Five simple meal prep hacks for busy parents (plus how to poach the perfect egg)

Meal prepping doesn't have to take up your entire Sunday - it's just about small, simple changes.
Meal prepping doesn't have to take up your entire Sunday - it's just about small, simple changes. Photo: Sally O'Neil/Murdoch Books

I get it – you're doing the school run, picking kids up from friends' houses, taking them to music lessons, swimming meets and a million other things while trying to manage your own career and social life. You want to nourish their minds and bodies properly, so they have sustained energy for all the school work and play but when you get home exhausted, the last thing you want to do is stand at the stove.

You need to reserve time, save money and help your family eat healthier. I got you – meal prep. You've probably heard of meal prep before. You may have even dabbled in it but not really found your groove. I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to take up your entire Sunday shopping, batching, cooking, labelling and freezing. It's all about small, simple changes to your current system that is going to help ease the load and let you to relax and regroup on weeknights.

Here are five simple meal prep hacks you can implement this week.

Sally O'Neil's new book.
Sally O'Neil's new book. Photo: Murdoch Books

Shop online

This is a game changer. How much time do you spend wandering the aisles looking for what you need when your time could be better spent? Shop online and make it quick by typing your favourite products into the search bar. Now you can go back every week and pick the same items with lightning speed from your previous list. Either have it delivered at a convenient time or click and collect.

Tip: Some supermarkets have their own apps so you can add to your online basket throughout the week and save even more time.

Prep it

Meat

Buy meats in larger quantities and slice it all up at once, then freeze what you don't need that week. Add different spices or marinades to keep things interesting. This will save money and heaps of time. No more Fewer meaty fingers, no more slimy chopping boards. What's not to love?

Veg

Pre-chop and grate vegies to store in the fridge/freezer, or take the shortcut and buy the pre-cut/spiralised from the supermarket. You can add these quickly to stir-fries, curries and soups; eat them raw; or steam them in the microwave. The goal is to make your fridge look like a salad bar in the cafeteria so you can easily mix-and-match when you come to assemble dinners.

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Grains

Batch-cook grains, then cool and freeze. They are an easy way to add nutrition and bulk to any meal. 

Double it

When preparing a meal, double-up the ingredients and freeze the spare single serves in a zip-lock bag. This saves room and defrosts much faster than in plastic containers. Defrost overnight in the fridge and pop into a bowl to heat and eat.

Tip: Cook double batches then save or freeze for later. Cook once, eat many times.

Plan it

Like to be organised? Stick a planner on the fridge so you know ahead of time what you'll be pulling out for dinner. It takes the mental load off during the week when inspiration is low.

While the weekend might be best for some, take stock of when the kids are most occupied and you have an hour to spare. It might be mid-morning during the week, when they're at preschool, or when they're sleeping. Whatever fits into your lifestyle and schedule is what will be the most sustainable for your new healthy habits in the long run.

Not a morning person?

Breakfast can be just as challenging when you're all trying to get out of the door on time. Try my overnight oats, five ways (recipe below) and spoon into bowls when you wake up, or pre-poach your eggs (recipe below) and throw in a bowl with half an avocado and spinach. You could even add my favourite lemon tahini dressing (recipe below).

Most importantly – keep it simple

Simple food assembled in different ways will make life so much easier when you're juggling kids, work and lack of sleep. Mealtimes don't need to be another headache – they're time to enjoy delicious food together as a family.

Reasons to love meal prepping  

  • More time to relax and do what you love
  • Save money on groceries and electric/gas
  • Save on washing-up
  • More varied diet richer in antioxidants and minerals
  • Balanced and filling meals
  • Less stress
Overnight oats, five ways
Meal-prepped eggs 101: Poached
Lemon tahini dressing

This is an edited extract from Fit Foodie Meal Prep Plan by Sally O'Neil, published by Murdoch Books RRP $35.00. Photography and styling by Sally O'Neil. 

