If you've not heard the term meal prep, where have you been over the last 3 years? Touted by bloggers, nutritionists and busy working mums alike as 'a life-changing cooking solution', it's no wonder it has become so popular.
But as we all know, foodie fads are often dressed up to look much more attractive than they actually are - we're only now discovering that kale probably doesn't have the powers to cure all the illnesses in the world, nor will 10 goji berries a day give you the gift of longevity.
As a regular meal prepper myself, I wanted to help bust some of the myths and mystery around this way of cooking. I'll explain the reasoning behind the method, show you how to put in into practice, and help you decide whether it's something worth doing or if I'm completely insane for partaking.
Ready? Wash your hands, and let's get started.
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So, what exactly is meal prep anyway?
The clues in the name: it's the preparation, of meals - basically a marathon 'batch-cooking' session for those of you more familiar with that term. It's now a very common way of getting prepared for the week ahead, and most people would feel as unorganised without their weekly meal prep as they would their cleaning.
It doesn't always have to include 'cooking' as such - a meal prep can be as simple as portioning out your snacks for the week. The idea is to put all the effort in in one go make mealtimes during the week much easier.
For example, you could make a curry, portion it up, and boil up some rice every few days to accompany it. While you're still cooking the rice, the main and most time-consuming element of the meal is already prepared.
Why should I consider meal prepping?
There are so many supposed benefits of meal prepping, which on paper, all sound too good to argue with. Here are the positive impacts the method could have on your week.
Meal prep can help you to eat healthier
If you're looking to be healthier, meal prep means you can track exactly what goes into your mouth every day. This is a great weight loss tool, but will also help you lead a healthier lifestyle, as it will be easier to eat a more varied, balanced diet that is high in nutrition.
This week I made up a huge batch of pumpkin soup with my leftover Halloween decorations - if you missed our amazing, Neon-Spider Pumpkin Halloween creation, check it out now. Having a ready supply of not just nutritious, but tantalisingly tasty soup to warm me on my chilly lunch hour has meant I'm not at all tempted to nip out for processed packed sandwiches.
Always knowing what's going to be on your plate in advance will also help reduce temptation, and you'll never go hungry or skip a meal, which should also reduce unhealthy snacking.
You'll waste less when you plan your meals in advance
As meal prep requires setting aside time each week to cook, you won't be so rushed and will be able to better consider the ingredients you already have, and work around those rather than buying more.
This week I had two huge pumpkins to make use of. My Sunday afternoon provided me with plenty of time to magic these into something delicious. Such a task would have seemed much more daunting during my busy week, and it's likely the pumpkins would have gone to waste.
Planning in advance will make buying only what you need much easier, so they'll be less soggy salad packets or expired yoghurts going in the bin.
Meal prepping in advance will allow you to be more productive
For many of us during the working week, once the cooking is out the way, there's little time left to play. Prepping your meals will free up lots of valuable evening time that is usually spent in the supermarket/kitchen, enabling you to start a new hobby, go to a fitness class, or just chill out in front on the telly with your loved ones - now that's an evening well spent!
You'll get to enjoy tastier meals
Always end up shattered after work with no cooking inspiration? Make your meals in advance, and you'll be able to enjoy tasty, home cooked dishes every day.
Meal prepping will help you save time during the week
How much time do you spend pondering what you're going to make for tonight's dinner? Or what to buy in the supermarket? Are you always standing in takeaway queues or at sandwich shop stalls when you could be relaxing or doing something fun? This is where meal prep can help you. As everything will be prepped for the week in advance, you won't have to waste time doing any of the above.
Planning ahead means less spontaneous spending
Meal prepping allows you to buy in bulk, reducing the overall portion cost for each meal. As everything is prepared in advance, you won't need to waste money on expensive, ready-cooked meals, expensive snacks or packeted sandwiches.
This all sounds pretty good - how do I start my meal prep?
Decide what benefits you want to reap
Before you begin your first meal prep, it's essential to consider the main benefits you want to reap. You'll learn more about what works for you as you go along, but to start with, consider the above points again. If you're meal prepping to save time, there's no point planning to cook a 20 ingredient stew, intricate iced cookies, and a stack of breakfast pancakes. Likewise, if you're after health, portioning shop-bought chocolate rolls is not the way to go.
Decide what you're going to cook
Don't just flick through your cookbook collection and opt for the loveliest looking dishes, be selective and choose things that meet your goals. Here are some ideas to help you pick appropriately:
Are you looking to eat healthier?
Focus on high-nutrition and focus on prepping meals that you usually slip up on. If you're guilty of going for a gluttonous croissant breakfast, try chopping, bagging and freezing fresh ingredients for a 2 minute, grab and go, breakfast smoothie.
