I receive a lot of comments and questions regarding interest in meal prepping. What I hear the most is how challenging it seems!
Let me tell you something- if I can do it, you can too.
When you break it down, it’s pretty simple. You. Just. Have. To. Do. It.
It’s a matter of taking it one step at a time, which I am about to set out for you. Before I begin, I want to briefly touch on the benefits of meal prep.
The benefits of meal prep
If you have meals already made for yourself, you will be less likely to make a poor or impulsive choice.
2. It saves you money.
Eating out adds up! Even if its just a $5 sub or a $7 burrito. Spend the money on groceries at the beginning of the week and you’ll be surprised how much money you actually save. For example- you can get ground beef, potatoes and some frozen veggies that will give you 5 meals for under $10 all together.
3. It also saves you time.
Think about it. Do all your cooking/cleaning at the beginning of the week and you wont have to do it again until the next week. This way, when it’s time to eat that’s all you have to do. No preparing (aside from perhaps 2 min in the microwave), no cleaning pots/pans etc. Also, no travel/wait time by stopping somewhere. Now you’ll have more time for activities, naps, you name it.
How to meal prep
1. Figure out how much you need to be eating each day
If you haven’t already, check out IIFYM Explained: A Simple Guide To Flexible Dieting and What Are Macros? Counting Macronutrients Made Simple.
2. Figure out how many meals you need to eat each day
Now that you know how much food you will need, figure out how many meals you would like to eat each day. This is different for everyone. There’s a lot of garbage out there claiming ‘you need to have this many meals a day to burn fat properly’ blah blah blah.
The only two things I believe you need to consider are: your hunger cues and your daily schedule. Figure out what works for both of these components and you will be just fine. At the end of the day it’s calories in vs. calories out that will determine your success with your goals.
3. Create your menu
Optimally, your mean plan should be a combination of foods you love that also provide you with nutritional value.
When building client meal plans, I usually have them send me a list of whole food sources they enjoy in these respective categories: Proteins (meat, fish, eggs, greek yogurt etc), Carbs (oats, bread, rice, quinoa etc), Fats (oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, nut butter etc) and fruits/veggies (I hope you know what these are). *Fruits and veggies are a carb source but I separate them simply to get more insight on a variety of food someone likes.
Then, make meals out of these foods that will fit your calorie/macronutrient goals. This requires a little math but apps like myfitnesspal will do all the work for you.
Just plug in your desired meals/portions and keep checking your daily totals until you have met your numbers. Adjust as needed.
For example, you have all your meals plugged in and are 10g over in carbs and 7g under in fat. Decrease the portion of one of your carb sources and increase or add a fat source. It’s really just basic math and tetris, so everything you mastered in second grade.
You don’t HAVE to balance your meals, but I recommend it because it simply makes planning easier. I try to make sure I have a protein, carb and vegetable at each meal and fats at some but not all because fats add up quickly!
Meal prep sample plan
1/2 Cup Eggwhites
1/4 Cup Lite Mozzarella
2 Slices Turkey Bacon
1/2 Cup Oats Cooked in 1 Cup Cashew Milk
3 Tsp Coconut Sugar
Coffee with Stevia and more Cashew Milk
4oz Crockpot Buffalo Chicken with 1oz Goat Cheese
50g Roasted Beets with Chili Lime Seasoning
100g Brown Rice with Coconut Aminos
1 Cup Snap Peas as a side
Dinner: (chickpea salad)
120g Cup Chickpeas
1 Chicken Sausage
1 Cup Chopped Peppers and Onions
2 Tbsp Roasted Red Peppers
2 Tbsp Bolthouse Farms Dressing
1 Cup Baby Carrots as a side
1 Container Fat Free Plain Greek Yogurt with Toffee Sweet Drops
1/3 Cup Bran Cereal
1 Protein Bar
4. Grocery shopping
Make sure you are planning out how much you will need for the week based on your daily servings and amount of days you are prepping for! For example, many of you will only need to prep for the work week when you are the most busy.
Also, will you make and eat your breakfast at home or prep that for on the go? These are all things you will need to consider. For example. My schedule allows me to make and eat breakfast at home every day, so that is something I do not prep. The rest of the day I am typically on the go, so I will prepare my lunches, dinners and snacks. Do what works best for your schedule.
5. The meal prep itself!
Start by taking out everything you are going to prepare, the cookware you’ll need to prep it and the containers you’ll use. I usually start by turning the oven on to 400 degrees, while that heats up I begin chopping up all my veggies and meats that need to be cut.
Once everything is ready to be cooked, get it going! I usually bake my veggies in the oven (brussel sprouts, potatoes, beets etc) and cook lean beef on the stovetop. Also on the stovetop cook things like rice and other grains for your carb sources. I’d recommend starting this at the beginning because it takes a while to cook.
Always start with the items that take the longest and can be left alone for a bit. Another easy carb source I enjoy is canned beans because you don’t have to cook them, just rinse and portion!
You can also bake fish, use cans of tuna or buy precooked meats to skip the whole cooking process entirely! (Sometimes I use pre made grilled chicken or chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s for example).
I also really enjoy using the crockpot for my chicken. All I do is turn the pot on high, spray it with cooking spray, add the chicken and favorite sauce (buffalo currently) and let cook for three hours. It’s done when you poke it with a fork and it easily falls apart. I then remove the chicken from the pot and leave the liquid behind. I shred the chicken with two forks in a separate container and add more sauce until it’s all coated.
I highly recommend getting your hands on a food scale for this part. This will help you accurately measure your foods and give you an idea of what proper portion sizes look like for when you are eating something not prepared by you!
I usually start with the snacks/raw foods so the food that was just cooked has some time to cool. Raw veggies, berries, nuts for example in baggies/small containers. Then, I start putting my meals together. Place all of your food on a large table or island with all of your containers and food scale.
Add a container to the food scale, 0 (tare) the scale and add the given portion of each component of the meal. Do the same for the rest of your meals!
7. Clean up
The disaster usually seems WAY more intimidating than it actually is. Suck it up and take the three minutes it takes to clean up after yourself and then you wont have to worry about it for the rest of the week.
8. Alternative options
Don’t like eating the same thing each day? Instead of portioning all your meals ahead of time, simply store large containers of each food you prep and mix up the combination and seasonings/sauces each day. The possibilities are endless this way. This takes a little more work day-to-day but no more than 5 minutes since all you have to do is weigh/assemble the meals.