Let's face it, we all live busy lives - many of us are working too many hours, are under paid and exhausted. This often means that healthy eating goes out the winder and when finally home after a 12 hour day, the last thing on your mind is cooking. Here at Be Well Fed, we get it - or our dietitian Bec does anyway. Here is her article that summarises what meal planning is to give you some tips and tricks to get started and make healthy eating and cooking super easy and convenient.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is the act of predicting activities for the up and coming week to plan a menu that is delicious, healthy and easy. At Be Well Fed we are all about the easy...and healthy of course. At first, the process can be tedious but with just a few steps listed below, you can design a healthy week of meals in no time.
What is so good about meal planning?
Meal planning isn't just for those on a diet or with a big family, meal planning can be the ultimate time saver. With more and more of us busier than ever, it is a process that can help take the pressure off eating a balance and wholesome meal.
- It save time later in the week
- It takes the burden out of breakfast, lunch and dinner
- It reduces food waste
- It can save your hip pocket
With almost ¾ of Australians between the age of 18 and 34 eating out or ordering takeaway at least once per week, being prepared for the week ahead is a great way to decrease the amount you spends on eating out and takeaway.
But what is more alarming is in a group of 3 young people, one will eat out on three or more occasions per week.
And unless you're making your own sandwich at the local cafe, often take-away foods are often higher in saturated fat, salt and sugar.
Three steps to meal planning:
1. Get out the calendar or write out the day of the week. Fill in activities and events throughout the week. For example: On Wednesday mornings I exercise 6-7am so a quick and easy breakfast before work is essential. Thursday evenings I have a family dinner so don't have to cook. Friday night is usually healthy take-away or eating out night and we eat out at least one meal one the weekend. Lunches - I always take my own.
2. Be honest with yourself. If you are not one to bring lunch every day but want to start then is it best to work out what is realistic for you. Starting with one or two home-made lunches is better than not doing it at all, or preparing a home-made lunch for each and every weekday to only get bored, hating lunches and back to square one.
3. To the weekly plan, fill in the remaining spaces with the foods you would like to cook. Gather inspiration from recipe books, Youtube or Google or better yet - book an hands-on cooking consult with me and we can brainstorm some recipes ideas together then get in the kitchen to cook up a storm for your week ahead.
4. Check the fridge and pantry. What needs to be used up? Write a list of ingredients you will need to bring the meal plan and recipes to life. And start adding in the names of dished to the green spaces above. then write your list and get cooking.
Three steps to meal prep:
1. Grab your list and go shopping.
2. Rinse and wash the fresh veg and fruit ready to be eaten.
3. On Sunday night, prepare muffins, dinner and at least one other meal for the week.
For example, I'll make loaded baked sweet potatoes for a particular nights dinner and also whip up a veggie-packed bolognese while the sweet potatoes are baking for a spaghetti bolognese or Mexican wraps another night.
4. Repeat step 3. on another night with a little more time.
Can I prepare everything for the week on Sunday?
Go for it. The best way to do this is to use the steps listed above in meal planning, then get home wash the fresh fruit and veg, and get preparing. Have some containers ready and a semi-empty freezer. Make a few meals and freeze most of them as this will make for easy lunches and dinners.
I don't have time on Sundays, when do I meal prep?
By all means prep everything for the week on Sunday if you can. If not, choose 2 - 3 nights or afternoons during the week when you can prepare one meal for the night, lunches for tomorrow and a half done dinner for the next night. This makes cooking dinner every second night super easy.
I hate cooking, how do I meal prep?
To be good at meal prep, you need food, containers, and motivation. Regardless of the level of skills in the kitchen, simply boiling rice and pre-packaging chopped veggies and some boiled eggs could be meal prep for you. So smaller tasks like this can take the burden out of preparing a huge meal for the rest of the week. For recipes ideas - get in contact.
Can I get food poisoning if I prepare meals too far in advance?
There are some foods you do have to be careful with and ensuring you eat the food you have prepared as soon as possible is a great way to ensure the risk of food poisoning is reduced. Here are some tips:
- Wash your hands before cooking.
- Avoid the temperature danger zone which is between 5 - 60 degrees.
- Portion food into smaller containers and place directly in the fridge to drop the temperature quickly.
- Use a separate chopping board for raw meat products or boil water and clean the chopping board after cutting raw meats.
- When cooking rice, tip it into a sieve and run it under cold water or portion and place in the fridge to cool.
- Always re-heat food to above 60degrees - the food should be steaming and too hot to eat at first.
- If lunch or dinners have been left in a warm spot for more than 4hours - it must go to the bin.
Is meal planning and prep good for the environment?
Making a meal plan for the week that is inclusive of seasonal produce is better for the environment than just purchasing what the supermarkets have on sale.
Food waste is another issue that has a huge impact on the environment. Australians throw out up to 20% of what they buy and 40% of the bin is often food waste. This is an issue because when food rots in landfill it emits methane into our atmosphere. The common most causes of food waste are:
- over purchasing and overcooking
- not knowing how to use leftovers
- too much money to spend on food
- buying takeaway instead of using what is in the fridge
- not checking the pantry or fridge before shopping
- throwing out food products before the used by date
Meal planning and prep can be tedious at first but with simple steps of forecasting the weeks events, being honest with yourself and checking the fridge before choosing recipes and writing a list before shopping are great ways to make cooking in the kitchen easy, healthy and convenient. Can't prep on Sunday? Choose a few nights per week where you make a simple dinner plus half a dinner and/or lunch for the following day.
Instead of wasting your money on takeaway foods, pre-packed meals, and throwing out what is left in the fridge, learn how to cook quick and easy meals that benefit you as an individual book a hands on nutrition consult with me - dietitian Bec.