Meal Prep & Planning for Busy People
Yes, I totally get it. Early mornings turn into extra-long days, barely enough time to make it to spin-class, and a million people on your list to catch up with. If that’s not enough, your mom keeps asking you when you’re coming to visit, and the to-do list keeps growing. So when you finally get home at the end of the day, cooking a meal seems like the last thing you feel like doing.
Door dash is calling your name………
As a society we continue to get busier and busier, and along with this we are moving away from prepping and making our own meals at home. This means we tend to rely on going out for food more often, not making the best choices when we do, and *needlessly* spending $$$ on food delivery services.
But, does our busy schedule NEED to get the best of us and sabotage our eating habits? No, I don’t think so. It might just be as simple as making meal prep and cooking a priority, along with some simple hacks. Of course, it goes without saying there are SO many benefits of making your own meals at home.
At the end of the day, planning and prepping ahead can be a life-saver. The busier you are, the more crucial it is to plan, plan, plan ahead. If you want to tackle your busy days with optimal efficiency, then you need to be one step ahead and give your body the nutrition to support that. Bottom line.
Here’s my advice:
1) Go into it with the Mindset of Taking Care of Yourself
Rather than looking at shopping and cooking meals like a chore, reframe cooking as a means of taking care of yourself. I believe that food is one of the best means of self-care, and we can use it to support our lives in many aspects when we provide ourselves with nutritious foods and meals.
2) Make a Date
Pick a day to plan out the week’s meals and hit the grocery store. Schedule it into your calendar like a date with yourself, so that nothing else can get in the way. Take this day to check out what’s already in the fridge, look at what your schedule is for the week and what types of food would work with your schedule. Write out a tentative menu for the week, make a grocery list and shop.
3) Plan More.. or Less
Planning is key; after all, fail to prepare = prepare to fail. However, the extent of your planning might look different from one person to the next. Some people love having a set menu for the week to follow, and others might prefer to eat whatever they are feeling on a particular day. Both options are fine, and I would say to follow what works for you and keeps you motivated. Either way, looking at your week in advance and having an idea of which meals you will need to prepare at home (vs. dinners out or with company) can help you map out what to buy and how much.
4) Try “Buffet Prep”
Don’t want to eat the same thing every day? I don’t blame you. Rather than making set recipes in batch (like a stew, chili, pasta dish, etc.) for the week, something that helps to keep things interesting is to try “buffet prep”. This means batch cooking different proteins, veggies and starches and have them ready to go for mix and match meals during the week.
5) Flavour Profiles
To fight off boredom, ensure you have a good variety of flavouring ingredients at your fingertips (aka in your pantry). You can take a base meal of cooked chicken breast, brown rice, and roasted vegetables and transform it into a bunch of different meals using different spices, condiments and sauces. Here are some flavour profile examples:
Italian inspired: tomato sauce, garlic, fresh or dried basil, oregano, mozzarella or parmesan cheese
Mexican inspired: salsa, lime juice, avocado, cilantro, chipotle powder, chili powder, Greek yogurt (as sour cream)
Asian inspired: soy sauce or tamari, ginger, sesame oil, scallions, sriracha
Indian inspired: curry powder, chilli flakes, garam masala, coriander, cayenne, roasted chickpeas, plain yogurt
6) Flavour Different Ways Using the Same Pan
Another trick is to flavour meat, fish or vegetables 2-3 different ways on the same pan. Half of your pan might be Asian-inspired salmon (tamari, brown sugar, oil) and the other side might be salmon marinated in lemon, herbs and olive oil. Use aluminum foil to create a separation between the different marinades.
7) Make Friends with Frozen Fruit & Veg
NO, they aren’t less nutritious than fresh, and NO we don’t always need to avoid frozen foods. Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables (like peas, green beans, kale, spinach, etc.) and fruit chunks and frozen berries so when the fridge is empty you’ve got your back-up.
8) Have 3-4 Staple Breakfast Options
Breakfast is always a tricky one for people. Finding things that you can bring to work that are quick, simple and require little prep time are ideal. Not everyone has the time to eat food before leaving for work, or the comfort of working from home. But if you don’t have a good idea in advance, you might rely on that morning bagel or breakfast sandwich more often than you should.
Here’s my advice – find 3 or 4 staple breakfast options that work for you and rotate them. Recipe for breakfast success = always include a source of protein (like plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs / egg whites, almonds.. even leftover meats or tofu), a healthy fat and a complex carb source. Check out my article for guidance on breakfast.
9) Don’t Strive For Perfection
You’re going to have to accept that not every meal or dish you make will be Instagram worthy. And that’s okay. Focus on getting the basics down pat: variety (in flavours, types of foods and nutrients), and sticking to your meal prep goals with consistency. Making healthy meals at home is easier said than done, but with practice, you will reap the rewards and skills over time.
Hope you enjoyed today’s post!
Until next time,
Edited by Yumi Chow, Nutrition Student