I've always known that vegetables make me feel good. Even as a kid I recall viewing my mum's lentils as "power food", and to this day my brother and I regularly request a serve when we're run down or busy or just need a dose of home. As I grew, I continued to recognise that food was powerful stuff, and that what you eat acutely influences the way you feel and function. This became really apparent to me as I moved out of home and began preparing all my meals (well, except for those deliveries of lentils and bolognese), while at the same time diving into my University studies and all the funky projects we were required to do in order to become nutrition experts (like collecting our urine for an entire weekend and then analysing it in a lab. True story. People gagged). Being on a major student budget meant I had to get crafty about my vegetable consumption. Dinners looked like frozen peas + rice + chickpeas + soy sauce and and lunches were big salads with cans of tuna I "borrowed" from my parents' pantry (and giant cheese cubes, too. Man, I love a good cheese cube) with bread. Sometimes I'd splurge on a turkey+ cranberry+spinach focaccia at the University cafe (remember the days of big, toasted focaccias?) and cheap sushi rolls (though let it be known, the words "cheap" and "sushi" should never follow each other), but mostly I saved my pennies and put them towards groceries (and overseas travel, but that's another story). Only occasionally would I curse my inclination to buy vegetables and rice and "borrow" my roommate's food (Pippa, I'm sorry for all the Pocky I took). I've just always been a vegetable girl.
In my early twenties I developed a mouth infection following my wisdom teeth removal (this isn't a complete departure from the topic of vegetables, stay with me). Oh, that was a charming period! The pain killers I took messed up my bowels something shocking, which lead me to become committed to vegetables with more emergency (well, vegetables AND psyllium husks in water. Gag). I'm sorry, is this too much toilet talk? Come to think of it, is there ever an acceptable amount of poo talk? Dietitians are used to talking about this stuff so I find myself lacking social graces in that department. My point is that vegetables are my number one category of feel good foods for a well functioning mind and body, and my love for them only increases as the years go by. This isn't news, I have spoken many times on this topic, but today I wanted to share a little on how I make sure I eat them. It's easy to grab a carrot, and many days I do just that, but I mostly fancy meals that are slightly more interesting than straight up raw veg. This requires time. And so, to make sure I'm eating in my feel good way, I meal prep.
Since Joan was born I have less freedom in the kitchen, but ironically I need to be more thoughtful than ever about what I put in my body. I find I must make sure I am consistently consuming my feel good foods (veggies and protein and healthy fats) because on the days I eat with less intention, I simply don't feel as good. If I go too long without eating, don't have enough calories (I'm still breastfeeding and find I need to eat lots) and if what I choose, even if "healthy", is lacking in protein or calories or fibre, I pay for it later with flailing energy levels and a lower mood. Gosh darn it, this stuff matters. Especially when you're dealing with ongoing broken sleep, if you're a parent to multiple kids or if you're working full time as well as being a parent...or whatever your situation, this stuff matters. What you put in your body has both immediate and long-term consequences. But at the same time you want food to be a source of joy, not a drag, you know? Who wants to stress about what they're eating? That sucks. You want it to be easy when you're busy, and enjoyable when you have time to cook and share a meal with loved ones.
To find that ♥ sweet spot ♥ of eating wholesome, power, feel good foods AND having it be a breezy experience, I meal prep. Once or twice a week I grab a moment and Get.It.Done. Personally, I prioritise lunches. Some days I prep loads - chopping, roasting and steaming veggies, as well as boiling some eggs and cooking a grain (usually quinoa, I'm a quinoa girl). Other times I manage to only wash and dry rocket + radish and peel some carrots, but that's cool, every little bit helps in making my future meals easier and healthier. These days I also always try to lightly steam a bunch of carrots and broccoli for Joan and I to snack on (and to bulk out bubba's meals). If have time after all this to do a little more, I will make a big batch of something to last a few dinners/go in the freezer and perhaps prep some breakfasts (overnight oats or slice some sweet potato for "toast"). That doesn't always happen, but lunch does. As I said, I need my feel good foods to feel good.
