When talking to friends/family/anyone, once they discover I am a dietitian they always ask me what I am eating, and somehow the conversation flows to what they eat, and 95% of those conversations end in ‘healthy eating is just so hard!’. That I can agree with, but only in a sense. Healthy eating is hard because we are constantly bombarded with messages on what is healthy, what is not, what will add years to your life, and what will kill you if it merely touches your lips. My interpretation of healthy eating is a balanced diet that fits into your lifestyle and beliefs, that meets your individual recommended nutrients whilst also providing enjoyment.
The concept is easy enough to understand but implementing that into your everyday life is challenging. As we get progressively busier balancing work schedules, family, social interactions, recommended exercise and life’s general curve balls, healthy eating can slowly fall down your list of priorities. When life starts to get in the way of your ideal diet that is when you need to prioritise your health and ensure your healthy diet can again take a leading role in your life.
As a full time student, balancing an elite athletic lifestyle, work, family, friends and a partner, it can be hard finding time or motivation to prepare my meals. To avoid the dreaded situation of coming home from a 14 hour day and having to trudge to my kitchen to prepare my dinner, I use a magical concept called ‘meal prep’. This allows me to have delicious, nutritious and healthy meals ready to grab when I need. When you whisper the words ‘meal prep’ you often think of overly buff, terribly tanned body builders consuming weighed portions of broccoli, chicken and rice, but meal prep is for more than just people in the fitness industry. My version of meal prep involves 2-3 hours out of my week, usually on a weekend day, to plan what meals I want for my week ahead, listing the ingredients, shopping and preparing the meals. I scan through recipes to find the easiest and tastiest options (you can look through my chronicles for inspiration) to ensure my taste buds are satisfied and I won’t be tempted to grab a tasty takeaway option instead.
In terms of how to implement meal prep you can literally prepare anything your heart desires. If you are aiming for a healthy diet your choices should move to recipes with lots of vegetables, as well as a balance of high fibre/low GI carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. Try mixing and matching, find a recipe that prepares vegetables how you like, or chicken in a certain way etc then just combine them to have individual sections of meals that meet your requirements. If you are preparing for yourself you can use a normal recipe that serves 4-5 and you have 4-5 meals. If you are preparing for 2, you simply double the recipe, and so on. To help bulk out meals, use legumes (beans/lentils/chickpeas) and an array of vegetables, you can often stretch another meal or two just from this process. Remember to put the first 3 days in the fridge, then freeze the rest. The bonus of doing this process over time means eventually you will have a variety of frozen meals to choose from and what you are craving on the day can dictate your choice.
If you are still not convinced that meal prep is for you, here are some glorious side effects:
- You will save money; by planning exactly what you are eating and purchasing only those products you reduce waste, and also the temptation to buy products you do not need. Also, having meals ready reduces the chance of grabbing take away on the way home, instead you’ll have a healthy little parcel for half the price waiting to be devoured.
- You will FEEL healthier; often quick choices offered at meal times are loaded with added fats, sugars, salts and preservatives. These can leave us feeling sluggish, bloated and just like crap. By eating better quality, home made products we have more control over what we put in our mouth. This may inadvertently lead to weight loss, but that shouldn’t be your sole focus. Always focus on how foods will make you FEEL better, and the looking better part will often follow.
- You can rest your brain; I don’t know about you but making decisions about food when I am tired and hungry is an impossible task. Having the meal prepared before hand means no thinking of what to have for dinner because your past self has helped you out and it’s already waiting. There’s been many times where I feel like giving myself a pat on the back for being prepared in advanced.
- The rest of your life will benefit; being more organised with meal prep ensures you have more time for every other aspect of your life. You can come home and spend more time with your kids, or you can have those extra hours sleep, or fit in that yoga/body pump class you’ve always wanted to got to but couldn’t because you needed to make dinner. The benefits of the feeling better point above will also ensure you will be more efficient in your work, exercise and study, leading to greater satisfaction of life in general.
- You can eat food that tastes great; a simple final but important point to finish with. By preparing meals ahead you like you always get to eat something delicious,with the knowledge in your mind that it is providing you with an abundance of nutrients!
Now that I have convinced you to implement meal prep in your life, start by simply introducing prepared lunches or breakfasts, and small changes over time will follow. Remember to search my website for recipe ideas that you can use for this weeks meals.