Mornings, before we head to work, are often a blur of activity; getting dressed, trying to look half-decent with some makeup, stuffing some breakfast in your mouth if you can manage… You think about packing a healthy lunch because you’ve started a new workout routine, but you change your mind when you look at your watch. You end up having that sandwich slathered with way too much mayo and too few cucumbers from around the corner, convinced that you have ruined your diet.
This is when prepping your meals ahead of time becomes useful. Not only is it one of the best ways to guarantee you’re eating healthy meals during work hours, but you also end up saving some money. Before you dash out to the supermarket and grab everything that looks healthy, there are a few mistakes you want to avoid when meal prepping.
1. Not Planning in Advance
Problem: You’re confused and have no clue what to buy so you wander the shelves of the supermarket and you buy way too much or too little. What you end up making doesn’t exactly look appetising or healthy.
Solution: Plan before you embark on your grocery shopping adventure. Decide on a blueprint that you can follow weekly, such as Mexican Mondays and Veggie Wednesdays and follow it until you get accustomed to the routine. You don’t have to make the same meals every week; a simple formula will give you structure. It will allow you to create a shopping list, plan your shopping properly and to experiment with different (simple) recipes according to the theme of the day. Remember to list all the ingredients you need before you buy anything, even things like soy sauce and sesame oil. Check out these cute magnetic fridge boards to help you with your meal plan.
2. Prepping an Imbalanced Meal
Problem: You pack too much pasta but too little chicken and soon you feel that post-lunch coma. Your salad is too dry, you simply can’t swallow it, and it leaves you feeling hungry so you end up munching on that brownie that you had been eyeing in the pantry earlier.
Solution: Over-consuming one nutrient and an insufficient amount of another can mess with your day. Your meals need to have a good proportion of carbs (1 fist-sized), fats (1 thumb-sized) and proteins (1 palm-sized). Veggies are usually a must-have, but you’ll also need to include healthy fats like oils or avocados and proteins to make your salad filling enough. Well-balanced meals are essential for any diet.
3. Incorrect Containers or Packing Method
Problem: You wonder why you’re still feeling hungry or too stuffed after having the meal you prepared. Or your salad is soggy because you dressed it during prep and smells a little stale. It’s likely that there’s a problem with your container.
Solution: The size of your container has an effect on your portion sizes, which may, in turn, mean that you’re either overeating or not eating enough. You don’t have to measure everything before you eat, but it would be useful containers of different sizes or if you don’t want to carry around too many, to get one with that divides into compartments, like a bento box. A useful tip is to place your proteins and vegetables at the bottom of your container, followed by carbs on top to ensure you’re not carb loading. Also, bear in mind to keep dressings and sauces separate until you need to intend to consume them. And most importantly, ensure that they are airtight.
4. Prepping the Wrong Amount
Problem: The baked salmon you made on Sunday tastes like rubber and you don’t think it’s settling very well in your stomach. You eat only fried rice for the whole week because you made too much of it and don’t want it to go to waste.
Solution: Generally, food goes bad after three to five days, so it is advisable to prep for meals twice a week or freeze them on the same day that you cooked. Eating fresh food is not only good for your tastebuds but also your stomach; stale food can introduce harmful bacteria into your system and can increase the production of acid. It’s also useful to modify your recipes to guide the number of meals you’re prepping. Freeze extras if you do make enough for a small army.
5. Boring Meals
Problem: You find yourself eating the same meal every single day. You’re so sick of chicken and broccoli by the end of the week that you never want to eat either for the rest of your life. You don’t look forward to your lunch as they’re just unsatisfying, and you find yourself ignoring it in favour of a cheeseburger instead.
Solution: No, you don’t have to make amazing meals the entire week; all you need to do is mix it up a little. Use a variety of vegetables and cook them using different cooking methods. Prep several types of grains or starches, such as quinoa, soba and sweet potatoes. Play around with dressings and toppings. Storing your foods separately, for example, one protein in one container and ditto for your grains, vegetables, dressings and sauces. This way, you can customise your meal the night before you pack it, so you can have roast beef with greens and potatoes one day and baked fish with the same greens, potatoes and add some carrots another.
6. Overly Ambitious Recipes
Problem: You are inspired, enthused by the idea of creating your meals for the week. You become a little too ambitious and your meal plan includes sous vide salmon, making pastry from scratch or curries that need a ton of ingredients you spend hours cutting.
Solution: Outline your goals and consider realistically what sort of plan you can fit into your schedule. There is no harm in starting simple initially to understand what works for you and what doesn’t; you can always revise it accordingly. Moreover, healthy, nutritious meals do not require complicated cooking methods. Experiment with easy cooking styles and consider cooking in bulk. Throwing your chicken, vegetables and potatoes in the oven or slow cooker together with the right amounts of herbs, spices and oils usually make for pretty delicious meals. And remember to save and write down those recipes that you have success with! Alternately, you can follow some of our suggested recipes.
7. Being Too Strict
Problem: You turn down that lunch or dinner invitation because you’ve over planned and prepared peppers that you need to have before they spoil. You start counting your calories rigidly, become preoccupied about what you will prepare for the upcoming week, and you start feeling upset about how stringent your diet is. You lose control, give up and indulge in that fried chicken you spent weeks evading.
Solution: Give yourself some leeway when it comes to meal prepping. That’s where prepping twice a week becomes useful. This way, if a dinner invitation crops up some time mid-week, you can make one less meal without having to sacrifice your social life. Don’t feel like having the wrap you were about to prepare on Wednesday? Use Thursday’s ingredients to toss up that lentil salad instead. Your meal plan should also make allowances for little indulgences. Check out some of these healthy-ish desserts you can make beforehand to store in the fridge or freezer.
We hope that you have some inspiration to meal prep some delicious and healthy meals!
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