I’ve been meal prepping for 18 years. In that time I’ve lost 9 stone in total and have discovered how to achieve permanent weight loss in an easy, healthy and affordable way – all because of meal prep. I’ve learnt how to ‘prep my way back to health’ whilst also saving money, time and food. Whether you want to completely overhaul your life or simply lose a couple of pounds, I’m here to show you how you can do it too! The following tips, extracted from my brand new cookbook, The Meal Prep King Plan, which is packed full of tips and recipes, are here to help you embark on your own meal prepping journey. Let's get started!
1. Shop around
You’ll be amazed at some of the deals you can find. We often shop at supermarkets late at night as they are much quieter. You also find the odd gem marked down in price, often as much as 70 per cent off, if you shop towards the end of the day, so make sure you have a look in the reduced section.
2. Use local markets
I realize that not everyone has a local market but it’s well worth the effort if you can find one, even if you have to go out of your way to get there. We tend to go to Bury Market in Manchester, and we make a day out of it and turn it into a little adventure. We have picked up some absolute bargains there, including 3kg of blueberries for £1.50, which would have cost us about £40 in a supermarket.
3. Look at what you've already got in the fridge
Look for items getting close to their use-by or best-before dates and focus on those to create your meals; you’ll be amazed at some of the creations you can come up with. Don’t be afraid to use things that are past their bestbefore date – these are often fine beyond the stated shelf life, just check they still look all right and use your common sense. However, use-by dates are not the same as best-before dates. Never use items past their stated use-by date.
4. Don't be afraid of failure
Just because you make a mistake with a recipe or you’re not happy with how your meal prep turns out one day, please don’t give up. Over the years I’ve done all the things you shouldn’t do when it comes to cooking, including burning food and serving Charlotte some pretty inedible meals. Making mistakes is how we learn, so embrace them.
5. Be organised
Once you have decided which days to allocate for your meal prepping, plan your menu the day before to ensure you have everything you’re going to need in advance. That way you don’t have any excuses to skip meal prep or give up before you’ve finished. This is a no-brainer but make a list before you go shopping as it saves on time and stops you buying things you don’t actually need. Charlotte sometimes forgets the shopping list (quite often, truth be told!) so rather than go back and get it, we see if we can do the full shop without forgetting anything. When we get back, we check to see how close we were to the list we left behind. If we have forgotten anything, one of us will nip to the shops quickly, though we try to avoid this if we can – and sometimes this leads to us adapting our menu and coming up with new meals!
6. Variation is key
Variety keeps things interesting and means you are less likely to get bored and give up on what is essential to your new lifestyle. Try and mix things up as much as possible!
7. Weigh everything
Well, almost everything! This is one of the key ways to keep your calories on track, especially if you are new to meal prep. People are often shocked at how many calories are in foods once they start weighing them out. I think this is a fundamental way to learn about calories and portion control as it helps you to be more aware of the calorie content of food, plus you’ll get used to seeing how much food you should have on your plate visually (for example, a healthy portion of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball). A good little set of kitchen scales is an invaluable and inexpensive meal prep tool and one which can help guarantee success.
8. Use good-quality meal prep containers
There is nothing worse than meal prep containers that leak, so make sure you choose the right meal prep tub for you. Glass can be heavy to carry about, so it’s best kept for food you’ll be eating at home, and if you have multiple glass containers they generally don’t stack well so storage can become difficult. Stainless steel containers are fantastic and lighter than glass ones. You can recycle old glass jars for salad dressings. Try and find yourself a good-quality plastic range you can reuse for many years – the ones I currently use are three years old. If you ever want to invest in a new set, you can upcycle the old ones by using them as storage containers for dry ingredients and spices in your cupboard. I’m currently developing my own range of containers, so keep an eye on my website (www.themealprepking.com) for when these become available.
9. Make your own versions of your guilty pleasures
For me this is really important as it allows you to save on calories, because you know exactly what has gone into your meal, and enables you to eat more of other foods. By doing this, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. For example, on page 203 of The Meal Prep King Plan, you’ll find my own version of a double chocolate doughnut. At only 120 calories each they allow you to enjoy something which would otherwise be very high in calories, making room for more food in your daily allowance. And who doesn’t want to eat more food?
10. Enjoy what you're doing
This is vital. Make sure you create a system which you enjoy so that meal prep can become a sustainable way of life. Don’t think of meal prep as a diet but rather a change in lifestyle that will help you for the rest of your life.