Food prep makes sticking to a healthy diet easy. Read why…
Yesterday I spent 2.5 hours with my Stockport personal training client, Mark to help him with food prep.
Mark’s situation is the same as many people – he’s a very busy guy. Stressful job, family, hobbies etc. He wants to eat well but it isn’t always easy to prepare food when your working hours can be changed at the drop of a hat. The purpose of the session was to provide Mark with a healthy food head start.
It was treated like a personal training session in so much that it was an appointment in the diary that was being stuck to. At the end of the food prep session Mark would have a weeks’ worth of healthy food cooked and stored ready to be eaten whenever he liked.
We’d prepared by working out exactly how many portions of each meal we’d have to cook and came up with a food prep menu. We drew up a list of ingredients and Mark bought them ahead of the session.
Here’s a snapshot of some of them…
Our aim for this session was really simple – to prepare much of his weekly food requirement in a 2.5 hour window. The meals had to be healthy, easy to defrost/reheat, easy to store and cover the three main meals of the day.
Mark has a well-equipped kitchen, which made the job much easier! He has Global knives, which a total pleasure to chop with. He has enough Tupperware to open a shop and I took my Philips Food Processor to make smoothies he could use for breakfast. Between us, we had the equipment side of things covered!
We decided to make dishes that would cover breakfast, lunch and evening meals. The focus was on cooking the protein element of the dish because that is typically what takes the longest to cook. We’d also cook meals that are easy to store and re-heat. For the breakfasts we decided to go for convenience and speed, given mornings can often be rushed.
Food Prep: Breakfasts
Breakfast would be two options – a diary free, fruit porridge and a variety of apple and berry based smoothies. Both options are convenient and healthy (the oats stay in the fridge and the smoothies are frozen, taken out to defrost 24 hours before use). As a cyclist and gym-goer, Mark had plenty of wide-necked drinks bottles that are idea for smoothies. You certainly don’t want to be drinking them through a drinks bottle straw – the seeds and fibrous skins can get stuck and block the top!
Food Prep: Lunches
For lunch we went with a couple of options – soups and salads. Salads take no time to throw together so there is no need to prep those. Soups were bought – of course you can make them, but this is about convenience. Pick large, healthy soups such as the ones in this article.
Sticking with the cooking the protein element of the food prep, we cooked seasoned Cajun chicken and also fried strips of Halloumi cheese. The idea is Mark could add either of these to a salad. Failing that he has soup options. Either way, lunch could be ready in the minutes it takes to heat soup or put together a salad, which is no time at all!
Food Prep: Evening Meals
This was the big one. Mark often is out late or is tied up working, so evening meals often suffer. Hopefully we’ve remedied this by preparing chilli, bolognese, chicken and chorizo in a pesto sauce, half a dozen burgers and a couple of portions of shredded chicken. All he’ll need to do is add his side dishes and a meal is ready.
Speaking of side dishes, we made a 2-3 serving side portion of mashed potato – we did this because it’s a slow(ish) side to cook in comparison to rice, plus it stores better than rice. It also means he has at least one side ready to go whenever he needs it.
At the end of this food prep session we managed to prepare….
- 4 Fruit smoothies
- 5 Portions of fruit porridge
- 3 Portions of Halloumi cheese
- 6 Portions of Chilli
- 6 Portions of Bolognese
- 6 Burgers
- 4 Portions of Cajun Chicken
- 2 Portions of shredded chicken
Not bad for 2.5 hours work!
It’s safe to say there’s enough for Mark and his daughter to get started on for at least a week, possibly more depending on portion sizes. Everything we prepared is acceptable in a healthy diet; the food quality is good, the calories per portion are acceptable and there are plenty of fruit and vegetable portions in each of the meals.
Add to this the benefit of convenience because most of the work is already done and you have the ideal circumstances for a healthy, well-balanced diet to be followed easily.
Why food prep?
Despite the reasons listed already in the article, some people will wonder if it’s worth the time and effort to food prep in one big session, rather than at meal times.
There’s nothing wrong with cooking individual meals, assuming that you have time to cook. If time is precious it can jeopardise you following a healthy diet so isn’t quite as fail safe as a food prep approach.
Still, here are a few of the benefits of food prep in case you need further convincing…
- Food prep saves time during the week – in one session you can batch cook lots of meals, meaning there’s less cooking at meal times.
- Food prep makes eating healthily easier and more convenient as the work is already done, meaning even if you are home late it’s still quick and easy.
- By drawing up a shopping list and menu, you can ensure you buy all of the ingredients so you are prepared, meaning you won’t ever not cook a healthy dish simply because you don’t have the ingredients.
- By preparing a menu, you’ll save money by only buying those ingredients.
- With food prep you don’t need to be ‘inspired’ or inventive at meal times – your options are limited by what is already cooked!
Tips to make the most of your food prep session
- Be very clear on what you are going to cook. From there you can get your timing right – not all meals take the same amount of time to cook.
- When you have your menu, write down the ingredients and buy them specifically. Check and double check you have them – you don’t want to waste time going back and forth to the shops.
- Cook meals that store well. You want to prep food for at least a few days, otherwise it’s not really worth it.
- Go for the easy-wins such as smoothies, soups, salads, casseroles, stews. Dishes that are vegetable heavy, calorie light and easy to store.
- Cook the protein elements of a dish such as chicken, bacon, tuna or eggs for salads etc. They usually take longer to cook.
- Freeze things where possible – this will ensure they keep for longer.
- Make sure you have plenty of receptacles to store the food in. Oh, and the same goes for fridge and freezer space! You don’t want to waste food.
The whole point of food prep is to make life easier for you. The plan is to cook food you can then re-heat quickly and easily when you need to. One good food prep session can see you through a whole week if it’s done efficiently.
This is what we produced in 2.5 hours…
Even if you are skeptical, give it a try. Realistically we probably spend an hour per night cooking food. In one batch 2.5 hour session we cooked enough food for a week, which is a massive time saving especially given most of us are busy.
Do you food prep? If so share your tips in the comments or send them to me on email – I’m always on the lookout for inspiration!