Why prepare meals in advance? My top tips...

At a meeting this week I was asked how I get so much done. I was a bit taken aback by the question, because I don't really think about it consciously. So I gave a very tangental answer. But the question was sitting with me later in the week when a client spoke about how they found being prepared and organised for the week ahead quite challenging.

The question persisted.

We headed West late last night to visit my in-laws, they live between Manchester in England and Louisburgh, a tiny little village on the west coast of Ireland. When you walk up the little lane to the beach, you really feel like you are at the edge of the world, staring off into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. I live on the seafront looking out at the Irish Sea, and this has a completely different feel altogether. It's comforting and cosy and contained. So last night, after a very busy week, we drove from one edge of this little island to the other.

I woke this morning and was struck by something I had actually long forgotten. Waking up to complete silence. No noise, no cars, just silence. It was surprising to actually notice it. And with that realisation, something else struck me. Time seemed to have completely slowed down. If I were at home right now, I would have plenty to be getting on with. But here it's quiet, peaceful and very relaxed.

This reminded me of a motto of sorts I've acquired recently enough which has really helped me to carve out the time required to do the things I need and want.

My husband is a Rolling Stones fan ( though who isn't when all is said and done!). A few months ago I was overwhelmed, juggling a fair few plates and I was feeling frazzled to say the least! One evening, seeing how overwhelmed I was, he put this record on:

Now I've heard this song so many times, I'm sure we all have! But listening to it in that moment, late one night while I was desperately trying to multitask, something happened. Looking at Liam relaxing on the couch, I actually started to hear the lyrics, it felt as if Mick Jagger was trying to tell me something...

"Time is on my side..."

I love this sentiment and I carry it with me everywhere now. Its as if recognising this fact had altered time, I now feel like I can squeeze more out of my day without feeling squeezed. As I often say, it's all about the mind set!

I'm sharing this with you because I think it's the secret to my ability to be an organised person and get the things I need to do, done and I think this is especially important if you have little ones. In fact I would say it is a necessary rather than something to strive for.

I'm talking about this with you because our ability to plan and prepare when it comes to weight loss is an essential tool which will really help you move towards your weight loss goal. So today I want to share the strategies which I find really effective because I fundamentally believe it is key to prepare meals in advance.  But first let's look at what happens when we aren't prepared:

If you don't have the right foods preprepared in your cupboard or freezer, you will reach for something you think is convenient, but may not actually be the best thing for you to eat. This leads to the inevitable feeling of guilt and frustration. So preparing meals in advance and always having what you need on hand will prevent any unhelpful snap decisions.

How to prepare meals in advance:

1. Your freezer is definitely your friend, so start by clearing it out and assessing what you have and what you actually will use in there. It can become a dumping ground for things you think you'll use at a later time, but you forgot about. So throw out anything thats been lingering in there too long and doesn't seem enticing to you.

2. Once you have space, it's time to get organised. Every week I block off about two hours to prepare meals in advance for us to eat during the week. This may sound like a lot, but think about it. It means you'll make a big mess only once, and you will have everything you need conveniently available for the week ahead.

We take time out to clean the house, do the washing or watch our favourite tv show, so carving out time so that you and your family can eat healthily seems like a good idea to me!

3. Ordering your food online is an excellent idea. It saves oodles of time and means you only purchase exactly what you need. You can organise when to have it delivered so that it can coincide with your weekly food prep time.  If ordering online isn't an option for you, then make a list before you go to the shop. Decide what you want to make for the week ahead and only buy what you need. Try to use what's in season.

4. I usually cook up a large batch of about three different dishes and freeze them in individual portions, that way they are easy to reheat.  One I'll do in the slow cooker. A favourite in my house is bean chilli, the recipe for which I'll add below. And then I'll have something going in the oven and a few things on the hob. I also make a large batch of soup as part of preparing meals in advance for the week. At the moment with the occasional sunny day, I'm loving the opportunity to make gazpacho (recipe below), which I find freezes really well.

I love listening to some music or a podcast and relaxing as I cook. This is time that slows down as I enjoy creating and tasting. It most certainly isn't a chore. I feel this way because I know that we will have delicious food for the week.

 

5. During my prep time I also pick and wash the salad as this can be quite a time consuming job, and it lasts a good few days in the fridge. I encourage you not to buy the pre washed stuff from bags, it doesn't taste as good and its covered in chlorine and chemicals to keep it looking fresh, not very healthy!

6. I'll typically make some hummus and maybe roast some peppers and preserve them in sunflower oil, both of which easily jazz up a salad, or open sandwich.

