Structure and focus are essential for achieving goals. Outlining a framework for positive change is exactly what meal prepping can offer. I have seen and also personally experienced the benefits of preparing my nutrition, tweaking little things to create big change, and quickly seeing results. Through my years of experience, I have learned how to meal prep—and I have developed some key do’s and don’ts, which can help you be successful.
Take a look at what meal prepping is and why it can help you. The concept revolves around the key health and fitness cornerstones of weight management, consuming enough high quality macronutrients, ensuring the consumption of nutritious meals, and of course…. the economics of grocery shopping.
There is no set demographic that should desire the aforementioned benefits more than another. If you are simply trying to save time or reach an athletic goal, meal prepping is right for you. Personalization in meal prepping keeps eating and preparing your food fun and interesting. Working towards a health goal can be tough for some; food shouldn't hinder your progress or dissuade you.
How to meal prep: 5 do’s and don’ts for success
1. Do find a day that you can prep a few meals.
Meal prep time should be a fun and creative time. Studies have shown that researching, shopping for, and then preparing your food brings us much greater satisfaction and health than ordering from a menu. I recommend shopping and preparing your meals on the same day, perhaps a Sunday when you may have a more relaxed schedule. Prepping on the same day you shop alleviates clutter in your refrigerator as well as food waste. Grab a friend and make it a party. Teamwork and success go hand in hand.
Don't over prep.
Preparing meals in advance should be realistic and fit within your lifestyle. Hiccups in my clients' nutrition plan have been because they made too much food or that they got bored with the meals they made. I recommend planning out 2-3 days of food in the beginning. You will find that food tastes better if it hasn't been sitting for a long time and you won’t get bored eating the same meal over and over. If you want to plan out longer, try limiting your meals to just lunch for the week or cooking extra protein that you can add to dishes on the fly.
2. Do use foods that can keep for a couple days.
Choosing foods that will keep in your refrigerator at home or at work is simple, it just takes a bit of planning. Protein choices like chicken or beef are great options because not only will they keep, if you prepare them right they will maintain moisture. Searing your protein in a skillet is one way to lock in moisture for keeping. For veggies I recommend using hearty, fiber-rich choices like green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and cucumbers. These veggies can either be gently cooked or kept raw in your containers without losing nutrients, crunch, or taste.
Don't choose vegetables that will wilt or become soggy.
While most think that preparing salads for future consumption is a good idea, I advise against it. Salad greens wilt and become watery after only a day if mixed with veggies or meats that contain a high amount of water. Also, I am asked about how to keep fats in the prep plan with avocados and oils. Tossing your salad in oil and then putting it in a container is not going to make for an appealing lunch. Avocados turn brown and don’t keep too well. If you are prepping a salad, bring a separate container with your dressing or a whole avocado to cut on top of it at the time of consumption.
3. Do plan on preparing foods that can be eaten cold.
Meal prepping at its core is about eating on the go or ensuring good nutrition when there is the possibility of not having it around. So be prepared to eat your meals cold. On the subway, in the office, out in a forest…. Wherever. This means cooking you proteins all the way though, making sure your quinoa is not crunchy, and you can stomach cold veggies. This point goes back to the basics of cooking what you enjoy, making nutrition fit into your life. The last thing you want is to be out and looking to trade up to something else.
Don't rely on a microwave.
If you work in a office, there's a high probability that you have a communal microwave in a common area somewhere. But don't rely on the option of an easy way to rheat your lunch—because if you're out and about, or the microwave is being used, broken, whatever...there goes your healthy prepped lunch. My advice: Eat it cold.
4. Do change up your menu each week.
Pinterest isn't just for crafty moms anymore. I regularly check out the internet for new menu ideas. With just a glance you can find visually appealing and fun recipes that are surprisingly simple. Changing up your menu each week or perhaps bi-weekly alleviates the ADD effect that many of us have when we are prepping. I'll be the first to tell you that I get bored eating the same thing so one trick I have is on prep days I will grill 2-3 types of protein. By having a couple containers with steak and chicken, I can easily switch it up, add it to different dishes and continue crushing my goals.
Don't over complicate the recipes.
Keep your prep simple. Egg bakes for a breakfast prep simply need veggies and eggs. Lunch prep should have proteins and carbs. As I noted before, your nutrition should fit with your life and you skills in the kitchen. Like me, you probably are not Julia Child so don’t try and cook like her. Find some spices that you enjoy, choose ingredients that you feel comfortable cooking (in the beginning), and go for it. As long as your macronutrients are accounted for and you have a nice color profile in each meal, the chances that your meals will be balanced is pretty good. The internet, once again, is incredible useful in this area.
5. Do stick to the program.
Achieving your goals does not happen by taking ‘cheat’ days. By starting a meal prep routine you are creating small changes in your daily habits toward optimal health. Those small changes add up to greater achievement. Committing to 1-2 months of meal prep keeps your focus. As I said earlier, implore a friend to prep with you to stay accountable and talk about it often. If you are someone who is using meal prep for wright loss you are going to be STOKED with how fast you can see change. Stick to the plan and kick ass.
Don’t feel like meal prepping is a ball and chain.
Accountability and talking with your coach about meal prep and goals is a way to not hate the process. Meal prepping should be fun, not a death sentence. If you grab your food from the fridge and cringe, you need to evaluate the food not the system. Nutrition that is forced is called DIETING. Dieting is not sustainable. Your life should be filled with the joy of eating. When we enjoy eating, we achieve our goals faster. Prep with positivity.