Planning and preparing your meals can save you time and money, and help you reach your fitness goals faster by ensuring you always have nutritious food on hand for those mornings when you have to dash out the house in a rush or evenings when you work late and are too tired to cook.
Still need some more convincing? We've explained the benefits meal prepping and techniques to master it below...
Why meal plan?
When you’re tired and hungry, it’s easy to eat whatever is most convenient which can take you further away from your health and fitness goals. Whilst you still want to leave an element of flexibility to your meals to allow for eating intuitively, having some meals (or just elements of meals) planned and cooked in advance ensures you always have nutrient-rich options available. This might be as simple as chopping up some carrots, cucumber and pepper and keeping them in the fridge with some hummus to snack on, or you might cook up a few days’ worth of lunches and dinners so you can make sure you’re eating in line with your goals.
By taking half an hour or so at the weekend to plan your meals, you can save yourself time and hassle during the week. Always in a rush in the morning? Plan to make up a batch of overnight oats the evening before? Always end up having to grab something less than nutritious from the canteen for lunch? Plan some simple meals you can cook up at the weekend to pop into a lunchbox for the week. By planning what you’re cooking during the week, you can create a grocery list so you don’t only save time by going to the supermarket less, but also by spending less time there because you know exactly what you’re looking for!
On average, Londoners spend £6.60 on their lunch on work days – that’s over £30 a week! Make your own lunches and you’re probably looking at £1-2 per meal which could save you over £20 a week. And it’s the same with dinner too! The average take away will set you back around £10 whereas the cost of a nutrient-rich home cooked dinner like a three bean chilli with rice or a beef stir-fry usually ranges from £2-4 per portion.
On average, we waste £700 a year on food that gets thrown away – that’s 7.3 million tonnes of household food waste in the UK each year. Meal planning is a great way of ensuring you only buy what you need so no leftovers go to waste. If you usually cook up a roast dinner on Sunday and you always have leftover vegetables and chicken, simple find a good recipe for chicken and vegetable soup and you can take it to work on Monday. Or if you always find yourself with a fruit bowl full or overripe bananas at the end of the week, bake them into a banana bread or whizz them into some vegan banana pancakes [link to vegan pancake recipe on blog].
How to meal plan
So, where do you begin? When it comes to making changes in our lifestyle, it’s important to start small and keep it simple – this way, the healthy habits we create will last. Here are a few ideas to help you transition easily into meal planning – start with the idea that feels the easiest, and, once you feel like you’ve got into the habit of doing that, add in another element of meal planning. Make sure you allow for some flexibility as well – spontaneous cake dates every so often are important too!
1. Leftovers for lunch
Simply plan to cook double portions of dinner to take to work for lunch the next day. This works well with soups, stews, dahls, omelettes, stuffed baked potatoes and pasta dishes.
2. Batch cook dinners
If you hate cooking when you get in from work then plan some meals in advance and set some time aside at the weekend to batch cook meals you can freeze and reheat during the week. Easy meals to batch cook are bolognese, chilli, and pasta bake.
3. Make breakfast in advance
Most people are in a rush in the morning so one way of ensuring you eat a breakfast that will move you closer to your health and fitness goals is to make a few portions on an evening when you have a bit more time. Easy make-ahead breakfast are overnight oats, mini frittatas, muesli breakfast muffins, fruit and nut protein balls, chia pudding and baked oatmeal.
4. Pre-prepare elements of meals
If you don’t like deciding exactly what you’re going to eat too far in advance then cooking up a selection of nutrient-rich foods at the weekend and dishing up what you fancy when you fancy it works perfectly. Great options to cook in advance are roasted vegetables, baked sweet potatoes, boiled eggs, roasted chickpeas, baked salmon, boiled rice and quinoa, and you can even make your own dips like hummus and guacamole to add to your meals too.
5. Check your schedule
Get in the habit of giving yourself half an hour or so on a Sunday evening to look at your diary and plan your meals for the week. You might find it works best to plan meals based on a key ingredient (e.g. fish-based meal, lentil based meal, pasta-based meal…) or you may want to be more specific with all ingredients and amounts planned in advance. Make note of any days when you’ll be really busy and plan to cook extra the day before. Notice if there are certain days or times of the day when you end up snacking on foods that aren’t so nutritious and plan snacks to prepare to take with you in advance.