Whether you’re a parent, student, working full time or doing all of those things at once, finding time to cook healthy, nutritious meals ishard. Not only that, but when life gets in the way and you’re busy and tired, there can be a lot of guilt when you grab a convenient meal - be it about the price, how healthy it is or the feeling of ‘slipping up.’
The solution? Meal prepping! For the uber organised, meal prepping isn’t just a way to cook, it’s alifestyle. The secret to nailing meal prep is understanding that by putting in a bit of work upfront on a Sunday or one night a week, you’ll save money, time, and make healthy eating a breeze.
However, if you’ve dipped your toes in the meal prepping waters and spent a whole Sunday whipping up meals for the week and meticulously portioning out containers, only to feel totally exhausted at the end of it - you’re not alone!
We’ve put together our best advice to meal prep like a pro, and make sure it’s something that’sgenuinely saving you time and money so you’ll be able to build a great meal prep habit and stay on top of your goals - be they financial goals, health goals, or finding more time in the day to spend with loved ones, on hobbies or getting some much needed R&R.
Step 1: Don’t overwhelm yourself
If you love cooking and want to prep every single thing for the week, all power to you. But that can mean hours upon hours in the kitchen! You don’t have to do a full week, you could start by making just a few meals in advance and giving yourself a few nights off. This is great for when you know you’re going to be busy on particular nights - be it an impending deadline, kids with sports that go late or the night you have book club.
You don’t have to launch into a whole batch of new recipes either - start with meals and recipes you already know and love, and add just a few new things at a time.
If you just want to dip your toes in the water, try making double batches of your meals. Alternatively, if meals themselves aren’t such an issue for you, you can start by prepping your breakfast or snacks for the week, so you’ve always got something healthy and affordable on hand when 3pm hits, or you’ve got something to grab and go when you’re racing out the door in the morning.
We love this breakfast frittata recipe, as you can mix up the flavours and keep them exciting.
Step 2: Choose the right frequency & options for you
There are lots of ways to meal prep. You could make every single meal in advance (breakfast, lunch and dinner) with different meals for each night, you could repeat the same meal for most of the week for ultimate efficiency, or our favourite: Using similar base ingredients to create different meals so you get a great variety with less cooking overall.
There’s no set way to meal prep, it’s about figuring out your particular pain points and making them more efficient, to save you time and to make sure it fits into your particular schedule.
Do you just want to prepare ingredients (e.g. chopping vegetables) but still assemble your dinners and cook fresh?
Is your main focus doing less cooking each night, or having healthier, cheaper lunches?
Do you want to spend as little time cooking as possible, or do you want to plan in advance so you’ve got an exciting variety of meals throughout the week?
When you think aboutwhy you want to meal prep and what you do/don’t like doing, you’ll be able to create the best plan foryou.
Some common meal prep examples are:
- Making a big batch of protein overnight oats for breakfast (you can even eat them at your desk so you can get out the door faster in the morning) likethis recipe
- Making a big batch of salad for lunches throughout the week. We love thishealthy twist on a chicken caesar for a filling lunch
- Making bliss balls for the 3pm slump
- Preparing 2-3 large dinners to portion out throughout the week like this vegetarianlasagna, this speedyThai Green curry or thishealthy burrito bowl.
- Slow cooking a batch ofpulled pork then using it in a variety of different meals (in tacos, southern style with coleslaw, in sandwiches or in burrito bowls).
Step 3: Pick a day
Next, it’s time to pickwhenyou’re going to meal prep. Again, think about your schedule and what feels right to you. Some people are happy to make sunday afternoon a sacred meal prep time, while others might switch it up depending on their weekend plans. You might find that doing too much at once is a little overwhelming, so you can do some smaller meal prep batches - like making 2-3 meals on Monday night, then a few more meals on Thursday night.
Once again - it’s all about what works for you and is sustainable in the long run.
Step 4: Write up a plan & grocery list
When you’re meal prepping, not only do you have to come up with a list of meals you want and the groceries, but you also want to think about meals you can cook together, and ways to be really efficient with your cooking time.
While you’re planning your grocery list, don’t just think about similar ingredients (like making a few chicken dishes), but think about meals that have the same base recipe, and with minor adjustments can make a few different meals. For example, if you makelasagna,shepherds pie andspaghetti Bolognese, you can cook up one big batch of mince to use for each. You can get away with the same entire mince recipe, or you can cook the mince and tomatoes then portion them out to flavour with different herbs and spices.
