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Time, as they say is of the essence. And in today’s world, where we are seemingly bombarded with tons of tasks day after day, cooking and enjoying delicious meals can seem like a bit of work.
Although it doesn’t have to be like this. That’s where meal prepping comes in. by planning your meals ahead of time, not only do you end up saving extra time and money, it can also help you eat healthier and have better control over your food portions.
This guide will show you how meal planning works, its benefits, and how to meal prep easily like a pro, even if you are a complete beginner as well as certain mistakes to avoid.
That way, you can enjoy delicious meals for yourself and the entire family without burning yourself out every time.
What Is Meal Prep
Put simply, meal prepping is the act of planning and preparing your meals ahead of time. Not everyone has hours to spare each day making every dinner or lunch or breakfast.
Making your food ahead is a good way to save some more time and handle other tasks, or probably just relax and chill. Afterall, you’re only human.
There are several ways to go about it. Here are the different types of meal prep.
- Make ahead meals – this involves cooking an entire meal and storing it for later. This could be perfect for dinnertime when you’ll probably be feeling too tired after a long day at work.
- Batch cooking – this is pretty common on the weekends or days when you have a bit more time. It involves cooking several meals all at once, and storing them for later consumption in the fridge or freezer.
- Individual sized meals – in this case, meals are stored in individual portions and can easily be heated up for one. It is perfect for breakfast and lunch and can really help with portion control and aid weight loss.
- Ingredient prepping – rather than cooking up an entire meal, you can simply just prepare the ingredients and store. That way, you simply just grab and reheat or throw in the pot. It saves the time of prepping the ingredients each time you want to cook.
Benefits of meal prepping
There are certain obvious benefits associated with prepping your meals ahead of time. And if you don’t meal prep, these benefits will definitely get you to rethink.
1) Saves time
This is the most obvious reason people meal prep in the first place. We get really busy in our day to day lives. Joggling work, family, kids and life’s own challenges can be a bit of a task at times.
The last thing you want to be worrying about, is looking for the energy to cook dinner after a long day or making lunch in the middle of a busy day.
By meal prepping, you can save the extra hour or two you’d spend cooking dinner, and even save yourself some extra minutes when it comes to making breakfast the next day. Time as said earlier, is of the essence and making meals ahead is one way to save it.
2) Saves money
Food expenses for the month can bite hard at times. And even if that isn’t a problem for you, it never hurts to save a few extra bucks each month.
One way meal prepping helps you save more money is through bulk buying. Cooking in bulk means buying in bulk, and buying food items in bulk generally tends to be cheaper than buying them individually.
It’s also a great way to take advantage of discounts like “buy 2, get 1 free” and other types of discounts.
Also, we all know that eating out can be quite expensive, especially if done too frequently. By making meals ahead of time, you save yourself the stress of buying food outside since you already have food at home, ready to be reheated and enjoyed.
3) Helps you eat healthier
Eating healthier is never a one day thing. It’s very easy to want to eat healthier and not even that hard to start, but sticking to a healthy eating pattern is where most people tend to fall off.
A good way to eat healthier is through meal prepping. It allows you to prepare healthy snacks and meals you can easily grab and enjoy anytime you are tempted to eat something unhealthy.
Note that “eating healthy” doesn’t necessarily mean eating boring food that tastes like sand. You can prepare delicious and healthier versions of your favourite foods which you can simply grab and enjoy rather than opting for the store-bought or unhealthier versions.
4) Can help with portion control
If you have a problem with eating way too much at one sitting and ending up feeling bloated, a good way to fight this is to prepare your meals in individualised portions and eat based on them.
This way, you end up eating just around the right amount each time rather than the unnecessary binging. If you do this, you’ll find it easier to control how much you eat.
5) Can aid weight loss
It is no news that what you eat and how you eat affects your weight. Your macronutrient ratios are also pretty important. Meal prepping is a good way to make sure you get enough of each macronutrient each day, depending on your diet.
Also, planning your meals can help you eat better foods and battle impulse eating. When you can plan and keep track of the foods you eat, losing weight and staying in shape becomes easier.
How to meal prep (step by step)
1) Choose your meals
The first step when it comes to an effective meal prep is choosing what foods you want to make. If you’re just starting out as a complete beginner, it would be best to ease your way into it.
Here’s what I mean. Firstly, you don’t want to start cooking way too many meals all at once as it can overwhelm you, especially if you’re just starting out.
Also, you don’t want to end up eating just one meal for the entire week. It would be boring and no one like boring food. You need to find a sweet spot in-between.