So, this picture below, I want to talk you through it. It's a snap I took following a recent Sunday meal prep session. I hadn't planned on sharing it with anyone other than my clients, but after making a few poor choices recently and neglecting myself (and FEELING IT! Hello, slump town), the importance of meal prep was reinforced and I decided to write a blog post about it and embarrass my family by talking about poo. It's big deal stuff (meal prep, not poo. Well, poo is, too), life changing, really, as it impacts how you feel day to day. Here's my process. It's not tricky, I am not doing anything revolutionary here, but I do know that I am pretty great at making decisions in the present that my future self will thank me for (meal prep being an example of this), and that not everyone thinks or acts this way, so hopefully my words are helpful to some. This isn't a perfectly planned week, rather a snapshot of real life one weekend when I came to the realisation that Ben would be out of town for 3 nights and I needed to be organised.
Sunday 27th November. While Ben and Joan were cleaning up after having a snack and doing chores like laundry and vacuuming (though she turns the vacuum cleaner off every 30 seconds, she's the cutest little helper), I spent about 45 minutes in the kitchen doing meal prep. I knew I was in for a big week with Ben being away and I wanted to have as much done as possible so I could just be present with Joan, particularly around the 5pm mark when she can get crabby. If I'm on the floor colouring with her rather than trying to cook dinner we are both much calmer and happier.
As I said above, I usually prep my lunches for the week, however because Ben was gone and I knew I'd have less hands in the evening, I switched to prepping dinners. I decided to make lunch avocado sourdough toast and hummus with carrots, and for dinner we'd have the abundance bowl type meals I ordinarily make Joan and I for lunch. Ben loves these meals too, in fact we often have them for dinner (see the picture below), so we need to get better at communicating whether he has lunch meetings or whether he wants to take these kind of bowls to work. Breakfast I'd leave open - lately I've been craving smoothies or toast.
In terms of what produce I'd use, I had been to the shops the day prior so would make meals out of that + my pantry staples (side note: I'm working on a pantry staples post!). Our farm box (we're Transition Farm CSA members) wasn't to start for one more week, so I at the local store I had grabbed greens, broccoli and carrots, regular sweet potatoes and frozen peas, and then other stuff like milk and yoghurt and eggs. My fridge was curiously full of goats cheese, and I had a pantry well-stocked with tinned legumes and tinned fish, as well as wholegrains like quinoa, pasta, rice and oats, plus nuts and seeds, nut butters, dates and raw cacao. I also had extra virgin olive oil, garlic and onions and lemons, as well as a few bananas and more granola than I could handle. I felt quite set for the week. We're very plant-based over here, jazzing our meals up with things like eggs, fish, dairy and then eating meat or chicken 2-3 times a week. We eat this way for health, cost and environmental reasons. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" - Amen.
Abundance Bowl Dinner Prep
GRAIN: I decided on quinoa salads because I love the taste and appreciate the way it sits happily in my belly after a meal (sometimes brown rice is a bit heavy, you know?). Joan enjoys quinoa, too, and it is super quick to cook - I rinse 1-2 cups (depending on how many meals I'm making), add it to a pot with twice as much water (or homemade broth for extra flavour and goodness), bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and after 10 or so minutes it'll be almost done. When it's just cooked (the spirals are coming out of the grain and the water is absorbed) I turn off the heat, pop the lid on and leave it for 5-10 minutes. This helps it to fluff up. And the rest follows as per my everyday salad formula...
ROAST VEGGIES: I adore roasted sweet potatoes. Ben isn't a huge fan, especially if they've been in the fridge, and while I get that (indeed fresh roasted veggies are far superior to those that have been stored in the fridge), I love the sweet, caramelised flavour of roasted vegetables enough to eat them in any possible form. So they went on the list.
RAW VEGGIES: I always have some sort of leafy green on hand to eat during the week. Lately I've been purchasing organic rocket or getting homegrown greens from family. When our farm box comes next week, I know there will be an abundance of greens, which is soooo exciting. The dark, bitter stuff is great for our health.