Take your pick of super speedy sweet or savoury oats. Photo: Sally O'Neil/Murdoch Books

RECIPES

Overnight oats, five ways

Portions: 5

Hands-on prep time: 10 minutes

INGREDIENTS

Prepping oats in big batches ready for the week ahead is a sure-fire way of saving yourself from the bagel cart at work. The fibre takes a while to digest, so it keeps you full for longer (use rolled oats rather than quick ones as they take longer for your body to break down). Ten minutes' investment equals a nutritious start to the day for five days. What a pay-off. Do you prefer sweet or savoury?

SWEET INGREDIENTS

500g (5 cups) rolled oats

40g (¼ cup) chia seeds

1.25 litres (5 cups) milk of your choice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or ground vanilla

SAVOURY INGREDIENTS

500g (5 cups) rolled oats

40g (¼ cup) chia seeds

1.25 litres (5 cups) water, or leftover milk-poached chicken stock, or vegetable stock

½ teaspoon sea salt

Note: Watch out for the high sodium content of some ready-made stock.

METHOD

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, cover and leave to soak in the fridge. Spoon portions into a small, portable jars or airtight containers and top with your favourite topping combos when you're ready to eat them.

Sweet topping combos

  • Walnuts + ½ cup grated carrot + nutmeg + 1 teaspoon honey
  • Sliced banana + peanut butter + cinnamon
  • Cacao powder + raspberries + toasted coconut + cacao nibs
  • Trail mix + sliced strawberries + 2 squares dark chocolate

Savoury topping combos

  • Poached egg + avocado + turkey bacon
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes + 1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce + coriander + poached chicken
  • Tinned sardines + grated zucchini + lemon juice + pepper
  • Miso pumpkin mash + chopped Thai basil + cashews

Tip (sweet): Add a few tablespoons of sweet overnight oats to smoothies before blending for extra fibre and creaminess.

Tip (savoury): Spoon savoury overnight oats into your soup base before blending to make it thick and super-satisfying.

Overnight oats, five ways
Meal-prepped eggs 101: Poached
Lemon tahini dressing

This is an edited extract from Fit Foodie Meal Prep Plan by Sally O'Neil, published by Murdoch Books RRP $35.00. Photography and styling by Sally O'Neil. 

Making poaches doesn't have to be tricky. Photo: Sally O'Neil/Murdoch Books

Meal-prepped eggs 101: Poached

You can prep your favourite poachies up to 5 days before eating, and store them in the fridge.

To start, break a very fresh egg into a sieve and swirl it very gently without breaking it to remove any watery white, then pop it into a bowl. This stops the whites from doing that foamy thing all over your pan.

Repeat with up to five more eggs (this will work with a medium to large pan:  do a few less if you only have a small one).

Tip the eggs slowly into a pan of simmering water, ideally one at a time. Don't worry – as long as the yolks haven't broken, they won't stick together into one very large egg (though, that could be kinda awesome). When they've been in the hot water for about 15 seconds, stir gently to distribute the eggs around the pan. After 3-4 minutes the egg whites will be set and the yolks still gooey. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the eggs one by one, and pop them into container filled with cold water – a few ice cubes can help stop the cooking process.

To reheat the eggs without overcooking them, fill a bowl with hot water (from your tap, not boiling) and lower in the eggs you're about to serve. Leave them to warm up for 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and serve.

Lemon tahini dressing

Makes: about 250ml (1 cup)

Hands-on prep time: 5-10 minutes

INGREDIENTS

135g (½ cup) tahini

125ml (½ cup)

warm water  

3 tablespoons lemon juice  

1 teaspoon sea salt  

2 garlic cloves, crushed

METHOD

Blend or stir all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. I use clean recycled glass jars so I can shake them easily.

This is an edited extract from Fit Foodie Meal Prep Plan by Sally O'Neil, published by Murdoch Books RRP $35.00. Photography and styling by Sally O'Neil.