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Over here at Munchkin and Bear, we are a bit of a mixed bag on the meal prep front. A quick conversation over lunch reveals most of us are standing each afternoon with the fridge door open trying to work out what to cook! Over to our friends at Soul Sister Health who are experts in this area.
We cannot over-emphasise the need to be prepared in the kitchen, because, at the end of the day, we can all do the right things and eat the right foods, on our ‘good’ days – but we need to try and instil habits and have our kitchen hacks ready to go for our ‘bad’ or crazy hectic days. After all, they are the days when it is most challenging to nourish ourselves properly.
We encourage you to spend a little time each week planning your household’s meals. If you don’t currently do this, spending a little time planning out your week or even a couple of days at a time – can be life-changing. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it does make a huge difference to helping you have nutritious ingredients and meals at the ready.
Get input from members of your household. Flat-mates, partners, kids – whoever might be eating these meals. When we are planning our dinners for the week, I give the kids an opportunity for input. That way they know what is coming and if they ever forget, I tend to avoid the inevitable groans and dismay when they don’t like something that I’ve chosen for dinner (yes, it happens all the time!) as it was often their choice and they were part of the process in organizing the week’s meals. One battle out of the way…
Not only does meal planning take a lot of the guesswork out of and help simplify the process at the end of each day – the other enormous upside to meal planning is that you waste far less food!! Did you know that on average Australians discard up to 20% of the food that they purchase – that is one in every five bags of food you buy, being thrown in the bin. 40% of the average household’s bin is food. On average $1036 of food is thrown away each year per household – that is around one month’s worth of food for a small family. Considering just how expensive fresh food is and how much of our income is spent on the grocery bill, these numbers are quite confronting (www.foodwise.com.au).
Why do we waste so much food? Among the top reasons we waste so much food is because a) we cook too much and b) we buy too much. Meal planning can really help you address this issue in your household. When we meal plan, we can work out exactly how much of each produce item or protein we might need. Additionally, when we meal plan, we know what we are having for dinner (and most of it is already prepared) so we don’t tend to double up on groceries, nor stop and grab takeaway after work (even though we have a whole fridge of food at home!)
Ok, meal planning – how do we do it?
Well, first, create your week’s plan (or even a few days at a time if you feel like a week is a little overwhelming). The based on this plan, work out what ingredients you already have first, then write a shopping list for the rest (very important!). Duplicating ingredients that you already have in the fridge or pantry, is a terrible waste of both money and space. Then you need to get into the kitchen. We will often spend 1-2 hours on a Sunday, Monday (whatever day works for you) prepping. We can normally achieve SO much in this time…. 2-3 full meals, vegetables chopped and stored, one container of cooked grain (eg quinoa), one round of baked goodies (for school lunches), one week’s worth of smoothie packs popped into the freezer.
When possible ‘prep’ (prepare) the entire meal or parts of the meals, in advance. There are so many little things that you can do to make your life that little bit easier when the going gets tough – have all of your veggies chopped up in the fridge. When cooking and baking, double or triple the batch, so that you can enjoy one meal now and one goes into the freezer for later when you might be busy. Keep a container of cooked grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat) in the fridge that can be added to your breakfast, lunch or dinner. SO many things that you could do to make things easier when it matters most… But, here we go – our top 5 tips for nailing your meal prep:
Start in your own kitchen – plan your meals around what you have, first! If you start planning meals that require you to by a full compliment of new ingredients, everything that you currently have will likely go to waste. So, to avoid waste, start with what you have.
Cook in big batches – we’ve said it before – “Cook once to eat twice (even thrice!)”. Each week we will cook up a big pot of organic beef mince, with cups of grated vegetables, some home-made stock and mild herbs. With a little tweaking from different herbs and spices, this base can then form up to three meals that week for us – from bolognaise sauce or lasagna, to taco mince, Shephard’s pie, burritos filler, home-made individual pies or by throwing in some beans – to a chili con carne. If you are pushed for time in the kitchen – NEVER cook for just one meal….
Stock your pantry with some staples. While fresh produce and protein are the most important elements of your diet, non-perishables can easily create a nutritious weeknight meal, when required and save some serious time. For example, having some pasta, tin tomatoes, a can of beans, and your chopped vegetable of choice is a quick, easy, healthy, and delicious meal that will take less than 30 minutes to whip up—as long as you have everything on hand.
Prep your produce. We all know that we should be eating more vegetables. The problem is, they can be time-consuming to prepare. Take some time each week to clean, chop, and prep a variety of veges, so they’re easy to add to meals throughout the busy workweek. Prepped veges can then be used breakfast, lunch or dinner – with eggs for breakfast, thrown together to make a lunchtime salad, added into a stir fry or soup, or pan fried as a side to the main event. We love to have a combination of fresh prepped and roasted vegetables in the fridge each week for variety but you might find that a little harder to achieve so stick to what is easiest for you. And definitely don’t shy away from convenience items that make it even easier to get your veggies, like prewashed lettuces, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, olives, stir fry mixes, dry coleslaw mixes – even freshly spiralised zoodles have been spotted at our supermarket. Use this convenience to your advantage!
Stick with simple protein. On a week-to-week basis you don’t need to be turning out 5 star culinary meals – what you are aiming for are nutritious and delicious meals that keep the household well-nourished, but most importantly, happy. To achieve this, we need to keep things simple. Our protein will often dictate the meal so stick with simple protein. The last thing we need to be doing on busy weeks is de-boning a fish, trimming lamb cutlets, or basting some slow cooked pork. So, keep things simple – for example: boil up some eggs to have on toast or throw in salads throughout the week, cook up the big pot of beef mince (like we do) and use in different ways throughout the week, pan fried or poached chicken breasts, or tinned tuna (sustainably pole or line caught, of course!) to stir through pasta, throw in to rice or just serve with salad and/ or veges.
Does this all sound a little overwhelming? Of course, it does. Please remember though, just take it one step at a time. Once you start to implement this foundation each week, you will find dinnertime (or that night time chaos) easier, you will have nutritious meals more often and just as importantly, you will waste LESS. Any little bit of prep that you can do, ensuring you are eating better quality meals more consistently, will go a long way to helping you stay on track. We will continue to post tips and tricks on this one, as it is really a game-changer.
As always though, don’t be hard on yourself. If you slip up, it is definitely not the time to throw in the towel and give up. If you miss one week – who cares. Prep and plan the following week. If planning for one whole week is too hard – start with the two busiest evenings/ nights you have in the week and plan for those days.
You are human and no one is perfect – and it is all about balance. So as always, just do your best.
If you want more you can download our ‘How-To Meal Prep Like a Boss’ guide here: http://soulsisterhealth.com.au/product/meal-prep-like-boss/ or our ‘ Easy Slow Cooking’ guide here: http://soulsisterhealth.com.au/product/ssh-kitchen-easy-slow-cooking/
Anna & Em xo
FB: Soul Sister Health