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How and why you should be meal prepping

Meal prepping can save you a lot of time and help you stick to your nutrition goals. Here are some tips on how to start

Meal prepping is a practical way to eat better
Meal prepping is a practical way to eat better (Pexels)

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Meal prepping is a practical and ideal solution for many situations you might encounter, and it has plenty of benefits too:

• If you live with your family at home, but you are the only one working towards a health goal, cooking separate meals for yourself every day can be difficult and impractical. When you meal prep every Sunday for the week ahead, both cooking and eating become simpler for you.

Also read: Why you should shift to a plant-based diet and drink less alcohol

• If you are also cooking for your entire family, having your own meals prepped not only saves time, but also gives you the comfort of eating your food whenever you want to, possibly before or after you’ve cooked for the rest of the family. This way, you’ll avoid a situation where you hungrily go into the kitchen and satiate yourself by eating whatever’s in front of you—saving you from potentially bigger portions and unhealthier food.

• Meal prepping doesn’t mean that you make and eat the same food over and over every day. It helps in planning ahead and encourages you to creatively use the ingredients that you have, adding variety to your meals.

• Apart from all of this, it saves a lot of money (fewer trips to the grocery store), reduces food wastage, and helps you eat out less too.

Coming to the basics of meal prepping, there is the lazy approach—only prepare certain meals a day (which I also call ‘struggle meals’). If I prepare my dinner, which is usually the meal that I indulge myself with after a tiring day, I focus on prepping just that one single meal and make a dinner plan for myself.

What do you need for meal prepping?

A kitchen scale, some cups and spoons with varied measurements, some bowls for storage, and you’re all set.

Measure your carbs and measure your portions of protein—this would be of great help when you’re logging and tracking your food for whatever your goal is. Also, when you start doing this, you will soon learn how much a tablespoon of butter looks like, or what 100 grams of raw rice is—this will eventually help you gain an intuition for measurements later on, when you can simply eyeball the food to glean its nutritional value, macros and calories. Imagine how cool that would be. So include your toppings, spreads and condiments, and understand the portions you add to your food while prepping.

Meal prepping can simply be cutting all your vegetables in advance, or cutting and dry roasting them with spices on a non-stick pan and keeping them in a ready-to-use masala or dip form. Meal prepping isn’t something boring like some of you might think it to be. Switch it up! If your gravy is done, change the veggies in it. If your veggies are too similar, change the texture of your seasoning and so on. Just get creative with your cooking if you are someone who likes variety. You could also semi- or fully cook your meal and stock it in the refrigerator, then just heat it up before you eat it. It’s all up to you.

I am a big proponent of cooking things simply while doing meal prep and seasoning it later at the time of eating it if I am at home, or in the morning right before packing it if I have to go outside.

The reason is that there are chances for the food to change its texture and taste, and if it becomes dry you need to add the oil again, or add herbs or cheese which will lead to the macros changing and your calories getting higher again. So why not just cut it, boil it, grill it or bake it—whatever you normally do—and store it so that you can season its taste later?

Another thing I notice is that with meal prepping, everything lasts longer without seasoning on it. So, if you are trying to cook your chicken or paneer, simply cook it plainly in the tawa, oven or grill, and store in the fridge or freezer. This is a nifty meal prep trick. You can defrost it later, and quickly heat it and add your spices or condiments and eat away.

Also read: Are you being duped into eating more junk food?

Now let me take each macronutrient and break down a few options for you to meal prep in advance.

 Let’s start with protein.

• Lean cuts of fish, chicken or any other grass-fed meat that you prefer (please grill these for optimal benefits).

• Protein powders that can be added to overnight oats and chia puddings (even stirring it in water and having it is
good enough).

• Boiled eggs can be stored in the refrigerator and can be eaten at any time as a snack! For those who avoid the yolk owing to the cholesterol, I normally suggest a 4:1 ratio (for every 4 egg whites, you can have 1 yolk), or if you don’t
want to waste the egg yolks, just get the egg white fluids that are available in the markets these days.

• Tofu, soya and tempeh are handy too. Chia seeds, flax seeds and oats are good options to use for meal prepping as well.

Next, let’s look at carbohydrates.

• Include all the green vegetables, carrots, beetroot, squashes, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, radishes, pumpkins and colourful veggies.

• Fruits that are low in sugar—apples, small bananas, berries, guavas, pears, black grapes, papayas, watermelons, plums, cherries, etc.

• Then include all the lentils, legumes, dals and pulses.

• Also, you can use non-refined sources of rice, millet, edamame, sourdough, quinoa, pasta, sattu and whole wheat. You can do anything for carbs, as long as you avoid processing it and keep the portions in control.

 Let’s move on to fats. You can use:

• Nut butters
• Avocados
• Nuts
• Greek yoghurt
• Buttermilk
• Low-fat cheese or low-fat paneer

 Apart from these, you can list down the foods you personally enjoy and find substitutes for them. For example, if you like chocolates opt for 70 per cent and above dark chocolate. Some of you might like peanut chikki—organic laddoo would be a better alternative. If you drink hot beverages twice a day, see if you can replace the sugar with brown sugar, jaggery, cane sugar or stevia. All of this depends on your goals and your macro allowances. These substitutes are not mandatory, but just suggestions to allow for a healthier lifestyle.

Again, I am getting back to the idea that eating healthy need not be boring. When you go grocery shopping, all you need to pick up is two to three options for protein, carbs and a wide range of colourful veggies—that’s it. It is then a matter of switching up the macro sources each day when you are making your dishes.

Tips to Help You Get Started on Meal Prepping

1. Make a list of what you already have, and then plan what you need to buy.

2. Decide what to make. Start with planning one meal (e.g., lunch) that you can carry to work for the entire week.

3. Go grocery shopping on the day you do your meal prep.

4. Prep your meal. You could make soups or curries, chop veggies for salads or make a stir-fry without the dressing.

5. Store it in the refrigerator or freezer if necessary.

Extracted with permission from Stop Weighting: A Guidebook for a Fitter, Healthier You by Ramya Subramanian, published by Penguin Random House India

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