The routine of coming home (or logging out!) from work, making dinner, eating plus doing the dishes is a schlep. By the time you’re done, you are knackered and didn’t even get a chance to catch up on your favourite series. Siyabonga Mngoma, the owner of Abundance Wholesome Foods and Food For Mzansi columnist, has got some tips.
Meal prepping can sound so trendy and cliché! However, it is exactly that: preparation. It is everything we’ve been told to do or read about when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but it seems so tedious.
But let’s get real: It is almost impossible to avoid manual labour when choosing to eat healthy. We just need to accept it. For some it is a breeze, though, and they get excited about the creativity that goes into finding recipes and planning what they’ll be eating. That is what we aspire to.
Types of meal preps
Whether you have health goals, are trying to eat more nutritious meals or save time, experiment with meal prepping until you find the best method. Since we’re all individuals and not everything is suitable to everyone, seek out the type of meal prepping that works for you. Here are some options:
Meals for one – divide prepared food into single serving-containers. For example, a pot of soup can last for a few days or be frozen for months.
Ingredients prep – if you like your food served immediately after cooking, try prepping your ingredients. Make your salad dressing or marinade beforehand and chop your veggies prior in order to save time.
Freezing or batch cooking – this method calls for making multiple meals that one can portion for the following day or freeze. Foods cooked in big pots are ideal for this, like soups or cut fruits as smoothie packs. To speed up food thawing, submerge your container in cold water.
Make-ahead meals – this is an entire meal cooked and stored in the fridge or freezer and then packed in individual containers to make up a meal when needed. You can make two dishes of lasagne, bake one and freeze the other for later or make a pot of stew for freezing. Remember to let your food cool down to room temperature before placing in the fridge or freezer.
9 tips for meal prepping
Get containers: It is important to have a range of containers for storing your food. Your old plastic containers, zip-lock bags and South Africa’s favourite, Tupperware, will come in handy here. Clear plastic containers are great as they allow you to identify your dishes easily, and glass containers are the best. Storing food is a great way to reuse what you have in the kitchen, whether it’s plastic containers or glass jars. Try labelling your containers for added simplicity.
Know how to store food: Not all foods are created equal, so be sure to check how storing food types works. Starting from cleaning your containers to avoid contamination and contamination of flavours, know which foods keep well in the fridge and for how long.
For meal preps it is advisable to use most food within 5 days, refrigerate only 3 days’ meals and freeze the rest of the 2 days’ worth. Three months to a year in the freezer is the generally acceptable amount of time, depending on the type of food. Food safety is important in meal prepping, so check for specifics when it comes to storage.
Block out time to plan your meals and go shopping: Scheduling a time to shop – and preferably a recurring time – is advisable so that you build up a habit. Try making fresh, organic produce that is in season your base and get the family to help choose recipes and make a shopping list. This will make shopping quicker and easier and help you avoid buying unnecessary stuff. Be sure to check your cupboards and pantry for what you already have to avoid duplication and waste.
Start small: It may be overwhelming just to think about meal preps. Start small and with your tried-and-tested or favourite recipes, so it doesn’t feel like such a big task.
You can also start with the meal that is the most inconvenient to make to get it over and done with quickly. I started with snacks and found that having nuts, dates or veggies helped to satisfy my afternoon sugar cravings. Do not forget the snacks.
Choose one meal to start with: Get breakfast-making out of the way to allow time to prepare lunch boxes in the morning. Cut your fruit and freeze it in order to make smoothies or enjoy fresh fruit with yoghurt and granola for variety. Same with overnight oats or cooked oats. Before you know it, you will have progressed to a whole week’s meal prep. Yes, you can!
Make-ahead meals: Soups, curries or stews, frozen cooked oats or smoothie packs (cut and frozen fruit) for breakfast, or cut veggies for salad jars for lunch are some of the ways one can prepare multiple meals. The only thing you may need to do is preheat your oven and chuck in your veggies – it’s dinner without the hassle after work.
Cook a batch: Wholegrain foods are great for cooking in batches. Make enough rice for a couple of dinners or cook enough beans to freeze for the following month.
Date night: Be sure to factor in date nights and work lunches so that you don’t waste any meals.
Create themes to add some fun: From meatless Monday to homemade-pizza Friday, having themed meal plans helps to create variety and keep things exciting in the kitchen. It also takes away the time and stress of thinking about what to make each evening.
Adopting meal prepping saves money and avoids waste since you only buy what you really need, it saves you time: Giving you back more hours to do the things you really love, and it also gives you peace of mind, knowing exactly what has gone into your meals. There is no right or wrong way – try it, see what works for you and finally, do adopt one or two clichés!
Siyabonga Mngoma is the owner of Abundance Wholesome Foods, selling organic fresh produce to people looking for convenient ways to make their lives healthier.