Sure, meal prep is a chore, but break it down to its most basic, and getting the right nutrients into your body is an essential part of living healthily. Whether you’re aiming to build your body, training for a sporting event, or generally living with wellness in mind, prepping what you eat is a surefire way of ensuring you get maximum results out of your diet.
Meal prep goes hand in hand with that, reducing the risk of go-to snacking, and making sure you’re fuelling your workouts and recovery as efficiently as possible. And you’ll probably save some money, too.
To help you start cooking with gas, we assembled a crack team of PTs and nutritionists to talk us through the meal-prepping recipes for success.
How Much Effort Is Prepping A Week’s Worth Of Meals?
The short answer is, once you’re used to it, prepping your meals is less effort than you think.
“Most people believe it’s a time-consuming process, but the reality is, if you batch cook food in advance, not only do you save money but actually, you save having to take time to go out and buy stuff all the time too; you actually get that time back,” says Castle-Mason.
And it needn’t cost the earth to get set up, either. As Castle-Mason points out, there is an initial and unavoidable outlay in plastic tubs. But don’t get carried away; just get five containers that are large enough to fit a suitable lunch.
Of course, if you’re planning on prepping your breakfast for the week, and dinners too, you’ll need to scale up accordingly. But, then again, you need a little joy in your life, and leftovers from last night’s dinner make for great lunches. Five should be fine.
But isn’t buying food in bulk expensive and, well, a bit boring? Surely you can’t do it when time and money are limited? Sandwith has no time for your whining:
“As someone who is living on a budget, with a very busy lifestyle, I can confirm that meal prep is completely possible and actually a lot simpler and easier that you might think,” she explains. “Personally, I love variety, and wouldn’t enjoy eating the same meal everyday, so I batch cook a variety of different foods from baked potato to a large portion of quinoa that I can keep in the fridge to make up different meals throughout the week.”
So we’ve demolished a few common misconceptions already: you can meal prep on a budget, it saves time rather than consumes it, and you don’t have to eat the same thing every day. Time to get prepping.
How To Choose Which Meals To Prep
This depends on your training or lifestyle goals. Wiener, for example follows a high-protein diet, which also requires complex, wholegrain carbs, and healthy fats. Thomas, on the other hand, focuses on natural, paleo ingredients and recommends choosing 80-90% ‘whole’ foods. Castle-Mason likes to focus on counting calories in order to control portion size. Another option is to count macros, in which you allow yourself X amount of fat, carbs, and protein per day, depending on your goals.
Ultimately, your nutrition is as individual as you are and influenced by a range of factors including your weight, activity levels, age, budget and so on. There are rules that can apply across the board, however.
“Keep it as simple as you can,” says Sandwith. “When planning a meal, include a source of protein, a carbohydrate, as many veggies as you like, and a little bit of fat (whether that’s the oil used in cooking, a handful of nuts in your porridge or avocado in your salad). Utilise your leftovers as much as possible, and try and use up all your leftovers in the fridge before going out and buying a load more ingredients.”
And, if macros or calories are your focus, remember that it’s the dry weight of foods that count. So, measure your pasta, for example, before it’s cooked and has taken on water. Apps like MyFitnessPal can help you monitor portion sizes.
Best For Everyday Eating
As long as you’re hitting your dietary requirements (a PT can help with this if you’re not sure how to work it out) there’s actually a lot of leeway when it comes to what you eat. Here, Wiener explains three of his favourite recipes that can be adapted for most training plans.
Overnight Chia Seed Pudding
This can be made with your choice of milk (almond, hazelnut, hemp, even cow) and topped with fresh berries just before eating. You can make this in five minutes before you go to bed, giving you a delicious, quick and healthy breakfast to look forward to either at home, work, or on the go.
