Like most of us, you’ve probably had one of those days where you get home late and have forgotten to do the groceries. This has probably resulted in you making a late-night dash to the supermarket, or just grabbing something quick and greasy.
That’s why when it comes to looking after your nutrition, one of the most important things you can do is always be prepared with healthy ingredients at home.
While advertising of fast and processed foods may have you believe that meal preparation is a big, tedious task, it doesn’t need to be that way. Simple can be good. Really good.
Here are our top hacks for getting on top of healthy meal preparation:
1. Learn the four building blocks of a healthy meal
If you’re unsure what to prepare, use the following four elements in every meal and you cannot go wrong:
- Low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates including whole grain bread, wholemeal pasta, quinoa and sweet potato
- Lean proteins like meat, chicken, fish, eggs, reduced-fat dairy and legumes like lentils, chickpeas and beans
- Healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, or salmon
- Colour from fruit and vegetables. The more colour, the better. Eat the rainbow!
Use these as a guide when you’re planning your week’s meals ahead of time.
2. Ensure you always have these pantry staples
A well-stocked pantry means you always have adequate stores of extra virgin olive oil to cook with, canned legumes to add to salads or curries, canned tomatoes for your pasta dishes, reduced-salt baked beans to add to your egg-based breaky, brown/basmati rice or wholemeal pasta to soak up your saucy dishes and canned fish to add to your salad or munch on top of grainy crackers.
Add a diverse spice rack to add flavour to your dishes, and finally a mixture of unsalted nuts/seeds to sprinkle on your cereal, or to snack on with some fruit.
3. Keep your fridge stocked with these essentials
Just like the pantry, try to maintain a constant supply of useful, healthy ingredients in the fridge. These include reduced-fat dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese) to have as snacks or as additions to main meals and hommus to replace butter on your sandwiches or to combine with veggie sticks for a snack.
Stock up on lean proteins like meat and chicken, and last but definitely not least, always make sure you have a supply of eggs, as they are one of the most nutritious and versatile foods we have. Cook them as an omelette for breakfast, have them on a sandwich for lunch, include them in your frittata at dinner, or even just boil some for a snack.
- Don’t forget the freezer
It is also worthwhile having a well-stocked freezer.
There is nothing wrong with frozen fruit and vegetables, and in fact the produce has often been frozen straight after being picked, maintaining their nutrients. Keeping these in the freezer are a great back-up for those times you might be low on fresh produce, or to pop in smoothies and baked goods.
Make sure you have a loaf of bread. Freezing bread maintains its freshness, so you never need to worry about mould.
- Make and buy in bulk
If you find yourself time-poor, then trying cooking extra portions of your meals. You can either eat them the day after or freeze them for later.
Buy your groceries in bulk, particularly pantry essentials, to save yourself time and money.
7. Write a shopping list
Avoid walking into the supermarket thinking that you will be able to remember everything you need, because realistically, you probably won’t.
To make a great shopping list, check that you have all your pantry/fridge/freezer essentials in stock. If not, add them to the list.
Then plan your meals for the week and add the ingredients to your shopping list.
8. Share the load
Living with housemates or family? Or do you have colleagues at work who also struggle with meal preparation? Why not make it easier for all of you by sharing the cooking?
For example, you and a friend could take turns cooking on different nights. Or try getting your older children involved in cooking.
9. Use technology to save time
Technology is there to make your life easier, so why not use it?
For example, if you love eggs for breakfast but feel as though you don’t have time to make them during the week, try cooking them in the microwave – check out our blog post here to learn how.
Or make a quick, nutritious smoothie- try adding 1x banana, 1/3 cup of rolled oats, 1x heaped teaspoon of natural peanut butter and reduced-fat milk. Simply throw all the ingredients in a blender and blast until smooth.
So as you can see, meal preparation does not add to your already busy schedule, it saves you time.
If you feel as though this is a completely new territory for you, then start simple, working through these tips on by one. Meal preparation is a skill that takes practice so be patient, persevere and soon you will reap the benefits!