If you haven't heard of meal prepping then where the hell have you been? Not only is it an Instagram craze, it is also one of the main keys to losing weight when it comes to nutrition and your diet, according to a number of health experts.
The idea behind meal prepping is basically just packing a lunch box, but prepping a number of meals in one go including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks so that during the week, everything is readily available to you and temptation to stray off your 'clean eating' plan is less than if you didn't have a single thing prepared. Without a healthy lunch in the fridge at work, it can be all too easy to head to your local supermarket or coffee shop on lunch and buy a 'meal deal' (which usually include packet sandwiches and crisps of extremely little nutritional value) or worse still opt for a fast food option such as cheese and butter laden jacket potatoes, Subway sandwiches or even a cheeky McDonald's that you'll only regret a couple hours down the line when you're slumped at your desk with no energy whatsoever. Planning in advance gives you a chance to stop and think twice about what you're eating and also allows you to enjoy really delicious, fresh home cooked meals, without any added nastiness! Not to mention the money it saves.
Planning in advance gives you a chance to stop and think twice about what you're eating and also allows you to enjoy really delicious, fresh home cooked meals, without any added nastiness. Not to mention the money it saves.
What to Prep
When it comes to deciding what to prep, people can often get stuck with deciding on something that is healthy, nutritious and full of goodness but also substantial enough to keep your energy levels up during the post-lunch slump that we are all too familiar with. A typically nutritious meal will consist of carbohydrates (rice, pasta, bread, white/sweet potato), protein (chicken/salmon/beef mince/tofu), a healthy amount of fats (avocado/legumes/nuts/cheese) and a good serving of veggies, so if you combine a bit of each of these into your meal you will be hitting all of the main food groups in a nutritious way. If you are watching your waistline and want to be in a slight deficit when it comes to counting calories then you may only want to eat carbs for certain meals. A healthy deficit would include carbs at breakfast (porridge/eggs on rye bread) and carbs at dinner, perhaps going for protein, fats and veg at lunch. Similarly, if you are wanting to gain muscle or 'bulk' a little, you will need to put yourself in a slight surplus of calories with your everyday diet. This doesn't mean you can prep Chinese takeaway or burgers and chips followed by cookies and chocolate, it means you can up your carbohydrates slightly, along with eating extra protein to help build your muscle. Of course, in any diet, balance is key, so be sure to treat yourself to those Oreos every once in a while - straying off prep isn't a crime.
Everyone is different when it comes to levels of prep. Some people like to go all out and prep five days of breakfast, lunch and dinner and some people prefer just to prep their breakfast and lunch and cook dinner fresh when they get home either on their own or as a family. If you enjoy cooking, or tend to have your evenings free and don't feel it necessary to prep your dinner, make sure you are stocked up on lots of fresh veg and fruit as well as lentils and pulses as these can make a great nutritious meal without breaking the bank. Typically, if you work the normal 9-5 week, prep should be done when you get a spare hour on a Sunday afternoon so that everything is ready and good to go on Monday morning. Obviously, if that doesn't fit in with your schedule you can prep meals at any time - you can even prep just one at a time if that better suits your lifestyle, the idea is just to have something ready.
If you are struggling for a little inspiration on what to include in your countless Tupperware or even how to prep the food you've chosen, here are a few ideas.
Overnight oats are an absolute winner when it comes to prep as they are literally ready to eat as soon as you take them out of the fridge. The clue on how to prep these is in the name; just soak porridge oats (rolled works best) in a milk of your choice (almond works well) as well as a little fat-free Greek yoghurt and add any toppings you fancy. Frozen fruit is particularly nice because it defrosts in the fridge leaving the oats full of flavour. Other popular ingredients include banana and PB and apple and cinnamon. Simply top with a sprinkle of seeds and a drizzle of maple or agave syrup to sweeten. Fancy chocolate flavour? mix in a tablespoon of raw cacao powder. Overnight, the oats will soften and soak up all the flavour of the toppings leaving a delicious and extremely nutritious breakfast. Oats are a great choice when it comes to healthy breakfast choices as they are high in fibre and leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Grab yourself a roasting tray (either disposable or washable) and throw in a load of your favourite veggies as well as some hearty chunks of sweet potato or butternut squash. Anything from peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green beans, broccoli and courgettes, the list really is endless. Once everything has been thrown into the tray, melt a little coconut oil and drizzle it all over the vegetables. Season with some Paprika, Turmeric, salt and pepper and stick it in the oven to roast. Once they're ready, divide the veg up into your five Tupperware and add some lentils, quinoa or brown rice. You can batch cook a big packet of mince or chicken and add this into the meals or you can add protein through the week as and when you want the meals. If you're wanting to gain a bit of weight, sprinkle some mozzarella or smashed avocado over the top after you've reheated the meal.
Choosing healthy snacks can be difficult because it is often all too easy to fall into the trap of the supermarkets that sell sugary cereal bars claiming to be full of vitamins and minerals. Of course, in most organic shops or whole food markets, there are a great range of nutritious snacks, but you do have to be careful as the sugar content can be misleading. According to experts, three meals and two snacks per day is a great plan to follow if you are trying to lose a little weight effectively. A simple piece of fruit dipped in a little 100% nut butter makes for a great snack idea but that can often get boring and believe it or not, too much fruit can make you go overboard on your carb and sugar intake. Alternative snack ideas include:
- Fat-free Greek yoghurt with almonds/raisins and a little Agave or peanut butter (make sure your PB has no nasty added ingredients and sugar, the best kind are those that contain simply 100% roasted peanuts).
- Protein Balls: Whizz dates, peanut butter pumpkin seeds and oats in a food processor. Mould the mixture into balls and store in the freezer. Ready to eat in a couple of hours. Warning: Incredibly moreish.
- Carrot and Cucumber Sticks with a little homemade humous are also great for those with more of a savoury tooth. To make the hummus add chickpeas, tahini, a squeeze of lemon, half a garlic clove and a glug of olive oil. Whizz together. Want something a little different? Roast a red pepper and blend that in with the mixture.
- Nuts. Nuts are a great source of energy and also provide essential fats and protein. They are so easy to snack on and can be put in sandwich bags for each day of the week - there is a range to choose from including almonds, peanuts, cashews and pistachios - it's just a case of finding your preference!