Picture this. You’re at a regatta, you’ve forgotten your wallet at home and you’re going to compete but you’ve not got any food to prepare your body with. What are you going to do?! I was in this exact situation once. I could picture my wallet at home on my side table. Luckily people brought extra food with them to share with everyone else, but it was still a dire situation. It was the last day that I came unprepared to a regatta. That was the day that I decided that meal prep was the way forward.
Meal prep is really easy. All you need is a spare afternoon, lots of food, and some motivation. Most of the time you’ll find that it’s actually easier to meal prep for the whole week rather than just to prep the night before. If you like some variation in the meals that you eat, then maybe prepare some food that you find easy to make and just make 5 different meals. It’s not going to be easy to not eat all the food that you prepare in one sitting, but just trust me, you’ll thank yourself for preparing in advance.
The Process of Meal Prep
Whilst I’m not going to be telling you exactly what to prepare for your meal prep, I will be going through the processes that you’ll need to go through to prepare for meal prep and how you go about cooking and storing so that you can eat it the next day.
The first thing you’re going to need is some good quality fridge and freezer safe air-tight Tupperware. You can get these from anywhere but you’re going to want to make sure that they’re reusable (Think about the environment!). It’s going to require a fair bit of thinking ahead. Pick up a recipe book and plan the meals that you’re going to make. If you’re a creature of habit, then you can pick 1 recipe and just multiply the quantities you’re going to need. If you like variation in your meals, then pick how many meals you’re going to require and then work out what you’re going to need to make them.
Something very important to remember is to prepare your shopping list in advance. You can spend a lot of time in the supermarket just wasting time and looking at hundreds of different items, but if it’s your local shop that you go into all the time, you’ll know the layout well and can just zip through the aisles without having to worry about time being an issue. It’s highly recommended that you do this as it’ll save you loads of time!
Cooking your food
Now that you’ve got all of your Tupperware and food it’s time to prepare the food. Meal prep is all about simplicity, so make sure that you’ve got something that you can just shove in an oven or microwave. If it’s something that you’ve got to eat cold, you’ve got to make sure that it’s something that can be safely eaten cold. Pretty much anything you cook can only be reheated once before you start to build up harmful bacteria. This is caused by cooking your food and letting it cool to room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Once you do this, sometimes harmful bacteria can build up and cause you to become ill. That’s why it’s so important to reheat your food thoroughly or keep an ice pack with you if you’re travelling with it.
Storing your meal prep food
If it’s something that you’re cooking and keeping in the fridge, usually it’s safe to store for 3-4 days. As you come to the last couple of days it’s important to make sure that they’re reheated properly. Usually, an internal temperature of 75°C (165°F) should be sufficient (but who carries around a food thermometer with them). If in doubt, just make sure that the food is piping hot inside.
Let’s say you want to eat the food cold just out of convenience. How often can you find a microwave at a regatta? Make sure that you’re only preparing the food a couple of days in advance. It should be perfectly safe but make sure that it’s not at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If you’re going to be freezing your meals then these will probably last 3-6 months in the freezer, any longer than that and you’re at risk of getting freezer burn on your food and that just makes it taste horrible. If you’re thawing your frozen meals, do it on the counter or in the fridge but eat it within 24 hours. You can also thaw your frozen food in cold water but make sure you change the water every 30 minutes.
When you cook your food, it’s important that you cool it down as quickly as possible. Once it’s cooked, leave it in shallow Tupperware in your fridge within at least 2 hours of cooking. This will minimise bacteria build up and make it last longer and taste better.
Preparing your food
If you need to do any marinating then make sure that it’s done in advance, but make sure you calculate this into your meal prep time. Something that you could do if you need a short amount of time to marinate your food is to buy it the day before and then while you’re marinating it you can go to the shops and grab the other things you need for the meals. It’s a simple way of managing your time to maximise the amount of time you spend on meal prep. Something else to take into account is the time needed to prepare your vegetables. This will obviously take up a lot of time when you’re trying to make this process as fast as possible.
Why not make it easy for yourself? How about buying pre-cut garlic or frozen herbs. These can really help when it comes to making large batches of food. I was walking around the supermarket recently when I came across frozen herbs, I was surprised to see them. The ease of using fresh herbs with the convenience of not having to worry about them going off. So helpful!
Overall, the biggest takeaway from all of this is that you should enjoy this process. Not only is it a lot cheaper to prepare in bulk rather than buy individual meals one at a time but you can also get healthier foods into your diet by preparing your food this way. I have always found that it’s the easiest way to go about your life. If you’re preparing quick dinners all you need to do is reheat the food and you’ve got a wonderfully healthy, fresh meal ready for you in a very short space of time.