– 2 jars of almond milk (or any milk you’d like)
– 2 tbsp of chia seeds for every half cup of milk
– Honey (or any other sweetener you’d like – you can also leave out the sweetener if you prefer to sweeten it only with toppings like fresh fruit, dried fruit or chocolate chips)
Mix the chia seeds and milk until all the seeds are covered. Then wait a few minutes for the chia pudding to settle and mix again. This will ensure it doesn’t separate in the fridge. Check to make sure there are no clumps and don’t refrigerate it until it’s clump-free.
Close the jars, place it in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to 7 days. The chia seeds will absorb all the milk and sweetener and be ready to eat then.
High in lean protein, and full of colourful vegetables, fajitas are an easy way to spice up meal prep. Opt for either a wholemeal wrap, whole grain rice, or wrap-free if you’re trying to limit your carb intake.
– 4 large chicken breasts, finely sliced
– 2 red onions, finely sliced
– 2 red peppers, sliced
For the marinade
– 1 heaped tbsp smoked paprika
– 1 tbsp ground coriander
– pinch ground cumin
– 2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
– 4 tbsp olive oil
– 1 lime, juiced
– 4-5 drops Tabasco
Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot and add the chicken and marinade to the pan. Keep everything moving over a high heat until the chicken is cooked through. Keep the mix in containers and when you’re ready, serve inside warm tortillas.
Not the most exciting lunch you’ll ever eat, but a good meal prep staple nevertheless. You can have it for lunch or dinner, but make sure you use veg that keeps for more than a few days like olives, peppers, sweetcorn and chickpeas. You can then pair this with different proteins like chicken or salmon so that you don’t get bored.
– 2 cups cold cooked quinoa
– 2 cups fresh spinach leaves chopped
– 1 cup chopped cucumber
– 1 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
– 1 large avocado pitted, peeled, and chopped
– 2 green onions sliced
For the Dressing
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1 clove minced garlic
– 2 tbsp lemon juice 1 large lemon
– 1 tbsp golden balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar
– 1 tsp pure maple syrup or honey
– Salt and black pepper to taste
Combine the quinoa, spinach, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, and green onions. Then combine the dressing ingredients and keep separately. Drizzle the dressing as you’re ready to eat each batch.
If mixing it up sounds like too much work, it’s fine to stick to something plain every day like chicken, spinach and sweet potato. They’re your tastebuds.
“My go-to meals are simple,” laughs Castle-Mason. “I am a bit of a repetitive eater; I stick to the things I enjoy. I like to lump things into categories, and then assemble what I fancy that day e.g carbohydrates such as pasta, oats, rice or potatoes, proteins like chicken, tuna, or cottage cheese. Each day I just look for what’s quick, easy, and tasty.”
Best For Muscle Building
That’s the basics of meal-prep down, now let’s get specific. Many of us hit the gym to try and build muscle, so which Tupperware-storable treats will help us achieve our goals?
Madalena recommends a lean bulking programme to avoid unnecessary fat gain. Macros depend on your size, but Madalena thinks protein from 0.8 to 1.2g per pound of body weight, fat 20-30g and the rest from carbs might work well.
Over to you in the kitchen, Wiener.
“A good meal to prep for muscle gain is tuna steak and oven baked sweet potato wedges,” Wiener explains, as he dusts down his apron. “This meal contains a good mix of protein, and complex carbs. For a week’s worth, I would recommend cooing 3-4 tuna steaks.”
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
– 4 tuna steaks (6 ounces each)
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp pepper
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the lemon juice, oil, garlic and thyme. Add the tuna; seal the bag and turn to coat the fish. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
Remove the tuna from the bag and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drain and discard the marinade. Lightly coat the grill rack with cooking oil. Grill the fish for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium-rare or until slightly pink in the centre.
Best For Weight Loss
Not all weight loss happens evenly. Nor should you ever diet just to purely lose weight. If you’re working for aesthetics do it healthily, and with plentiful nutrients and exercise. On the other hand, if you’re a boxer trying to cut weight, your diet will be different again.
