, because you have allotted time to cook your meals ahead of time, you can afford to look at recipes that you might not attempt when you are busy. Of course, if you are going to freeze your meals, be sure to look for recipes that keep well frozen and reheated. Some recipe guides will tell you if they are not freezer-friendly, so you should probably eat those first.
Storing your meal preps
Single or double compartments containers, or those unique Japanese style bento boxes that are in the rage? Before putting your food in the containers, make sure that they are microwave friendly, especially if you are going to heat it.
Avoid containers that contain BPA (Bisphenol A), which can seep into food when heated. Glass containers may be heavier, but they are durable and easy to clean. Steel containers cannot be put into the microwave, so you might have to transfer food onto a dish before reheating.
If you are cooking for the week, some of the food might have to go into the freezer. In general, yoghurt-based dips will not freeze well as they separate and become watery. You can read some useful info about freezing foods here. Some vegetables become soggy after reheating from the freezer. Knowing this, you can plan your meals accordingly, and choose freezer-friendly vegetables or sauces for later day.
Meal prep can be quite liberating, knowing that you have something to eat when you go home. It also means that you can skip unhealthy choices. Pre-planning your meals does not mean that you are restricted to eating what you have cooked – you can still opt to have lunch with friends on short notice. Allotting time and money to make sure that you and your family have good quality meals, allows you to have the freedom to make time for family.