Meal prepping entails getting several food items ready on a certain day, say the weekend, so that you can reduce your cooking time during the week and have some easy grab-and-go meal options.
Is meal prepping for you?
- If you eat fast food or takeaway several nights of the week, try choosing a specific day of the week to create a food shopping list and hit the supermarket.
- If you already do your food shopping once a week and have pretty good basic cooking skills, try choosing one day a week to do most of the cooking, or try a new recipe.
- If you already cook some weekday meals for your family, you could try creating a schedule so that you are not deciding last minute what to make and to ensure you have the needed ingredients on hand.
How-to meal prep
The Harvard (TH Chan) School of Public Health has the following tips for meal prepping:
- Choose a specific day of the week to: a) plan the menu, whether week by week or for the whole month, and write out your shopping list; b) food shop; c) do meal prep, or most of your cooking. Some of these days may overlap if you choose but breaking up these tasks may help keep meal preparation manageable.
- As you find favourite ‘prep-able’ meals, or your menus become more familiar and consistent, look out for supermarket specials to stock up on frequently used shelf-stable ingredients like pasta, rice, and other whole grains, lentils, beans (canned or dried), jarred sauces, healthy oils, and spices.
- On your meal prep day, focus first on foods that take the longest to cook: proteins like chicken and fish; whole grains like brown rice and quinoa; dried beans and legumes; and roasted vegetables.
- Also consider preparing staple foods that everyone in the family enjoys and which you can easily add to a weekday meal or grab for a snack: washed greens for a salad, hard-boiled eggs, a bowl of chopped fruit, cooked beans.
- If you prefer not to pre-cook proteins, consider marinating poultry, fish, or even tofu on your prep day so that you can quickly pop them into the oven or stir-fry later in the week.
- Multi-task! While foods are baking or bubbling on the stovetop, chop vegetables and fresh fruit, or wash and dry salad greens for later in the week.
- When you cook a recipe, make extra portions for another day or two of meals, or to freeze for a different week. Be sure to date and label what goes in the freezer so you know what you have on hand and how old it is (see storage tips below).
- For lunches, get a head-start and use individual meal containers. Divide cooked food into the containers on prep day.
- Consider specific meals or foods for different days of the week. Some people and families enjoy the consistency of knowing what to expect, and it can help to ease your meal prep. Examples are Meat-free Monday, Whole Grain Wednesday, Stir-Fry Friday, etc.
Try simple meals first
When cooking meals for during the week, don’t worry about making it fancy. Even if you’re not cooking a gourmet meal, it doesn’t mean that your food needs to be bland or boring. Add fresh herbs, spices, citrus, garlic, and/or onion to boost the flavour of your meals.
Here are some common meal preparation ideas to help get you started:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Egg and vegetable muffins
- Smoothie prep (measure out fruit into bags and freeze)
- Brown rice or wild rice
- Black beans
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Roasted pumpkin
- Homemade pesto or hummus
- Grilled or roasted chicken
- Slow-cooked pulled chicken, beef, or pork
- Tuna salad
- Egg salad
- Chopped up vegetables (celery, cucumber, carrots, capsicum)
- Homemade nut and fruit mix (almonds, walnuts, pecans, goji berried, shredded coconut)
- Fruit salad
- Salads for grab-and-go lunch (don’t put salad dressing on until you are ready to eat)
All of the items listed above will last in your fridge for at least four days.