If addressed, it can tip the scales in your favor and keep goals within reach. Without it, life can be even more complicated and even the smallest of goals can seem miles away. It is not by coincidence that planning, and more specifically meal prep, is a recommended habit to employ for achieving your health and fitness goals through nutrition. And while all the hype you have heard around meal preparation applies; saving money, time, and shortening the timeline to reach nutrition goals … many struggle with knowing where to begin.
There is a host of opinions on how best to go about implementing meal prep. I wish it were simple, and that I could provide a template that applies to everyone. The truth is each person is unique in their caloric and macronutrient requirements. Aside from having varying goals; fat loss, performance, and longevity (to name a few) eating regimens vary. Vegan, Paleo, Vegetarian, Omnivore, Gluten or Dairy Free – each one is fine, but the plan differs based upon this as well. In this write-up I will go over the basic guidelines, including a few tips, to help anyone begin the process of meal prepping. What if you have specific requirements or restrictions that apply to you? No problem, simply modify and include those for your plan.
Easy as 1,2,3
1. Start with a Plan
Like going to the gym without a plan, going into a grocery store without one is not only inefficient but will provide mixed results. This means that prior to taking that trip priority number one is to have a plan. Through habit, I have optimized my shopping experience by having my menu for the week pre-planned and with lists or recipes organized. Going into a store with a list, a plan, and a timeline makes shopping extremely efficient. I do not recommend going to the grocery store without a list. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you will spend more money, end up with unnecessary items, and waste a lot of time. The goal is to get in and get out with what you will need for the week, and to avoid additional trips to the store.
2. Create a List
There are a couple approaches you can take, or even a combination of the two, for creating your grocery list.
The first is to make a list based on macros needed for the week. You can then use the base items to make lunches for the week, or whatever other meals you plan on preparing. As an example, you could write out sources of protein for the week. Some of the staple items for myself are Ground Turkey, 93/7 Ground Beef, Chicken Breast, Eggs / Egg Whites, and whatever seafood I can find on sale (Salmon, Scallops, Shrimp). In addition to the meat proteins- I keep Cottage Cheese, Greek yogurt, Carbmaster Milk and Protein Powder in my house as staples. After protein, I decide which vegetables I want for the week. Like protein, I have my staple options: Bell Peppers, Mixed Greens for salads (Baby Spinach, Romaine, etc.), and tomatoes. Finally, carbs, my staples here are Jasmine Rice, Baby Red Potatoes or Yukon Gold Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Bananas, and Berries (Blueberries, Raspberries). Also, I always have Whole or Steel Cut Oats.
Extras- Spices (low sodium, like Flavor God), Marinades (low sugar), Pasta Sauce (low sugar), Hot Sauce (Frank’s Red Hot and Buffalo), Peanut Butter (natural), and Greek Yogurt Salad Dressings (Bolthouse). Quick note, the Creamy Caesar Salad Dressing is excellent as a flavoring for many dishes. One go-to combination of mine is jasmine rice, diced chicken breast, bell peppers, then dressing…. Yum
The second approach to a shopping list is to research and choose specific recipes to make for the week. After first checking your home for available ingredients, note the items necessary and then head to the store and follow your list. This is a good option for someone just beginning and to choose a specific meal for the week, for example lunch, and to eat the same recipe for each day. You would then rotate recipes from week to week in order to have variety and keep from becoming bored with the same thing. This simplified approach helps in hitting macronutrient targets if your dietary approach is one that tracks them.
3. Execute the Plan
So now that we have everything we could possibly need to cook and eat, it’s time to cook and store all the things. I shop and meal prep on Sundays, you may find another day works better based on your schedule or even choose a couple days to complete these tasks. In the interest of time, find ways to multitask. What things can be done at the same time? Boil water for rice in a saucepan, ground turkey on the stove top, and have potatoes boiling. While cooking is in flight for those foods, preheat the oven to 425 to cook chicken breasts and lay out containers for the meals. Now of course you do not have to follow this exact process, but it is mentioned to get you thinking of ways your meal prep can be timely and simplified. Once your foods have completed cooking you can weigh and measure servings into each container to finish meals for the week. You can also cook staple items you will use for the week and pack them in large containers to have available in the refrigerator. Just make sure to check storage times to keep food from being bad or getting sick. In general, if you eat everything made within a week you will be good. And if you are following the plan of making specific recipes for the week, you can divvy them up among containers to have them ready to grab and go from the fridge.
- FOLLOW THE KISS PRINCIPLE: For the uninformed that is Keep It Simple Stupid. The more extravagant the menu, the more work will be required to prepare it. Too many ingredients, too many steps, and it becomes unrealistic to repeat each week. While I encourage trying new foods and recipes, I also know that the more complicated it is, the less likely you are to be consistent in adhering to it.
- EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: How can we prepare for the unknown and keep stress to a minimum? Have a plan, have your list, have your menu, and stay focused. Stick with your plan and be PATIENT. And this means sticking to your plan when it may include work and more effort.
- PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Meal prepping once can be a great experience…but doing it EVERY SINGLE WEEK can help ensure results. Make this a habit that sticks no matter what. Expect that difficulties will occur and prep even if… fill in the blank. Remember the reasons why you are doing it- it will save you time, money, and speed up reaching your goals (weight loss, muscle gain, improved health).
- ENJOY THE PROCESS AND BELIEVE IN YOURSELF: Cooking is quite fun once you give it a try. Involve your kids in the process and help teach them some important life skills. Believe that you can whether your focus is weight loss or increased muscle mass. I have seen incredible transformations and I know it can happen for you too. It begins with first believing in yourself and then consistently executing your plan.