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These Are The Top Five Ingredients You Need To Include In Your Meal Prep This Autumn Season

Autumn harvest. Healthy, clean food and eating concept

Our nutritional expert has identified the crucial ingredients to include in your autumn meal preps for muscle-building, and it appears that garlic is a must-have.

The fitness experts at Total Shape analysed over 200 autumn recipes rated four stars and above on the nation’s leading recipe site, to identify which ingredients appeared most frequently and reveal how their health benefits can help you navigate the changing season. 
As well as looking at which ingredients are must-haves for your cupboards this autumn, the study also analysed the nutritional content of popular dishes to see which are the best for building muscle – and created three staple recipes designed to help you prioritise meal prepping. 
And it turns out these are the top five ingredients you need to include in your meal prep this season:

  1. Garlic – Garlic proved the most popular ingredient, as it’s essential to virtually every autumn dish analysed. Known for its antibacterial properties, garlic offers protection against the common cold – which is great news for the autumn season – and is also a good source of potassium to support normal blood pressure. 
  2. Onion – The backbone to plenty of dishes and proving among the most popular ingredients in the study, onions are a source of organic sulfur compounds which work to reduce cholesterol. They’re also a great source of B and C vitamins, which help different enzymes function and strengthen our immune system. 
  3. Olive Oil – Olive oil also appeared frequently across the top-rated recipes. Not only is it a great source of healthy monosaturated fats, but olive oil has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and be an excellent source of antioxidants, helping your body neutralize free radicals that cause diseases.
  4. Tomato – Tomatoes make a solid base for many meals and they make a great source of fiber. Additionally, they’re a good source of vitamin B9 (folate) which aids tissue growth and normal functioning, as well as vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) which is important for bone health. Like onions, they’re also a great source of vitamin C. 
  5. Nuts– A variety of nuts can be great for the diet as they’re packed with plenty of dietary fibre, healthy fats and magnesium – particularly almonds, cashews and brazil nuts. This helps to regulate biochemical reactions such as blood pressure, sugar levels and muscle function. 

Other ingredients that frequently occurred in popular seasonal recipes include pumpkin and butternut squash. Both are high in beta-carotene which converts into vitamin A and helps to maintain a healthy immune system, as well as maintain good skin and eye health. 

Some surprising ingredients also included spinach, high in iron – which many people don’t get enough of in the autumn months – and mustard, which is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as calcium, iron and zinc.  

Fish also appeared frequently in the top-rated recipes, which can be a source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids during those months when the day gets shorter. This is particularly helpful as we have a reduced ability to make vitamin D outside during the cold months.  

Speaking on the findings, health optimisation coach James Cunningham, from Total Shape, says: “It can be difficult getting all the essential nutrients we need during autumn, especially as the days get longer, as we’re combatting shorter days and colder weather alongside our usual commitments. 

“In order to make sure you’re eating healthily and still prioritising your workout goals, meal prepping is a great way to save time during the week when you might not feel like cooking. It also makes it easier to avoid indulging in a takeaway or processed foods for convenience. 

“Including these ingredients in your meal prep ideas can help boost immunity during the colder months and ensure you’re getting a varied diet full of protein and vegetables.” 

The current British Nutrition Association guidelines suggest the average person requires 0.75g per kg of body weight of protein a day, and with chickenchickpeas and lentils occurring in the top 20 ingredients, these are key to a balanced autumnal meal for those focusing on building muscle. 

To help make it easier to decide which meal prep dishes are best for you, Total Shape has created three protein-packed recipes with seasonal ingredients designed to help you prioritise fitness and well-being over the next few months. 


Mustard Chicken with Seasonal Vegetables – 71g Protein 


  • 1 chicken 
  • 2 onions 
  • 6 celery sticks  
  • 6 carrots  
  • 50g butter  
  • 100g smoked bacon lardons  
  • 3 small turnips  
  • 1 tbsp plain flour  
  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard  
  • 3 rounded tbsp creme fraiche 
  • 900ml stock 

For seasoning:  

  • 2 bay leaves  
  • 2 thyme sprigs  
  • 1 tsp black peppercorn 
  • Handful of parsley, chopped 


  1. Cook chicken in a pot with half one onion, one celery stick and one carrot, then strip the meat and tear into pieces.
  2. Chop the remaining onion, celery and carrots into thick slices and fry with the butter and lardons. 
  3. Add the rest of the vegetables and seasoning, fry for two minutes then add stock gradually.
  4. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes
  5. Finish by adding the chicken to the pan with the mustard and creme fraiche, return to simmer and stir gently. Sprinkle with parsley to finish. 

Storage: The BNF recommends using cooked chicken within three to four days when kept in the refrigerator.  

Red Lentil & Squash Dhal – 42g Protein 


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
  • 400g butternut squash 
  • 400g chopped tomato 
  • 1.2L chicken stock 
  • 300g red lentils 
  • 1 heaped tbsp mango chutney 

For seasoning: 

  • 1 tsp coriander 
  • 1 tsp ground cumin 
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric 
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper 


  1. Put the oil and onion in a saucepan and fry for five minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Stir in the spices and butternut squash.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, stock and chutney and season well. Bring to the boil, then gently simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the lentils and simmer for another 20 minus. Stir in coriander and serve.  

Storage: Cooked lentils last for three to five days in the refrigerator in a sealed container.  

Lentil & Sweet Potato Stew – 27g protein 


  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 red onion, chopped 
  • 100g lentils 
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks, 
  • 500ml vegetable stock 
  • 400g chopped tomato 
  • 400g chickpeas, drained 

For Seasoning:  

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds 
  • 1 tbsp curry powder 
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds 


  1. Heat oil in a large pan, add the red onion and cook until softened.
  2. Add seasoning and cook for a minute, then stir in the lentils, sweet potatoes, stock and chopped tomatoes.
  3. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes until lentils and sweet potatoes are tender. Add in drained chickpeas, then heat through.
  4. Season, sprinkle with coriander and serve. 

Storage: This meal should last for three to five days in the refrigerator when stored in a shallow sealed container or ziplocked bag.