If you often find yourself missing breakfast, grabbing a pasty in your lunchbreak and ordering a takeaway for tea, then meal prepping could be for you.
Preparing your meals ahead of time can help you eat a more balanced diet, with all the benefits that brings, from increased energy levels and better health to saving money.
Why prep your meals?
Making your own meals from scratch means you’ll know exactly what has gone into each dish; it also allows you to control the calories, macronutrients and portion sizes.
Planning and prepping meals in advance makes you less likely to be tempted by food-to-go and the takeaway menu. Meal prepping also helps you to:
- Plan a varied diet across the week
- Reduce preparation and cooking time
- Control your intake of calories
- Ensure each meal has a healthy balance of ingredients and macronutrients
- Avoid the hidden sugar, salt and fat in readymade and takeaway meals
- Reduce food waste by purchasing only what you need and using leftovers
How do you prep meals?
First, think about the best time of the week to do this. It might be on a Sunday evening before the start of your working week, or on the evening before you do your weekly shop.
You may need to prep a couple of times a week, as some food won’t stay fresh more than a few days in the fridge.
If planning a whole week of meals sounds like too much work, or if you know you’ll be eating out on certain nights, then simply select specific days or meals to prep. Or prepare part of a meal, for example a marinade for meat or fish, ready to use on the day.
Spend some time researching recipes, including meals that can be batch cooked and frozen, for example veggie chilli, homemade fishcakes, lentil soup or tomato-based sauces that can be used in a variety of recipes.
Write out a detailed list of the ingredients you need to buy for your planned meals and stick to it when you’re out food shopping.
What about healthy eating and balanced meals?
Check what your calorie intake should be, taking into consideration your gender, age, level of activity and goals – eg weight loss or building muscle. A Calorie Calculator can help you with this.
Follow the Eatwell Guide, which offers guidance on the quantity and balance of the food and drink you consume.
Take a look at some of our blogs, including an overview of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It’s important to understand which foods come under which category and to get the right balance of these, as follows:
Carboydrate: 55-70% of your daily intake
Protein: 10-15% of your daily intake
Fat: 25-35% of your daily intake
Not every meal will have this balance, but if you know you are going out for an evening meal that is likely to have a high fat content, you can look at balancing this out with a low-fat protein-rich lunch.
Other points to be aware of when you are planning balanced meals:
- Remember that certain foods will provide a steady release of energy whereas others will cause your blood sugar levels to spike
- Ensure that meals also have a good spread of micronutrients: vitamins and minerals
- Beware of empty calories in alcohol
- Don’t forget to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water through the day
What about meal frequency?
You may have seen recommendations to eat five small meals a day rather than three large ones, but that’s not always practical.
However, by prepping your meals, you are more likely to eat at regular times and less likely to skip meals or find yourself with an evening meal weighing heavy on your stomach at bedtime.
Don’t forget that meal prepping can also extend to snacking. If you have a healthy snack ready prepared in your bag – a fresh fruit salad or some hummus with chopped carrots – you’re less likely to reach for a packet of biscuits or a bag of crisps.
Any other tips on meal prepping?
Be aware that some food will lose its flavour or texture when left in the fridge – crackers can go soft and tomatoes can make your sandwich soggy.
Don’t try to do too much the first time you attempt meal prepping – it may put you off doing it again. Start with one or two meals and build up from there.
If you share the cooking with another member of your household, why not share the preparation too, or take it in turns to prep for the week.