Like many people, you may have chosen the beginning of the new year as an opportunity to start leading a healthier life. It starts off fairly easy but, once you get back to work, it’s easy to fall back into old habits. There are ways to avoid this slip up though, that's why we've asked Gary Lyons, Managing Director of Plastic Box Shop, to share with us some fantastic meal prep hacks to keep you on track.
Love it or hate it, when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, meal prep is your best friend. If you are someone who hates it, hopefully I can change your mind. Not only will preparing meals in advance ensure you always have something healthy to eat during those times when cooking seems like a monumental task, but it will also save you time and money in the long run.
You don't have to go overboard and meticulously prepare every meal for the upcoming week but, if you follow a few simple tips, you will always have something healthy available. That means you'll be less tempted to order something in, saving money and keeping you on track. With this in mind, here are my top five meal prep hacks that will help you on your journey to becoming a healthier version of yourself.
Before you even begin thinking about what meals you're going to prep, you'll need to make sure you have plenty of plastic containers to store your food in. What sizes you need will depend on a number of factors such as how many people you are prepping for, whether you're trying to add muscle or lose fat, what food you are prepping, and how much space you have in your fridge or freezer.
What plastic containers you go for is a matter of preference, but it can be a good idea to get hold of some with dividers. That way, you can store a complete meal within the same container, such as pasta and its accompanying sauce. To make your life even easier, decide on just one or two types of storage containers for all your needs — that way, you won't need to waste time searching to find the right lids!
So, you've got plenty of containers at the ready, now you need to fill them with delicious, healthy food. A fantastic meal preparation tip is to prepare all vegetables, meat, and starches in advance, ready to be used at a moment's notice. The great thing about preparing individual ingredients is that they can be repurposed for use in multiple different meals throughout the week.
For example, if you prep some green beans and carrots at the start of the week, you can use them to create salads, add them to another dish to create some easy sides, or simply enjoy them as a quick on-the-go snack. Likewise, cooking a full chicken at the start of the week can keep you fed for days. Cut up the breasts and use them in sandwiches/wraps or use them as a main with a selection of vegetables. Make the best of the small bits you have left and make a quick soup or broth that can easily be frozen.
A simple way to prep meals without really thinking about it is to cook double or triple the amount you normally would when making yourself something to eat. This gives you a few extra meals that you can portion into different containers and freeze — that way, you'll always have something to pull out when you need them most.
Next time you are tired after a hard day at work, you'll have a perfectly healthy meal that can be ready in minutes, saving you time and effort. Even if you are just making enough extra for lunch tomorrow, you won't be tempted to buy something expensive and unhealthy. For best results, you'll want to freeze dishes that include things such as meat and veg, pasta's and rice without cream bases, and stir-fries.
It goes without saying that the more space you have, the easier it will be for you to prepare meals in advance, without really having to think about when you're going to eat it. If you have a smaller freezer, then you will have to turn over your prepped meals on a more regular basis. If you'll be preparing meals in advance for a family of four, you'll need a large freezer with plenty of space.
The more space you have, the more you can prep, with large batches of soups, chilies, and curries, ensuring you've always got plenty of good stuff available. Making efficient use of your space is also key to getting the most out of prepping, so you might want to get plastic containers that can be easily stacked.
While it's always wise to be hygienic while cooking, it becomes more important when it comes to prepping, as you'll be doing larger batches and storing them for longer periods of time. There are four simple rules you can follow to make your meal prepping a breeze:
Rule 1: Don't leave hot food to cool down for too long on the counter, as this can lead to the development of bacteria. You want the food to be cooled and stored within 90 minutes, so have your containers at the ready and get them in the freezer. Don't forget labels with dates on them!
Rule 2: Make sure you cook meat to the correct temperature. The standard advice given by the Food Standards Agency is to cook food until it has reached 70°C and stayed at that temperature for 2 minutes. You can pick up a cooking thermometer for a few pounds, and it's worth the investment.
Rule 3: Raw food and cooked food should always be kept separate to avoid cross-contamination. Always wash your hands and surfaces between using raw meats, eggs, fish, and other foods.
Rule 4: As a general guide, leftovers can be kept in the fridge for three or four days, whereas they can last for up to three months in the freezer. Never let food sit out longer for more than 2 hours at room temperature as bacteria can multiply quickly.
Being healthy in 2019 doesn't have to be a pain, follow this guide to preparing meals in advance and you'll always have something on hand to fill you up, meaning no more lazy takeaways.