Eating well can be challenging at the best of times; especially when you’re away from your own kitchen.
Research shows that the better people plan ahead for their diet, the more successful they’ll be.
Here’s a look at several nutritious foods than can be prepared in advance – ready for you to take to work with you.
Chicken or Turkey breasts
The humble chicken breast sits at the center of my current diet. These can be purchased in bulk (somewhere around 2kg usually keeps me going for the entire week) and grilled en-masse. Depending upon the rest of the meal, these can be eaten hot (just pop one into a microwave for a minute or so) or cold.
Note: cook the chicken or turkey shortly after purchase; even if you’re not planning to eat it for a few days.
For meals: Marinate the chicken, or add a splash of sauce. Add rice, pasta or noodles (all of which can be cooked in advance, or prepared as needed). And/or add a bag of chopped vegetables (see below).
At the risk of upsetting those who are deathly afraid of consuming a lot of high-carbohydrate foods, I eat a lot of rice. At least two cups (uncooked) per day.
If you find yourself doing the same – or at least eating it fairly regularly – invest in a rice cooker. It’ll be the best $20 you’ll ever spend.
Cooked rice will last a day or two, so you’ll be making it around 2 – 3 times per week (the working week, that is). Much better than the daily trip to the local fast food joint, no?
How to store: cooked rice is fine in the freezer for 2-3 days, or in the refrigerator for a day or so.
For meals: add a chicken breast and some chopped vegetables. Simple and quick.
I eat these as snacks (I tried a carefully planned diet for a while but it didn’t last, so now I simply eat decent foods); as well as occasionally adding them to meals. Boil a half-dozen or so and eat them within 2-3 days.
Note: Boil them within a couple of days of purchase, not a week later. They’ll taste better, be easier to peel and it’s a little safer.
How to store: in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for 2-3 days.
For snacks: peel and eat. Perfect.
For meals: Chop/slice them and add to stir-fries or rice.
Vegetables are incredibly versatile things. In addition to using them as the basis for numerous stocks, soups and sauces; they’re great things to simply eat on their own or as part of a meal.
The inexpensive, simple and healthy way to do things:
Buy them in bulk at your favorite farmer’s market / grocer / supermarket. Chop them up, put them into small bags (one per meal), and pop them in the freezer. Defrost them in the microwave as needed.
How to store: Cut them into bite-size chunks, put them in small bags and pop them in the freezer. They’ll easily keep for a week.
For snacks: Defrost them in the microwave; and eat them hot or cold. Beautiful.
For meals: Chop/slice them and add to stir-fries, chicken or rice.
This is the basis of a number of quick meals, and can be partly prepared in advance. Try this:
Brown and drain enough for the entire week. When it cools a little, pour it into meal-size bags and pop it in the freezer. It’ll last for a long time this way, but try to use it within the week.
How to store: Once browned and drained, pour it into meal-sized bags and pop it into the freezer. It’ll easily last the week.
For meals: Defrost it in the microwave and use it for chili, tacos or simply add veggies and rice.
Soup is another great candidate for the bags-in-freezer approach. Make an enormous pot of your favorite non-creamy soup (potato and leek is my own choice), let it cool a bit, pour it into microwave/freezer-safe containers and freeze it. You’ll have microwave-ready meals for a week.
How to store Once cooled, pour it into microwave/freezer-safe plastic containers and pop it into the freezer.
For meals: Defrost/heat it in the microwave and eat as is – or heat over a stove.
I love the smell of fresh, hot bread (I worked near a bakery for a while – there were plenty of early-morning starts, I can assure you). Accordingly, I make my own.
The one downside of this is that it takes so long.
If you’re in the same boat, invest in a bread-maker. It’ll take you two minutes to prepare the loaf (essentially just pouring the ingredients in a tin and pressing ‘start’), and the bread will last a couple of days. What’s more, you can time it to cook overnight and wake you up in the morning with that amazing bakery smell.
How to store: Keep it cool (a bread-bin, spare cupboard or just cover it with a towel) if you’re going to eat it with a couple of days; freeze it for longer-term storage (a week or two).
For meals: Defrost it in the microwave (if frozen) and use it for sandwiches.
Here’s a quick review that will save you an incredible amount of time each week (not to mention keeping your diet full of good foods) :
- Once a week
Buy meat and vegetables in bulk. Brown the beef, chop the veggies and put everything into small bags in the freezer. Put the chicken breasts in marinade (your choice) in the refrigerator.
Put a couple of hours aside one day per week. During this time – grill chicken breasts for a few days; make a large batch of soup (and freeze it in plastic containers).
- Before work, every 2-3 days
Boil a half-dozen eggs. Eat them as snacks or as part of a meal.
- At night, every 2-3 days
Put some flour, water and yeast into your bread maker. Push ‘start’ and go to bed.
If the above sounds like a lot of work, think for a minute of the time you spend standing in line at fast-food outlets and cooking meals each day.
Food Safety tips
Finally, a few food safety tips to keep in mind.
- Never re-use chicken marinade. If you don’t use it all, throw it out.
- Always wash your hands after handling raw meat. The same goes for knives and chopping boards.
- Pop leftovers in the fridge straight away, and keep them covered. Otherwise you end up with a plate of dried out food and everything in your fridge tastes the same.
Scott Bird is a writer, photographer and lover of all things involving the throwing around of heavy objects. He can usually be found in the kitchen stuffing his face, outdoors scaring small children (otherwise known as working out in the local park) or at his strength training site Straight to the Bar.