7. I also prep my green smoothie ingredients by chopping everything up and freezing them in individual portions, so they are ready to whip out in the morning in no time.

So I have thought about and prepared easy dinners, soups, lunch accoutrements, my breakfast green smoothie, but perhaps the most important piece is always having something delicious and good to snack on!!

8. To that end, I also bake a lemon or courgette (zucchini) cake or some scones which freeze really well. I first slice the cake into individual slices so that I can pop it in the toaster if it takes my fancy. This also works with a scone.

9. My fridge always has natural yogurt, as I adore a little tea cup of this with honey, crushed pralines and a tablespoon of oats. This is a quick snack which works for me any time of the day (though it is typically my breakfast staple). I suppose it replaces the bowl of cereal which I would have snacked on in my youth! Having hummus in the fridge is another staple which will come in handy should you feel a bit hungry, with carrot sticks, it's just delicious!

10. Finally, always have your favourite fruit in a bowl somewhere visible. If you make a habit of reaching for a piece of fruit to snack on as opposed to a slice of toast or a biscuit, you will quickly start to notice the difference. I always have pink ladies as they are my absolute favourite. I think it's really worth buying the best quality fruit you can, as here you really will taste the difference. We are now very used to having our fruit in juice or smoothie form, but nothing beats the smell of peeling an orange.  Eating fruit in its natural state, takes time, tastes delicious and will really fill you up. Make sure the fruit is visible as studies have shown that people who have fruit somewhere visible in their home are on average likely to weight a significant amount less than people who have a toaster or breakfast cereal on view!  

The idea here is that you should always have what you need to hand, that this should become an enjoyable part of the fabric of your week. Remember, time is on your side and you will be surprised at how easy it is to prepare meals in advance. Once you commit to incorporating an activity into your life there will always be time for it. Carve out a time that suits you, get prepping and the following week you will not miss a step as you have an abundance of the right foods to nourish you as you move towards your goal weight.

What do you find most challenging about being prepared?  Or do you have some helpful tips you'd like to share?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences so email me karina@artful-eating.com I respond to every email I receive!

To falling in love with food and flavours,

Karina xo

Both of these recipes freeze really well and so are great for making in batches....

Three Bean Chilli

1 tblsp veg oil

1 large carrot, chopped into small dice

1 large stick celery, chopped into small dice

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 red chilli (if using) finely chopped or 1/2-1tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tblsp tomato puree

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick, or piece of cassia bark

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp soy sauce

1 400g can of chopped tomatoes

1 pepper, small dice

100g each dried kidney beans, aduki beans and black eye beans, or a 400g can of each, drained

Handful of chopped coriander leaves and chopped scallions. 

  1. If using dried beans, soak and cook as recommended on the packaging prior to starting the chilli
  2. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and fresh chilli if using to the oil in a large wide pan on a medium hot heat and sweat until onions are translucent, about 10 mins
  3. Add tomato puree and stir for 30 seconds, then add the cumin, coriander, bay and cinnamon, smoked paprika and dried chilli if using. Stir fry for a minute.
  4. Add chopped tomatoes, chopped pepper and soy sauce, bring to simmer, cover and leave on low heat for 10-20mins, stirring occasionally, until veg is cooked through. Adding pepper at this step leaves a bit of crunch. If you like it more cooked add with other veg at step one.
  5. Add all the beans, stir, bring to simmer, cover and cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes until beans are hot. Keep an eye on it, add a couple of tblsp of water if it is a bit dry.
  6. Add chopped coriander leaves, chopped scallions and serve with a dollop of sour cream or some chopped avocado. Delicious!

Gazpacho

About 2 pounds of ripe red tomatoes, roughly chopped into chunks

1 green pepper, cored, seeded and roughly cut into chunks

1 cucumber, about 8 inches long, peeled and roughly cut into chunks

1 small mild onion (white or red), peeled and roughly cut into chunks

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, more to taste

Salt

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste, plus more for drizzling

  1. Combine tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic in a blender or, if using a hand blender, in a deep bowl. (If necessary, work in batches.) Blend at high speed until very smooth, at least 2 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
  2. With the motor running, add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will turn bright orange or dark pink and become smooth and emulsified, like a salad dressing. If it still seems watery, drizzle in more olive oil until texture is creamy.
  3. Transfer to a large pitcher (preferably glass) and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
  4. Before serving, adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. If soup is very thick, stir in a few tablespoons ice water. Serve in glasses, over ice if desired. A few drops of olive oil on top are a nice touch.