Summer is a funny old time - and this one (yet again) is no different. But it is what it is and don't let it be your excuse to let all your healthy intentions go. When summer goes wrong is when we allow it to drift aimlessly around, with nothing concrete in place. Whatever you do then starts to feel shoot-from-the-hip chaos and, ultimately unsatisfying.
So, my big question for you is what ONE thing makes all the difference?
(Checks the audience for raised hands).
The thing that will help you is planning. Very boring, I know and sorry about that.
Planning is what - in epidemiology - they call the tipping point. That's code for, get that right and everything else falls into place.
That means planning your planning, too. Sitting down to work out what you will be eating and when, and also shopping for the stuff, which means that you will actually have the right stuff in the fridge and the cupboards to eat. Genius.
Otherwise, this is what happens...
No time for breakfast or nothing healthy for breakfast – marmite, jam or just butter on toast. I had no other options, okay?
Recriminations. What is wrong with me? Can’t even get breakfast right. But I didn’t have time for porridge. Its’ OK. Gonna be good from now on.
Mid morning. Starving. Ooh, biscuits.
More recriminations. Shoulda, coulda, woulda had the fruit and nuts. Right, I can get this back.
Is it lunch yet? Cough up £5 (at least) in M&S or Pret if you’re back to actual workplace work. Or a few slices of toast if you’re at home. OK, I’ll be good. I know I should have a salad but I’m really busy. Leaves, quinoa. Don’t have time for stuff with a fork. Just a sandwich and crisps. Phew, that could have been a whole lot worse. This is DEFINITELY the last day I do this.
Ooh, is that a packet of biscuits lurking at the back of the cupboard? Tomorrow is the day I am officially getting back on this. Just one, okay, I’ll take a second for later. Thank you.
Work finished. Why am I so hungry today? Hunt through cupboards. Ugh. Nothing looks even slightly appealing. Sausage roll and chips… I could have peas. One of the five a day, at least.
Look, today was a total disaster. Let’s get a take-away. I’m going to start all over tomorrow. Actually get up in time for breakfast. Make my own lunch. Tomorrow I will be a planning goddess.
Ooh, that thing’s on TV. Don’t want to miss that.
I don't say that to be critical. You know you have goals for your health. It doesn’t really matter what they are, but free-wheeling through life isn’t going to help you reach any of them.
So let me help you to help yourself...
If you want to avoid a high stress environment too often filled with children or partners standing in front of the fridge, asking you ‘what’s for dinner?’ you will want to make peace with prepping. Even if it’s only one meal a day, think of what you’ll gain… your sanity, and that’s priceless.
Today I’m inviting you to get clear on how meal planning is going to work for you. Planning ahead and planning your planning is going to be absolutely key. There are a number of different ways you could approach the task and there are a number of different ways you can meal prep.
Here are some things to consider…
Which meal feels the most out of control? Choose to start with whichever meal brings the most chaos to your life.
It might be, for example, that not preparing lunch forces you to make unhealthy choices. Or what about the evening meal? Are you happy with your lot here? Many of my clients, when they first come to work with me, feel more at sea with this meal that at any other. When you finish work or whatever, time doesn’t seem to be on your side, and your stress levels soar as you have to respond to endless requests (not just from children, but perhaps from partners too), about ‘what’s for dinner?’.
At the same time, if you’ve not eaten as well as you’d like through the day, you might find you’re ravenously hungry, which never helps with patience. If it would help to know not only what you’re going to eat but have half or the majority of the work already done, start here.
So which meal is most in need of your attention? Do you want to streamline your morning routine? Will it be make-ahead dinners you can whip out and pop in the oven?
Now you’ve decided on which meal needs your attention first, let’s think about what ‘meal prepping’ actually means.
It ranges from simply preparing freezer smoothie packs for breakfast to cooking complete dinners for the upcoming week. You don’t need to spend your entire Sunday in the kitchen either. Even spending 30 minutes planning and prepping meals will make it easier to eat well during the week.
There are different categories and there isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. You don’t have to choose just one category to work from. When I’m on top form, I probably dip in and out of all of these. This is step 2.
Make-ahead meals: if you have a little time to prepare meals during the week, cooking complete meals in advance to be reheated makes for superfast weeknight dinners. That might mean setting the slow cooker up to have a soup, casserole, stew or curry waiting for your return, or perhaps you’ve just made them on them on the stove top.
Batch cooking/freezing: Batch cooking is preparing multiple batches of a recipe to be portioned out and frozen for meals in the weeks to come. Any of the above meals work, as do ragu for Spag bol, or chilli, fish pie and many other recipes I’m sure you have up your sleeve. The extra effort involved in doubling or tripling quantities (eat one, freeze one or two) is minimal so this really brings dividends.
Individually portioned meals: what I’m talking about here is those grab-and-go meals; usually lunches or breakfasts that are made the night before you need them then popped in the fridge. Portioning up granola to go with your pot of yoghurt (if you need to take it to work), making overnight oats, popping smoothie ingredients (minus the liquid, of course) into a bag to whiz in the morning, or building the perfect salad. I’ll be popping in at some point later to talk about creating the perfect mason-jar salad.
Partial meal prep: when you need to cook meals just before serving (think stir fries or if cooking this way is simply your preference), chopping up the ingredients and storing them in airtight containers cuts down on kitchen time, which can be especially helpful on a busy weeknight. Pulling out all my pre-chopped ingredients always gives me the feeling of being a TV chef – so satisfying! The big upside is that partial prep doesn’t take a lot of time to get started with, although it requires a bit more time and effort to get a meal on the table.
I’d urge caution to start with, if you’re new to this. Don’t commit to prepping every single meal every single day. It’s a lot to take on. Win at one meal, then build on that. Even committing to prepping one meal a week to start works. It’s not important how fast you move forward, only that you start. It will stand you in good stead for ‘back to school’.