Instant Meal Prep Ideas
Author: Lauren Travers
It’s one of those things that we all wish we had more time for, yet many of us struggle to prioritise fitting meal prepping in to our busy schedules.
The idea of ready-made, healthy lunches sitting in your fridge is certainly an inspiring one, but we often associate this with hours spent in the kitchen cooking up a storm whilst cutting into our precious weekend time.
So lets look at some quick easy tricks which make meal prep even more convenient than ducking out to buy your lunch.
It Begins At The Supermarket
Lack of time is one of the most common excuses I hear when it comes to choosing unhealthy options, particularly at lunch time. Willpower is a tricky thing, and when you are faced with two options, one healthy, one not so much, the battle of willpower may not work in your favour.
Scientific studies have shown that we only have a limited amount of willpower, referred to as ‘willpower depletion’, and if we have already used it making difficult decisions at work, or deliberating over a personal issue, there may be very little left over to use towards choosing a salad instead of a burger and chips.
SO! In order to prevent ourselves from being stuck in a compromising position, we need to make the most ‘time effective’ choices possible when at the supermarket in preparation for our busy week ahead.
Choose Pre-Cut Vegetable Options & Pre-Mixed Salads
Whilst these are ‘technically’ packaged foods, they do not contain any additives or modifications to the ingredients’. The plastic containing them may not be as environmentally friendly as buying your own farm fresh vegetables, but they do save you a myriad of time in the kitchen. You are eliminating the time spent washing, peeling and chopping your veggies, plus most of these are portion controlled. Pre-cut, canned and frozen vegetables make for very quick, easy dinner options when stir-fried or steamed with some protein, and bagged salad can be quickly jazzed up by the addition of a salad dressing, some protein and a handful of nuts.
Time Efficient Proteins
The majority of animal based proteins require cooking, however there are some shortcuts when it comes to quick, easy protein options on the go.
- Buy a cooked rotisserie chicken: This can be instantly added to salad, wraps and sandwiches. It can be shredded and cooked into quick meals such as soups, stirfies, sace based meals and mexican food.
- Pre-cut meats: much like the pre-cut veggies, this is all about saving you prep time in the kitchen. Buying ‘stir-fry’ cuts of chicken and beef means you only need to worry about the time of actual cooking, not the cutting and cleaning required before-hand. Once again, they are portion controlled allowing for a better estimation of serving size.
- Lean mince: As above, lean minced meats such as beef, turkey and chicken make for a very quick cooking time. Add vegetables and your favourite tomato based sauce for a super quick italian dish, or add mexican spices for burrito bowls.
- Tinned tuna: Instant, affordable protein on the go. Opt for unflavoured options in springwater, brine or olive oil to avoid the addition of sugars, refined oils and preservatives.
- Eggs: These can be cooked in under 3 minutes for a fast breakfast, OR hard boiled ahead of time for an instant, protein rich snack to keep in the fridge.
- Tinned beans, lentils and pulses: These are a great vegetable based protein source which requires no more time than opening a tin and rinsing in water. They can be added to salads for a fibre rich protein hit, cooked into meals and blended into fast, tasty dips.
- Nuts & seeds: A great option to have lying around at home and work, nuts and seeds can be kept at room temperature and make an amazing addition to salads by boosting healthy fat content, adding a protein hit and keeping you feeling satisfied for longer.
- Cottage Cheese: One of the most versatile protein sources, cottage cheese is low in fat and packs a protein punch. It can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, making a great addition to salads for a quick lunch, on top of wholegrain ryvita crackers for a filling snack, or topped with berries and nuts for a fast filling breakfast or snack option.
When it comes to snacks, you want to buy options that are ready to go and require no thought or preparation. A pre-considered snack from home is always going to be better than the options presented to you from a vending machine or a cafe window.
- Protein Yoghurt tubs: There are a variety on the market these days, and all are similar in their profiles. High protein making them filling, low in sugar meaning they will provide sustained energy without spiking blood sugar. These can be eaten alone, or with the addition of some nuts/seeds.
- Nuts: Any nuts are fine, choose based on your personal preference. Opt for natural, unsalted nuts, and only consume a single-layer palmful (around 10 nuts) at a time, aiming for no more than 2 serves per day.
- Protein shake: Fast and on the go, all you need to do is add water and shake for a filling boost in between meals. Opt for a powder containing minimal added ingredients (just protein) and sweetened naturally with stevia, cocoa, vanilla bean.
- Hummus: A great vegetarian protein source, chickpeas are loaded with fibre which fills you up fast. Aim to keep a tub in your fridge at work and home, and serve with carrot, cucumber, celery or capsicum sticks.
