It may come as a surprise to hear that when it comes to eating well, it is not about knowledge or expensive supplements and special ingredients, rather good nutrition ultimately comes down to planning, especially when you are really busy. Planning ahead means that you are less likely to be caught out, hungry and without the healthy foods on hand you need to keep your diet on track. Even better, planning does not have to mean hours spent in the kitchen each weekend prepping food. Rather it can be extremely simple, especially with a few key steps.
1) Commit the time
When it comes to meal planning, most of us know how to do it, but rarely commit the hour or two meal planning needs each week to be successful. The key is committing to a time when you know you will do it – for some of us this may be Sunday but if you are busy and often out on a Sunday you may find that Monday nights is a better time to cook, shop and prepare for the week ahead.
2) Get your containers sorted
It is time to take on your kitchen cupboards and find all the lids to your Tupperware containers, or invest in a few key pieces at the supermarket that you can use week in, week out to pack your fresh food in advance. The simplest option is to invest in a container of each size, for example a larger one for salads and a few small ones to pack fruit and nuts in but if you want to go all out, buy 5 of each sized container so you can pack all 5 meals and snacks for the week ahead.
3) Cook a couple of meals
When we see images of meals prepared in advance, they generally include a hot lunch, along with a salad or vegetables then a couple of snacks. For this reason, cooking 1-2 meals that can be enjoyed as lunches such as frittatas, mini pies, chicken and brown rice or a vegetable bake is all you need to do each weekend to have the lunches ready for the week ahead. You can then pack and freeze them to be used as needed.
4) Add your vegetable or salad sides
Your preference may be cooked vegetables, cut up raw vegetables, soup or salad but whatever you prefer having them divided, chopped and packed in advance does mean that we tend to eat a whole lot more of them and also are less likely to waste the extra ingredients we do not use at the end of each week. Most vegetables will keep fresh once they are chopped and stored in a sealed container as will salad leaves. An alternative is to cook up an entire tray of roasted vegetables and then divide them into serves as these will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge or even longer if frozen and then reheated for lunch.
5) Plan your snacks
The average person will need a couple of small snacks each day and protein rich snacks such as portion controlled serves of nuts, hard boiled eggs, Greek yoghurt and roasted chickpeas , along with some fresh fruit for extra nutrients and fibre. Packing your snacks in advance helps to structure your days eating, and avoids you seeking out high calorie options when you find yourself hungry at 3pm with no nutritious options on hand. Planning your snacks also helps you with your shopping as you then know you need so many individual piece of fruit or yoghurts or snack bars to be ready for the week ahead.
Written by nutritionist, dietitian, speaker and event host Leanne Ward