Meal planning is a more organised approach to preparing meals that can save you time and money. It can also help you to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and avoid food waste.
3 approaches to meal planning
Initially meal prepping can seem daunting and may even appear to take more time than before, but once you get into the habit you'll begin to fully reap the rewards. The secret to successful meal prepping is to plan your meals in advance and grocery shop according to the recipes you have chosen.
There are many ways you can approach meal planning and prepping and the key is to do what works best for your lifestyle.
Here are 3 methods you could choose to adopt:
Meal prep once a week
With this method, you plan your entire week's meals in advance and you then batch cook all the meals for the week ahead in one morning or afternoon (normally Sunday) and then refrigerate and freeze, as appropriate.
You can choose to cook entire meals for each day or you can cook a batch of protein (meat, poultry, etc.), a batch of veggies and a batch of carbs/grains that you can then mix and match throughout the week.
Meal prep the night before
The thought of spending an entire morning or afternoon cooking does not appeal to everyone; therefore an alternative approach is to prepare your meals the night before. Simply chop, grate and portion out all the ingredients for the next day’s meal and store in airtight containers in the fridge. You can also prepare your breakfast and lunch for the following day at this time, saving yourself precious minutes in the morning and avoiding the temptation or necessity to grab something unhealthy during the day.
Bulk cook a couple of times a week
This final method is an old school approach; the way many mums, aunts and grandparents cook.
It's when you make enough food to feed a small army, just in case. With this approach you can choose to double your ingredients, giving you enough food for lunch or dinner the next day.
Alternatively, if you're not a fan of eating the same meal two days in a row, you could triple or quadruple your ingredients and then freeze the remaining food for another day. If you do this once or twice a week, you should always have a couple of cooked meals in your freezer.
NB: Whenever you freeze food, ensure you add a sticker to your bag with the date of freezing and it can also be helpful to write the contents of the bag or container.
How to make meal prepping easier
If you’re new to meal prepping, you can make things easier for yourself in the following ways:
Plan your meals in advance and create a shopping list based on your meals using a free meal planning and shopping list template (of course you can create your own version). Alternatively, you could try one of the many free meal planning apps available such as Pepperplate, Mealime or Spoonacular.
Start with meals and recipes you already know and love.
Begin prepping only one or two meals a week initially to avoid overwhelm. It can be helpful to identify which meals take up most of your time and start with those.
Use ingredients that store well for at least 3 days, preferably 5 and if freezing, avoid ingredients that lose their flavour or texture once defrosted.
Meal prepping ideas
Not all meals or ingredients work well for meal prepping, however, the variety of recipes available that work perfectly could keep you fed for months without eating the same meal twice.
Once you get into the habit of meal prepping, you can get as creative as you like, but in the meantime, here are some ideas to get you started.
Breakfast is probably the most commonly missed meal of the day and normally because we don't have enough time to make something.
Despite being thought of as a sweet treat, muffins can actually be a healthy breakfast option and are perfect for preparing in advance and in bulk.
A smoothie is a great alternative to coffee at the start of your day, however to make a smoothie from scratch each morning takes time. Frozen Smoothie Cups are a great way to make your smoothie in bulk.
Alternatively, you could opt for a smoothie bag where you prepare all the ingredients in advance and then put everything into small bags and freeze them, ready to make your smoothie each morning.
And if you like yogurt in your smoothie, you can also freeze it using an ice cube tray and then add the cubes to your smoothie bag.
Soups, stews and stir-fry
You can prep for soup, stews and stir-fry by prepping and chopping all veg in advance and storing it in containers in the fridge ready for cooking.
You can even bag and freeze your ingredients similar to the smoothie method mentioned above, which works particularly well for stews if you own a slow cooker.
If you want to add meat, poultry, fish or seafood, you can also season and freeze in advance, which will add a more intense flavour to your meal.
Some soups freeze well and therefore can be cooked in bulk then frozen.
Meal prepping can be useful for everyone from students living on a tight budget, to working mothers to people following a specific diet and adopting the approach can have a hugely positive impact on your life.
Leanne Lindsey is a freelance blogger, qualified careers adviser and certified life coach who loves inspiring and motivating women to live happy, healthy lives they love by sharing simple and practical insights on self-care and wellbeing. She is a native Londoner who is currently trying out life the beautiful island of Tenerife. You can connect with her in The Self-Love & Wellness Lounge, at her website www.leannelindsey.co.uk and on IG @leanne__lindsey.