Grab your mates, get festive, and spend little to no money.
We all have those days where we open our fridge, stare, shut the door and proceed to order Uber Eats (or have eggs on toast and call it dinner).
Properly planning and prepping will do future-you a massive favour! It saves time, money and you end up with a couple of recipes to add to your repertoire.
Step One: Plan (duh)
Carla from Bon Appetit said she loves to “shop her refrigerator”, and I want you to do the same.
- Check what you already have that needs to be used up (fridge, pantry and freezer).
- Look for deals at your local supermarket - Produce is often cheapest at Asian supermarkets & fruit and veggie shops. The Odd Bunch range at Countdown is also great value for money that works to reduce food waste (but it comes packaged in plastic which sucks).
- Make a rough plan of potential meals you can make - Based on what is cheap and what you have, look for recipes online or in cookbooks (Kmart has a few good ones) and customise them to what you have available.
I’ve created a little meal planning template which you can download here. I usually just follow that format but on a bit of scrap paper or in Notes on my phone.
Step Two: Shopping Time
- Go with your list (and reusable bags) to buy your produce - try stick to your list!
- Sub things out - Produce super expensive or bad quality? It's time to think on your feet for a substitute. Alternatively, if you spot something really cheap or inspires you, sub it in for something else. It's all about flexibility.
Step Three: Unpack and Organise
Instead of just putting everything away, think about when you're planning on using each item and how you should store it. It’s best to think ahead before you’re faced with sad, wilting greens at the end of the week.
- Freeze meat into portions so that it doesn’t become one frozen hunk).
- Heaps of vegetables? Chop some up and freeze to use in soups and curries.
Step Four: Cook
- Cook on Sundays and have your meals ready for a week.
- Cook small batches every few days.
I usually go for option 2. If I make a big batch I’ll eat it over a couple of days and freeze the rest.
So, here are three of my go-to recipes…
1: Chia Overnight Oats
- 1/3 – ½ cup rolled oats
- ½ cup milk (whatever kind floats your boat)
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 tablespoon raisins
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Optional: You could add frozen berries or sugar/maple syrup/honey for sweetness, but I find the soaked raisins make the oats sweet!
- Store in individual containers if you’re taking it on the go (or want to be pinterest AF). Otherwise just chuck it in a big Tupperware container and portion as you go.
- In the morning I tend to mix in a splash of milk if it's quite thick, add yogurt and other toppings I fancy.
2: Kūmara and Crunchy Chickpea Salad
- 1-2 medium kūmara (pumpkin works well too when kūmara is expensive)
- 1 can chickpeas, drained
- Leafy greens (kale, rocket etc.)
- Optional: Feta/pinenuts/pumpkin seeds/boiled egg/pita bread/chicken
- Kūmara: Chop up the kūmara into cubes, coat with olive oil, salt (garlic salt is great here) and pepper. Roast at 180C until soft, about 20 minutes.
- Chickpeas: Coat chickpeas in olive oil, smoked paprika and salt and pepper, and bake until crunchy, about half an hour.
- Store: Keep the roast veg, chickpeas and greens separate and pack them together the night before/in the morning.
- Extras: Add extra veggies, meat, cheese, dressing – all is good.
Something I only learnt recently (despite majoring in human nutrition) is that pumpkin and kūmara are quite different in terms of carbs, fibre and water content. So, kūmara will keep you fuller for longer hence why I choose it for uni lunches, but provide a great range of nutrients (ie. A and C).
3: Pumpkin and Leek Tray Bake
This is great to pack for lunch the next day, and reheats well if you want it as a dinner side over a couple of days.
- ¼ large pumpkin
- 1 large carrot
- 1 leek (washed)
- 1/3 block feta
- Olive oil
- Dried mixed herbs
- Salt and pepper
- To serve: Leafy greens, protein of choice
- Preparation: Chop the pumpkin into cubes (a battle, I know, but it's way cheaper than buying pre-cut); wash leeks thoroughly and slice (I use as much of the leek as I can and freeze the tougher green parts at the top to use in stocks in the future); and chop carrot into chunks.
- Roast: Put the pumpkin and carrot into a roasting pan, toss with olive oil and season with herbs, salt and pepper. Roast at 180C for about 15 minutes. Add the leeks for the last 10 minutes and top with feta (either in the last few minutes or once you take it out of the oven).
- Chicken: While that's in the oven, I cooked chicken in the pan.
- You can put the chicken in with the vegetables and voila, you have an all-in-one meal sorted, but I haven’t tried that myself; google or pinterest can help you there.
- To avoid hacking away at a whole pumpkin, roast the whole thing until it's a little softer but not cooked through and then cut it into smaller pieces.
Leave the skin on the pumpkin! It has lots of fibre in it.
There we go, some tips for getting a bit more organised and three recipes to get you started! I fully believe any student can eat well (and on a budget) but sometimes it just requires a little time taken out of your week to get ahead.
Thanks for reading, check out my page @balanceyourplate for more meal ideas and all things food! And let me know what posts you want to see in the future...more recipes? Nutrition-related topics?