Meal prep top tips; Charlie’s cheats

#MealPrep has become a huge thing recently with the boom in food and fitness on Instagram and throughout our current culture; this is not to say that it didn’t exist before, of course it did, but getting people thinking more about their food can surely never be a bad thing.

Personally, I go a little bit nuts if I don’t plan my meals out. Not only because it results in spending way more on my weekly shop without a set shopping list, but also because I like to be organised and know what to expect and when. Plus, reducing your food waste is a huge bonus for your pocket and the environment if you plan it right. So, how do you begin to make it part of your routine?

Cook in bulk

I don’t mean you have to make a cottage pie for 8 and freeze the entire thing, but if you usually cook for one then cooking a little extra is usually easier because most recipes IMG_6227cater for two anyway and you can then have dinner again for lunch the next day without any extra fuss. Simple and effective.

The best dishes to do this with tend to be pastas, casseroles, curries, soups etc. but to be honest the key for me is rice. Simple, white rice (purely because it cooks quicker than whole grain, but it’s up to you) is super easy to cook a big batch of and can last you a good few days if you don’t mind eating it cold. If you do want to heat it up be very careful and be sure to absolutely zap it! If you have a steamer as well then you can chop your veg and have that steaming away at the same time, perfect. As I said, this for me is key because I can cook four lunches worth of rice & veg in one go (simply add tuna/chicken/protein of your choice), all whilst cooking my evening dinner at the same time. [Pictured is a Gousto halloumi salad which I’ll come back to later].

Keep it simple

IMG_6030As stated above, tuna, rice and mixed veg is a pretty simple, balanced lunch to prepare. But it works. Don’t get me wrong, it can get boring after a while! In these cases, however, I like to mix it up by sometimes roasting some butternut squash, parsnips, chickpeas etc. instead or having Quorn sausages as my protein rather than fish. This is only a base meal, there’s nothing to stop you having leftovers once or twice a week instead. Have a play around and find what works for you, something that’s easy to prepare but also well-balanced and hits the spot.

Pick your meals by their ingredients

First off when planning your menu & shopping list, pick one or two meals you really fancy this week – spag bol, fajitas, or cottage pie for example. Then write these in for the appropriate day of the week (i.e. Tuesday dinner, Wednesday lunch) and base the rest on similar ingredients. Take fajitas for example:

  • mince/Quorn/fish (optional, beans & chickpeas would be a fine base for a vegan version*),
  • peppers,
  • kidney beans/black beans/tin of mixed beans,
  • chickpeas,
  • red onion,
  • fajita spice mix (I use Schwartz ‘cos it’s in a handy little jar),
  • butternut squash or sweet potato, if you like*
  • wholegrain wraps

Think about these ingredients, therefore, in relation to the rest of the week: peppers you could use again to steam or roast for lunches; sweet potato could be a mash with sausages or homemade chips or even form part of a hearty salad; sausage/meat/fish could go with the remaining sweet potato or veg; you could even use mince (or Quorn mince) and halve it between the fajitas and a cottage pie, allowing you to use the remaining peppers, beans, sweet potato and onion all in one.

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[Bad] example of my meal prep weekly calendar

At the end of the day it’s totally up to you, but personally I like to think about what I’m going to use the ingredients on my shopping list for before I buy them so I can make sure I use them all and there’s as little waste as possible. This week, for example, I’ve got fajitas on my menu but I’ve converted it to a burrito bowl with rice instead because I don’t think I’ll use a whole packet of wraps and from personal experience they don’t freeze well (plus they come packaged in plastic which I’m trying to reduce, but that’s another post for another day!)

Stock your cupboards

The best thing I find to reduce your spending and food waste whilst getting in a good, balanced meal is to have well-stocked cupboards. Think tins; tuna, mixed beans, red kidney beans, black beans, baked beans (I like my beans… we get it), chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, and rice pudding in case of emergencies. Also frozen veg can be a life-saver. Whilst I’m not an advocate of using frozen veg all of the time – I personally think that frozen broccoli and carrots bags are gross and remove most of the actual flavour – but frozen peas and sweetcorn are real saviours in my house if I’ve run out of fresh veg or I’m trying to stretch it out ’til payday. Even better, if you happen to have a few packets of microwave rice in the cupboard for emergencies then if you’re ever caught off-guard you can just grab a tin of tuna, a packet of micro-rice and chuck some frozen peas in a small tupperware. Boom! A convenient, healthy lunch with no fuss! (For some more healthy work lunch ideas refer back to my previous post which also touches on food prep).

Finally, keep it exciting!

No one wants to eat exactly the same meals every single day of the week! Whilst it’s great to be consistent, it’s also great to try new things or make small changes to make all the difference to your meal time satisfaction. One of the ways I like to do this is to order Gousto boxes from time to time [examples below], where you can pick your meals for the week online or on their app and all the ingredients come readily weighed out and carefully packaged delivered to your door. Yes, I have mentioned these boxes before and no, (sadly) I’m not being sponsored to do so, I just genuinely find them a really good way of trying new foods, cooking new foods and they can take the hassle out of dinner times because those meals are then planned for you and all you have to do is sort out lunches and breakfasts. The minimum portions you can get is 2 but even if you’re only cooking for yourself, have one for dinner and one for lunch!

My only gripe with these is that the packaging is pretty over-the-top. They can also get pricey week-on-week so personally, I’ve had a break; but I definitely recommend them to anyone wanting fresh inspiration!

