Meal planning and preparation
Taking time each week (or every few days) to plan your meals and get ahead with food prep is one of the best things you can do to support healthy eating habits. This process is often overlooked when people make diet and lifestyle changes – but it will be a game changer!
Meal planning and prep can save you time, stress and money (less food wastage and costly takeaway) all while making fast food less appealing seeing as you have satisfying options ready to go. It works when eating solo or for a larger family. Meal planning and meal preparation work together to reach the same goal: getting nutritious meals on the table a little easier.
What’s the difference between meal planning and meal preparation?
Meal planning is the proactive process of mapping out what you are going to be eating, what meals you will be cooking yourself, what ingredients you will need and when you are going to prepare this food.
Meal prepping is the hands on food preparation and cooking. It can be as simple as having all vegetables for weeknight meals chopped ready to cook. Or more elaborate with meals for the next few days cooked and portioned out. Batch cooking is another common meal prepping term for making a large volume of a recipe and freezing some for a future meal.
How to come up with a meal plan
- REFLECT! Think about your week ahead – will you have time in the evening to prepare dinner? Will the morning rush make breakfast more of a struggle? Are you keen on having leftovers for lunch the next day? Do you have social events which means you will be eating out? Check your fridge/freezer and take stock of what is left over or nearing it’s used by date. How can you create meals around these foods first so there is less wastage? Look online at what’s on special at your grocery store to take advantage of cost savings.
- Choose your recipes. From here decide which meals you would like to have over the coming days and identify which will require some prep work in advance. The Fitaz Meal Builder and Recipe Library in the Transform App both great places to start for meal inspiration. Make sure to include a variety of foods across the week. This means mixing up your vegetable, fruit, grain and protein choices.
- Record your food choices in a way that’s convenient for you – i.e. notes on your phone, App based or in a paper based plan. Identify which meals or ingredients will need prepping in advance.
- Make a shopping list based on your plan (or add items to an online shopping order). To streamline your time spent at the store, group categories of ingredients together on your list (i.e. all fresh vegetables together). This means you’re less likely to miss items or be doubling back through the aisles.
- Consider if you have adequate food storage containers and trays for your ingredients and prepared meals. If your collection is looking more like mismatched containers and missing lids, it might be worth investing in some good quality, air-tight storage containers to keep food fresh for longer.
- Get shopping! Avoid grocery shopping on an empty stomach as it makes those half price snacks so tempting! Remember food manufacturers pay big dollars to have their product featured in those attractive spots at the end of the aisle – and it’s often ultra-processed high fat/high sugar foods that are best left on the shelf, not in your trolley.
It’s time to start meal prepping!
Finally, it’s time to get hands on in the kitchen. You might like to prep snacks and breakfast first if needed. Then move onto vegetables, grains and lastly proteins.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Overnight oats or chia puddings can be stored for up to 3 days in the fridge. Great for a breakfast or snack on the go.
- Unpeeled boiled eggs can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days. Perfect for a toast topper or salad protein boost
- Store celery and carrot sticks in a container filled with water. Change the water every day or two and they will stay crisp – perfect with hummus for a crunchy snack.
- Hardy vegetables like onion, carrot and celery can be diced in advance and stored for use in recipes.
- Prep vegetables to be stir-fried or steamed such as beans, broccoli/cauliflower florets and zucchini and capsicum sticks.
- Protein choices like chicken or meat can be seasoned in advance and cooked as needed. Cooked meat/chicken is safe to eat for up to 3 days after it’s cooked when refrigerated properly.
- Use frozen vegetables if needed. Frozen diced onion and garlic can be a great time saver.
- Green grocers and supermarkets offer a wide range of chopped vegetables ready to be roasted, steamed or stir-fried.
- Reinvent leftovers. Roast chicken one night – chicken and slaw wraps the next!
- Slow cookers are great for largely hands off cooking of meats, casseroles and soups.
Food safety is really important!
Keep this information in mind when prepping food in advance:
- Cook food properly – to at least 75 °C or hotter. This is especially important for foods that are high risk for food poisoning such as chicken and minced meat.
- Cool and store cooked food as soon as possible. Wait until the steam stops rising, cover the food and put it in the fridge or freezer.
- Reheat food until it’s steaming hot. Most potential food poisoning bacteria will be eliminated above 75°C. Food should be steaming throughout, not just on the edges. Watch that the microwave is heating food evenly all the way through.
- Leftover cooked pasta and rice needs to be handled carefully as toxins can continue to grow even once cooked. Cool it in the fridge immediately once it has stopped steaming. Pasta and rice is best used within 2 days of being first prepared.
- Store raw meat, fish and poultry on the bottom shelf of the fridge to prevent cross contamination.
We would love to see your meal prepping and planning efforts.
Tag @FitazFK #EmPoweredByNutrition
Liz Borgo – Accredited Practising Dietitian & Nutritionist