Meal prep for beginners: how to cook ahead for busy days

Posted by for Nutrition

You know the drill: you rush home from the gym to a bowl of cereal, spend all day at your computer eating scraps of leftovers from the fridge and before you know it it’s 8 PM and you’re too tired to cook a proper dinner. 

We’ve all been there. When life gets busy, nutrition often falls off our priority list. But to keep your brain and body thriving, making sure that you’re getting enough essential nutrients and regular energy-boosts throughout the day is crucial. That’s where meal prepping can come in handy. 

It’s understandable if you’re thinking that meal prep just sounds like another thing to add to your to-do list. The irony of it is that it’s designed to benefit busy people, but busy people never seem to have the time or desire to do it. Instead, it’s seen as the reserve for organised or dedicated people who don’t mind eating five-day-old steamed broccoli out of Tupperware.

“All meal prepping means is that you get your food ready upfront, rather than scrabbling around for whatever happens to be in the fridge when you get home from a busy day,” says Emma Crick, UN1T head coach and sports nutritionist. “It’s certainly not just about dry chicken breasts and rice packed into a Tupperware box!”

Like with everything, prepping ahead has some big benefits when it comes to supporting your training and your busy lifestyle. 

The benefits of meal prep

“The best thing about meal prep is that you never need to go hungry if you come in late or something unexpected crops up that means you don’t have time to cook,” says Emma. “It’s also easier to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need across your week.” 

Then there’s the money-saving element: how many times have you ended up paying £10 for a salad of leaves and lentils when you could have made a week’s worth of dinners for that price? 

Of course, there are some drawbacks to it, including allocating a little bit of time for shopping and cooking, but if you stick to your shopping list it’ll actually save you time and money in the long run. Make sure you’ve got storage room too, says Emma, as “you will also end up with an extensive Tupperware collection (and inevitably lose half the lids).” 

Meal prep ideas
If only our meal prep looked this pretty…

How to meal prep

Meal prep can be smart and delicious if you make it work for you. Firstly, you need to think about the effort to pay off ratio. No one is expecting you to prep a complicated risotto or stand over the stove waiting for a stock to come together. Instead, meal prep should be about streamlining your dishes so you can have easily accessible food that you enjoy eating.

It can be as simple as double or tripling up the recipe you already had at hand. Making a chilli, a soup or even a stir fry? Always make more than you need.

Alternatively, you can spend five minutes chopping some vegetables for the week and popping them in the oven while you get on with the rest of your day. Then, when you come to throw a wrap together at lunchtime, you’ll have some pre-prepared veggies to stuff it with, upping the nutrient level and reducing the time of the dish.

“Grilling, oven-cooking or barbecuing meats is ideal because you can cook loads with very minimal effort. And prepping plenty of starchy carbs such as rice and pasta is also super easy to do, and will ensure you keep your energy topped up across your week,” says Emma. “Steer clear of prepping leafy salads too far ahead as they do tend to go a little soggy; these are best done a day or two before, rather than for a whole week for example. Also, keep any salad dressings separate and add at the last minute to keep your salad leaves nice and crispy.” 

Need some inspiration? Check out some meal prep friendly recipes below that could keep you going all week. 

  • Apple cinnamon granola bars

    vegan-granola-bar-recipe-apple-cinnamon-snack

    Try these for a grab-and-go breakfast that you can bake ahead. 

  • One pan romesco soup

    romesco soup recipe

    Looking for an easy, veg-packed lunch that takes seconds to reheat? This recipe, by Alice Zaslavsky shared in Stylist, is perfect. 

  • High-protein chilli

    recipe-vegetarian-chilli-anita-bean-food-nutritition-meal

    This recipe takes just 20 minutes to make and can be paired with pre-cooked rice, made into tacos or eaten with a spoon and a hunk of bread. 

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Images: Unsplash

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