When it comes to finding ways to incorporate nutritious and balanced meals throughout the week, one of the fastest ways you can start to make some real positive change, is to make sure you’re cooking fresh food, from home, whenever possible.
Home cooked food is great for many reasons.
Firstly, it means that you have total control of what is going into your meals, rather than leaving this solely in the hands of others. Cooking your own food, helps to ensure you know what’s going into your body and allows you some level of control, on the amount of preservatives or additives (like sugar and salt) that are being added to the things you are consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t worry about these things or obsess over ingredients lists too much however, having little say on what you are eating day to day, perhaps isn’t the best path to a balanced diet and good health.
This then leads me on to how much of the food you eat. Cooking from home allows you to manage the size of your meals again, rather than leaving this in the hands of others all the time. Sometimes a pre-packed supermarket lunch doesn’t even touch the sides and leaves me snacking throughout the day – I needed a bigger meal. Other times I’ve eaten out and finished a super sized dinner in an epic battle between stomach and mind, just to prove that I can clean my plate – I probably needed a smaller meal. Generally speaking though, throughout the week I like to choose my own portion sizes and do this intuitively by eye balling how much I want/need. I usually consider my level of activity that day and I don’t measure my ingredients, because doing so doesn’t work for me and my history with disordered eating. Regardless, making your own recipes allows for you to be selective on how much, or how little you decide to consume. As touched on previously, you can also make sure your meals are packed full of all the good stuff and in my book, things like vegetables should be consumed in abundance!
If well planned, you can save a lot of money from cooking meals at home, particularly if you’re shopping smart and batch cooking meals. It’s also pretty rewarding to cook and enjoy your own food and its nice to be selective and feel comfortable with the choices you’re making.
How to meal plan, shop effectively and prep your food.
Many of you will already cook from home and will be completely comfortable with the idea of cooking meals from scratch. Some of you might eat out more frequently or rely on others to cook your meals. I love a meal out and do this at least a few times a week (Usually 1 or 2 takeaway lunches mid-week plus 1 or 2 dinners/brunches at restaurants), but if you want to start planning your meals a bit more and cook from home, I’ve put together some suggestions below which will hopefully get you going!
1. Choose a time to plan your home cooked meals.
First up I would find a time to sit down and get your planning on. This can be a completely new concept for those that just ‘grab and go’ with food however, if you want to save on time and want to focus on incorporating more home cooking, it’s definitely something worth doing. I find a morning on the weekend to plan my meals and shopping list works well.
2. Consider your schedule
When you’ve found a moment to sit down, the first thing to do is to consider your schedule for the coming week. Think about:
– The things you have already committed to in the coming week and whether or not this involves food?
– Your training and how this might impact what types of food you eat and when?
– Your time and when you might need quick and easy home cooked meals or meals that have
been prepared in advance.
– Your working schedule and how this impacts your meals. Again, do you need to prepare meals
– Who else might you need to cook for?
3. Choose your recipes
Using your understanding of how the week will look, you can then start choosing your recipes. Recipes are so accessible these days and can be found online, in books, via Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or through recommendations from family/friends and work colleagues. I am currently loving the following:
– Think about what recipes will work best when?
– How many servings will you need?
– How you are going to remember what recipes you are having on what day?
I use my Google Calendar or diary to meal plan and try to set which days I’m eating what, whilst maintaining a level of flexibility – sometimes things crop up and plans change and thats all good! Obviously you can take a more relaxed, spontaneous approach if this works for you too. 🙂
4. Make an organised shopping list
Once you’ve decided what you’re eating, pull your ingredients into a shopping list. I switch between writing a list by hand and using the Notes on my phone. Whatever you do, just don’t forget the shopping list when you leave for the supermarket because yes, I have done this and I have spent at least an hour turning circles in the supermarket like a puppy chasing it’s tale.
If you want to be super efficient, organise your shopping list into categorise:
Meat/Fish/Veggie protein sources Dairy/Plant based alternatives
Condiments / Store cupboard ingredients
Non Food items
If you don’t mind a little bit of repetition, keep your shopping lists and rotate meal plans across a month. Create a meal plan for weeks 1 & 3 and weeks 2 & 4 of the month.
If using the Notes on your phone, keep the headings and the items you always buy each week in bold and just edit and add the new items each week. You can share the notes on your phone with other members of your household to check and see if they have anything specific to add too.
5. Prep and Batch Cook
To save on time and to help you with those busy moments in the week, it’s a good idea to prep some meals ahead of time in batches. If for instance you’re cooking dinner for 2 people, make up 4 meals of the same recipe, so you have 2 dinners for the week sorted. All you will need to do is times the amount of ingredients by 4 in this instance and then store your ready made meals in the fridge or freezer. When you’re ready to eat them, just pop in the microwave and you’re good to go!
Finding a time to make multiple recipes for lunches or dinners can be really helpful. I usually do this on a Sunday and then again later in the week. I also choose to make my breakfasts the day before because i’m usually out the door before 6:30am to workout and like to have my first meal of the day ready for after my workout, when i’m sat at my desk. On the weekends I take a more relaxed approach but finding some organisation with my meals in the week is super helpful to ensure I can get in the meals I love and trust.
Charred corn salad with chipotle, avocado and chicken & Chicken cashew curry from The Body Coach – 90 Day Plan
Other things to consider
One last thing! When cooking from home and incorporating healthy meals into your week, it’s also important to consider the following:
Focus on enjoyment
Don’t fall for the ‘clean eating’ trap and start cooking healthy meals that are bland and boring, just to help you reach aesthetical goals. There’s nothing wrong with having a body goal but you’ve got to keep your meals and snack enjoyable or there’s a high chance you won’t stick to what you set out to do. Keep things balanced and remember that cooking your own food and enjoying real foods is a really positive step in making improvements to your health.
Don’t forget snacks
I appreciate not everyone likes to snack but if you do, don’t forget to prep/pack your snacks. Make sure you have things like fruit, nuts, rice cakes, dark chocolate, popcorn etc. on your shopping list to keep you fuelled throughout the day.
Opt for One Pot Wonders
Save yourself on the washing up and try to build up a repetoir of one pot meal recipes. Things like chillis, stews and curries can be super easy to make with minimal equipment required. This is super helpful when you’re batch cooking multiple meals at once.
Set staple recipes
Like the one pot wonders, make sure you have some staple recipes under your belt that you can turn to at any time. It’s good to have some really easy recipes that you know work for you and which don’t require too much mental strain to make. For me, a Thai green curry is super easy to knock up and things like stir fry and overnight oats are always simple to create.
Allow for flexibility
As much as planning ahead can be beneficial, be careful not to become tied to your diary, your plans and the meals you have set. Build in an element of flexibility and don’t worry if things change!
Try online shopping
Cut your weekly planning and shopping time in half by shopping online. I was initially put off from doing this because I thought delivery was expensive but I was so wrong. I currently use a delivery saver payment plan with Tesco which means that each month I pay £3.50 to have my food delivered. This is less than £1 a week!
I hope this has been helpful, particularly to those new to planning and prepping their home cooking. Trust me when I say that this will always be the first step in getting your nutrition in a good place so, have fun with it, give it a go and good luck!