Meal Prep 101: Why, When, What and How
“I don’t have the time to prepare my food”
“I’m not going to get up earlier and eat breakfast”
“I just don’t have the knowledge you do to put meals like that together”
“I don’t have any idea what to prepare”
The above quotes are all things I’ve heard MANY times in one way or another during my four-and-change years of helping catalyze others’ success in fitness. When I bring up the idea of preparing meals ahead of time, it’s typically met with one of the above forms of resistance. It’s a fascinating thing about us as humans, we are always resistant to the changes that are going to be the best for us in the long run. Diet and exercise are no different, and for whatever reason, no matter how clearly the benefits are presented to us – we always want to rationalize why it’s just “not going to work” for us, or look first to the obstacles in our path and say “no way” without even giving a thought as to how we can turn those obstacles into opportunity.
That’s absolutely not the way to start a journey – anyone who has ever been successful at anything, has never started off their journey planning to fail? Do you imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger woke up on his first day of weight training at age 15, saying something to the effect of “I don’t know if I can get up earlier and cook up a handful of eggs and some oats… This might not be the right path for me…?” No way!
Are apprehensions okay? Absolutely. And that’s why I’m here – to make things easier for you, help you transition into some healthier habits and create the blueprint for your success. One aspect of changing your nutrition for the better, that I think everyone needs at least some help with, is meal preparation.
Meal prep is an enigmatic process to a lot of people, and from the outside looking in, it may seem confusing. You mean, you prepare everything that you eat, several days in advance? Yup. It’s about…
One of the reasons that so many people come to me with relatively terrible nutrition (or at the VERY least nutrition that needs more accountability), is that they’ve “lost control” of their dietary habits. Blame whatever you want for this, the “fast food nation” that we live in, lack of public nutritional education, or any other sociological factor – the point is that the majority of us have lost sight of what it means to be healthy, to look to food as a fuel source. Food has become a matter of what’s convenient, and for those who choose to continually look to fast-food and/or sit-down restaurants as their primary source of sustenance, is to relinquish control of one’s nutrition. If you want to change your habits for the better, you must first take control of your intake by measurably scaling back the amount of times per week you’re dining out (or “outsourcing” your nutrition). I generally allow people 1-2 reward meals per 7-10 days, which can be going out to eat, or otherwise totally going off the reservation with what they’re consuming. If you’re currently visiting a restaurant more than 3-4 times per week, I’d HIGHLY recommend you start decreasing that. The other hand to dining out less, is of course…
Taking active interestt
… in the preparation of your food. Yes, this means you are going to have to… *gasp* prepare your own food. Sorry, folks – the truth here is that if you catch yourself “without time” to prepare things ahead of time, meal and snack-wise, you’re not looking hard enough. The best preparation strategy I can offer, is to get the bulk of it done during a down time in your week. Yes, you have some. It exists. Do I care if it’s Sunday afternoon and you’re “supposed” to be relaxing? No. If your goal is important as it needs to be for you be successful. If you’re going out to eat more than 1-2x per week, you have ample time to prepare your food. You can make time at some point during the week to prepare food for the week ahead, and it will save you hours AND dollars in the long run. By preparing things ahead of time, you will also be able to consciously control your portions instead of going “Full America” and eating everything on your plate.
Keeping things consistent
Whatever you do, do it with consistency! If you’re just starting out, you don’t build healthy habits by going to the gym once one week, three times the following week, not at all the week after that, and four times the next – you build your new habit by doing so REGULARLY, on a 4-5 day per week basis. Nutrition is the same way, and there’s really no way to tell what exactly is working if things aren’t consistent. I’ll spare you the macronutrient talk for now, but if you’re not measuring things out and staying consistent with your intake- say 1700 calories one day, 2500 the next, and 1000 because you felt bad about the day before – how are you going to ensure that what you’re doing is working?
But what do I prepare?
