Meal prep is more important today than ever.
Anyone in good shape will tell you that eating healthily is the key to their success.
But what is stopping us all from eating healthily on a consistent basis?
With most people managing increasingly busy schedules it is time, or the lack of this most valued commodity that holds us back from nutritional success.
The answer to this problem?
I’m going to show you how to produce tasty, healthy and most importantly time saving meals in batch… And you’ll even have fun doing it.
Best of all these techniques have been used to help many people regain their passion for cooking, boosting their confidence in the kitchen and developing whole new meal prep habits.
Let’s get started…
The 5 Steps of Successful Meal Prep
Step 1: Plan Ahead
“To know your enemy you must first become your enemy” – Sun TzuWhen it comes to cooking and making good food consistently the biggest enemy is time. Regaining the time to cook and create success with meal prep requires you to first know how much of it you have available.
More specifically, you need to know how you spend your time before meal prep will happen consistently.
One of the first things we do at Real Food Func with any client is to get a real in depth look at what their days are like.
So grab a pen and paper, sit down and start thinking…
Part 1: Understanding your day
Break down your daily routine into time slots for a greater insight.
- What time are you awake in the morning,
- What time do you shower,
- Eat breakfast,
- Leave for work,
- Get to work,
- Work until,
- Take a break,
- Go for lunch,
- Get home,
- Head out to socialise or pick up the kids from one of their sports clubs,
- Go to the gym,
- Cook dinner,
- Go to bed
- Meal prep ?
Time spent wisely here will save you 10 fold later on.
I cannot emphasise the importance of this phase enough.
It’s often very hard to see the time slots you have available when you’re rushing around your daily routine full steam ahead.
Taking the time to really understand your routine is the key to change.
This may seem a little over the top, but in reality if we’re going to create meal prep habits that you can take forward for the foreseeable future we first need to know how you’re currently doing things.
Once this stage is understood, donating your time willingly will become much easier.
Part 2: Situational Meals
Batch cooking is great. It saves you both time and money.
But one thing you need to be aware of is that not all batch cooked meals will suit your daily needs.
A very common hurdle we’re faced with is the ability to transport meals around during the daily working routine. For example, not everyone has access to a fridge at work to store their food, and for those on the road travelling for work it’s an obvious speed bump.
However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be navigated easily with a little ingenuity.
A great way to get around this issue would be to use a cool bag / cool box to store food whether you commute to work or drive in the car. The days of struggling to carry around a big old plastic cool box are long gone. In fact the one I use could even fit inside my own rucksack!
Another easy way around this would be to only take foods that can be consumed without cool storage or heating up, such as:
- Rough Oatcakes, Apple & Nut Butter
- Banana & Cashew Nuts
- Apple & Peanut Butter
Part 3: Donate your time willingly
Once you have a firm grasp on how you’re spending your time, you can focus on how much you have available to dedicate to meal prep.
Some people, like myself, won’t mind spending a couple of hours in the kitchen… After all, if you’ve created a nice environment to be in it feels much less like work!
To help you get started, here’s a blank template you can print out and use to decide what to eat during the week.
Keep in mind…
What days do you have time to cook?
Weekends work well here, but it’s not the only way.
Do your evening meals carry over into the following day?
This will open up the following evening to get out and spend it how you want.
Do you need to increase the ingredients to feed all the family or just yourself?
Can you take food to work and reheat or eat the meal in question cold?
There are many avenues to explore when it comes to the meal planning and meal prep process.
For the purpose of this article we’ll keep it straight forward and simple.
Step 2: Food That’s Easy To Store
So you’ve just prepped enough to feed a small army… but where are you going to store it all?
Good quality Tupperware is the answer.
And you’re going to need a lot of it.
No matter how hard you try I guarantee at some point you will end up with 20 boxes but only 5 lids, it’s just something that happens.
When you go shopping you’ll need a variety of sizes that can be used to accommodate your main meals during the week along with snack options when at work or on the go.
Take care to find a brand that offers BPA Free & also Phthalate Free as this will be important when heating up your food in a microwave.
Step 3: Food That’s Easy To Prepare
A crucial part of wanting to continue with the meal prep process comes down to how easy each step is to implement.
And how much time the meals take to cook.
The time each meal takes to cook can vary greatly depending on how experienced you are in the kitchen.
For some people a recipe that has a suggested prep time of 10 minutes could end up being 25 minutes.
Prepping and cooking simple food should be time efficient BUT it all comes down to the methods used.
For instance, one of my favourite kitchen appliances is a slow cooker and to show you just how easy it is to cook with I’ve added 2 simple recipes below.
When you’re looking to save time it really is worth investing in a slow cooker. Alternatively, you could also get hold of a casserole dish that is oven proof.
Step 4: Creating Food That Tastes GOOD!
This is the most important part of any nutritional strategy or approach to meal prep. Without food that you actually enjoy, you’ll be lost before you even start.
