The number one excuse I hear from people about why they don’t stick to a healthy diet is that they don’t have enough time. This has always baffled me – I know that there is always time to watch TV, so we have to make a little time to take charge of our health. All it requires is a priority shift and a little planning and then you don’t have to think about your food all week. Each night you can just open the fridge, throw a few things together and you are good to go! Plus you can always watch your tv shows (30 rock for me) while you cook. Meal prep eliminates decision fatigue (AKA do I want a salad, or do I want a juice? Do I want a salad or OMG A DONUT!) as a healthy delicious meal that you consciously chose and prepared is always at your fingertips. I personally swear by it. Read on for my guidelines on smart meal prepping!
First off, pick out two or three simple big batch dinner recipes that you can cook large amounts of, and that get better when they have a chance to sit in the fridge for a few days. I usually opt for a massive vegetable soup or chili, a pasta sauce or a curry.
Next I look at breakfast. If you are like me and you eat the same thing every day, then this is simple. However if not, pick something that you can make once and eat after – like overnight oats.
Finally figure out your lunch and snacks. I find it helpful to make sure my lunch and dinners are different so that I don’t go insane. I like big salads with hummus, or roasted vegetables and hummus, or hummus and hummus for lunch, and make my snacks pieces of fruit or pre-portioned nuts (I will never understand how many nuts is the correct amount)
Once you have all the recipes you want, it is time to make the mother of all grocery lists. Hit all your bases, and be thankful that this is the only day you need to be there this week. Then it is time to cook!
Do your big batch dinners first. Once everything is simmering you can do the more fiddly prep work to maximum your time use. For your dinners I tend to leave the pots in the fridge as I love the way flavors get better with each day. If portion control is a problem for you, then get out your BPA free storage tubs and divide up the food into nightly portions and freeze. Then each morning before you leave, you can take them out of the freezer to thaw.
I like to roast my vegetables after preparing the main meals. I tend to fill up three or four oven trays of carrots, beets, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and broccoli, all drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Once they are cooked you can store them in airtight containers in the fridge.
Next I would recommend spending some time preparing your grains for your lunch and dinner recipes. For me this usually looks like spiralizing zucchini, cooking a batch of quinoa and preparing some cauliflower rice. These go into the fridge to be eaten as needed, and can be added to lunch salads.
Now it is hummus time. I always have home made hummus on hand. I love it. I don’t eat meat or dairy – hummus is all I need.
For your breakfasts I would advise preparing some overnight oats. These can be kept in your fridge all week, and they get better and better with each day. Try experimenting with quinoa instead of oats, and get creative with your toppings. Nuts, chia seeds, fresh fruit and a lot of cinnamon is always a good time. If you are like me and love your smoothies, then get your fruits and vegetables into servings, and freeze them. I love the icy texture it gives my morning shake, and I just have to reach into the freezer to grab the bag, get a scoop of protein powder and some almond milk and I am in business.
Finally, for all your lunchtime salads, it is time to wash and chop vegetables and salad bases. Store them all in the fridge in airtight containers to keep freshness. If you eat meat then cook your meat of choice and store also in airtight containers. I like to oven roast some tofu and store in the fridge for my salads.
If you follow this protocol, your mornings are opened up. Your breakfast is there waiting to be eaten, and you will spend about one minute assembling a container to take to work with you for lunch. Better yet, the container will contain food that is healthy and delicious, and you will save a lot of money in the long run from ordering in. This all may seem like a lot of time and work, but it really isn’t once you get in the swing of things. You get used to planning out your meals, and start to really enjoy the space it gives you in your life. There is always yummy food in the fridge, and you will never go hungry again. This covers you for the 80% healthy, mindful eating of your diet – leaving you free to plan and thoroughly enjoy the 20% indulgent, mindful eating that remains. It is a total win win!