“You have to consider what goals you’re setting,” explains Madalena. You don’t necessarily have to know what all of that means, but it’s worth noting that for weight loss, Madalena recommends around 1-1.4g of protein per pound of lean body mass, that fat make up 15-25% of your daily intake, and the rest is made up of carbs, as many in the form of green vegetables as possible.”
Chicken Sausage And Vegetable Stir-Fry
– 1 onion, diced
– 1 clove garlic, diced
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 4 chicken sausages, cut into disks
– 1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
– 1 yellow bell pepper, de-seeded and sliced
– 1 broccoli, cut into florets
– Handful of spinach leaves
– 1 can tomatoes
– Pinch of sea salt
Put everything in a large skillet (beginning with onions and garlic, then adding the sausages, then the veg) and cook until the veg and sausages are browned, and you have a nice thick sauce. This will make two meals that are ideal for a weight loss programme. To up the servings, simply multiply the ingredients by two.
“For a weight loss programme we want to aim for approximately 500kcal less than your daily expenditure,” Castle-Mason says. “For some people – and this includes myself – eating a diet of mostly whole foods is enough to start regulating hunger levels and seeing results.”
Best For General Health
Really, anything we eat we eat should benefit our health in one way or another. Whether it’s protecting against heart disease, fuelling our fitness, or simply getting calories in to keep us ticking over from day to day, it’s all ‘healthy’. What to eat and what not to eat is a whole other article (or encyclopaedia) entirely. So, to keep things simple, we’re going to hand over to Madalena, who has some pretty balanced ideas on the subject.
“Anything that increases your intake of omega 3s – fish, hemp seeds, flax seeds – is great. As are lean protein sources, a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes,” Madalena continues. “Ultimately, your meals need to be quick and easy to prepare but pack a nutritional punch, too.”
Here’s one meal you can cook in advance that ticks all the boxes.
– 500g wild salmon fillet
– 400g butternut squash, cubed
– 400g brussels sprouts, halved
– 2 tbsp avocado oil
– 3 tbsp honey
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 3 large garlic cloves, grated
– 1 tsp salt
– Ground black pepper, to taste
Line a baking tray and lay out your squash, salmon, then sprouts. Heat the other ingredients in a saucepan until you have a sauce, then drizzle over the salmon and veggies and cook the lot at 200C for 20 minutes, or until everything looks crispy golden. This should cover you for two meals. Double up for 4 meals’ worth, and so on.
Best For Vegans
As we become more food-conscious, many people are turning to veganism to offset the damage meat production is doing to the planet. There’s no need to get all high and mighty about munching plants instead of a nice burger, though. Likewise, there’s no need to sneer at your plant-aficionado friends if you’re a certified carnivore. Especially with meals that taste like this one.
Tofu And Chickpea Curry
– 1 red onion
– 3 cloves of garlic
– 200g tofu
– 1 fresh red chilli
– 200g spring greens
– 1 tbsp vegetable oil
– 1 tbsp ground coriander
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– ½ tsp cayenne pepper
– 1 tsp turmeric
– 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tin of chickpeas
– 2 tsp paprika
– 2 tsp garam masala
– ½ a lemon
– 2 tsp cumin seeds
Finely slice the garlic, onion and chilli then brown in a pan. Add the spices, along with 300ml water. Meanwhile, heat the diced tofu in a separate pan, then add along with the drained chickpeas. Add the sliced greens and cook until they’re just tender, and you’re good to go.
Bonus Round: Container Tips
Are all plastic tubs created equal? Our experts explain what they look for in durable plastic food containers.
Wiener – “For ease, make sure you use ones that are suitable for the dishwasher and that will not leak, otherwise you could have a disaster on your hands.” Or worse, inside your bag.
Castle-Mason – “Looks for one where the lid clips properly leaving my gym bag smelling like gym kit and not gone-off food.”
Sandwith – “The majority of the containers I use are classic Ikea, but I love using almost-empty nut butter jars for overnight oats – this way you can scrape the nut butter jar clean!”