PROTEIN: I always make sure to include some sort of protein with my abundance bowls. If I skimp on protein during the day, my energy levels fall. Big time. Canned fish is common (see the notes of this post for more details on that), as are fried/boiled eggs and legumes. This week I had leftover frittata, I also planned on defrosting some falafel from the freezer (to create a similar meal as the picture below) and then on Wednesday we'd have canned salmon with our quinoa bowls.
OTHER TASTY STUFF: I am a big fan of toasted nuts and seeds on top of salads for both taste and nutrition. However I don't do these ahead of time, I prefer to toast-to-order because toasted nuts/seeds don't last that well. I have runny tahini on hand as a simple, instant "dressing" and always use lemons, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. I thought I'd make a dip for the falafel out of tahini + greek yoghurt + lemon + garlic + sea salt + warm water (to help thin it), and if I fancied goats cheese I had that in the fridge. No boring salads here, these are abundance bowls, baby. All of this "tasty stuff", I would do to serve (or a couple of hours ahead of time) as I wasn't packing meals to take to work or anything, just eating at home and that was easy enough to manage. Dinners, done!
AVOCADO TOAST: avocado and quality bread is a simple, nourishing breakfast/lunch staple in our house. Often I serve this combo with eggs for protein and other goodness, but this week I planned on making hummus (see snack section below) and serving a dollop of that + carrot sticks alongside avocado toast.
VEG: as I said above, I always have lightly steamed veggies on hand for Joan to snack on and eat with meals. Bubba adores carrots and broccoli, and they're easy for me to find organic, so we go for them (I don't exclusively buy organic produce when it's not farm box season, but these two (and greens and berries!) I do). We do raw carrots on occasion so Joan gets used to the texture of crunchy, raw veg (a great tip from a friend was to introduce this early, as soon as they can manage it), and she eats raw radish and lettuce, but I find she gets much more in if her veg has been lightly steamed so we mostly do that. Side note: I find that if she arrives at a meal hungry, rather than nibbling lots leading up to it, she will eat loads of veggies.
HUMMUS: we've been going through a hummus phase lately, so thought I'd do a batch of that for the week. All of us love hummus and it's so nutritious (with legumes and garlic and tahini and extra virgin olive oil) we eat it quite often. It's the perfect snack and addition to meals. This is the recipe I use, though I'll sometimes make a double batch using half chickpeas, half butter beans. We tend to have our hummus with veggie sticks and/or Dr Kargs crackers (which are THE BEST, and I stock up when they're on sale at our local health shop).
DATE BALLS: A few days prior to this meal prep sesh, I'd a turned some granola into date balls for a snack. It worked spectacularly, so I proposed to do that again if time permitted. I would blitz the granola in a food processor with Medjool dates + tahini + cacao for mid-afternoon energy hits and mornings when I wake feeling ravenous.
GETTING IT DONE
After placing the produce in front of me and deciding on what to make, I dove into the prep. Here's how my brain worked it all out.
1. Preheat the oven for the roasted sweet potato. 2. Chop the sweet potato and get it in a baking tray, with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt (no spices today, not vibing it). When the oven is hot, put the tray in and cook for ~40 minutes until perfect (set the timer on my phone to check it at 30 mins). 3. Put a pot of water on to boil for the steamed carrots & broccoli. 4. Wash and cut the veg and put it in the steamer when it's boiling. Cook until al dente and run under cold water to arrest the cooking process. 5. Get the quinoa cooking. 6. Wash and spin the rocket dry. Store it in a bag. 7. Make hummus. 8. Once ingredients are all cooled, put them into containers and store in the fridge. 9. Take photo of meal prep for my clients (bringing the leftover frittata out of the fridge but forgetting to get the sweet potato out of the oven. Luckily I remembered soon after, though I've left it in there overnight before - doh). 10. Find Ben and Joan happily putting laundry away so dash back into the kitchen to blitz some date balls. 11. Eat a date ball while standing in the kitchen staring at the dishes.
Hit me up with any meal prep ideas in the comments!