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

Self care essentials: my own personal top tips

I realise this isn’t a food post, but sometimes I feel the need to vary it a little and this is a subject that’s been talked about a lot on social media recently (for good reason) so I quite fancied chucking my two cents in and contributing somehow. It’s also something I’ve been trying to be more mindful of in my own life at the moment as I’m always trying to do fifty-million things at once which can lead to me feeling run-down, stressy and drained.

So, without further ado, here are my super simple tips on self-care (the things I do to help me stay relatively sane):

Make a to-do list

It’s something we’re taught to do from a very young age and may seem a bit obvious or juvenile, but if you’ve got a lot on your plate and you’re worrying about where it’s all going to fit in writing a bullet pointed to-do list can really help. I pretty much live on them.

Try to prioritise things in order of what needs doing first, you’ll likely find that you naturally prioritise things better as you’re writing them down anyway. If you’re like me and you need to write things down more than once to remember (I dread to think how many notepads I went through during revision and exam prep etc) then do. Write as many of the same list or as many different lists as you want. The key thing is the prioritisation and forming a clear, visual plan of action. Setting your head straight, providing a clear focus.

Breathe deeply

We don’t all have to sit and meditate for hours on end with our legs crossed, nor am I suggesting that we ever actually forget to breathe during the day, but when your mind is racing and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed in my opinion the best thing to do is honestly just breathe. Take a minute, maybe even close your eyes if you like, and go back to basics: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Clearing the mind. Take a few deep breaths, feel your heartbeat start to lower and everything will seem just a little bit less hectic, you’ll feel a little bit more in control, I promise you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it

The whole reason for making the list is to realise what you can do now and what you can leave until later, or maybe it doesn’t even really need doing at all. Ask someone else and don’t be afraid to, whether it’s asking your house mate or significant other to do one or two extra chores around the house or asking a colleague for their input on a project you’re working on. This will free up some valuable you-time that you’re clearly in need of. Believe it or not you don’t have to do absolutely everything by yourself.

Note, this is also relevant for some more serious struggles. If you’re worried that you may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or anything else that may be holding you back or exacerbating the problem then don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it. You may be surprised at how many people will share their experiences with you and how important this can be. Support is always there if you ask for it.

Make time for the things you love

This follows on from the above; if you’ve called in the troops or realised that some of your to-dos aren’t as essential as your worried mind initially thought, then you’ve freed up some extra time just for you. It can be anything from taking a hot bath with Netflix & candles (although be careful to keep these well away from the bubbles as they’re highly flammable), having a lie-in and treating yourself to a super lazy day or film/tv binge, going to the gym or for a run and not worrying about what time you have to get back, or even taking that extra time to paint your nails or soak your feet like you’ve wanted to do for so long. Pretty much anything that you want to do for no other reason than because you just want to is something you need to make ‘me time’ for. For example: myself, I like to do any of the above when I have the chance depending on which I feel I need most at the time, especially if I have the flat to myself. But making the time in the first place is the really important thing. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be something you do alone; use this time to catch up with a friend you’ve not seen for a while or cwtch up with your other half, the world is your oyster in these precious moments.

Indulge in your hobbies or even try a new one

I can’t believe I didn’t mention it earlier but cooking (obviously) is a great way to take some time out from the world and just do your own thing. You don’t need to be an accomplished chef, that’s the great thing about cooking is that you learn as you go along or you can follow a recipe. Something I’d really recommend if you’re not so confident in the kitchen, or even if you are and you’d just like to mix things up a bit, is trying Gousto or something similar which delivers fresh, local and perfectly portioned ingredients straight to your door along with step-by-step recipe instructions. I’ll talk more about Gousto another time but personally I’ve found it a great way to try new things, get back in the kitchen, take time out for myself and all using environmentally friendly ingredients whilst reducing my food waste. What could be better? You could even use this opportunity to get your other half involved with the cooking, making for a cute little date night without any extra cost.

Cooking may not be your thing, but whatever it is don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new, get out of your comfort zone, try that gym class you’ve always fancied but never had anyone to go with – screw it go on your own! And you’d be surprised how much fun doing things on your own can be. I’ve become quite accustomed to it when I feel like it and find that you make new friends along the way, grow in self confidence and absorb more of the experience.

Most importantly…

Rest and recover

This, again, sounds so simple but can be overlooked so easily. We’re told from a very early age that ‘rest and relaxation’ is a key part of human development, so why then do we forget about it when we get older and have our own responsibilities? We neglect our well-being because we’re too busy being busy. Stop. You need rest to recover and carry on else you can do yourself some serious harm in the long-run. Yes, there’s not really any scientific such thing as catching up on sleep but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice sleep to make way for other things. Staying up once in a while is all well and good but if you’re constantly burning the candle at both ends it may affect you a lot more than you realise. That all important ‘rest day’ from the gym is actually a lot more important than you may think. As much as we have things to do on the weekends try not to make every one busy else you’re not getting the rest you really need to head back to work refreshed and ready on Monday morning.

The point is, sleep and rest is important. We can’t all be seasoned nappers like me, but making sure you’re getting enough down-time is essential for so many reasons. And I guarantee you’ll feel much better once you’ve slept on your worries and allowed your mind and body to relax a while.

 

So there you have it. Nothing ground-breaking I know, but these are just a few things I try to bear in mind when I find myself feeling overloaded and things some of us can unfortunately forget to take seriously enough sometimes. Self-care is never something that should be neglected and I hope that you, like me, can use the above as reminders to take a step back when you need to and take time out from our busy, crazy world.

What are your favourite things to do to look after yourself? What makes you feel 100x better when you’re stressed or run-down? Was this post useful to you? Let me know!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx