If you're trying to take steps to improve your diet, or you're having trouble sticking to your calorie target, meal prep could be the solution!
By planning and preparing your meals and snacks in advance, you know exactly what you're eating, making calorie and nutrient tracking far easier. You can plan to meet your targets in advance and fill out your Nutracheck diary ahead of time, eliminating the panic of checking takeaway food labels and allowing for a stress-free weight loss journey!
We also know meal planning is associated with a better-quality diet, more adherence to nutritional guidelines and a reduced risk of obesity (1). A large UK-based study found that more frequent home-cooked meals are linked with people having a greater chance of a healthy BMI and body fat percentage, as well as a higher intake of fruit and veg (2). A later study found that higher consumption of so-called 'ultra-processed' foods (think ready meals, pre-packaged snacks, fizzy drinks) is strongly associated with multiple indicators of obesity (3).
If that wasn't enough, meal prep can also make you huge savings, both from an environmental and financial perspective. Proper planning can drastically reduce the food you waste and the packaging you use, and also eliminates the temptation to order in or make your way to a supermarket to-go section (or worse – a fast food drive-thru!). The planet AND your bank balance will thank you!
3 top tips for the perfect prep
- Plan ahead – As the old saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Before your weekly shop, take a few minutes to write out your plan for the week. It could be a good idea to grab a chalkboard or whiteboard that you can reuse each week. Draw up a table including your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. First, add in any events you won't need to prep for (meals out etc.). Next, do a stock take of your fridge, freezer and cupboards to work out what needs using up, anything you have saved from previous weeks, and anything that needs topping up. Now, start filling in meal ideas, thinking about versatile base ingredients you can use more than once throughout the week. If you're stuck for ideas, take some inspiration from the 'My Meals' section of your Nutracheck app. Once you've filled out your plan, draw up a shopping list of ingredients you'll need, taking into account what you've already got in your cupboards to avoid overbuying!
- Get everything ready – Before you get cracking preparing your meals, make sure you get everything out that you'll need, and eliminate distractions. Pop on your apron, get some music or your favourite podcast playing, and lay out all your ingredients, grouped together by meal. Weigh out, wash and chop anything that requires it, so you can add your ingredients straight away. Note down your measurements as you go into your Nutracheck recipe builder – this feature will work out the nutritional info for each portion if you're batch-cooking.
- Invest in some good containers – Containers and jars will be your best friend when it comes to meal prep, so get yourself some quality ones! The best containers will have a lock-on lid to keep your food nice and fresh for when it's time to eat – less spoilage means less waste! For recommendations on the best containers to suit your meal prep needs, check out this comparison article from our friends at BBC Good Food: Best meal prep containers.
5 meal prep-friendly foods
Although most recipes can be batch-cooked and stored for a couple of days in the fridge, here are 5 foods that work especially well as part of your meal prep rotation.
- Mince-based meals – You need 1 medium onion (chopped), 2 medium carrots (diced), 1 stick of celery (chopped), a small tin of kidney beans, 500g pack of 5% lean mince or 300g vegetarian mince, a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes – add seasoning, stir together and hob cook for 40 mins, that's it! If you have a slow cooker, this is even easier. You can separate out the mince and season for different meals – add chilli powder to your taste and serve with a jacket potato or rice, add a few dried mixed herbs and serve with wholewheat pasta for a Bolognese, or top with mashed potato and pop under the grill for a speedy cottage pie. If you love a bit of spice, click here to see how to create 5 different meals from just one pan of chilli – that's your weekdays prepped!
- Overnight breakfasts – These are ideal if you find yourself rushed off your feet in the mornings. Instead of dashing out the door and grabbing a pastry en route to work, throw some ingredients together the night before and you'll have no excuses! For tasty overnight oats, combine 50g rolled oats with water, milk, or a dairy alternative in a small jar or container with an airtight lid. Or for a creamy chia seed pudding, mix 4 tablespoons of chia seeds with milk or a dairy alternative of your choice. You can add extra flavours, such as cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Then simply leave in the fridge overnight – in the morning, you'll have a thick, filling breakfast that's high in fibre. Top with whatever you fancy – fruit, nuts, seeds, granola, nut butter – the choice is yours!
- Nourish bowls – Once assembled, these bowls can be locked up in a container and stored in the fridge for up to 4 days – perfect for a week of prep. Choose a wholegrain complex carb as your base (rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, couscous), then a source of protein (lean meat, fish, hard-boiled egg, chickpeas, tofu) and then a couple of different veggies of your choice. Top with a low-fat dressing when it's time to eat and you've got yourself a tasty on-the-go lunch. High in fibre and protein, these bowls will keep you feeling nice and full right through until your next meal. The great thing about these is the versatility of the components – if you find you have some leftover veg that needs using, you can add it to your bowl to reduce food waste (and fill up your 5-a-day tracker!). For recipes ideas, check out our blog: 5 nifty nourish bowls.
- Sandwiches and wraps – Okay, this one is pretty vague, as almost anything can go into a sandwich or wrap. But it's certainly worth including in this list – by making all your lunches at the start of the week, you won't need to worry about putting time aside every evening or setting your alarm earlier to make your lunch. An extra tip – on your main prep day, pre-chop your base sandwich/wrap ingredients, like salad, to make assembly even speedier. Much of your spare ingredients from dinner prep could also make great fillings. No excuse to head through the drive-thru at lunchtime!
- Traybake meals – If you don't have much time to cook, traybakes are a fantastic choice. Choose your protein source (chicken breast, salmon fillet, sea bass, cod loin, sausages, plant-based meat alternatives) and pop onto a large roasting tray with thinly sliced new potatoes or sweet potatoes and two or three vegetables of your choice. Drizzle lightly with olive oil or a cooking spray, season well and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until your protein source has cooked through. These meals leave the oven to do all the work, freeing up your time and leaving very little washing up, plus you can make several nutritious portions in one go with different seasonings to keep your flavours varied – win-win!
Nutritionist Amy Wood (ANutr), MSci BSc Nutrition has a keen interest in the relationship between diet and health. Having been published in the European Journal of Nutrition, Amy is passionate about making evidence-based nutrition accessible to everyone and helping others to adopt a food-focused approach to taking control of their health.