Lets talk about food prep. You only have to type #foodprep in to Instagram and you’re overwhelmed with hundreds, if not thousands, of images of perfectly prepared and portioned meals for the week which are set out in pristine kitchens without a hint of mess or fuss – I’m not knocking it, if you’re one of those people then please tell me your secrets because no matter how hard I try I always end up with food all over me and the floor. So when you see these perfect images where somehow someone has managed to make 25 meals in 2 hours food prep seems like a pretty inaccessible concept doesn’t it?
Well, here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be. If you’re put off by the idea of food prep; or you love the idea but can’t see how you can fit it in to your already busy schedule; or you simply don’t know where to start I’m here to reassure you that it’s easier than you think – and will definitely save you some time mid-week when you’re frazzled and would eat a lump of tarmac if someone else cooked it for you.
First off, let’s do some de-bunking about the words ‘food prep’ because I think even the actual words can be a little off-putting. When people talk about ‘food prep’ or ‘prepping’ or ‘cook ups’ they are literally talking about cooking or assembling a few meals ahead of time (prep = preparing or preparation) so that over the next few days you hopefully eat something sensible for lunch/ dinner and not peanut butter direct from the jar, again.
That’s it! Not terrifying in the slightest is it? The problem is, often when we see pictures of food prep or read instructions on food prep we are told that it requires at least 4 hours set aside, all five hobs on the go and every oven occupied which isn’t that realistic for most of us.
So the solution I’ve found which works well for me is to cook mainly ingredients rather than lots of whole meals in one go. If I have longer in the kitchen then yes, I’ll take my time and enjoy cooking a couple of meals like a curry or stew (because cooking is also one of my hobbies), but even if I have just 45 minutes I can get a some handy food prep in with minimal fuss.
First off, before I go anywhere near an oven, I quickly;
- Review my existing fruit and veg/ perishables that need using up
- Look at my ‘new’ fruit and veg for the week ahead – for me that is whatever came in my veg box delivery but it can also mean whatever was in your food shop this week
- Check what appointments and commitments I have in the diary. Am I going to have time to cook in the week or do I really need to do it all at the weekend? Will I be eating out at all this week?
- Ask myself if there are any particular recipes I want to cook this week and make a list of what I can sensibly prepare for those recipes in the time available
- Look at what I already have in the cupboards or freezer that I can use as well.
These steps might look lengthy but this takes me less than 5 minutes and it’s this tiny bit of planning which informs not only what I prep but when I do it. Maybe a whole afternoon on a Sunday works for you, maybe it’s on Monday and Thursday evenings. Whatever. The trick is to plan a pocket of time (or a couple of pockets) where you can cook a couple of things in advance to make the next few days ahead easier. And don’t panic, I’m not saying you need to be chained to the kitchen that entire time. I’m talking about putting veggies in to roast whilst you study, or leaving some pulses to boil whilst you clean the bathroom (although obviously for health and safety reasons if you have young children don’t leave boiling pans unattended).
To demonstrate how easy food prep can be below are some simple ideas you can use depending on how much time you have available; and some simple meal ideas to go with them – because there’s no point cooking up a load of stuff if you then can’t work out how to eat it. I’ve even given a rough idea of how many serves you can get out of each to help you plan.
The great thing about these ideas are that you can undertake a few of these simultaneously, so after 30 minutes in the kitchen you can end up with four or five different meals sorted. Ready?
If you have 30 minutes or under
- Chop up some veggies (such as peppers or carrots) and assemble a raw in a salad or store them in the fridge ready to cook later in the week (2/3 meals)
- Assemble some easy salads (leaves, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrots and grated courgette, plus some protein e.g. cheese) and make a quick salad dressing. (2/3 meals)
- Boil some potatoes or root veggies to make a mash (store in the fridge or freezer) (2/3 sides to accompany a main meal)
- Cook up some rice or quinoa (to be used in pilaffs or as a side to other meals) (2/3 sides or 1/2 main meals)
- Poach some fish or meat (to be eaten cold or shredded and reheated as part of a hot meal like tacos or fajitas; the fish can be flaked into salads). Poaching takes less time than roasting. (1/2 meals)
- Boil up some hard boiled eggs and keep them as snacks for the week (2/3 snacks)
- Make some breakfast muffins (try this recipe here) (3 breakfasts/ snacks)
- Assemble some overnight oats ready to take in for breakfast (easy recipe here) (2/3 breakfasts)
- Make a big frittata and store in the fridge (lasts a couple of days) (2/ 3 meals)
- Make some smoothies and either store in the fridge or freeze in individual portions (2/3 breakfasts or snacks)
And in case you were wondering how these options work in practice you could…
Pop the potatoes/ root veg on to boil (15 mins) whilst poaching some meat/ fish on another hob (5-10 mins). Whilst that cooks, chop up your veggies for the week (5-10 mins) and either assemble in to salads or store in the fridge for later (5-10 mins).
Or you could try making some breakfast muffins (10 mins) and whilst they are in the oven, assemble your overnight oats (5 mins) and put a pan of eggs on to boil (6-10 mins). Once the eggs are boiling make a smoothie (5 mins).
Or you could try putting some rice/ quinoa on to cook (15 mins) whilst you chop up the veg (5-10 mins) and either make a salad (5 mins)or store. Once the grains are cooked make a frittata (10 mins) and then a smoothie (5 mins).
If you have slightly longer (approx. 45 minutes) you could expand to include:
- Roast up a batch of veggies such as carrots and peppers (to be used in salads, or reheated during the week as part of a main meal like tacos) (2/3 meals)
- Roast some cuts of meat e.g. chicken drumsticks or thighs (2/3 meals, assuming 2 thighs/ drumsticks per portion)
- Boil some pasta and stir in pesto and spinach for an easy lunch option (2/3 meals)
- Make some pesto to keep in the fridge (add to scrambled eggs, avocado toast or even sandwiches) or some hummus for those emergency snack attacks (multiple servings)
As above, there are a number of ways this can work. You could:
Put the meat and veggies in the oven to cook (30 mins) whilst you make some pasta and pesto on the hob (15mins). Whilst the pasta is cooking chop the veggies (5-10 mins) and assemble your salads (5 mins), then make a smoothie (5 mins).
Turn your grains on to cook (15 mins) whilst putting a batch of muffins in to cook (10 mins). Once the grains are cooked put the eggs on to boil (6-10 mins)and then chop up your veg (10 mins) and assemble your overnight oats (5 mins).
I could go on but you get the idea. The more time you have the more flexible you can be. The main thing is not to overcomplicate things. Stick to doing a few useful things. I usually find cooking one/ two proteins, a batch of grains and preparing lots of veggies works. Hopefully by prepping some ingredients this way you should save time and money (as you’re not spending out on takeaway or food shopping for just one meal at a time) during the week.
I hope you find some of these ideas useful. Let me know how it goes and if there’s any food prepping tricks you like to use to save time during the week that you think I should try.