We’ve all been there, having slaved away for what seems like hours in the kitchen, only to produce what can only be described as a bland and boring meal.
We’re not left with much hope for future endeavours and our lacklustre results will likely be a big part of why we go back to convenience foods.
After all they provide consistency.
Let’s face it; there’s a reason we like to eat these foods and more often than not it’s because they have just the right mix of salt, sugar and fat to hit the bliss point.
In short; they taste good.
But I want challenge that line of reasoning.
Deep down we know they don’t do us any good whether you’re trying to take back control of your weight and/or health.
Yet it sometimes seems like too much effort to break away from what we know.
So, what to do about it?
Of course, your tastes are highly personal. But to help you get started, I’ve put together an ebook of my 5 favourite quick and easy recipes. Each recipe is packed full of natural flavour which puts you one step closer to the key goal of making food that tastes GOOD!
Plus, this will give you an insight into the food me and my clients enjoy cooking.
Step 5: Enjoy The Cooking Process
I enjoy cooking, and by that what I really mean is I absolutely LOVE cooking!
Spending time in the kitchen really does help me switch off and relax, it’s a time to just chill out and create.
BUT having worked with many clients over the years I’m also aware this isn’t the case for everyone.
If you’re not a fan of slicing onions and peeling garlic then here are some of the method’s I like to use which help create the kitchen into a relaxing place to be…
- Set the scene with a good music playlist. Here’s where apps like Spotify come into their own. For me it has to be a bit of Soul or Motown when cooking, then time just flies by.
- Listen to a podcast or audio book. We’re all so busy these days the art of sitting and reading a book seems to be slipping from grasp, but I quite enjoy putting on a podcast or audiobook when cooking, not only are you cooking up a storm in the kitchen, you’re also educating yourself at the same time. Double win!
- Cook with your partner. Time is precious, with much of our time spent away from loved ones working why not take the opportunity to spend your cooking time together, halve the workload and create more time by preparing tomorrows lunch whilst you’re at it, then kick back and RELAX you’ll have earned it.
So there it is.
Kitchen Equipment Hit List
One of the things often overlooked is the equipment you ACTUALLY need to create your meals.
Believe it or not you DO NOT need a spiralizer or juicer to create healthy foods in the kitchen.
Here’s my equipment hit list that will really make your kitchen experience easy, efficient and enjoyable.
- Slow Cooker / Crock Pot Cooker (See more HERE.)
- Solid Wooden Chopping Board
- Large Oven Proof Casserole Dish
- Large & Small Pans
- Frying Pan
- Baking Tray / Roasting Dish
- Blender / Stick Blender Or Food Processer
- Mixing Bowl
- Spatula / Fish Slice
- GOOD Knifes
Please note this is not a definitive guide to what you’ll need but they are what I class as the essential kitchen utensils for batch cooking time saving recipes.
When I say good knifes I’m urging you to invest a little money in a set of knifes.
Knifes that will not only last but also provide you with a much more enjoyable chopping, peeling, slicing and dicing experience.
(you don’t have to spend that much to get a good knife nowadays)
….here’s a little sneak peek at my own collection, no doubt by the time of reading it will have grown:
When you have a good knife it’s even more important to keep it in good condition, you can read more about this here at kitchen knife guru (http://kitchenknifeguru.com/)
Foods That I Keep In Stock
Below is a table with all the common ingredients I try to keep stocked up on.
You’ll notice some of these are fresh, but when it comes to meats I will buy fresh then keep in the freezer.
Something really helpful here is a visit to the local butcher, or good supermarket to check out what is on offer.
You’ll always stumble upon a bargain that can be bought and frozen for future weeks even if you have no intention of using it straight away.
This is a great way to always stay stocked up.
I’ve had Oxtail in my freezer for a couple of months now and still haven’t got round to using it.
Next time the slow cooker comes out I’ll be making a lovely Oxtail Stew that can cook away all day whilst at work.
A guaranteed hearty and healthy few days of food from something that was in the reduction isle of the local supermarket ready to go out as waste!
The basis of the recipes I often fall back on for convenience or just because they taste great are made from these staple ingredients.
|Meat, Fish & Dairy||Fruit & Veg||Dry Foods|
|Chicken Fillets||Green Beans (Frozen)||Bulgur Wheat|
|Pork Sausage||Garden Peas (Frozen)||Brown Rice|
|Salmon Fillets||Onions||Basmati Rice|
|Butter||Cherry Tomatoes||Cashew Nuts|
|Full Fat Milk||Sweet Potatoes||Pistachio Nuts|
|Full Fat Cottage Cheese||Celery||Chia Seeds|
|Full Fat Natural Yogurt||Avocado||Dry Herbs|
|Cheddar Cheese||Apples||Dry Spices|
|Raspberries (Frozen)||Tomato Puree|
|Veg & Chicken Stock|
Foods That Are Easy to Grow
If you haven’t noticed yet at Real Food Func we’re pretty big on sourcing foods locally.