IMG_4427.JPGOne last point to remember: don’t forget snacks. If you’re a snacker then factor this in too else this could end up being an additional cost over the week you hadn’t initially planned for. Whether that’s making your own healthy snacks such as protein balls [pictured left, a #LeanIn15 recipe] or fresh fruit and yoghurt, or adding a box of energy bars into your weekly shop, it’ll all help in the long-run!

 

So, there you have it. My top tips for introducing successful meal prep into your own lifestyle 🙂 once you get into the swing, you get so used to it that it feels normal, trust me! Any other tips and tricks you have or if you find the above useful, feel free to comment below and let me know. Best of luck!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

My favourite healthy, simple & satisfying lush work lunches

Although we hear a lot about meal prep these days, I do believe it’s key to maintaining a healthy diet whilst keeping your food waste to a minimum. However, it can be difficult to know where to start…

Ideally, you can plan your meals for the whole week and write your shopping list accordingly, for which I have this amazing fridge magnet (below) that I was way too happy to find online! (Available on Amazon). Sounds like a lot of effort but I would really recommend doing this as much as possible because it means you can shop for meals rather than just as and when, whilst keeping your costs and food waste down as well. All good stuff.

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In my opinion, lunch is the easiest meal to plan and prepare for as you don’t have all the naughty temptations that can come of an evening “shall we just go out for food? Fancy popping down the pub? Do you want anything from the convenience store over the road?” which can lead to extra money being spent, naughty extra calories being consumed (be it biscuits or an extra cheat meal) and unfortunately this can also lead to some of your food ending up in the food waste bin when it hasn’t been cooked or frozen on time. This is not what we want for ourselves or for the environment. Lunch, however, you’re either out and about or sat in the office and despite there being a perfectly adequate canteen or sandwich shop nearby, it doesn’t quite beat the cheaper and often more convenient alternative of a healthy, home-cooked meal.

So, without any further ado – here are my top healthy lunches for you to easily prepare at home:

  1. Fish, rice & veggies
    This one can often require next-to-no cooking if you’re crafty with your meal and file_000-27shopping choices. As I’ve mentioned before, my microwave hot pot is an absolute dream for cooking fresh fish and/or vegetables at work; you just lay them in the pot, top with butter, lemon juice, salt & pepper and whatever other flavourings you like and microwave for 1.30 – 2 mins, depending on whether you’re doing veg or fish and the wattage of the microwave. Job done. Grab ½ a packet of microwave rice to go with it (you can save the rest for later) and voila! A healthy, happy lunch that has everything you need in terms of protein, good carbs and veggies. [P.S. my favourite microwave rice is the Tilda brown rice, quinoa & sunflower seeds packet, tastes amazing! You can cook your own but be careful with reheating this later]

  2. DIY Quinoa salad
    The beauty of salads is that you can chuck anything and everything in, whatever you’ve got a hankering for. Personally, I love my salads to have quinoa, roasted sweet file_000-43potato or butternut squash chunks (for good carbs), sliced tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas (for protein), pomegranate seeds (gotta love those superfoods) and some avocado and/or cheese (for the good fats). Okay, so cheese may not always be a ‘good’ fat necessarily but I love finding small chunks of it in my salads as a cheeky little comfort food!
    You can also add things like falafel, sausage chunks, tuna, Quorn pieces or shredded chicken to this salad to bulk it up and add more proteins, so it’s really versatile and really simple to make! Quinoa only needs to boil for around 10 mins until its popped open and you can chop the rest whilst it’s cooking, just allow a little extra time for the sweet potato/butternut squash.
  3. Fajitas
    These are great if you want to use up any leftover veg but also if you want to have a bit of fun cooking! Chop up some onions and peppers and fry in a little oil with some crushed garlic and ½ a packet of fajita mix, the spices should mix in with the oil to create a sort of paste. Chuck in some chickpeas, mixed beans and whatever else you fancy; butternut squash or pumpkin chunks work really well, or you can bake and flake in some salmon (obviously you can also add in some chicken at the start if you’re a meat-eater). Wrap up in a wholemeal wrap with some guacamole and sour cream/mayo and job done! Perfect for a quick easy dinner with enough for lunch leftover – just wrap your wraps in foil and keep in the fridge until eating. (It’s a good idea to wrap these up as late as possible because the wrap itself will go a little soggy overnight, but this doesn’t take away from the taste!)

    Lastly, what to do if you’re caught short and have to dash to the shops…

  4. Fish & a funky salad
    Sounds simple, but if you’re lucky enough to have a supermarket nearby your work which I’m sure many of us do then you can still stay healthy even when you forget tofile_000-42 prepare or accidentally leave your lunch at home. Pick up a tin of tuna or mackerel and then head over to the chilled foods section and their selection of prepared salads (usually near the dips etc.) My personal favourite salads to grab on-the-go are ASDA’s edamame bean salad, minty bean salad (both full of natural protein), sweety drop pepper cous cous salad, or my favourite mixed grain salad. These are usually on offer 2 for £3, so pick a bean salad and a grain salad and have half and half along with your fish to create a good, balanced meal that still tastes yum! Alternatively, you could get a packet of microwave rice and have ½ of that along with just one of the salads, totally your choice.

And there you have it! A few simple, quick and easy lunch ideas to keep you entertained through the week. If you can cook enough of your dinner to give you some leftover for lunch the following day then that’s even better. I’ve got a bit of a reputation amongst my colleagues for my fancy work lunches and was even bought a lunchbox recipe book for Secret Santa, so when I get trying some of these I may well write about this again! [I’ll continue to upload ones I’m particularly proud of to the instagram as well so stay tuned] But I really believe it’s important to have a proper lunch to keep your brain well fuelled during the working day and to keep you ticking over until dinner time. Go on, get creative and get prepping!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx