Preparing food ahead of time is a game-changer. There is no getting around it. If you want significant results from your training, if you want to get single-digits lean, increase your performance dramatically and feel less hungry, more focused and more energetic, food prep is not an option; it is a necessity. The problem is that it seems a chore and involves lots of decisions. What should you cook? What should you buy / order from the supermarket? How are you going to cook? And where are you going to find the time?
The idea of this post is to neutralise all those questions and worries with a step-by-step guide to preparing a large amount of nutritious, paleo food; from shopping right through to a second by second cooking guide. This is based on food prep strategies that I use every week and have had great results from. Having this in place is a huge burden lifted for the week and allows me to focus on more important things day to day. When I get hungry, all I have to do is pop open a tupperware. No thinking; no decisions; no effort.
I’ve thought about everything for you so you don’t have to: how you’ll get your carbs; how you’ll prepare some higher fat meals; how you’ll get a good range of micro-nutrient rich veggies; how you’ll get sufficient high quality protein. Not only that, I’ve laid out exactly what you need to get form the supermarket in what could be a very easy weekly shop. I highly recommend you get this from Ocado or similar. Why waste time in the supermarket?
Assuming you buy absolutely everything organic, and you should (sorry not sorry), the below shopping list should set you back no more than £100 and this includes things you will use for weeks or even months. Week to week you shouldn’t have to spend more than £80. If that sounds expensive to you, let’s break it down. This process should yield you 10-15 meals. Assuming 12 meals as an average, we’re talking £6.75 per meal for organic, nutrient dense and high-protein meals. Now, how much are you spending at Pret a Manger every day? Or Tossed or Pod? And what are you getting for that? Low quality, low protein food with essentially no micro-nutrient content. To me this sounds like a no-brainer. It might be marginally more expensive than your normal lunch but the marginal benefit massively outweighs this. To put it another way, if you were really concerned about money, you would make your Pret or Tossed salad at home and, all organic, it would probably cost you around £3.
On to the next criticism: food prep takes too long and wastes time you would rather spend doing something else. Let’ break it down again. The below should take you no more than 1 hour total. Again using 12 meals as a ball-park, that is 5 minutes per meal. Now let’s go back to Pret. How long does it take you to walk to Pret, queue up, pay and get back to the office. Less than 5 minutes? No way. Again, if you are really concerned about saving time, you’ll do the food prep.
With that out of the way, we can get on to the good stuff. As I said, the below should yield about 10-15 meals. If you want to go smaller for your first time, feel free to reduce the quantities. Alternatively you could skip one or two of the elements. At a minimum though, I would suggest at least one protein source, the potatoes are a must and one greens source. Just bear in mind that the more you do now, the less you will have to do during the week. If you go all out on the below you can essentially have all your lunches and dinners for the weekdays at least.
What’s on the menu?
- Chicken breast (or white fish) with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar
- Peri-peri baked salmon fillets
- Roasted sweet potatoes with tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers
- Raw kale salad with avocado and apple cider vinaigrette
- Sautéed broccoli and savoy cabbage
Sounds good right?
Online orders are suggested for ease. Quantities are reflective of an active man’s diet. Alternatively sign up for Able & Cole or similar and see what you get in a veg box!
1.5 kg sweet potatoes
500g cherry tomates
500g vine tomatoes
200g chestnut mushrooms/
2 large peppers
500g curly kale
2 large heads of broccoli
1 savoy cabbage
1 butternut squash
1.5kg skinless, boneless chicken breast (you can substitute white fish: sustainable and wild halibut or hake would work well)
6 salmon fillets (3 packs normally)
Peri-peri rub /spice mix
Herbes de Provence
Maldon sea salt
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Good quality (suggest Biona) apple cider vinegar with the mother
Nutritional yeast (if you want something a little cheesier!)
1 large backing tray
1 large oven safe baking dish
Step 1: preparation
Preheat oven to 180 degrees (with fan)
Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and potatoes into 2-3cm cubes.
Roughly chop the peppers, mushrooms and vine tomatoes
Halve the cherry tomatoes
Layer all the above on a large baking tray, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms first, potatoes second.
Wash the kale and roughly tear the leafy bits off the large central stalks and put in a large salad bowl
Tear the heads of broccoli off stem and put in a boiling pan
Wash the cabbage and tear the leaves away from the central stalks of each leaf
Chop the chicken in to chunks
Step 2: put stuff in the oven
Chop off the ends of the butternut squash. Stand it on its end and slice down the middle to halve the squash. Use a spoon to cup out the seeds at the top. Place on the side of the baking tray (try not to cover too much potato since they won’t cook as well below).
Cover the lot in a decent glug of olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.
Place a layer of foil over the bottom of the other baking dish. Place the salmon fillets on the dish. Season with a tiny drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and, if to your taste, a decent sprinkling of the per-peri spice mix. Place another sheet of foil over the top.
Place the potatoes and veg in the oven on a lower shelf. Place the salmon in the oven on a higher shelf. The salmon needs 20 mins and the veg needs 50-60 mins. Therefore, put a timer on for 20 mins. When that rings, put an additional 30 mins on. Or use two timers!
Step 3: get other stuff done while the oven sorts you out
Place the broccoli in a boiling pan. Put the kettle on.
While the kettle is boiling, cube the avocado and add to the kale salad. Cover the kale with olive oil. You’re going to need a lot. At least 4 tablespoons and that is conservative. Then add at least 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a tablespoon of the mustard. Add a good pinch of sea salt and (if you want a cheesier flavour) a tablespoon of nutritional yeast (it’s pretty delicious).
At this point the kettle has probably boiled. Add the water to the boiling pan until the broccoli is covered. Put the heat on high and set a timer for 3 mins.
In the meantime, get your hand in the kale and ‘massage it’ to soften the leaves and let the vinegar do it’s magic. Work it in well.
Take the broccoli off the heat and drain. In the colander wash a little cool water over the top to stop it overcooking.
Now put a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add some oil. When the pan has heated up, add the broccoli and cabbage. You’ll need to cook this stuff for about 5-7 mins, until you get a nice char on the cabbage leaves and broccoli. Take this off the heat and toss with some olive oil and apple cider vinegar and salt. Yes, you get it. I love olive oil and cider vinegar! You’ll get it soon.
Now you’re going to use the same pan for the chicken. You don’t need to wash it!
Probably somewhere around here you will also need to take the salmon out.
NOTE: depending on how big your pan is you may need to cook the chicken in two batches or use two pans simultaneously. Just remember if you are doing this to only use half the remaining tomatoes for the first half of the chicken!
Put the pan on a high heat now with a little more oil. When the oil has heated up, add the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Keep the heat high until you have a good colour all the way around and then add the herbs (you could also add a little garlic at this point). When the chicken is almost cooked, 7-8 mins, add the the tomatoes. Keep the heat high for now. Let the tomatoes soften and start to squash them with your wooden spoon to create a tomato sauce. At this point add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and turn the heat down a little. Let it simmer for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened a touch. Then take off the heat.
At some point soon the veg will be ready too. When the timer goes off, turn the oven off and take the veg out. Simply spoon the butternut squash out of its skin. If you are eating some now, just put a half on your plate and eat with a spoon.
Putting it all together:
At this point, you can decant into separate tupperware to serve later or you can go ahead and split into individual meals now. And of course, have some straight away for dinner!
You have some options here:
Chicken + sweet potatoes for high carb post workout
Chicken / salmon + potatoes + cabbage & broccoli for a balanced carb / fat meal
Salmon + kale salad for a high fat / low carb meal
Chicken + kale salad + cabbage & broccoli for another higher fat meal
Overall you should have enough 10-15 meals depending on how much protein you require for each meal. So at least enough to cover all your lunches and / or dinner for the week!
You can even tick off some breakfasts –
Root veg + eggs + kale/avocado for a delicious take on breakfast pancakes
Roasted peppers + eggs + salmon in muffin trays to make individual frittatas.
Portion control / sizing:
Now, let’s talk portions quickly here. And I’m going to get a bit technical so apologies and feel free to skip if you think you are ok on how to portion things out. I hope the below is helpful, but ultimately you can just guesstimate. The great things about nutrient dense, macro-balanced food is that it’s pretty hard to over-eat. If you eat to satiation on real food, you won’t be far wrong! It’s like magic!
But for those of you wanting to be a bit more precise.
The chicken gives you roughly 450g of protein and 45g of fat
The salmon gives you roughy 150g of protein and 95g of fat
The potatoes and veg give you 400g of carbs
The kale salad gives you 90-120g of fat
The cabbage and broccoli gives you 50g of fat
So, here’s the way I think about it.
Protein: Assuming an average guy needs around 180g of protein and assuming one protein / recovery shake of 30g, each of 3 meals will require 50g of protein. Therefore, split the chicken into 9 portions and the salmon into 3 portions and you have 50g servings. You don’t have to do this right away, but you should eye-ball one ninth when you serve out the chicken and two fillets for the salmon. And just bear in mind that the salmon comes with 30g of fat per serving!
Carbs: Assuming an average guy needs the same again in carbs, 180g. Assume again that the recovery shake / post WOD banana gives 30g of carbs. Then we need again 50g of carbs per meal. So split the potatoes into 8 portions. You have fewer portions of carbs than protein but that’s ok because some meals you could substitute fruit for the carbs or you could have lower carb days.
Fat: This is a little different because it is easy to top up fat with extra olive oil, avocado or nuts etc. Just add a decent portion of veg to each meal. Kale salad if you want more fat, cabbage and broccoli if you want less. Assume the average guy needs around 80g per day. Again remember that each salmon portion is giving you 30g of fat, so factor that in!
Protein: Assuming an average woman needs around 120g of protein and assuming one protein / recovery shake of 20g, each of 3 meals will require 33g of protein. Therefore, split the chicken into around 13 portions and the salmon into 4 portions and you have 50g servings. And just bear in mind that the salmon comes with 20g of fat.
Carbs: Assuming an average woman needs the same again in carbs, 120g. Assume again that the recovery shake / post WOD banana gives 20g of carbs. Then we need again 33g of carbs per meal. So split the potatoes into 12 portions. You have fewer portions of carbs than protein but that’s ok because some meals you could substitute fruit for the carbs or you could have lower carb days.
Fat: This is a little different because it is easy to top up fat with extra olive oil, avocado or nuts etc. Just add a decent portion of veg to each meal. Kale salad if you want more fat, cabbage and broccoli if you want less. Assume the average woman needs around 60g per day. Again remember that each salmon portion is giving you 20g of fat, so factor that in!
And there you have it! Your guide to getting in the best shape of your life, lean and breathing fire in the gym. You’ll feel more focused, more energetic and generally healthier. You’ll be less hungry. And you will have more time to focus on more important things day to day. Enjoy!
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