It may feel time-consuming, but planning your meals actually saves you precious minutes and you’re more likely to make healthy choices. Here are the basics.
One of the best skills you can master for weight management is meal preparation. Planning and preparing your meals in advance not only helps you stick to your healthy intentions, it also frees up time, saves you money and builds your confidence in the kitchen.
Food prep doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as setting aside time in your week to batch cook and freeze meals, or simply making double the amount you need for dinner so you have a tasty lunch in the fridge for the following day.
The (less obvious) benefits of food prep
Making your food decisions in advance frees up your mind and reduces the mental stress of having to choose between A and B. As your day progresses, it’s easy to develop decision fatigue, which may lead to you making the food choice that’s easiest, rather than healthiest. Alternatively, you may get overly hungry and throw something together based on the need to eat *now* rather than what’s most nutritionally sound.
Don’t overthink it
Worried you lack the culinary skills needed for cheffy-sounding ‘food prep’? Don’t be. The reality is, you don’t need to be kitchen-savvy – as you master the basics, you can personalise the process (and your meals) according to your preferences.
The key is not to set the bar too high. Master three simple but nutritious breakfasts, lunches and dinners to the point where you can make them without having to look at a recipe book. Knowing the ingredients by heart means you can reduce shopping time to a minimum so that your cupboards are always stocked with what you need to put a basic healthy meal together. You can reduce food prep time to five minutes with a bit of practice, but the food needs to be in the fridge or cupboard in the first place.
Rotate your plates
Once you have your meals mastered, learn the art of rotation so you don’t get bored and you’re getting a good range of nutrients over the week.
Great breakfast options include:
- Omelette (add as many veggies as you can)
- Protein porridge (oats with protein powder) or a protein smoothie (oats with a serving of protein powder and nut milk) topped with berries
- Yogurt with stewed fruit or berries, nuts and seeds
Similarly, have three quick options that work for lunches and dinners that you can make quickly and batch cook. Try these:
- A wholesome, filling salad: use greens like spinach, rocket and watercress as a base, include a grain such as quinoa, throw on some extra salad veggies like peppers, include healthy fats from avocado, add sun-dried tomatoes for a bit of ooh-la-la and top with portion of cooked salmon
- Smoked salmon or turkey slices with rocket, tomatoes and avocado on rye bread
- A quick and healthy stir-fry, using mixed veggies (carrots, broccoli, baby corn, pepper, pak choi), ginger, garlic, noodles and soy sauce. Mix through some cooked prawns.
Power up with protein
Why all the fuss about protein?
Well, it becomes more important as you get older because of the natural loss of muscle mass that occurs as you age.
Protein also helps to regulate your appetite and keep you feeling full for longer. Eat a portion of protein with each meal (including breakfast) and have protein-based snacks ready for when the munchies strike.
Here are some simple things that work for me:
- Hard boil (and peel) half a dozen eggs and store in the fridge – just grab and go
- Stock up on tinned fish including sardines, mackerel and tuna.
- Have high-protein dairy, like natural yogurt and cottage cheese, in the fridge ready to spoon over oats or dollop on oatcakes.
- Traybake several fillets of fish, chicken or meat. Simply slice, cover and keep in the fridge ready to serve with salad, a stir fry or add to a soup.
- Cooked prawns or smoked salmon are super quick to pop on a slice of rye bread for a healthy snack.
- Use protein powders for a quick smoothie or add to yogurts or soups (if unflavoured) for an extra protein boost.
Super sides – the unsung heroes
Get ahead by prepping side dishes of vegetables so you can just top with a serving of protein and some nutritious carbohydrates for an easy meal.
These are my favourites:
- Ratatouille (tomatoes, aubergine, courgettes, pepper, onions, garlic, olive oil)
- Roasted vegetables (diced sweet potato, parsnip, carrots, olive oil)
- Homemade coleslaw (white and red cabbage, carrots, onions, natural yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper)
- Vegetable mash (carrot and cauliflower)
Inject some flavour – fast
Healthy food that’s tasty and enjoyable means you’ll eat more of it (and processed or fast-food options will seem less appealing). These are the store-cupboard staples that work for me:
- Chilli or pepper sauce
- Soy sauce
- Seasoning blends: Jerk, peri peri, harissa, fajita, Mexican, ras el hanout, Chinese five spice
- Dried herbs and mixed blends: Italian style, mixed or garlic-infused herbs
- Salt infusions: lemon, garlic or pepper
- Onion and garlic powder
- Fresh lemon or lime juice
- Fresh herbs, especially basil, mint, coriander and chives
- Balsamic and/or apple cider vinegar
- Toasted seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, fennel, mustard and cumin
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Pickled foods: olives, caper, gherkins, onions, red cabbage
To keep things varied and interesting you can also try taking leftovers and transforming them into a new meal. Here’s a few suggestions:
- Take a homemade or supermarket soup and add chopped vegetables that cook quickly, like spinach, mushrooms and peppers, plus some pre-cooked grains or legumes to make an easy casserole.
- Add some chicken or fish and cooked rice to a ratatouille to make a paella or risotto-style dish.
- Take some leftover roasted vegetables and use them to spruce up a salad, top with goat’s cheese and you have a hearty (and posh-looking) dinner.
We’re here to help. If you want more advice look out for our nutrition and weight broadcasts and articles. You can find out more about these from your Peppy practitioner.