If you follow a fair few fitness bloggers on Instagram, you'll probably have seen the #MealPrep hashtag wheeled out every Sunday or Monday night. Y'know, those posts of perfectly aligned tupperware, packed with food for the week ahead?
Meal preppers could be accused of being a little smug (I should know, I'm one of them), showing off their organizational skills and healthy food on Instagram; but prepping a load of meals for the week can save you money (you're not buying lunch out), and make you eat better (if you're prepping fresh, home-cooked stuff, of course).
But real talk: actually planning all your meals out in advance and having time to make them can be a massive headache, and involves a lot of cleaning up.
So how do you get started if you're a total meal prep newbie, and how do you avoid spending hours slaving away in the kitchen? We asked Emma Rose, head nutritionist at meal prep gurus at Fresh Fitness Food, for pointers:
1.You need to prep BEFORE you meal prep.
Planning all the meals you are going to make before you get to the supermarket will save you a whole lot of time and stress, as well as minimizing food waste and reducing costs.
2. Choose your containers wisely.
BPA-free tupperware or lunch boxes are a must, as these harmful chemicals can seep into your food, especially with repeated heating. Exposure to BPAs has been linked to negativeeffects on the brain and behavior.
3. Ease into it.
Meal prep is a way of life for some, but if you are a beginner, it can be daunting, so start out with one meal per day (lunch is an easy one) and work your way up.
4. Make sure you keep it interesting.
Meal prep no longer has to be just spam, egg, and rice. Batch-cook things like curries, stews, and soups, freezing portions so you don't end up with the same meal all week.
5. You don't need to be counting macros to benefit.
Counting macros is how gym bunnies make sure they are eating the right sort of nutrients to burn fat and build lean muscle. But counting macros can seem daunting at first and isn't for everyone. An easy guide is to use this rule of thumb when preparing a well-balanced meal: ¼ protein, ¼ carb, and ½ vegetables.
6. The last thing you want is a soggy salad.
Salads are great for baon, but make them in a jar to avoid limp leaves. You can put the dressing in the bottom and layer the ingredients, putting sturdier things like peppers and cucumber near the bottom, and the leaves at the top to keep everything fresh all day.
7. Think about nutrients.
It can be easy to just eat the same stuff every day, but when planning meals, try and look objectively at your diet across the week to see if it is nutritionally sound, or if there are key nutrients that you may be missing out on. Are you eating 2-3 fish meals per week to get your essentially fatty acids? Do you eat several portions of red meat or other iron rich foods to ensure your quota? Eating chicken and rice for every meal will not provide you with the nutrients you need.
8. Don't forget about snacks.
Pre-portion nuts, vegetables sticks, or boiled eggs to have on the go between meals so you don't reach for salty and processed-carb snacks, as your resolve can weaken when hungry!
9. You don't need protein bars.
Protein bars are almost always highly processed and full of additives your body doesn't need. If you don't recognize the ingredients, then it's probably not good for you! If you do have a bit of a sweet tooth, try making protein balls at home as a high protein treat. This way you have full control over what goes into your body.
10. Meal prep smoothies, too.
Ensure perfect portions by measuring out your ingredients and freezing in a zip-lock bag, ready to just throw in the blender when required. Make sure you include veg such as spinach or kale, too, for an extra nutritional boost.
11. Cut corners by buying pre-cut or frozen vegetables.
While this may be a little more expensive, it could save you a whole lot of time, getting you out of the kitchen and enjoying your weekend.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.