As anyone who lives a busy lifestyle but still strives to eat healthily knows, sticking to a good nutrition plan can be tough, especially when you're short on time and shorter on sleep. When you're spending most days eating at your desk (if that - I've known many a time where even eating in my car, while driving, wouldn't be an option because I was too busy running from place to place and trying to listen to my GPS at the same time) it can be all too easy to just grab whatever's available, no matter how healthy it is. And if you're that busy, I'd wager that you probably haven't had time to think about snacks - which means you'll wind up starving before each meal, and thus more likely to make unhealthy food choices that you might not have otherwise. I get it - I've been there. Which is why doing meal prep can be such a saviour in times like that - it's not just an endeavour solely reserved for bodybuilders and physique fitness competitors, after all. in fact, ask anyone who is in good shape and they'll most likely say that they do some kind of meal prep themselves. While I don't claim to be an expert by any means, here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up along the way.
Make a list, write a plan. Look up recipes, write down what you'll eat for the week, and then stick to it. Not only does it save time during the busier days of the week, since you won't have to think about what to eat (or waste time scrounging for something healthy order, then waiting for the delivery), you'll also save money this way since you're more likely to buy fewer wasteful groceries. Planning out the week's recipes is an excellent budgeting tool so you'll not only eat better, but you'll save cash as well, since you'll be able to make sure the ingredients you buy can be used for several different recipes, and that you'll actually use them before the sell-by date. We've all experienced grocery shopping (even worse when done in a hungry state) that results in items sequestered at the back of the fridge, only to be discovered remorsefully days after its safe consumption date.
Keep It Simple
Don't try to get fancy just for the sake of it - especially if you're new to this, just keep it simple. If you're trying to whip up dishes involving steps you're not used to or exotic ingredients (zoodles, homemade almond butter, and vegetable coulis, I'm looking at you), you'll wind up spending way more time in the kitchen than you planned to, not to mention get frustrated or mentally associate the task with strenuous and complicated work. And don't be afraid to take shortcuts - if you must have almond butter in there, or you want to toss some chimichurri sauce on there, but that one extra step would send you over the edge or you can buy a ready-made one that's just as easy to use, just use it. One thing I learned in the Bear Grylls Survival Academy was that one of the first rules of survival is that if there is an easier option available to you, just take it - surviving doesn't mean you have to expend wasted extra effort playing the hero. The same applies for food. Nobody's saying you have to be the next Master Chef.
Get Nice Containers
We live in a very visually-focused world, and whether you like it or not, presentation matters. If you have cute containers that look and feel good to eat out of, you're more likely to want to use them. Same goes for convenience - if they fit nicely into your bag, you'll be more likely to want to toss it in there daily, rather than worry about spillage or uncomfortable edges sticking into your sides or ruining the shape of your bags. And pick ones that are easy to clean - if they're a pain to wash up, then even if you save time eating the prepped meals during the week, you'll hate washing them if it's a hassle and they'll not only pile up in a horrible mess, you'll also not want to use them because you're trying to avoid the clean-up. Trust me. (Can you tell I speak from experience?)
Utilise Your Entire Kitchen
There's more than just stovetop available - and more than just that saute pan. Plus I'm no math whiz but there's a limited number of hobs on there so if you're sticking to recipes that can only use one type of pan or hob to be cooked, it's going to take you twice or three times as long to make. Use your grills, a variety of other pans, the oven, the blender, the microwave (if you have one - I don't and haven't for three years now!) and you'll be able to have more stuff simmering, bubbling and cooking at the same time, making the final assembly point a lot faster.
I saw this great trick once that's saved me on many an occasion - making and eating the same thing all of the time is boring. We all know that bulk cooking is key here, but that doesn't mean you're sentenced to eat the exact same thing every day. If you're baking chicken, use the aluminum foil to create little 'bridges' in the pan so that you can separate the items into several different sections in the same pan. Then use it to season your meat, veggies, or whatever it is in a few different ways, so you have different taste per section, and your meals will be a little more exciting for the same effort.
Portion Out Smoothie Ingredients In Bags
I know, smoothies are easy and take mere minutes so you feel ultra-lazy if you say even that's time consuming, but sometimes even that feels like a chore, or time you don't have. Again, I've been there. One solution is to portion out the smoothie ingredients in advance (this works really well if you have the same one often as well, or just swap one or two ingredients). Dry ingredients in one place, fresh or frozen ones in another. I used to put my frozen berries and veggies, then dry items (like chia seeds, flax seeds, protein powders, and so on) into separated portions in the fridge and freezer so I wouldn't have to wash and measure them out, then on extra busy mornings all I'd have to do was chuck the dry, the fresh, and the liquids in pre-measured, and boom.
Freeze blended smoothies
Another great trick I've tried? Freezing your smoothies. If you've blended up too much or don't want to wake your neighbors with the immense noise of your blender, then congratulations, you're quite considerate - but also wasting time. Blend them up then freeze them in muffin tins then put that into containers. Then when you're ready to drink them just take them out and let them thaw into something you can drink once it liquifies. Easy!
Prep For Your Prep
You know how in those TV cooking shows it always looks so darn easy thanks to all of those "And let me just take out this ____ that I prepared earlier" ingredients? Guess what - you can do that too! If you don't have time to do the full prep one day, you can prep some things that won't go bad early. Measure out dry ingredients, make sauces, and so on then when you are prepping you just have to assemble it with what you're cooking fresh.
Make It Part Of Your Routine
I'm always most successful when I have a routine, because then you can't skip it. The night before the workweek starts tends to be a quiet night in for most of us (at least once you reach a certain age, hah!). If that's already your usual night to stay in with Netflix while doing your laundry, try to work in some meal prep then also, then another time mid-week.
Clean As You Go
Nobody likes to wash a ton of dishes, especially after meal prepping for days worth of meals because more food = more cooking tools. Cleaning as you go will make it feel less daunting after.
Team Up With A Friend
Live alone, or still find the bulk portions you're prepping too much to be consumed in the days after before they're not fresh enough to eat anymore and you have to do it all over again, fretting about what you've wasted? If a friend you see daily is keen on joining you, you can share your prep with them, so you take in two meals not one - and you can take turns this way too. You take the weekend prep and they do the mid-week, and vice versa, meaning you both only have to do it once a week. Less effort, more output, maximum efficiency. Yes.