For years, meal plans in my house would go like this… Hubby: “What do you want to eat?” Me: “I dunno. What do we have?” Hubby: “I’m not sure; I’ll go to the shop.” Those daily shops added up fast. And since they – fairly often – involved a trip to the deli rather than the grocery aisle, we were both a little softer around the middle than we should’ve been considering how much time we spent in the gym. And then I got into meal prepping – something I’d always avoided because it sounded so time-consuming and, well, boring. But, for all my initial reluctance, I’ve actually saved time, lost weight and no longer feel like I’m crawling to pay day. These are the strategies that work for me.
1/ Get the gear.
You’re going to need a whole lot of containers of various sizes. I have a few good-quality plastic containers with rubber seals around the lids to prevent, say, a soup spill, but I also hold onto the bakkies from curry and sushi take-aways. A deep soya sauce bakkie is perfect for 30g (one serving) of mixed nuts; a shallow one takes a tablespoon of hummus or peanut butter – one serving of healthy fats. And the curry containers are a good size for salad, leftovers, overnight oats, popcorn… you get the idea. Plus, they last much longer than you’d expect – just don’t stick ’em in the dishwasher.
2/ Plan ahead.
Gone are the days of trying to picture what treasures might be gathering dust in the kitchen cupboards that could possibly be magicked into a meal. Each weekend I plan the suppers for the coming week with a mind to meals that can be turned into desk lunches the next day. Prime example: Steamed chicken pieces with broccoli and cauliflower make an easy, healthy supper. The next day, leftover chicken can go in a salad. Extra rice or pasta is another great way to add substance to salad. Leftover mince is delicious in a wrap or on toast.
3/ Embrace kitchen Sundays.
Sunday afternoons are typically couch or braai time in our home, so why not have something bubbling away in the background? On a Sunday I make a big pot of something hearty like soup, stew or curry. You’re essentially just putting a whole lot of ingredients in a pot and leaving it to cook for hours while you get your gin and tonic on. Even better if you have a slow cooker. That pot of goodness becomes supper for Monday or Tuesday and often there’s enough to freeze for another supper. I’ve also started boiling eggs on a Sunday – one egg counts as a protein serving.
4/ Make a little extra.
I genuinely love salad so I make one with almost every meal. Bulking up your meals with salad greens is a good strategy for eating less of the calorie-dense stuff on your plate (meat; potatoes) – the fibre in the salad fills you up and the crunchy texture makes you feel more satisfied. The next day, the leftover salad becomes the base for lunch – I just add some chicken, tuna or, for a meat-free hit of protein and fibre, beans.
5/ Take 15 minutes for tomorrow.
Each week night, I prep my food for the next day. It takes 15 minutes max and saves me the cash and calories of a trip to the cafeteria. Breakfast is overnight oats or a smoothie. Lunch will usually be leftovers, a salad bulked up with protein or carbs or a slice of toast with avo and a green salad on the side. Snacks could be nuts, biltong, fruit, popcorn or crackers with hummus. There’s absolutely the odd night when I’m tired and prepping just feels like too much of a las. I always regret that decision the next day.
6/ Stock up on staples.
My kitchen always contains the snacky stuff (biltong, fruit, nuts, etc) mentioned above. In addition, I always have rice paper sheets, eggs, rice noodles (less calorie dense than regular pasta; also I can’t eat wheat and they’re so much cheaper than those fancy gluten-free pastas) and different dry grains (rice, barley, quinoa). That way, I still have options. If I don’t feel like the mince and rice I planned to make, I can make spagbol with rice noodles instead. A chicken stir-fry can turn into chicken Vietnamese spring rolls. And when you’re pressed for time, almost any ingredients can become an omelette.
And this is why I’m sold…
I initially started meal prepping after seeing a dietician who recommended an eating plan based on macros – controlled allowances of protein, carbs and fat. It’s really hard to stick to your macro allowances when you’re eating on the fly, but when you’re planning your meals, it’s actually so easy. Weight loss: Check. Prepping my meals at night means I don’t have to do it in the mornings when I’m grumpy, slow and inevitably running late. Time-saving: Check. And finally, this whole planning business has halved my food budget.