When life gets busy, our willpower can deteriorate, and the thought of spending time in the kitchen meal prepping can be overwhelming. The reality is that with a little foresight and training, meal prep can be simplified, streamlined and done in a way that saves you time and money. Good meal prep should support energy levels, mental and physical performance, weight management and reduce the likelihood of you making unhealthy choices.
This is where the lazy man method comes in, requiring only some basic maths and a bit of planning. Like any learning experience with greater frequency comes greater skill, so persevere through your clunky initial attempts and turn meal prep into a habit.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Good storage is paramount.
Pack and store your meals in good quality containers that are BPA-free, freezable, reheatable and reusable. I find that glass containers work best for me and means that meals generally keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Any more than 4 days and bacteria begins to build that can make you sick. Diarrhea comes at a big time cost and set’s back hard earned gains (trust me, I’ve been there). Also, size matters. 700-900ml varieties work well.
2. Consider the number of meals you need to prep.
The number of meals you need to prep on cooking days depends on your lifestyle and energy requirements. Consider the following: How many meals do I require throughout the day? How many of those do I need easy access to? Do I plan to be eating out over the next few days?
The method that worked for me when I was doing shift work was creating 6 meals on a Sunday and a Wednesday. 6 meals would provide me with 3 days of meal prep. The 7th day was my flexible day when I would eat any leftover meals, eat out socially or stretch my culinary skills with different recipes.
My average day looked like this:
Breakfast: 1 cup of ‘Real Cereal’ (a simple, wholesome mix of oats, seeds and nuts ) with a scoop of protein powder.
Snack: Nuts, seeds, fruit and/or protein bar/balls.
Meal Prep: As below.
Snack: Protein smoothie (usually a pre-workout meal consisting of a range of blended nutritious ingredients, e.g. flaxseeds, chia seeds, spinach, cinnamon, turmeric to name a few)
Meal Prep: As below.
Snack: Protein yogurt with berries and peanut butter.
3. Schedule it.
Initially allocate 1.5-2 hours twice a week for meal prep (as I mentioned in number 2, Sundays and Wednesdays worked best for me). Treat it like you would an appointment, block out the time in your diary so that you stick to it (and think about the time it will save you on other days!). Akin to training, competence increases with repetitions, so the more consistent you are with meal prep the quicker it will get. It currently takes me less than an hour to prep 12 meals and clean up.
4.Keep it simple.
You don’t need to be Jamie Oliver to create a tasty recipe.
Here’s a meal prep hack chart:
Using the table above select one option from each category: protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vegetables (feel free to mix and match flavours). Once you have selected your ingredients, choose a preparation style and cook accordingly.
Note: Some combinations may not appeal to your palate. Do not limit yourself to only the table, a colourful variety in your diet is important. There is cross over with some ingredients i.e. salmon being a protein and a fat.
Tip: This is a good opportunity to create your shopping list.
5. Make a shopping list based on the meals you've planned.
Go shopping once a week and bring a specific list. Configure your list into supermarket sections, i.e. fresh produce, meat, frozen, fridge, grains, canned items etc. This will reduce mindless aisle wandering and fast track your visits.
6. Money and time savers.
Stock up on pre-chopped frozen vegetables, microwaveable rice and veggies (both frozen and canned varieties) to save time and money. The hard work has already been done, just microwave, boil or empty the contents in and it’s ready. Not only is it convenient but these options are often cheaper than the ‘fresh’ varieties, i.e. frozen blueberries $4 for 500g as opposed to $3.50 for 125g.
7.Flavour is everything.
Want to use the same ingredients but keep meals interesting? Flavour is where it’s at. Mix and match, play with different spices and use other people’s recipes as inspiration.
Tip: International grocers are a great place for a variety of herbs and spices. They often come in large quantities for cheap and have a long shelf life so don’t hold back.
The lazy man’s approach to meal prep has proven to be an effective method for instantiating diet consistency in myself and many of my clients. When planning and preparing your own meals, you have total control over what and how much you put into them. In this way I’ve found it’s a “teach a man to fish” approach to creating positive eating habits. Give it a go and free up some time to do the more important things in life, like, you know, being lazy.