Easy meal prep is gaining popularity over the past year or so. With chronic diseases such as diabetes on the rise, efforts to promote healthy eating has stepped up and trending all over social media as well. Being based in Singapore, healthy eating can be a challenge for many due to the array of convenient and tasty food options available. It is however not impossible and this article will show you how to make meal preparation as effortless as possible!
Before we get started, what is meal prep and what are the benefits of it? ‘Meal prep’ is a term used for menu planning and preparing of meals in bulk to store in the fridge/freezer for later consumption. Most importantly, the idea of meal prep does not just mean that you get to enjoy hearty home-cooked meals at your convenience but also, you can be guaranteed healthy meals!
By portioning out your meals, your eating is more controlled with less temptation and this makes it easier to manage our weight. Meal prep is wallet-friendly and reduces food wastage as well! The only downside of it is that you will need to take some effort to plan your menu and a couple of hours once or twice a week to be the Masterchef of your household. It wouldn’t take long before you build a nice variety of meals in the freezer.
Easy meal prep is flexible and personalised according to your preferences. You may choose to prep for 1 meal a day or all 3 main meals including snacks. You may also choose to prep only the dishes, and have the carbohydrate staples of rice or noodles cooked fresh for lunch or dinner time. This is entirely up to you! Are you convinced by now? Let’s break it down step by step.
Step 1: Food Groups
There are 5 key food groups in our diet, each providing a certain set of nutrients essential for our health. With easy meal prep, it is still important to ensure that you are including items from all 5 food groups in a day.
Grains- choose between brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, quinoa, millet, brown rice beehoon
Meat and alternatives- choose lean skinless chicken (eg. breast or thigh fillet), fish, lean mince, tofu, beans, lentils
Vegetables- include a variety of different coloured vegetables focusing on non-starchy ones (starchy vegetables such as potato or pumpkin can be swapped with grains if preferred) like leafy vegetables, gourd, bell peppers, mushrooms etc
Fruit- include a variety of different coloured fresh fruit (over tinned or dried) and take note on portion sizes
Dairy and alternatives- Go for plain, low-fat milk, yogurts or cheeses. If unable to take dairy, opt for calcium-fortified unsweetened or reduced sugar soy milk, rice milk or nut milk.
Step 2: Cooking Mama
Cooking methods play an important role in determining whether a meal is classified to be healthy. The key determinant is fat; what type of fat and how much of it we are using. Choosing healthier oils consisting of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive, canola, sunflower and rice bran oil are great choices. It is recommended to use no more than 2 teaspoons of oil per portion. Cooking methods that will require less oil include boiling, steaming, baking, grilling and stir-frying. Perhaps the easiest meals to prepare require just one pot/pan/rice cooker and these include dishes such as stews, stir-fries, pasta and soups. Coincidentally, these are the types of food which freezes well too! For some delicious one-dish meal recipes, click here
Besides the cooking method, seasoning plays another important role as the key mineral of concern is sodium. Do take note that prepackaged marinades, seasoning powder or sauces are likely to be packed with a whole heap of sodium hence it would be best to go for natural ingredients like herbs, spices, vinegar and allium vegetables (like garlic or spring onions) to impart flavour. Go light on the salt and if possible choose low sodium sauces and pastes.
Step 3: Easy Meal Prep Portioning
Portioning is easy using household measures such a measuring cups and spoons. Using a “1/3” measuring cup, scoop cooked carbohydrates like rice, noodles or pasta into an airtight container. 2 levelled scoops equates to an ideal carbohydrate portion (30g carbohydrates, 2 carbohydrate exchanges) for your main meal for most people. You may also have up to 1 full cup of cooked carbohydrates (45g carbohydrates, 3 carbohydrate exchanges) if you require more energy. Alternatively, you can use a dessertspoon to measure 8 – 12 spoons of rice/noodles/pasta. If having starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas or corn, keep to around 2-3 egg sized portions or half a cup.
After filling the container with carbohydrates, fill a “1/2” measuring cup with cooked non-starchy vegetables and add it to the container. You can definitely add more vegetables if you like too! For salad vegetables, 1.5 mugs is 1 serving.
A cooked piece of meat/fish should be the size of your palm or the size of a deck of cards. For vegetarian sources of protein such as cooked chickpeas, beans and lentils, aim for half a cup. Take note of the carbohydrate content if you have diabetes as half a cup contains around 20-30g of carbohydrates.
Don’t forget to pack a fruit for a snack or to take as part of lunch/dinner! Click here for a list of what counts as a serving of fruit. Eat fruit whole if possible particularly smaller fruit with edible skin (eg. apples or pears). This is because you get extra fibre and certain nutrients from having it with the skin on. Cutting fruit up and exposing it to air over a period of time can affect the vitamin C content.
Step 4: Storing Safely
Pack meals in airtight containers, preferably those which are freezer and microwave safe for more convenience. By reducing air exposed to food, it prevents the food from drying out, reduces nutrient losses from exposure to air and reduces the risk of any potential contamination. Remember to let hot foods cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge or freezer. Hot food can affect the temperature of the fridge or freezer, hence increasing the risk for bacterial growth. With easy meal prep, do take note of good food safety practices to minimise your risk of food poisoning.
It is as easy as 1,2,3,4 to prepare healthy meals at home. Check out Georgen’s ultimate guide to cooking for more ideas. Don’t forget to have fun!