Want to know the real secret to healthy eating? According to Mary Graham, CEO of Toronto-based organic food delivery service Mama Earth Organics, it’s all about mastering the art of meal prepping. Preparing your meals in advance can help you keep on track, even when life speeds up and that local takeout place starts to look more tempting.
Here, we chat with Mary and get the inside scoop on what Mama Earth Organics is all about, their new #mealprepchallenge, how to actually stick to our New Years’ Resolution to eat better, and where she gets recipe inspiration. Read on, and bon appétit!
To start, can you tell us what Mama Earth Organics is all about?
Mama Earth offers 100% organic produce, local food, and chef-made meal solutions, delivered to your door. But it’s more than that. Our mission is to help people nurture the planet while they nurture themselves and their families. We believe we can create a connected food community—for people who love discovering and eating amazing food, care about nourishment and their overall well-being, and want to do it in a way that is conscious and sustainable. Of course, we recognize that is a lot to ask of anyone’s day-to-day eating habits, and that good intentions can get easily thwarted. That’s where Mama Earth comes in. We aim to help our customers make their good intentions easier. We curate amazing tasting healthy food, grown and prepared with the earth in mind, then delivered to your door aiming for the lowest possible footprint.
Have you always been passionate about food and healthy eating?
I have always enjoyed food, both the eating, and the social conviviality part of it. I would say I am very mindful of eating healthfully, but definitely not a zealot. Food is meant to be enjoyed and nourish our bodies and brains. I really don’t want to have to choose. I think it’s a matter of getting all parts of the equation into balance—make good choices in ingredients, prepare them the right way, consume in the right portions, and throw in some exercise. What it shouldn’t be is work. We eat 35 meals a week—they all should be a source of both pleasure and fuel!
Tell us about the #mealprepchallenge that launched on January 1.
The #mealprepchallenge aims to make meal prep less daunting and more fun, while demonstrating how easy it actually is to incorporate healthy, organic eating into your daily life.
We think there are a myriad of easy meal prep options, but we are challenging folks to come up with five, quick and easy meals using one large basket of fresh, organic produce (along with whatever staples you already have in your pantry). A ‘meal’ doesn’t have to be a gourmet feast—it can be lunch, dinner, breakfast and snacks—at home, on the go, or at work. While we are calling it a “challenge,” we think people will quickly realize how unchallenging it actually is stay on track with healthy eating—it just needs a little preparation and some inspiration.
While so many people choose healthy eating as a New Year’s Resolution, so many of us give up by February, if not sooner… What is your advice for setting this goal AND keeping it?
For most of us, December is a month of over-indulgence, so by January we are feeling tired, bloated, and gross. The problem is that we try to over-correct and swing the pendulum too far to the other side. We set these massive goals and develop ambitious approaches to hit those goals. My advice: small can add up to big. In fact, small changes have a better chance at adding up to big changes, because they are sustainable. I know lots of people who declare January as NO carbs/sugar/dairy/caffeine/alcohol/etc. No fun, basically. I’ve tried it myself but will admit that it lasted about an hour. You’re better off just dialing back, and then commit to a handful of intentional tweaks: put mustard on your bread instead of butter, use a great olive oil for a salad dressing, keep a pitcher of water on your desk so you consciously drink more of it, commit to a glass of water before you drink your coffee, opt for fruits and veggies that are as fresh and tasty as possible so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, etc.
When did you first discover and fall in love with meal prepping?
Meal prepping for me started out of necessity, with a busy full-time job and three kids with their own busy schedules. We do attempt to have dinners every night as a family, so meal planning and prepping is the only way to make that happen. We aren’t striving for perfect though and have found that a Monday-to-Thursday concerted effort works well enough for us. There is something empowering both in having a structure to meal prepping that helps keep your family on track, and in giving yourself a pass from trying to be good 100% of the time. Friday night pizza night is still a pretty embedded ritual in my household!
Where do you find your own meal prep inspiration? Are there certain foodie blogs or Instagram accounts you like to follow?
My first source is friends and family. People who like food tend to also like to talk about food—there is a wealth of sharing happening! I also get inspiration online through LCBO Food and Drink, The Spruce Eats, AllRecipes, Oh She Glows, Trnto.com.
Can you give us some examples of the types of meals you like to prep in advance?
For me, ingredient prep begets meal prep. In my fridge, you will generally find containers of: washed and chopped veggies, washed greens, mixed berries, and hard-boiled eggs (with a Sharpied “H” on them, so I don’t accidently crack an uncooked egg into a salad!). On Sunday nights I will also make a big batch of steel-cut oats to get me through the week, which I then microwave and add berries, some natural peanut butter, and a shake of a pre-mixed concoction of flax/chia/hemp hearts to.
I always have a Sunday-to-Thursday meal plan, which is primarily focused on dinners, but whatever protein we have for dinner becomes part of the next day’s lunch. Then I shop to that plan.
Sometimes, I’ll prep a full meal, but usually I’ll just prep the ingredients so that’s easy to throw it together when it’s time.
What would you say to people who find meal prepping daunting?
It’s way less daunting than trying to figure out what to eat when you hungry, busy, or spent after a long day! Meal prepping makes your life way easier, not harder!
What are some common meal prep faux pas?
There are a few:
Over-estimating how many meals you actually need and/or how well you’re going to stick to a plan. Wasting food is so frustrating, so it’s better to err on ‘reality’ rather than how good you are hoping you will be.
Trying to do many new things at once. You’ll burn yourself out after a week and give up.
Not taking into account your family’s preferences. There’s nothing worse than putting effort into a great meal, and have your kids opt for a bowl of cereal.
Doing it all yourself!! Stop being a martyr, and get your family involved! My kids have been making their own launches since kindergarten—not only a great life hack, but it instills independence and healthy eating habits at an early age!
How can we make meal prep fun?
Get someone else involved. You could try finding a buddy to prep with, such as a lunch buddy at work—you prep for two people, but then only have to make a lunch every other day.
What are you tips for making easy healthy meals?
Buy the best and freshest ingredients you can. They are way more flavourful, which means a) it won’t feel like your healthy eating habits are a compromise, and b) you actually don’t have to eat as much to feel satisfied.
How do we develop the habit of meal planning without being too strict about it that we end up finding it a burden?
Base your plan in reality and give yourself a break. Food should not be associated with guilt.