'Buddha bowls' are a great solution for varied lunches. Grill some veg, bulk-cook some grains, mix up some dressing, boil some eggs, and you'll be able to mix and match your ingredients in a lunch box.
Make sure you always have a healthy snack available to avoid falling off the bandwagon. Go all out and make your own raw fruit and nut bars, or portion out nuts for a healthy and cheap afternoon energy boost.
Is it cost-cutting that attracts you to meal prep?
If saving money is what really counts for you, think of ingredients you can buy cheaply and go from there. Also prioritise your meal prep on the food you normally spend the most on - if you're always buying overpriced takeout lunches, focus on this.
One-pots and soups are fantastic options for keeping costs low. Baked potatoes are also a great idea, as these are easily reheated and topped with a variety of low-cost toppings can be added each night to mix things up.
Are you looking to cut down on time spent in the kitchen?
If you run short of time during the week, it might be a case of prepping the meals that usually inconvenience you the most. If you're always in a rush out the door in the morning, bircher muesli, overnight oats or even pre-portioned cereals will make life easier for you.
If it's time spent in the kitchen that is your main concern, you may opt to do less actually cooking on your meal prep day, and more preparation or portioning out. This could be as simple as boiling some eggs ready to pop into a lunch box, portioning out a pack of biscuits to save you from doing it every day, or prepping and marinating some meat so that you can get it on the table as quickly as possible when you come in at night.
Whatever your priorities, focus on dishes that are reheatable, quick, tasty, well-balanced and varied to ensure you make the most of your meal prep.
Select a day to carry out your meal prep
Once you've decided what you're making, you'll need to set some time aside to do it. The most common choice is Sunday afternoon, as everything will stay nice and fresh for the week ahead. It will also mean Monday morning starts off smoothly and not with a rushed breakfast, bought lunch and disappointing dinner.
Ensure you have everything you need
Food is just one of the things you'll need for your food prep. If you're making a large, batch-dishes, a pot big enough to take it will certainly come in handy.
Once all that food is made, somewhere to store it all will also be required, so be sure to clear some space for your fridge, and invest in some good containers - I use basic containers if I'm freezing large portions, and Black + Blum boxes for portioned meals.
Go out and get your supplies
In order to make all the delicious dishes you've decided upon, you're going to need some food. Make yourself a list of ingredients before you set off, taking care to check for what you already have at home. This is also a good time to see where ingredients cross over for multi-pack buying. It's also worth considering whether you could substitute certain ingredients for others, to reduce the cost of your shop.
Time to get making
The key to making meal prep easy is having your plan in place, ingredients ready and kitchen tidy. When all of this is completed, you can go ahead and get cooking.
Approach your to-do list in a methodical way. If you're using the oven, get everything in at once to make time tracking easier and keep energy wastage to a minimum. If you're steaming broccoli, use the water underneath to boil eggs or potatoes you might also be needing - think smart, and go flat out for a few hours to get the most out of your meal prep.
Consider the best way to store to suit your needs
Depending on what you've made will depend on how you choose to store it. If you're a big family, you'll probably get through a curry in one night, so this can be kept in a big pot. If you're like me and live alone, you'll want to portion this batch cook up into bags, or containers and consider freezing some of the portions.
If you're planning to eat your meals on the go, or want supper ready to put on the table a few short minutes after you get home, you'll really benefit from something more sophisticated. I find that the Box Appetit by Black + Blum boxes suit my needs perfectly. They're really well sized, and the different compartments mean I'm able to separate all the elements of my meal without them mixing - I get to enjoy my food on the go just as I would at home.
This amazing Gizzi Erskine Pumpkin Cashew Curry, from her Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts cookbook fitted perfectly into my Box Appetit lunch box. The compartments meant each element of the dish remained segregated, so I could enjoy the meal just as Gizzi recommends it! Best of all? The microwaveable material meant I could simply take out my chilli raita dip, heat my curry, and be sat down tucking into a delicious dinner in minutes.
Why I recommend meal prep - the hard sell
This week, rather than meal prepping mindlessly, I paid particular attention to the time I spent slaving away at the stove, and the benefits I reaped from doing so. While my hardy choice of vegetable, the delicious but troublesome pumpkin, did take longer than usual to prepare and roast, as always, I found my meal prep a pleasure.
Not only do I enjoy cooking, but I enjoy food, and knowing that I've got a hearty, homemade pumpkin soup, portioned crackers and egg/mayo topping prepared and waiting for me in the fridge to tuck into is definitely making my Monday a little easier.
Meal prep may not be for everyone, but for me, it really does benefit me in every way it claims to. I eat healthier, spend less, save time, and best of all? I get to eat like a King whether I'm in a rush or not, whilst all my colleagues look on in wonder, marveling at 'how I manage it'.
That's your crash course in meal prep taken care of! Will you be giving it a go? Let me know in the comments below.