When chef Jen Petrovic joined a mother’s group after having children, she was constantly bombarded with questions about how to meal prep.
And eventually, the mother-of-two, from Melbourne, teamed up with her friend Gaby Chapman to launch food app Plan Buy Cook so they could dish out their savviest cooking secrets to help families save time and money.
The super-organised 47-year-old has been cooking batches of food from scratch and individually portioning them into containers once a week for 10 years.
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Jen said by planning a whole week’s worth of healthy meals for the family, you could slash up to $2,500 a year off your grocery bill.
Here, she shares the golden rules of meal prepping.
Chef Jen Petrovic (left) and her business partner Gaby Chapman (right) launched food app Plan Buy Cook to dish out their savviest cooking secrets to meal prepping
The mother said by marinating all your meats, you will be saving a lot of time and money (pictured ready-to-go meals in Jen’s freezer)
‘When I met other mums in mother’s groups, a whole heap of women started asking me how to meal prep or cook in advance,’ she said.
‘Gaby used to phone a friend at 5 o’clock asking what they were cooking for dinner and she would race to the shops to buy the ingredients.’
The app has 120 different recipes – and you can scale all the meals to suit your household size and know how to plan your weekly cook.
‘The whole idea is to spend just 10 minutes at the beginning of your week planning what you really want to eat,’ Jen said.
‘It doesn’t matter what day or night you decide to cook, but knowing you have all the ingredients in your home will save you from racing to the shops more than once.
‘People actually spend more time at the shops than cooking in the kitchen. If you follow a good shopping list, you will only buy what you need.
‘Always set aside a time to cook and buy all your grocery so it’s not so much of a chore – and you’re not finding yourself racing to the shops three times a week because you forgot an ingredient.’
Jen explained it doesn’t matter what day you choose to meal prep, as long as you set aside a day in the kitchen, you will save a lot of time and money (stock image)
Inside Jen’s pantry – by storing all her ingredients in jars, she could use them for future meals
The app has 120 different recipes: Bean quesadillas (left) – $18.50 for four to five serves and chicken hokkien noodles (right) $16 serves four to six people
HOW TO MEAL PREP
- Sit down for 10 to 15 minutes a week to plan your meals
- Think back over last week’s meals and try to do something different. Ask the other members of the household for ideas
- Think about your week and know when you have time to cook and how many meals you will need to cook
- Look in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry to see what ingredients you need to use
Source: Plan Buy Cook
Jen said Tuesday was her meal prepping day – and she would usually do her grocery shopping on a Sunday or Monday.
‘I don’t shop and meal prep on the same day,’ she said.
‘So Tuesday is my day to cook. I’m home from work earlier so I normally prepare my meals on Tuesday afternoon for the week. I cook four meals – and I freeze two of them.’
For leftovers such as half-used vegetables, the busy mother suggested people should always think about the other meals you could incorporate them in over the week.
‘Utilise all your food and make sure you’re storing them correctly in the fridge to avoid putting it in the bin,’ she said.
Jen said by planning a whole week’s worth of healthy meals for the family, you could slash up to $2,500 a year off your grocery bill
The mother-of-two (left) teamed up with her friend Gaby Chapman (right) to launch food app Plan Buy Cook to dish out their savviest cooking secrets
If you’ve got leftover herbs, Jen said the best way to get the most out of it was to store them correctly in the fridge.
‘Pick all the leaves off, wash and dry them, then store them in between paper towels in a sealed container – whether it’s plastic or glass,’ she said.
By following these steps, herbs such as parsley, mint and coriander, would last for up to 10 days.
Another trick she had was marinating your fresh meat as soon as you arrive home from your grocery shop.
‘Meats are the most expensive items. So marinate all of the meats – so you could make a simple Portuguese chicken with spice, garlic and oil,’ she said.
‘So when you put them in the freezer, the meat would marinate in the freezer and while it’s being defrosted. It’s a good habit to get into.’
Another trick she had was marinating your fresh meat as soon as you arrive home from your shop – the meat marinates in the freezer and while you’re defrosting (Pictured Jen’s freezer)
Here, the founders of Plan Buy Cook reveals the 10 golden rules of meal prepping – a beginner’s guide to knowing the basics.
HOW TO PLAN MEALS
Creating a bit of routine can make it easier to meal plan if you don’t know where to start. Here are some ways people plan their meals.
Plan by days of the week
Monday = BBQ
Tuesday = pasta night
Wednesday = roast
Plan by cuisine
Monday = Italian
Tuesday = Mexican
Wednesday = Asian
Plan by time available
Monday = sport = quick meal
Tuesday = day off = slow meal
Wednesday = frantic =
1. PLAN YOUR MEALS
When you start out try weekly meal planning. Once you get used to it, you may try planning over two weeks or even longer if you are feeling adventurous. The key is to allow some flexibility, as plans change a bit. And plan for leftovers, takeaways and dinner out.
2. USE LIKE MINDED INGREDIENTS IN THE PLAN
Cooking a meal with half a cabbage? Plan to use the other half either later in the week or early the next week. If you are cooking a curry, think about fried rice a few days down the track and cook enough rice for both.
3. DOUBLE FREEZABLE MEALS
Where possible, try to double the amounts on any freezable meals and bank the other half in your freezer for a few weeks down the track. Importantly, also plan to eat these meals when planning a few weeks later. If you are really clever, you can often go an entire week without much cooking (just making sides or accompaniments) using meals you have ‘food banked’ in earlier weeks.
Tip: Think about your week and know when you have time to cook and how many meals you will need to cook (stock image)
4. ONLY BUY WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE WEEK
It is often tempting to buy extra ingredients at the supermarket. If you haven’t got a plan for how you are going to use it and it is not freezable, don’t buy it. This is particularly so with fresh ingredients – as they will probably go to waste later in the week. Have a good list and stick to it.
5. SHOP ONCE A WEEK
Many people spend more time shopping than cooking. Not having ingredients in your kitchen puts pressure on the types of meals you can make, and often tempts you to reach for expensive, processed food. Shop well once and stick to the plan.
6. DON’T BE SCARED OF STORING FOOD IN THE REFRIGERATOR
It is okay to keep food in fridge for two to three days. Food doesn’t have to be frozen on the day it was bought or cooked if plans change. If you know you are serving something in two days’ time, keep it in the fridge rather than freeze it.
7. USE YOUR FREEZER MORE EFFECTIVELY
People don’t really make the best use of their freezer. Pulling home cooked meals from the freezer is the ultimate fast food. There are also so many fresh foods that can be frozen, so if space allows, use your freezer for more than ice cubes and frozen peas.
Jen’s perfectly organised pantry helps her with meal planning for the week for her family
8. MARINATE YOUR MEAT WHEN YOU GET HOME FROM THE SHOPS
This is one of the best tips that surprisingly few people know and is often the they’ve ever heard. The meat is marinating while it is freezing and defrosting, saving so much time. Take it out of the freezer and defrost in the fridge a day before you plan to cook it.
9. COOK UNUSED VEGGIES AT THE END OF THE WEEK
Try and use up all your veggies before your next shop to prevent waste. Roasted vegetables can accompany roast or barbecued meats, and are perfect for salads, great toppers on homemade pizzas or a perfect side for any meal. Cabbage, cauliflower and green beans are great cooked with a potato and olive oil.
10. PANTRY MEALS ARE LIFESAVERS
Pantry meals are those sourced entirely from staple ingredients. Think tuna pasta, putanesca sauce, or chick pea curry. We like to plan for one pantry meal a week, which can be brought forward or delayed if plans change.