The case for meal prepping
If you frequently find yourself scarfing down nutritionally questionable snacks or getting stuck into a last minute takeaway meal because the cupboard is bare or you can’t be bothered cooking, meal prepping could be your answer to an improved diet, increased energy and having more money in your wallet.
Why? Meal prep – or preparing, is simply that; planning, preparing and producing your meals, all in one hit. It means you can put time and thought into creating meals with a good mix of healthy ingredients and nutrients, all packaged up in appropriate portion sizes.
Plus, when you are time poor, having something to grab and go can be the difference between getting an energy boost from a good mix of nutrients versus a hit of empty calories, leaving you sluggish and potentially leading to an expanding waistline.
Meal prepping can take many forms
Some prep every meal for a week while others batch cook a few staples
to create a steady stock of dinners to heat and eat. For some, it is about breaking bad eating habits created by an early morning start by prepping a few days to a weeks’ worth of grab-and-go breakfast and lunch options.
Meal prep can also mean partial prepping, for example pre-portioning and packaging proteins, chopping veggies and pre-cooking and freezing grains, meaning you can cook up a fresh meal in a quick ten minutes without having to think about what to make. Prepping lunches could simply mean popping a tin of tuna in a ziplock with pita pocket and some veggies to be assembled at lunch time.
A week planner can be an easy way to dive in, as you can note what meals you’d like to pre-prepare and see on a page what you’ll need ingredient wise.
You’ll also want to ensure you have your tools ready to go.
, a qualified raw food chef, author and meal prepping expert (don’t panic – she’s not all about eating raw foods!) says depending on the level and volume of food you’ll be prepping in a session, you’ll likely need a food processor, slow cooker, mandolin or veggie spiraliser, grill and of course – plenty of containers!
Cross check your weekly planner to ensure you’ll have enough to safely store what you prep.
Meal prep for maximum health benefits
Law says to get maximum health benefits from prepping, your goal is to create a complete and balanced meal comprising of a portion of the macronutrients
protein, carbohydrate and fat.
“You need protein for muscle building and growth, repair and maintenance. Carbs give you the energy to get through your day as your body’s main source of energy. Good dietary fat is used as building blocks of the human body and important for hormone health,” says Law.
And what does this look like on a plate (or in your storage containers?)
- Bread, rice, pasta, oats, quinoa, couscous
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn and pumpkin)
- Beans and pulses (chickpeas, baked beans, lentils)
- Some dairy foods such as milk and yoghurt
- Sugar and honey
“Aim for whole grains, veggies, beans and pulses and keep an eye on fruit intake as it can bump up your sugar count,” she says.
- Meat and meat products (beef, chicken, lamb, pork or kangaroo)
- Fish and seafood
- Dairy food such as milk and yoghurt (also carbohydrate)
- Beans and pulses (also carbohydrates)
- Nuts (also fats)
- Soy and tofu products
Foods with the 'good' fats
And while you don’t need to eliminate saturated fats from your diet, the majority of your fat intake should come from unsaturated fats, which can be found in:
- Vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower, rice bran)
In terms of portion sizes, carb should make up the biggest part of your plate – with a wide variety of veggies top of the list. The Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults
provide detailed information about serving sizes according to gender, age and stage. If your meal prepping is part of a weight loss program, check in with your healthcare provider.
Avoiding food boredom
Law says she’s often asked if she ever felt bored eating pretty much the same (or similar) meals over and over, and says it was never an issue – and she is a self-confessed foodie.
“I love flavour enhancing all my meals with condiments and spices like: salsa, mustard, apple cider vinegar, marinara, capers, wasabi mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, sriracha sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper, lemon or lime juice, soy or tamari sauce, nutritional yeast, cinnamon, taco seasoning, chicken salt, lemon pepper seasoning etc,” she says.
She also says over time you will gain knowledge and confidence, which will help you branch out with what you prepare.
“After my initial three months, my meal plan did organically change to be more flexible as my confidence in meal planning and understanding diet and nutrition improved.”