If you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet, meal preparation is your key to success. Not only will it halve your time in the kitchen but you’ll save money and be less tempted to reach for something unhealthy when hunger strikes. Spending a little time each week preparing and cooking meals ahead of time means that you’ll always have a selection of meals to hand. Even if you don’t feel that confident cooking there are plenty of savvy tips that can help make assembling healthy meals straightforward.
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Whether you’re looking for easy grab and go breakfast options, simple snacks to take to work or food hacks to help you make evening meals in bulk here are some top tips to fuss free healthy dishes.
Tupperware is your friend!
One of the first things you need is a selection of good storage containers. These can be used to portion out meals for lunch and evening meals ready to be warmed up when needed. If you struggle with portion control and have a tendency to finish a whole jumbo bag of nuts then using smaller containers to portion out what you need each day can help to stick to the right portion sizes. If you like your salad dressings on the side you may wish to pick up some little pots or containers that can be drizzled over your meal when you’re ready to eat.
Make use of Mason Jars
These are perfect for breakfast and lunch options. I like to use these for soaked overnight oats, layered granola and fruit pots, chia puddings and layered salads and soups. Mason jars are robust to be heated in the oven and are dishwasher safe too. You can buy additional screw top lids which are better than the traditional metal lids if you’re going to take them to work with you.
Zip Lock Freezer Bags
Another essential. These can be used for marinating fish and meat or for bagging up smoothie ingredients which can be stored in the fridge overnight ready for blending up in the morning.
Pre-assemble your favourite salad dressing
Rather than resorting to shop bought dressings, make up your own and store in a glass container in the fridge. This can transform any salad and make a delicious addition drizzled over steamed vegetables and grains. Here are a couple to try:
Classic Red Wine Vinaigrette: light and tasty whisk together 4tbsp red wine vinegar, 7tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 garlic crushed, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1tsp granulated stevia, salt and pepper.
Soy and Ginger Dressing: A delicious Asian style dressing. Mix together 3tbsp tamari soy sauce, 2tbsp rice vinegar, 1/2 tsp stevia, 1tsp grated fresh ginger, 1tbsp olive oil, 1tbsp sesame oil, salt and pepper
Tahini lemon Dressing: A lovely creamy dressing for kale salad, beans and pulses and grains. Mix together juice of 1 lemon, 1 garlic clove crushed, 50g tahini (about 2tbsp) and 1tbsp olive oil or water.
Marinate in Ziplock bags
Jazz up fish portions and chicken fillets in separate ziplock bags with a range of marinades. Marinate your food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. This will help keep your food safe. You can use the marinade once it’s time to cook but only if you are cooking it for a sauce – you cannot use it raw. For the best results, try to marinate the chicken the night before you cook it for the maximum flavour. Marinate a large batch and then freeze the meat in the marinade to be used later. Then, when it’s time to cook, thaw the meat in the fridge and then cook.
Here are a few simple marinades to try:
Jerk Style. Mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1/2 tsp. ground allspice, 1 tbsp xylitol, 1 tsp. garlic salt, Black pepper – few turns, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika, 2 tbsp. olive oil and Juice of 1 lime or 1 lemon
Teriyaki sauce. This needs to be simmered for 1-2 minutes and cooled before using. 4tbsp tamari soy sauce, 4tbsp water, 3tbsp xylitol or 1tbsp stevia, 1tbsp cornflour mixed with water to make a paste, 1/2 tsp fresh ginger grated, ½ tsp minced garlic
Asian Peanut Sauce. 4 tbsp smooth peanut butter or almond nut butter, 3 tbsp warm water, plus more as needed, 2 tbsp tamari soy sauce, 2 tsp rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon chile sauce, such as Sriracha, 1tsp honey, 1tsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger.
Honey Mustard Dressing. 2tbsp honey or maple syrup, 1-2tbsp wholegrain mustard to taste, 2tbsp olive oil, Salt and pepper
Get Batch Cooking
Cook up a large batch of wholegrain rice or quinoa to be portioned out for several meals. 1 cup of raw wholegrain rice for example will make up enough for at least 4 servings. Just at the end of cooking toss in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and you instantly have vegetable rice mixture to spoon into containers.
Roast Meat, Fish and Vegetables Together
Use kitchen foil or greaseproof paper on baking trays to cook two or three variations of chicken or fish at once, using aluminium foil dividers in your tray. At the same time place a tray of different vegetables that will cook at a similar time in the oven toss in a little oil.
Boil 1/2 Dozen eggs for Salads and Snacks
Place a number of eggs in a saucepan and soft or hard boil according to taste. Cool in cold water then drain. Place in the fridge keeping the shell on until you are ready to use them. Hard boiled eggs make an ideal snack, instant breakfast or can be added to cooked rice dishes, salads or placed on top of ramen bowls.
Make up Breakfast Oats in Mason Jars
Oatmeal jars are perfect for make ahead breakfast options. There are endless flavour combinations and all you need to do in the morning is pour over boiling water or milk to serve. I love mixing in freeze dried fruits as they keep their texture. A scoop of protein powder is also a great way to boost your morning protein content. For an indulgent taste why not add a couple of spoonfuls of chopped dark chocolate. As a guide use 1/2 cup oats plus your flavourings like dried fruits, nuts and seeds, cinnamon, vanilla, protein powder. Mix and then place in the fridge overnight. Make up several as these will keep well in the fridge for several days. Add the water when you are ready to serve.
Chop Colourful Veggies in advance
Whether you like to spiralise or chop, by preparing a range of colourful vegetables ahead of time you can throw together dishes in minutes. Store them separately in tupperware containers in the fridge for a couple of days at a time.
Cheat with Frozen
I am a big fan of frozen vegetables – they require no preparation and cook quickly. Bags of mixed chopped vegetables also encourage you to include a range of different vegetables in one meal. Bags of chopped onion save time and often money as you only need to use as much as you need.