When it comes to achieving your nutrition goals, different strategies work for different people. One strategy to consider is meal prep. Meal prep is preparing food or cooking your meals ahead of schedule.
Why might meal prep be useful?
It can help build habits and skills associated with healthier dietary intakes. This is because you are putting conscious effort ahead of time into choosing the items to put together to cook, which typically means we are able to ensure we hit all the food groups we are aiming for (simply planning out the meals you might eat in a week, and not prepping them in advance, can achieve this also). Also, Meal prep can help meet your nutrition recommendations by making eating easy and more convenient, again because you have something that ticks all the buckets at your fingertips … rather than getting to the end of a long day and thinking ‘too tired to cook, coco pops and water it is!’. Meal prep can also help you achieve variety in our diet, again through that forward planning component, which can ensure that we obtain all the relevant vitamins and minerals.
Below, check out some tips to get you started if meal prep is a strategy you are considering.
Tips to get started:
Plan Ahead: First, decide what meals you would like to have in the upcoming week. Try to keep the recipes simple, and delicious of course! Think of foods or meals that you enjoy or if you spot a new recipe that appeals to you, go for it! Also, focus on your nutrition goals. Are you aiming to eat two portions of oily fish or a variety of vegetables, for example?
Pick a Meal Prep Day: Next, decide what day or days of the week that would suit you next to dedicate about one to two hours to cook and prepare your meals. Finding a day that works for you and sticking to it is important to build your weekly meal prep habit.
Make a List for Grocery Shopping: Before you head off shopping to the supermarket, make a list of the foods you need on your phone or on paper. Here, you're sticking to what food or drink you need to stay on track with your nutrition goals.
Invest in Quality Containers: If you do not already have some durable or reliable containers at home, maybe add this to the grocery list too! This makes it easier to be consistent with your meal prep. Also, check that you have enough storage in your fridge or freezer for your meals.
Batch Cook: Try to batch cool your meals. This means cooking larger portions of food so you can store some for the week ahead. Doubling up on ingredients for meals so they can be put in the fridge to be eaten during the week or in the freezer for a later date.
Consider Food Safety: Finally, meals can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. When reheating food, it should be hot and steamy before it is served. Meals should only be reheated once. To maintain the quality of the food, meals should be stored in the freezer for no longer than 6 months. You should defrost your meals covered in their container overnight. Once the food is defrosted, it is best to heat up and consume straight away, or store in the fridge for 2-3 days
Some articles of interest:
Monsivais, P., Aggarwal, A. and Drewnowski, A., 2014. Time Spent on Home Food Preparation and Indicators of Healthy Eating. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 47(6), pp.796-802.
Rompotis, C., Grove, J. and Byrne, S., 2014. Benefits of habit-based informational interventions: a randomised controlled trial of fruit and vegetable consumption. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 38(3), pp.247-252.
Safefood. 2021. How to get ahead with batch cooking | safefood. [online] Available at: https://www.safefood.net/healthy-eating/how-to/how-to-get-ahead-with-batch-cooking [Accessed 31 August 2021].