Meal Prep should become like second nature, if you want this healthy lifestyle to stick without spending half of your life cooking and preparing meals. You need to throw away your reliance on convenience foods, but that doesn’t mean the slacker inside of you has died. Nope, you just need to get a little bit smarter and more practical with meal planning and prepping!
Meal prepping will save you tons of time in the long run, and not to mention how often it will save you from making a poor choice from just being too damn hungry to make a smart one! The food is already prepped, so you don’t need to think about it. Just grab, reheat it, and eat it!
1) Pick a day/evening that works well for you to meal prep. If your schedule is as chaotic as mine this isn’t necessarily the same day every week, but instead every few days. This works well because you don’t need to plan as many days in advance, you can pick a few meal favorites and prep those. The meal prep doesn’t take as long since it’s for less time in advance, and it’s good for variety too because you get a new menu of choices every few days.
2) Plan your meals for the next week/few days and make a shopping list. This could be the hard part; Planning! Well, if you’ve been eating healthy for awhile you probably have a few favorite recipes, start there. The basics? Well, have meals planned that incorporate: a lean protein source (skinless chicken, lean turkey, egg whites, lean beef/ground meat, tofu/edamame, Greek yogurt…..), a grain/whole food carbohydrate source (brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain bread/pasta, quinoa, rice cakes….), and as many vegetables (or sometimes fruits) that you can muster (you can never have “too much” vegetables). Use healthy fats (olive oil, coconut, avocado, flaxseed, nuts & seeds) over unhealthy fats (most saturated but coconut oil though saturated is different) and incorporate a few times per day. They are calorically dense therefore you do not need a lot.
Once you’ve made your menu selections, just write down the ingredients that you need for each of those options to make your shopping list. You can make things super easy by planning a similar menu for each day and just multiplying by the number of days that you’ve planned (this is why a lot of body builders eat the same every day – it saves a lot of time and thought).
3) Shop. If you are eating healthy, most likely you will have to make more frequent trips to the grocery store. However, I find that you will spend less money and time overall this way. Produce is not expensive, while convenience and ready-to-eat items that you stockpile and consume over a few weeks to a month are very expensive. Healthy foods may spoil quickly, but the grocery trips themselves are less time consuming and less of a huge production (a day’s commitment to searching long aisles, piling items into your cart, mowing down small children (maybe that’s just me?), and loading, bagging, loading, and filing into the house after). Less will go to waste this way as well. For more tips on eating healthy & shopping on a budget see my article Eating Healthy on a Budget.
If you’re smart, you’ll choose meals that use some of the same ingredients. Example, you could choose strawberry & banana oatmeal bake for breakfast, for the same week that you plan a strawberry yogurt parfait as dessert and to have a banana each day at lunch. Even smarter? Choose produce that’s in season and base your recipes around those.
4) Wash and cut up fresh veggies in advance. This will save you from laziness later. If the veggies are already cut up and ready to go for cooking and snacking ahead of time, you are more likely to use them.
5) Prep foods – batch cooking. Not every day has to be the same, but to save a lot of time you can make large batches of meals (one-pot & crock pot meals work great for this), and then divvy up into portions. For lunches, you might plan a chicken breast, brown rice, and roasted zucchini combo. You would cook all your chicken for up to a week together, make several days’ worth of rice, and roast all of the zucchini at once. I will prep several lunches by making a really large and fantastic batch of something one night for dinner (example, Curried chickpea & tofu w/ rice), then I will divide the remainder up into equal portions for lunches for the next few days.
6) Package into meals. This is the fun part (for me, but I am a dork!), you see your hard work pay off with all your meals laid out in front of you! Make sure you stick with the portion guidelines laid out in your meal plan and recipes, or you could be doing yourself a huge disservice. You have a goal, you made a plan, be sure you stick with it! Measure out in cups, use a food scale, etc.
7) Each morning before work or at night before you go to bed, package each meal into your lunch bag. Remember each snack you’ve planned and any additional requirements to complete each meal (for instance, the salad dressing) along with any utensils you’ll need. Nothing is going to stand in the way of you sticking with the plan or force you to “just grab something”!
8) Reheat & eat. You’ve just saved yourself from needing to prep each meal, so gone are your excuses, “I don’t have time to eat healthy!”
Have any tips to share in regards to meal planning & prepping?