Save Time and Money This Week With These Dietitian-Approved Meal Prep Hacks
Does the thought of planning and preparing meals for the week ahead make you want to whip out the Uber Eats app and forget the grocery store altogether? To arm us all with the tools we need to create fresh, healthy and above all else, easy meals that are full of essential nutrients, we sat down with dietitian Lyndi Cohen to pick her brain and provide us with simple tools that we can use this week to stock our fridge with tasty food that will fuel our bodies and minds.
How to meal prep
Meal planning is something that we see all over Instagram, with countless containers filled with chicken breast and broccoli for dedicated individuals to consume throughout the week. We asked Lyndi what the best way for us to plan out our own meals to avoid feeling overwhelmed was, and she replied that "I don't think it's a good idea to write about a meal plan that includes all meals and snacks for the entire week. If you create a meal plan, it can make you feel regimented and prevent you from having flexibility". Instead of taking a bulk-buy approach each week, Lyndi suggests that we "pick a few healthy meals to make during the week and create a shopping list with the ingredients you need to grab to help make grocery shopping quicker and healthier". Her favourite meal prep hack is doubling your serving sizes so that you'll always have delicious and healthy meals in the fridge for those days when you're too tired to busy to cook. As part of Lyndi's Back to Basics program, she loves to use Sundays to collect all her ingredients and prepare for the week ahead.
How to create balanced meals
This part of the meal prep process has left a lot of people stumped in the past, myself included. Once you're in the aisles of your local grocer it can be hard to think about what ingredients work well together and make sure you're including all the necessary nutrients you need as well. While Lyndi tells us that "there's no one perfect way to eat", she mentions that she prefers to "get nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements".
Lyndi's tip for hitting your fruit and veg goals each day is to "practice crowding". She suggests that we all try to "crowd in more vegetables (5+ a day), fruit (1-2 a day) plus legumes, seeds, nuts and wholegrains". While there's no right or wrong way to create balanced meals, Lyndi mentions that "research suggests that eating 30+ different types of plant-based foods per week can really help with your gut health". The next time you're at the grocery store, try to switch up the type of fruit vegetables you buy as well as exploring different seeds, beans etc. as well.
Now that you've got the ingredients, it's time to construct a meal that will keep you feeling full and provide your body with the energy it needs for the day. Lyndi's formula for creating balanced meals is "start with a serve of slow-burning, wholegrain carbs that's about the size of your clench fist" Lyndi lists brown rice, quinoa, oats or a grainy slice of bread as some of her personal favourites. From there, "add in a lean source of protein that's about the size of your palm". This could be tuna, a couple of eggs, some ricotta or cottage cheese, tofu or lean meat. The third step is to "add a source of healthy fats such as avocado or extra virgin olive oil". Lyndi says that "the healthy fat will help you absorb nutrients A, D, E and K in your food so fat is really important and shouldn't be feared". The final step of the process is to fill your plate with 2-3 servings of vegetables. "The more colour the better!" she explains.
What to keep in the pantry
On those days where you don't have the time or the energy to drive to the supermarket and then prepare and cook a meal, your pantry staples come in very handy. In Lyndi's pantry, "tins of legumes and tomatoes are pantry essentials in my household". She mentions that she tried to eat beans and legumes around three times per week and tell us that her go-to pantry meal is a comforting five-ingredient shakshuka that's "perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner". To make it for yourself, Lyndi has provided a simple recipe to follow.
"Add a tin of tomatoes and chickpeas (drained) to a frying pan on medium. Add Mexican or Moroccan spice mix. Once hot, make wells and crack in a couple of eggs. Pop on the lid until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve with avocado. This meal is beautifully balanced, warming and so quick and easy".
What times to eat
Lyndi's best advice for planning when to eat is "to eat when you're hungry instead of mapping out when you think you 'should' be eating". You'll know yourself whether you feel hungry in the mornings or whether you generally hold off until mid-morning to eat your first meal. Lyndi adds that "the best strategy is to listen to your body and find what works for you." That being said, Lyndi states that our bodies need fuel during the day rather than at night "so waiting until dinner time to eat your first meal isn't a good idea."
Lyndi's program Keep it Real helps people stop binge and emotional eating, and her flagship program Back to Basics helps make healthy eating easier with recipes, tips, workouts and mindset advice to help you be more organised and stay on track.