“How do I start?” is a common question people ask when considering improving their diet and making healthier choices.
Whether for a specific period of time or on an ongoing basis, the best way to start is to prepare your environment (pantry, fridge and freezer) and plan what you’re going to be eating then batch cook into individual portions – also known as meal prepping.
You can prep for up to a week (and longer if your meals go straight into the freezer for later), depending on how much space you have, how many people you’re prepping for, what kind of food you’re making (eg. vegetable dishes will last better and longer than meat-based ones) and your schedule.
Meals prepping has lots of benefits:
- Time: You only need to do one large shop every now and then (instead of every time you need to make dinner), and prepping multiple meals at once meals you’re in the kitchen less
- Money: No food waste (ie. fresh vegetables going off because you didn’t get around to using them) and no buying expensive takeaway or snack foods
- Stress: You always know you’ll have a healthy meal and won’t feel tempted to buy something that’s not.
HOW TO MEAL PREP STEP-BY-STEP
1. Clean out your kitchen
Go through your pantry, fridge and freezer and bin the opened or out-of-date items, donate any canned goods to charity, or even give leftovers to friends. Just get rid of all the junk. If there’s anything your family will eat that you’d prefer not to, move it to another shelf where you can’t see it. (Or just try to get rid of it without them noticing!) And a word of warning: do NOT keep that unopened packet of chocolate biscuits – you will eat them in a moment of weakness.
2. Make a meal plan
Plan out your schedule for the upcoming week or however long you want to prep for, say four or five days. Include all commitments such as work, study, social engagements and exercise. (You can pick up weekly planners from most newsagents or stores like Kiki K, find a template online, or just make one yourself – it doesn’t have to be fancy.) *Update: Get your free weekly meal planner here!*
Then plan your meals, considering:
- Your budget: Hearty stews in the slow cooker are budget-friendly; fresh salmon fillets not so much
- When you can cook: When you have extra time (eg. two or three hours on a Sunday) that you can prep lots at once
- When you can’t cook: So which nights you’ll need to make extra to have leftovers dinner the next day
- Volume: How many people you need to cook for, and how much they’ll each eat at one time
- Existing food: What you already have in the pantry/fridge/freezer that you can use, and what you’ll need to buy.
3. Make a list
Once you’ve chosen your recipes, make a list. It’s easy if you divide everything into sections of where you need to go to get it: e.g. supermarket, farmers’ market, butcher, health store. Make it comprehensive and only stick to items on the list (no extra potato chips if you’re hungry!).
4. Go shopping
Aim to do all of your fruit and vegetable shopping at the closest farmers’ markets so it will be the most local, fresh and cheap produce. (To be extra environmentally friendly, use reusable bags.)
Bulk whole foods stores are the best place to get pantry items – think coconut flakes for $3/kg (instead of $30/kg packaged from health food stores), nuts at half the price of chain supermarkets, hard-to-get spices and a wide range of local and organic products.
After you’re done shopping, wash and store everything properly. My post How to Wash and Store Your Fresh Produce has good tips.
Set aside a few hours and cook. On a Sunday after a visit to the markets is good, when you can make your dinner that night plus prep for the upcoming week’s breakfasts and lunches. Also, cook in large batches – make double and freeze the extra in individual portions. (Write the date on the container lid in a whiteboard pen so you know how fresh it is.) (Note: Think about food storage. Do you have enough containers to store your meals? Do you have the right ones – the correct sizes, the ones with the little dividers in the middle, plastic ziplock bags, or a lunch box or cooler bag if you don’t have fridge access during the day? If not, it’s worth investing in good quality food storage, like Tupperware or better yet glass containers like the Pyrex ones.)
I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any good tips yourself.