Making healthy food choices is made easier by taking the time to plan your meals and if possible, doing some preparation and cooking to make healthy eating easier. Not everyone has the time, and money to prepare a whole week’s worth of food ahead of time. The good news is that meal planning and preparation doesn’t have to mean bulk cooking all of your meals. We have included ideas for different ways to meal plan and prep, to help make it easier (and faster) to eat healthy while save you money and time:
Plan it out
When you are hungry, or others are hungry and wanting dinner now, without a plan it can be hard to think about what to make quickly. It can lead to making fast food choices that may be easy, though might not cut the mustard when it comes to being healthy, inexpensive and nutritious.
By focusing some of your time to plan ahead in one sitting, you can reduce your stress related to meals and food prep decisions. Write out a plan for your meals. Whether it is for the whole week, or a few days, this activity really helps you save money, and reducing food waste.
A common pitfall when writing out a meal plan is that it might not be realistic. Consider where you will be, what you are doing, what you will need to do to prepare or do to make your meal ready to eat. For example, don’t plan to eat a toasted sandwich for lunch at work if your workplace doesn’t have a sandwich press. If you have a usual late day or busy afternoon, make that the time you reheat leftovers. If a favourite recipe takes 30 minutes to prep, and an hour to cook, keep that for your easy day (or weekend) and make it double and put half in the freezer.
Write it down your weekly menu using our Meal Planner here.
Take inspiration from your pantry, fridge and freezer
Before heading to the shops, take stock of what you already have stored in your pantry, fridge or freezer and find recipes that can use these ingredients up.
If you are searching for inspiration for easy to prepare recipes to add to your meal plan, check out our healthy, dietitian approved recipes here.
If you are still stuck, pick a theme for the week and find recipes that relate to the theme. E.g. having an Italian themed week.
Bulk cook meals ahead of time
Set aside a few hours, whether it be on the weekend, or on a day that works better for you, and prepare one to two meals ahead of time, and store them either in the fridge or freezer, so that you only need to reheat, assemble or add some side salad or veggies when you get home.
Here are some great recipes to cook ahead of time:
Cook once, eat twice
If you are going to the effort of making a healthy meal, if you can afford it, why not make double? Doubling a recipe and saving the rest in the freezer will help you save time on a future meal. Freeze foods in single portion sizes so that you can grab one out of the freezer before you head out the door (assuming you have a microwave to heat it up).
Get one day ahead
Rather than feeling as though it is a race against the clock when you get home, or that you don’t have time to prepare your lunch before you leave for the day, make it the night before and refrigerate or get one day ahead.
On a day that you have extra time, prepare the next evening’s meal, and pack your lunch. The next day, pack your lunch in a cooler bag, and when you get home, heat and/or assemble the dinner you made the night before. Once the dust settles on that night’s dinner, spend some time planning or even preparing the next day’s meals.
Turn your kitchen into an assembly line
If the idea of eating reheated foods isn’t appealing to you, or you want to include more variety in your meals, try preparing food/ingredients, rather than a meal. To do this, consider the different elements of a balanced meal, including half a plate of vegetables, some lean protein, and some wholegrain carbohydrates at most meals. Prepare a few different ingredients, or meal components that you can store in the fridge, such as pre sliced vegetables, or a premade salad, poached/grilled chicken, boiled eggs or Clare’s Sauso rolls. Store them in your fridge, and when it comes time to prepare your meals, build a balanced plate from the ingredients you have already prepared.