- Fresh Fruit: Try not to rely heavily upon fruit as a snacking option, predominantly because of its high sugar content. Always combine with a source of protein or fats (nuts, nut butters, dairy etc) and aim for no more than 2 pieces of fruit in one day.
Cutting Corners On Carbs
Whole Grains are full of fibre, vitamins, minerals and nutrients which can all work towards improving your health as part of a balanced diet. However, often the whole grain options come hand in hand with a longer cooking time.
I personally struggle to prioritise the 50 minutes required to cook brown rice, when it’s white counterpart takes only 11 minutes. However in order to get the added nutritional value, you can buy pre-packaged rice, quinoa and grain options to save on time. There is a minimal amount of oil added to these to prevent clumping, but the calories it adds to you meal are negligible.
These packets can be heated in only 2-3 minutes, making for an instant way to boost your veggies and protein. They are also portion controlled, once again allowing you to correctly account for serving size and calories consumed.
Quick Recipe Combinations
So now that you’ve got the shopping part downpat, how do we put this all together to create delicious, fast meals on the go?
Crunchy Tuna Salad
Combine mixed salad leaves, coleslaw salad veg, bean sprouts, 1 tin tuna in olive oil, 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar, 1 TBSP peanuts and season with salt & pepper.
This is so quick to make, you could even buy the ingredients and whip it up during a lunch break. Its crunchy, filling and packed with vitamins and minerals. The fats keep you full well into the afternoon.
Chicken Hummus Wrap
In a large corn tortilla, spread 1 TBSP hummus and 1 TBSP salsa. Top with 120gm shredded cooked chicken, 1 cup salad greens, 50gm cottage cheese, ½ cup rainbow beetroot coleslaw salad mix. Wrap and eat!
You can get creative with wraps, switching up the proteins and healthy sauce options (try yoghurt and chilli with tuna). The salad options can be any variety you choose, and fill the wrap up with as much of these as you can squeeze in.
Chicken Burrito Bowl
In a large container combine 1 x portion cooked brown rice cup, 1 cup shredded cooked chicken, 1 cup shredded cos lettuce, ¼ cup drained canned corn, ½ cup drained tinned beans (black or kidney beans) ¼ avocado and 1 chopped tomato. Dress with olive oil, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper. Optional: add fresh or minced chilli.
You can omit the chicken from this for a vegetarian option or use another meat of choice such as leftover cooked mince or beef strips etc.
Tuna Poke Bowl
In a bowl combine 1 x brown rice cup, ½ cup frozen green beans, ½ cup frozen edamame beans, ½ cup frozen broccoli. Cook for 3 mins or until cooked through. Top with 1 x tin tuna in springwater. Dress with 1 TBSP soy sauce and 1 tsp olive oil. Season with pepper.
If desired you can add chilli or pickled ginger to this, as well as avocado. Find a brand of tuna that you like, and feel free to experiment with which green veggies you use.
Beef Stir Fry
Heat a medium pan with 1 TBSP coconut oil. Add 500 gm packet of beef strips and cook until just brown. Remove from pan. Add 1 x family bag of stir fry vegetable mix and cook over high heat stirring continuously for 3-5 minutes. Add beef back to pan and continue cooking for 2 mins or until vegetables are tender and meat is cooked through. Dress with olive oil, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Serve over 1 cup serve of packet brown rice/Quinoa/Wild rice medley.
You can use whichever protein source you prefer, and experiment with different sauces such as hoisin, fresh herbs and spices, vinegar, sesame, tamari, chilli etc. Avoid sweetened, sugar laden sauce options.
Combine 1 x 400g tin drained chickpeas, 1 TBSP tahini, 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1tsp cummin, 1 TBSP olive oil, salt & pepper. Blitz in a food processor until smooth. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days, serve with vegetable sticks.
Keep a container in the fridge at work and at home, along with a container of pre-cut vegetable sticks.
Next Time You Envision A Busy Week Ahead
Organise a trip to the supermarket and try to include these simple, time efficient meal hacks. Whilst it is preferable to cook most of what we eat from scratch, particularly from an environmental waste perspective, these time-efficient meal prep ideas may help you to take the first steps towards becoming more prepared.
Happy meal prepping SpeedFit fam!
About The Author
Lauren is a qualified nutritionist with a passion for holistic living and mindfulness. She believes that health starts from what‘s on your plate, and the way that we ’think’ about food. “Our state of mind is the biggest enemy when it comes to changing our bodies” says Lauren. “There is no quick fix. We need to look at the body as a whole, and try to regulate any imbalances whilst targeting negative thought patterns.”
Lauren’s passionate about educating clients on how to nourish their bodies back to health and create a balanced relationship with food. She specialises in women’s health, weight loss, sports nutrition, and food intolerances.