One sure-fire way to go about it is by choosing recipes you know you enjoy and are sure would still taste great even as leftovers. Also, choosing recipes that are versatile and go great with a handful of combinations is a good way to keep things interesting.
It’s also important to choose meals that freeze and heat up well, so they don’t end up losing their taste when you are ready to enjoy them.
If you’re wondering the best meals and ingredients to prep, this guide from Health will further clear things up.
2) Choose your schedule
This mainly goes 2 ways. Firstly, you need to choose a food schedule, which shows what foods you eat on certain days for breakfast, lunch, snacks or dinner. You can always start with one or two and work your way up from there.
Having a schedule in place helps to make the planning easier plus, it gives you the opportunity to space out different dishes well, so you never get bored of anyone.
Your schedule can also help you ensure your macros are in the right proportion and that your meals are in line with your goals.
The other schedule you need is your cooking schedule. You need to choose a day or several days that would work best for you to cook up your meals.
Most people enjoy cooking on the weekends. Some enjoy Wednesdays and Sundays. It all depends on what you’re most comfortable with.
Over time, your schedule will get better as you will know what days work best for you and what dishes are the best for prepping.
3) Pick the right containers
Another undeniably important aspect here is your choice of meal prep containers. Basically, you want to choose the best ones that can keep your food warm or cold, and without losing its flavour.
Freezer bags are good for foods you’ll store in the freezer and can prevent freezer burn. Airtight and leak-proof containers will help to ensure that your food remains fresh.
When it comes to heating up food, certain containers, especially plastic contain chemicals that can seep into your food. Always opt in for BPA-free microwave containers. Glass-ceramic containers are good options in this situation.
You can always look for the best containers on amazon or at your local store. Just make sure the ones you choose properly fit the purpose you’ll be using them for.
4) Create your shopping list
After you’ve decided what to eat, when to eat and how to store your food, the next step is to create your shopping lists for the week. Make a summary of all the ingredients and food items you will need over the week and get them.
Once your list is ready, you can now decide on the best places to get them for the best prices and start prepping away.
Common meal prep mistakes to avoid
If there’s a right way to do something, then there’s a wrong way to do it too. There are certain pitfalls people fall into when prepping meals. These mistakes can make everything seem harder or less effective.
Here are some of the common meal prep mistakes to avoid
1) Making meals too far in advance
The whole point of making your food ahead is to save time, money and energy. But making meals too far in advance can actually be a bad thing.
As a general rule of thumb, food tends to stay good in the fridge for about 3 – 4 days, although it can vary. While it might be tempting to prepare food for a couple of weeks at once, it isn’t generally advised.
Rather than cooking for a longer period, try cooking food that will last only a couple of days or a week at most.
Here’s a guide from statefoodsafety which shows how long different leftover foods last. This will help you properly plan your foods for consumption within their “safe period”.
2) Trying to do it all in one go
Very similar to the point made above, trying to do everything in one go can backfire. Cooking way too much all at once can leave you feeling very stressed out and tired.
Plus, once you start to consider meal preparation as a huge task that has to be done all at once, there’s a possibility that the food won’t come out as good as it should due to the load you’ve put on yourself.
Meal planning should be a fun thing to do. Rather than trying to do it all in one go, like once a week, you can break it down into two days within the week, reducing the load and giving you enough time to make each meal properly.
3) Eating the same food repeatedly
Except it’s a conscious decision you made to eat the same food over and over (which I honestly doubt will ever happen), meal prepping shouldn’t be a reason to be stuck eating the same thing.
As I said earlier, it’s possible to mix things up. You can try out some versatile foods that go well with a number of combinations and try different combinations over the week.
Also, you could simply prep the ingredients and store, that way, it becomes easier to make different foods by just switching up the ingredients you throw in the cooker.
4) Not eating balanced meals
Your macronutrient ratios are pretty important. You have to make sure you’re getting enough of each macronutrient in your daily meals.
Summing it all up
Our day to day lives can get quote busy. And when it does, making delicious meals for the family to enjoy day after day can seem like a hectic task, although it doesn’t have to be like that.
Thanks to effective meal prep and planning, you can cook your meals ahead of time, store them for later and simply reheat when you need to eat. Meal prepping can help save time, money, help you eat healthier and even aid weight loss.
By following the steps above and avoiding the mistakes listed, enjoying delicious dishes even on the busiest of days will be a walk in the park for you.
Here are some awesome recipes you will want to try out.