It goes without saying that you’re going to have a much better time and be more likely to stick to meal prepping in the long run if you make sure to choose meals you really LIKE! And don’t be afraid to add a few treats in there - especially if you’re trying to stick to a health plan. Cravings are going to hit, so plan for them in advance and prepare some healthy versions of your favourite comfort foods. If you know by Thursday you’re going to want something cheesy, think about adding in acauliflower mac n cheese. If you know you love a chocolate biscuit, make somesugar free chocolate cookies orcookie dough protein balls.
On top of this, meal prepping gives you a great opportunity to pick meals that use similar ingredients, both saving money and minimising waste. You can treat yourself to that fresh coriander, if you’re going to use it in tacos, ahealthy kung pao chicken and achimichurri marinade.
Step 5: Invest in the right containers/storage
Once you’ve made your meals, you’ll need to store them. If you’re simply planning in advance but you’re still going to eat at home, you don’t necessarily need an armory of containers - you might be happy with simply pre-preparing lasagna or shepherds pie to throw in the oven later in the week. If you want a few meals like this or want to keep them in the freezer for longer, you might want to think about getting somefoil trays, so your casserole dishes aren’t out of action for too long.
If you’re planning to portion out your meals into portable lunches/snacks and manage your portion sizes for dinner, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough containers on hand, and think about how you will transport them.
We are big believers in sustainable packaging, so fight the urge to buy cheap disposable plastic ones. Also, if you’re reheating meals you’ll want to make sure your containers are BPA free for safe reheating. We loveglass containers, but if they are too heavy for you, there are loads of great reusable plastic containers that are BPA free, microwave and freezer safe. You’ll also want to think about leak-proof containers if you’re taking lunch to work.
Many people love containers with different sections for meal prep, but we find most of the time you just want one meal size container, and if you’ve got anything to add on the side that you want to heat (or not heat) separately, having a few smaller containers on hand does the job. But if you like the sound of perfectly portioning out your protein, carbs and vegetables, there are plenty of specially designed containers for the job, likethese ones from Michelle Bridges.
Lastly, for easy transport we LOVE this little Kmartcooler bag to take prepped lunches to work.
Step 6: Take a little time to work out your cooking schedule
You’ve made your plan, got your groceries, and done a little happy dance at how much money you saved. Now it’s time to start cooking. Before you dive in, make a little cooking schedule to ensure efficiency (and keep the kitchen tidy and manageable).
Plan out your longest cooking things first - anything that goes in the oven, slow cooker or needs a lot of simmer time.
Plan out the order and set some times - for example:
Planning in advance will make your time most efficient, and helps you tick things off the to-do list and see your progress, instead of feeling overwhelmed.
Step 7: Keep it simple
Our last piece of advice is that your meals don’t need to be super elaborate! Cutting up some fruit and putting in containers or bags to grab and go is just as valid as making a lasagna, and will save you time and keep you on track with your health goals.
If you hadn’t noticed by now, the recurring theme of meal prepping like a PRO is to tailor it completely to your needs. You don’t have to follow someone else’s plans, but instead you can build your own routine to make your cooking time fast, efficient and fun.
However, if it’s all sounding too much, or you end up feeling like you’re not so much saving time as just shuffling it round, then fear not!Outsourcing your meal prep is a great option to stock your fridge and freezer with healthy, home-cooked meals that you can heat and serve on busy nights.
The modern Australian family is now more conscious than ever of the value of time, and especially of making the most of time spent with kids and loved ones, as well as the importance of down-time to relax and recharge. Gone are the days when only one person in the household works, and the constant pressure to be a superhuman that can cook, clean, work, socialise and exercise is steadily being replaced by smart solutions to outsource the admin and get your time back.
At Food St, our talented cooks prepare beautiful, home-cooked meals that you can fill your freezer with to heat and serve at your convenience, and remove any guilt from getting convenience foods and takeaways. If you’re interested in giving it a try, you canorder one of our best selling Taster Boxes (vegetarian available). It’s a box of some of our most popular meals, at an amazing $12.80 per serving price, to try out what ordering from Food St is all about.
Do you have any great meal prepping tips? Comment below and let us know!