I’m at home all day, every day – doing not an awful lot, to be honest with you – and yet, I’m meal prepping. Why?
Well, there are a few reasons, but namely, preparing my meals in advance keeps me in a routine and ensures I don’t fall completely off the bandwagon (it’s been pretty touch and go!).
Now could be the ideal time to get into the habit of preparing healthy meals and making healthy choices so that post-lockdown, we can continue looking after ourselves. Our health is currently at the forefront of almost all of our decisions, from washing our hands more regularly to what we consume. By eating a healthy diet, we not only encourage a more positive mind-set, but we’re also helping out immune system function so it can better fight infections.
Lockdown: the ideal time to start leading a healthy lifestyle?
When lockdown started, I decided to use the extra time I had to cook my meals fresh each day. However, like most things without real structure or routine, this idea began to collapse and I found myself becoming lazier and hungrier each day – boredom hunger is a real thing! My ‘fresh food’ and ‘healthy’ lifestyle plan quickly transformed into tinned foods, quick and easy pasta dishes, and lots of processed, sugary goods. My motivation and energy levels began to dip, resulting in a lack of productivity in my daily tasks. Enough was enough! I wrote down a load of healthy meal ideas, made a shopping list and just like that I was back on planning and organising my weekly consumption.
By cooking my meals in advance, I eliminate the midweek question of ‘what should I eat today?’ or what can I be bothered to make?’ I also utilise my time more effectively; I spend one-to-two hours cooking my meals for the week. Instead of spending 30 minutes or more preparing each meal, I grab a pre-made dish, bang it in the microwave for two minutes, and voila – a healthy, easy meal is served!
When should I cook my prepared meals?
You can cook your meals whenever you like. I typically meal prep on Monday mornings, having brought my ingredients the day before. This way, I start my week being productive and encouraging routine – but pick a time that works for you! I tend to eat my prepared meals Monday to Friday as most refrigerated meals won’t keep much longer. At the weekend, I make food fresh. Not only does this create more variety, but it also separates the weekend from the week – something that’s especially hard to do at the moment, while we’re spending all our time at home.
What should I cook?
Variety is key! You want to be mixing up your meals, otherwise they quickly become boring and you’re more likely to revert back to those quick and easy ‘convenient’, often processed, foods. I tend to cook two to three different meals for the week ahead. Below, I’ve listed a few ideas of what you can precook for your lunches and dinners. I prepare breakfast fresh each morning, as it often consists of porridge oats, skimmed milk, frozen berries and honey – so it’s quick and easy. Some other options include low-sugar cereals, such as Weetabix or All Bran, or eggs (any way) on wholemeal toast!
Note, I have not included measurements of how much of things you should be eating because the amount depends on your size and activity. I track everything I eat in the week on the My Fitness Pal app which gives me the calories, protein, carbs and fat intake of each meal, but this isn’t a necessity, it’s just a good tool to understand a bit more about the food you’re consuming.
- Fish Dish
- Protein: Basa fillets, cod, salmon, or even tinned tuna ae great fish choices! I soak my fish in lemon juice and season with chili flakes, garlic powder and paprika
- Veg: Your choice, but think broccoli, asparagus, kale, spinach…if it’s green, it’s lean! I tend to dash some soy sauce over kale and bake it for 5-10 mins until crispy
- Carb: Wholegrain rice is my go-to for this, seasoned with onion salt and garlic powder, but you could have sweet potato mash/sweet potato fries/regular mash/potatoes (just avoid or go light on butter usage)
- Protein: Chicken breast or turkey mince cooked in fajita seasoning
- Veg: Cooked peppers, red onion and mushrooms
- Carb: Wholegrain wrap or rice
- Stir Fry
- Protein: Chicken and turkey are typically leaner meats. For a vegetarian option try tofu or seitan – I use cornflour and sesame seeds to make tofu crispy! The addition of raw nuts, such as cashews, provides extra protein and some good fat!
- Veg: Broccoli, carrots, baby corn, peppers, spring onions, mushrooms, sugar snap peas – think colour! Tip: by adding some chopped garlic cloves and grated ginger with a dash of soy sauce, you can make a really tasty dish!
- Carb: Rice noodles/basmati rice
- Naked Burritos
- Protein: Extra lean mincemeat cooked in burrito seasoning or meat substitute, such as beans/lentils (I use both meat and beans for extra protein)
- Veg: Chopped tomatoes, avocado, red onion, iceberg lettuce, sweet corn
- Carb: Wholegrain rice
- Prawn and Meatball Tomato Pasta
- Protein: Prawns and extra lean minced meat meatballs (store bought or homemade)
- Veg: Aubergine, white onion, tomato passata, peppers, mushrooms
- Carb: Fresh egg pasta or wholegrain pasta
- Buddha Bowl
- Protein: Tofu/lentils/beans/chickpeas/feta cheese/raw nuts
- Veg: Raw red cabbage, grated carrot, spinach, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, beetroot, avocado – think colour!
- Carb: Quinoa and rice
- Bun-less Burger
- Protein: Extra lean mince/bean and lentil patty
- Veg: Lettuce, tomato, gherkin, red onion
- Carb: As there’s no bread for this, I add homemade sweet potato fries for my carb
If you’re active and/or your portions are small, you may find yourself hungry and needing a little extra food to keep your tummy happy! Here are some of my favourite snacks:
- Peanut Butter on Rice Crackers: go easy on the PB. It’s a good fat, but too much of anything isn’t good
- Dark Chocolate: I have two squares of 70% cocoa Lindt every day. Not only does it satisfy cravings, but it is also great for the digestive system
- Fruit: it’s all pretty good, but my favourites are berries/banana/apple
- Protein Shake – enjoy with milk or water, and add ice for thick-shake consistency
- Water: often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually dehydrated. Aim to drink two litres of water a day – you could add low sugar cordial juice if that helps
Can I have a cheat meal?
Yes, absolutely! There’s no point looking your best if you’re not enjoying yourself. As mentioned, I cook my weekend meals on the day and I ensure that for at least one meal – sometimes one whole day – the food is what I really fancy, with no concern for calories! I might have pizza, ice cream, curry…whatever it is, it’s for me to enjoy! Allowing myself this treat satisfies cravings and keeps me sane – while encouraging me to stay on track for the week ahead.
Meal prepping is a fantastic way to encourage a healthy lifestyle, while being sure to allow yourself to have a treat once every so often. While you have the time at home, test out flavours and see what works and what doesn’t, and try to get into the habit of planning and cooking your meals ahead of time. And then when this pandemic does end, you can carry on this habit and continue a healthy lifestyle in your everyday life.
Photographs by Josie Penfold.