Or if you’re ready to get your green fingers working then trying to grow some of your own food too.
Over that last few years my skills have been honed in the art of trial and error to build up a profile of things that are not only easy to grow but also extremely well used in the kitchen too!
Best of all?
You don’t need acres of farmland to get high yields of these foods that packed full flavour.
Here are the top 3 easy to grow vegetables / herbs to try out in your garden / on your patio or terrace / window sill that will genuinely be used each week in the kitchen.
1. Swiss Chard
Coming from the same family as Spinach and carrying some of the same nutrient packed properties.
High levels of Vitamin K which plays an important role in both blood clotting and heart health. There are different forms of Vitamin K (K1 & K2) for which Swiss Chard provides the K2 variant.
This dark green leafy veg is easy to grow and best of all rather hardy when the cooler temperatures hit.
Get hold of some Swiss Chard Seeds
- Using small pots to start, fill with potting compost that has been broken up finely.
- Place one seed into each pot and using your finger press down to around ½ inch.
- Use a spray to water seeds at first as it’s all too easy to over water them.
- Place on a sunny window sill and you should see them start to germinate within 2 weeks.
- Let them establish in the smaller pots to start and water every other day. I like to plant mine out when they reach around 3-4 inches.
- Plant into veg beds, but also if you have little space in the garden why not try them in your boarder among the plants? Just make sure they have a good amount of sunlight allowing them to grow.
- Alternatively if you don’t have garden space then use a selection of large pots and space your Chard Seedlings out giving them enough space to thrive.
- Water every couple of days and everyday if the weather gets hot.
- Pick or cut from the stem when they reach around 8 inches and above and look to be healthy.
Another source of heart healthy Vitamin K(2).
The number of recipes and meals I use Spinach in is absolutely endless, that’s why growing my own in the garden is a no brainier.
When you’re trying to add nutritional value to your meal prep recipes spinach is great.
Not only can you have it freshly picked as a side dish but also cooking it is really easy.
Being able to open the kitchen door, walk out 10 paces and head back in with a handful of Spinach is really satisfying.
Best of all if you don’t have a garden to grow in then you can also grow your spinach indoors!
If you’re going to give spinach a go in the garden, either in a veg plot or in large pots then the steps to doing this are the same as already mentioned in the Swiss Chard Section.
The only difference is your spinach leaves can be harvested when they’re anywhere above 3 inches.
I’d advise against leaving the leaves to grow too big as their flavour tends to diminish somewhat.
My optimum would be between 3-5 inch leaves.
Like most herbs Mint offers a relatively high level of vitamin content in comparison to most fruit and veg.
Vitamin A is linked to the development of skin cells giving your skin health a boost.
Not only does mint offer a vibrant smell to your garden, patio, terrace or kitchen window sill it also grows pretty rampantly so continual use of this herb is absolutely no problem.
Best used steeped in hot water as an infuser to replace tea and coffee throughout the day.
Or finely chopped up then added to garden peas and feta cheese in an omelette.
Buy mint in its plant form and if needed transfer to a large pot when it begins to spread.
Best grown in a pot as the roots are so strong and fast growing it will soon take over your whole herb bed or veg patch if you’re not careful.
Don’t be fearful of cutting mint back either as it will soon grow new shoots or establish itself within no time.
To Steep your Mint in water here’s what to do:
- Pour your boiled water into a cup.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes.
- Take 3-4 fresh Mint leaves and scrunch them up, add to the water.
- Leave to infuse into the water before drinking.
Or how about this Mint & Cucumber Infused water:
One of my day to day drinks when working and trying to stay hydrated!
- Take a BPA free drinks bottle, my preference here is to use a glass water bottle like this one (https://b-on-1.com/)
- Finely slice up a 4-5 cm piece of Cucumber after washing it first.
- Add 3-4 fresh Mint leaves.
- Pop the lid on and leave to infuse.
(Want to know more about growing herbs in your garden? This video from GrowVeg.com gives a great insight.)
Now armed with these top tips that I use with my clients on a daily basis it’s time to start building a meal prep strategy that allows you to free up time.
What you do with that time is up to you.
For me it creates an opportunity to complete hobbies, get outside and enjoy being away from the 24/7 cycle of life.
Good food can be produced each and every day of the week without you being locked away in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove.
More to the point the whole process of making food should be enjoyable!
Get some music on, create a kitchen environment you want to be in and go for it!
Sharpen your knives and put them to good use by honing your skills when it comes to fine slicing onions effortlessly.
Let these strategies for meal prep reignite your passion for cooking food from scratch again.
If it wasn’t already!
Use the recipes on this blog along with the cook books you’ve not opened for a while to help you plan out a weeks’ worth of meals to start.
It’s time to take meal prep to a whole new level.
Get back in control of your time by producing food that not only gives you energy but also gives you the time to use that energy more freely.