Meal prep 101 — 3 steps to making it work!

Having moved country in the last year, my OCD dietary requirements were challenged by the lack of quality takeout. I had to decide, learn to cook or settle for substandard nutrition.

The only problem was, I had no idea where to begin and how to start. Asking google and friends who were meal prep gurus yielded the same answer — ”It’s easy, just start cooking!” As with anything new, everything just seemed too overwhelming. Cookbooks and websites all required me to have 50 different type of spices, 10 different type of pots, pans and various other kitchen equipment. I didn’t want to go out and buy a million things that I would never use!

Fast forward three months later, I think I’ve conquered the basics of ‘sustenance cooking’ and meal prepping. 80% of my meals are home cooked and while it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, it was not a stroll in the park either.

1: Prep your kitchen

I started out with just one pan, a wooden spatula, one chopping board, one knife and a baking tray. I also had a blender and food processor from my raw baking adventures, and while great to have, these are definitely not necessary for when you’re starting out.

I also had ziplock bags and a couple of tupperwares of varying size to keep my food in for the week. Pantry wise, I had black pepper, salt, rosemary, turmeric, garlic powder, avocado oil, coconut oil and tamari sauce (which is just gluten-free soy sauce)

2. Plan a menu

Forget variety and presentation for now. Cooking for a 10 course degustation dinner and sustenance cooking are two entirely different skill sets. With sustenance cooking, you want to be as efficient as possible while minimising food wastage. When starting out, keep things as simple as possible.

A huge challenge for me was knowing how much food to buy. As a crazy fitness person, I do have certain macros that I follow, so having that definitely helped me figure out how much food I would need each day. Vegetables don’t keep well, so I planned to cook all my carbohydrates and protein on the weekends, and vegetables every 2–3 days.

To keep things even simpler, when I first started, I came up with a menu for only a day and then multiplied it 7x for the week. An example would be:

Breakfast — 180grams of greek yoghurt, 20grams of blueberries, 1/2 cup of granola

Lunch — 150 grams of baked salmon, 200grams of steamed broccoli, 250 grams of sweet potatoes

Dinner — 150 grams of grilled chicken breast, 200 grams of steamed cauliflower, 250 grams of quinoa

When grocery shopping, I knew I needed to get 1.05kg of salmon, 1.05kg of chicken breast, 1.26litre yoghurt, 140 grams of blueberries, 1.4kg of broccoli, 1.4kg of cauliflower etc

For variety, I would switch the chicken and salmon on alternate days for lunch and dinner. Might sound really boring, but you don’t run a marathon the first week you start running!

Google recipes, find the easiest one and the only seasoning you need at the start would be pepper, salt and garlic powder. For myself, I would pop the salmon, unseasoned (you don’t need anything else if you have good salmon), in the oven for 20 mins at 220 degrees Celcius. I also found the easiest chicken breast recipe HERE. Sweet potatoes went in the oven with the salmon, for 60 mins at 220 degrees (multi tasking for the win!) Quinoa was cooked in the pan together with the vegetables (also means less dishes to wash!)

3. Set aside time

When I was first starting out, it was a mad shamble of grabbing my phone to figure out which step was next, weighing the food, making sure that the food wasn’t burned and cleaning up after myself so I didn’t slip and fall or electrocute myself.

Learning a new skill can be really stressful, so allow time to learn it. Treating meal prepping and cooking like a new skill I was acquiring made it a lot more fun and a lot less frustrating. I cleared my schedule for the month and just took my time figuring it out. There were last minute grocery runs, and I actually had to cook my proteins and carbohydrates over two batches, because my pot and oven just wasn’t big enough! With time, I got more efficient and by the end of the month, I had a system in place to minimise dish washing, learnt how to cook in batches for the week, could eyeball my food, knew how much it weighed and had started experimenting with new recipes. I incorporated steak, roasted vegetables, pulled pork, roast beef, tacos, pasta and dips in my weekly menu.

It was a really challenging month and I did feel like giving up during week 2 and 3. I was bored of eating the same food, the novelty had worn off and it was just incredibly time consuming. But by week 4, I was cruising. It’s been such a rewarding experience — knowing how to meal prep and cook for myself is definitely a very useful life skill. As someone whose life revolves around food and fitness, I feel much better knowing that I can still be healthy regardless of where life takes me. My enjoyment of dining out has also increased exponentially, and being able to control the tiniest of details about food source, type of oil used, amount of oil used and seasoning has really helped with my weightlifting training.

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