To Prep or not to Prep, That is your choice!

Food Prepping, a world phenomenon! It has become a trend in recent years, with people like Joe Wicks (The Body Coach ) massively encouraging it.

But what is it? And what does it look like?

It might seem obvious from the title, but food preparation is essential preparing food/meals in advance to save you time later. This can be anything from pre-chopping the raw ingredients, to batch cooking meals and storing portions for a later date.

Food prep can be done yourself or you can order meal parcels online using companies such as Hello Fresh or Gousto.

I have been a huge advocate for food prepping since before it was popular, and I’ll tell you why later on. Meal planning and food preparation go hand in hand. Once you know what meals you are going to have, you can make your shopping list, and plan time to prep the ingredients.

What do I need to begin?

  • Identify weak points – what I mean by this, is times in the week you struggle with time or motivation to cook. Think about your work life balance, children and activities, other lifestyle influences that almost make it impossible to cook a meal from scratch.
  • A meal plan – this will help with what to buy so you avoid having food waste. I try and plan the 3 main meals for the day. I have a cute magnetic meal plan on my fridge to remind me what I am having and when. I do keep it fairly flexible, so if I fancy the curry on Tuesday instead of Thursday then that’s fine. I just swap meals around. You could even add in the plan the person responsible for each meal. Will your son/daughter/partner be cooking one evening? Does that person need a simpler meal to follow due to cooking ability?
  • Containers  – I use a combination of take away cartons that I’ve saved, and shop bought containers with clips and seals (I personally like the Sistema Klip range, available in most supermarkets). Various sizes for different ingredients are advisable.
  • Labels – essential for food you plan to freeze, otherwise (like me) you’ll end up with a lot of ‘freezer surprises’! You don’t just need them for food descriptions, but also dates. Even frozen food has life expiry dates so check how long you can keep something for.
  • Time – You need to set aside a reasonable amount of time to get all the preparation done. I usually set aside Sunday as my meal prep day. I do the weekly shop, do the raw food prep, maybe some batch cooking, and prepare lunches for a couple of days.

Types of Food Prep

  • Raw food prep – buy your weekly fruit and vegetables then chop them up straight away. Store them in portions in your fridge so they are easy to grab for any mealtime.
  • Recipe prep – Same as above, but store the ingredients for a specific meal together.
  • Meal prep – ideal for lunches, you can prepare salads, pastas, etc., in advance to save time.
  • Batch cooking – cook a regular meal (e.g. spaghetti Bolognese) but make more portions than that are needed. Portion the left overs into containers to chill or freeze for a later date.
  • Meal recipe boxes – using a meal ordering service, select the meals you want for the week and all the ingredients come ready chopped, and weighed. You even get the packets of herbs, spices, or condiments required for that recipe. A recipe card is provided with simple instructions.

Why should I start food prepping?

I started when I first had children. I was 24, in the Royal Air Force full-time, with a husband who was also in the RAF full-time. Juggling work and childcare was tough enough, without throwing meals and housework into the mix. I started my food prep journey when it was time to wean Josh at 4 months old. From there it snowballed and soon I was preparing all our lunches and dinners a week in advance. It took so much pressure away from us both, as young parents with full-time jobs. Then, in 2006, I became a single parent, still in the RAF, still with full-time work commitments, this time with 2 little ones in tow. Planning became life. I certainly noticed how stressful mealtimes could be if I hadn’t prepared in advance. Over the years I have tried many diets such as slimming world, and Joe Wick 90 day plans (to name a few!) which rely on planning and prepping meals, which has always been key to any success I have had in these areas.

So… What are the perks?

It saves time in the long run, especially with busy life schedules. It may not seem much, but being able to reach for the already chopped veg, or sliced mushrooms, or diced onion, can make the difference between a 15 minute meal and an hour. You can buy these items already prepared, but it will cost you more, for fewer products. Using a food delivery service can also help with time saving. I have used Hello Fresh loads as I find them very satisfying, there has always been enough left over for an additional portion (for future freezer surprises), and my daughter feels more comfortable cooking from a pre prepared ingredients list and a recipe card.

Pre-prepared food assists when making a healthy meal choice, especially when time is short. I am notorious for getting home from work late, and reaching for the take away menu (or some freezer junk food). But since I have been batch cooking, I can reach for a chilli instead, and pop some rice on the hob (or even a rice microwave pouch). Voila, 15 minutes and I have a healthy, fulfilling meal. Being a lifelong yo-yo dieter (mainly slimming world) food prep has been essential for me to stay on track. If there are healthy options ready to go I’ll have them. If I’m hankering for a snack, the thought of slicing and dicing up fruit there and then often puts me off (lazy, yes, I know! Ha-ha) and it is easier to grab a bag of crisps instead.

There is less cleaning! Weird, but think about it! If you do all your slicing, dicing, and peeling in one go, the rest of the week you’ll just be washing pots/plates as required. No extra knives, chopping boards, or surfaces to wipe down (who else seems to get grated carrot in obscure places!).

It helps to minimises the ‘mealtime pressure’. How many times have you stood in the kitchen debating what to have for dinner? Then you get so frustrated, because you’re hungry, that you just grab some toast, or cereal, or even the take away menu! Preparing food in advance means you can head straight to the fridge, grab what you need, and get cooking straight away. No stress, no drama, just good homemade food.

Helps avoid waste, both food and financial. Once you have made your plan, you only need to buy what you need for the meals. This saves food waste and needless spending, so it is a win-win.

Others in your household can prepare meals and share the cooking duties. Having the food already prepared means that other family members can easily put together meals instead of you. I have been doing this with my children, especially as both of my children love to cook and have taken GCSE Food.

Eating alone doesn’t have to be a chore. When my children go to visit their dad/friends/family, I find I don’t want to dirty 3 pans, a plate, and some cutlery just for me! But when I have something in the freezer, I can quickly whip up a homemade, simple meal within minutes. 

Is there a downside?

YES! As with any good idea, there is a negative side. But you can put measures in place to help you avoid these pitfalls.

It can be time consuming – I know, a bit of a contradiction! Initially, you will need to set a few hours aside to be able to do the preparation you need for the week. Plan your meals, do the shopping, then prepare! But, honestly, it’ll be worth it for that 1 evening you get stuck in traffic and can’t be bothered thinking about what you want for dinner at 8pm!

You can end up with a freezer full of food if you don’t use up previously cooked meals – I am still eating my way through an American freezer full of batched food. Make sure your freezer meals are part of your weekly plan. If you have a bolognese in the freezer, then you don’t need to make a fresh one again.

Some foods (i.e. fruit) need to be eaten very soon after purchase/prep – think about freezing some perishable items. Or even buy ready frozen ones; I regularly buy frozen berries for use in smoothies or overnight oats. I find you get more for your money and they obviously last longer than fresh. Some fruit/vegetables can be frozen raw, whilst others such as broccoli/potatoes needs to be par boiled first.

It is easy to fall into the trap of eating the same meal for a week! To avoid this boredom loop, plan out which batched cooked foods will be eaten. Usually a cooked meal is good for about 3 days (**check as this will depend on the ingredients used, and temperature of your fridge), so don’t plan a lasagne tonight, then again tomorrow for lunch, then again later in the week. Space them out and keep some in the freezer. Also, avoid having the same meals every week. According to a Daily Mail report, the average UK family eat the same 6 meals every week! One way to combat the food boredom is to invest in a food box delivery service (such as Hello Fresh). Choose dishes that you wouldn’t normally have on your menu at home and it you like it then you have the recipe card for future shopping trips.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas, and feel free to share some of your own with me 😊

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