Food prep: What is it and how can it help?
Continuing her insights into harnessing nutrition for shift workers, Kate explores the tupperware jungle of food prep...
Food prep... meal planning... calorie tracking... is it important?
For people trying to lose, gain or just maintain weight, food preparation can be key as it ensures the right food to achieve their goal. For shift workers, it is particularly easy to grab convenient foods which are often high in calories and not in nutrients, often leading to weight gain. Preparing your meals in advance will ensure you achieve a healthy and balanced diet!
I'm a huge supporter of meal prep and you certainly don’t have to be a big muscly body builder to do it... I'm 5 foot tall and 50kg! Using a food tracking app is definitely not essential unless you have a specific goal, but this can be a really easy way to learn about the nutritional value of food which then makes it much easier to make better choices in the long run.
For me, having been an overweight child and teen and losing weight to help improve my fitness to pass the job-related fitness test, this soon become an obsession leading to me then becoming underweight. I'm sure you're all aware of that "out of control" feeling in your probation and the high stress that it causes. Tracking my food allowed me to stay on track with a healthy amount of food and ensure I got all the nutrition I needed. I have learnt so much that I now make better food choices without even thinking!
There are a couple of ways to food prep. You could spend a little time cooking a few days’ worth of food and keep it in tupperware to simply grab and take with you to work. Or for those who prefer fresher food (I just like food full stop. I’m no longer fussy) you can at least get it all planned out and chopped up ready to cook.
The key to getting ahead with meal prep is to have a few staple foods that you can batch-cook and use in a number of different ways. If you really don’t have the time, opt for tinned fish, salads, raw veggies (think carrot sticks, cucumber, avocado, tomatoes), fruit and nuts, which take zero time to throw in a tub.
How do I do it?
I tend to cook 2 or 3 days at a time. I eat 3 or 4 meals a day and a couple of snacks. In my meals I ensure I choose a good piece of protein first (as discussed in my last blog, protein keeps us fuller for longer). I tend to go for chicken or turkey breast or mince for work (fish can get smelly and upset our dear colleagues!) and then fish at home to mix up my protein sources and nutrients. Lean beef or mince, salmon and white fish, and for vegetarians I’m sure you’re aware of your high protein sources! Then pick something green… salad or veg. It’s easy.
Salad can just be thrown in a tub and the majority of green veg can now come in a pack for the microwave! Now you’ve chosen a veg, choose a complex carbohydrate with some fibre to keep you ticking until your next meal. White or sweet potato, rice and quinoa, wholemeal bread, pasta etc. Try to add this last after you’ve filled your tub with your veg or salad... you’ll find you’ll add less and these are often more calorie dense. So… from this we could make a chicken (protein) salad (greens) sandwich (wholemeal bread) orrrrrr, roasted turkey mince stuffed bell peppers with rice, orrr chicken sausages with peas and sweet potato mash etc etc (More recipes in my next blog!)
So, what will this do?
Taking that extra time to prepare for the week ahead and you’ll be rewarded with:
Having your meals on hand will mean you don’t have to worry about finding time to rush to a shop (or on nights, a 24-hour garage or fast food). However, this will not only save you time, but probably a few inches on your waistline too! You have full control over the portions and ingredients.
You’ll be prepared at snack time when hunger strikes with something quick, easy, and nourishing. Snacking regularly will stop your blood sugars dropping and feeling fatigued. It’s just important to get these snacks balanced and healthy. Keep them under a couple of hundred calories and satisfying, preferably with some protein. An apple and nut butter, veg sticks and hummus etc! (Those bags of low calorie popcorn are a winner for me on nights!)
Education is key when it comes to buying and preparing healthy meals for yourself and your family. And, meal planning is the perfect solution for people who find it difficult to buy healthy food when they go shopping.
When you plan your meals, you become much more organised and become more aware of the money you are spending on food each week. You will get into the habit of buying what you need, instead of buying what you want.
This means you are less likely to waste money on unnecessary food such as treats and sweets which is a common problem for shoppers who don't have an organised plan. Meal planning will also reduce the number of times you need to go to the shop to buy food, which adds up to a large sum of money over the course of a month.
It Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Most people live hectic lives but for shift workers even more so. We all have a wide range of personal pressures and concerns. Rushing to buy food for your next meal doesn’t have to be one of these worries. If it’s prepped, you can spend more time doing what needs to be done and just grab and go before work!
So overall there are clearly many benefits of food preparation. For me, the feeling of being able to control something is key. Even if you are unable to do this week in week out, cooking extra tea and boxing it up for lunch the next day is a great start!!
PS. you’ll likely end up with tupperware everywhere and lose some lids... just saying!!