The benefits of meal prepping for busy lives and the importance for maintaining a healthy diet
Meal prepping has the power not only to save us time, energy and make our lives easier, but it can also help us to be healthier, by providing a clever hack to help support our willpower when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. The best bit? Meal prepping doesn’t require you to be a good cook, all you need is a little organisation…
Top tips for meal prepping
- Plan out your week and what meals you might need
- Remember, freezing is your friend!
- Make time to set up your work station
- Use cheat ingredients
- If you're a sweet tooth, remember you can can meal prep desserts too!
Why meal prep?
Let’s face it, unless we absolutely love the kitchen and have lots of spare time on our hands, at one point or another, most of us will find ourselves rushed off our feet after a busy day, looking in the fridge, wondering what on earth to cook for dinner.
Lacking the energy to create a home cooked, nutritious meal from scratch, we’ll end up either exhausted from an evening of cooking and cleaning up, or (more likely) throwing something processed and unhealthy into the oven to save time and energy. And then there’s lunch – buying supermarket meal deals each day can be expensive and often processed and unhealthy, especially if we try to keep costs down as cheap food is often fast food.
So, what’s the solution? Is there a way of eating healthier, less processed foods, without the huge amounts of time and energy required each day for home-cooking? Meal-prepping or ‘batch-cooking’ is the perfect way to find a balance between time and energy for busy people. But it also provides a very clever mind-hack for those of us wanting to make healthier meal choices and avoid temptation.
A healthy life-hack
Willpower is often described as a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened. But in fact, it’s more like a battery pack of energy. Willpower is, at its core, the ability to make the decisions which support the goal we set ourselves.
So, in this case, if we set ourselves the goal of eating healthily, our willpower comes down to making positive decisions around the food we choose to eat. Coming back to our willpower battery pack or energy reserve, each day we start with a full pack of willpower or decision-making energy. All the decisions we make throughout the day, from big to small, from important work decisions, to what to wear in the morning, all must be drawn from this energy reserve or battery pack. Each time we make a decision, we use up some of the energy. But this energy reserve isn’t a limitless pool. We all have a threshold, and once we begin to approach this threshold and our energy runs low, or runs out, we start to make poorer decisions.
In a fascinating study looking at court parole hearing decisions made by judges, it was found that decisions were not affected by the crime, background or sentences, but by the time of day the case was heard by the judge. The report found: “Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time. As the judge’s decision-making energy reserve ran out, they found it more difficult to make parole decisions, resulting in less paroles being granted later in the day.
What does this mean for our health and willpower?
Well, if you leave the decision for what you want to eat for dinner until dinner time, aka the end of the day, you’ll find it more difficult to make an informed decision which supports your health goals, and you’ll be more likely to choose something easier and often unhealthier for dinner.
Likewise, during the day, if you have a busy job and/or are making lots of decisions for your family, you could deplete your willpower energy reserve by the time lunch comes around, and find yourself reaching for fast easy food options.
The solution? Meal prepping allows us to make our healthy meal decisions while our willpower and decision-making energy reserve are high, eliminating the need to choose the healthy option later in the day when our reserves are low, as the decision has already been made for us!
How to get started
So, now we know the benefits, how do we start meal-prepping? Enter Suzanne Mulholland, aka, The Batch Lady, author of book The Batch Lady: Shop Once, Cook Once, Eat Well All Week. A self-proclaimed non-cook, her transformation to The Batch Lady was born out of necessity. Being a busy mum she put her organisational skills and degree in business and time management to work and came up with a streamlined system of meal prepping in which she can make 10 meals in one hour. “Liberated from the kitchen, friends soon began to notice how carefree and organised I was at mealtimes, so I started sharing some of my food hack with them”.
She has a tip for us off the bat; “batching is not about perfectionism, it’s about headspace”, she says. Though meal prepping might seem like something only super-organised perfectionists conquer, don’t let that put you off, or assume that you aren’t that kind of person, or able to pull it off. Meal prepping is about giving ourselves a break through eliminating the daily chores so that we have more time to do the things we love.
Suzanne suggests starting by batching two meals together at once, before moving on to doubling up and making four meals at a time. She also suggests pairing batch dishes with meals which ‘lend themselves to being prepared together.” Her book provides recipes which are paired together with methods on how to save time by jumping between the two, for example, she’d paired ‘Veggie Bolognaise’ with ‘Chilli Bean Burgers’, taking 10 minutes and 5 minutes to prep respectively – a total of 15 minutes prep to two meals in one go!
Top tips for meal prepping
Make a plan
On top of her clever recipe pairing, Suzanne has some incredible tips for batch cooking. The first of course has to be getting organised with a meal plan. She plans 5 days rather than seven, as there are inevitable ‘hiccups’ in every week – last minute changes in routines or a work meeting over lunch. She also suggests using your diary as a guide, “When starting to write my meal plan, I look at my diary for the week and work the plan around that.”
Freezing is your friend!
Once you have your meal plan, you’ll know what to take out the evening before to defrost for dinner the next night, plus it can help to have some ‘cook from frozen’ meals in your back pocket for a willpower emergency, for example a broccoli and cauliflower cheese bake, which can be popped in the oven from frozen for 1 hour at 180 degrees C. Just remember to label each meal clearly with name, date and even cooking instructions. Always allow food to cool to room temperature before freezing. Meals will also last 3-4 days in the fridge, and 24 hours in the fridge after defrosting, says Suzanne.
Set up your workspace
To speed up the process, have all your ingredients and cooking utensils laid out to use before starting your batch, saving time moving around the kitchen and allowing you to concentrate on switching between your paired meals.
Use cheat ingredients
You can also use cheat ingredients to save time. Frozen veg is one of Suzanne’s favourite cheats; including frozen onions, garlic, sliced peppers and spinach, and even frozen herbs. Ready-rolled pastry, pizza dough and even mash is also a huge time-saver when it comes to making a few meals for the week ahead in just an hour! Remember, meal-prepping isn’t about perfection!
Batch cook desserts if you're a sweet tooth!
You can even batch cook desserts, to save splurging on sweet treats after dinner – again, if that willpower decision has already been made, and a healthier dessert awaits you in the freezer, you’re better equipped to make that healthy decision!
Busy lives need creative solutions, and meal prepping could be the next helping hand! Why not give it a go.