As an advocate of the “green face“ approach to nutrition (with the addition of some starches, of course), and the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle when it comes to pretty much every other aspect of life – I like to streamline my week by keeping a few different ingredients constantly available
- Grilled chicken
- Ground turkey
- Ground beef
- White/brown rice (it doesn’t matter)
- Sweet potatoes
“But that’s SO MUCH”
you may be thinking right now. It’s really not. It’s less than ten items (how many items do you buy per grocery trip?), and to prepare all of them – whether you’re grilling, baking, or cooking on the stove top – would take little more than two hours. There’s a few other options I recommend keeping around, such as squash, peppers, and other seasonal vegetables Between these, say less than a dozen ingredients – there are virtually hundreds, if thousands, of different meal options!
“But that sounds so boring?”
Unless you’re a great eater already, some of the above ideas might not float your boat. I’m a huge fan of trying new things when it comes to what I’m prepping with – using different seasonings, spices, homemade marinades. No, I don’t typically eat just plain chicken breast with white rice and broccoli – I’d much rather season with some “Kickin’ Chicken” seasoning, and using lemon zest and olive oil with veggies is a great key to keeping things interesting. Just because you’re healthy doesn’t mean you have to be boring! You just want to be sure that anything you’re topping your foods with isn’t contributing added sugars, too much salt, or anything to take away from the healthfulness of your prep.
“Okay, I don’t have as much of an issue with my main meals, as I do with snacking throughout the day”
Great! Then we’ll look to improve your snacks and direct them towards healthier choices. Once again, staying prepared is going to be paramount to your success. Some things I keep around
- Meal replacement protein (link to my personal favorite – I don’t make anything from them)
- Protein Bars (the only protein bar I recommend – I don’t make anything from them)
- Protein balls (my mom keeps these around, so I go over to her house and raid the bowl)
- Greek yogurt
- String cheese
- Single serving packages of nuts (unless you feel like counting out exactly 20 almonds, 16 cashews, 28 peanuts or 45 pistachios)
- Larabars (the only other bar I recommend aside from Quest bars – these have zero added ingredients)
There are literally limitless options when it comes to staying prepared regarding your nutrition. Clients continually come to me with “Yeah, I didn’t know what else to eat and I didn’t have anything so I ate X because I thought it wouldn’t be so bad for me!” – my advice to them is the same, Stay prepared, keep something with you at all times, and this won’t happen!
What do I need?
Before you dive headfirst into becoming a full-on #MealPrepper and posting prep pics on the internet, there’s a few small items you’ll want to make sure you have
- A plan of what you’re preparing
- A food scale for weighing portions
- Food containers
- A sweet lunchbox like one of these so everyone knows you’re serious (just kidding- but a 6 Pack Bag or something similar is a great investment especially if you’re busy busy or travelling to multiple locations daily + containers are included)
Of all of the above items, I’d say having a plan is going to be the most important. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, you’re going to overwhelm yourself and hate the process. Making things simple and integrative to your life is crucial for success in fitness. Not only am I referring to a meal plan from the FitBunch, but I’m also talking a plan of attack regarding your prep – If you have to start out with a trip to replenish groceries, do that, but a game plan such as “Cook rice. Clean all proteins, season, and grill. Cut veggies and grill as well.” will keep things moving forward in an orderly and somewhat organized fashion that won’t leave your kitchen looking like a disaster!
A few more quick tips…
- Keep eggs hard-boiled and in the fridge – they work well to top off salads, or eat independently as a protein-based snack
- Have a dedicated time/day to do your meal prep. In my house this is virtually always Sunday afternoon/evening.
- Freeze and pre-portion soups
- Double up on dinner portions and keep them for lunch during the remainder of the week
- Grill chicken and keep it in the fridge to eat through the week
- Buy pre-washed salad mixes
Putting it all together…
Look, guys and gals, meal preparation isn’t a huge deal. It’s as little or as big of a deal as you want to make of it, but it’s something that I firmly believe should be done as it all but ensures your success. If you want to start out simple, prepare at least one daily meal ahead of time for a week, and integrate the others into your life over time. If you’re taking steps towards creating a healthier version of yourself, meal prep is the best way to keep yourself on track and in-line with your goals.
If you’ve made it all the way through this article, congratulations! You’re well equipped and well on your way to adopting a very healthy habit in meal prep. Celebrate by rewarding yourself with 20% off any service that includes a meal plan in the FitBunch online shop using coupon code mealprep101 at Checkout! As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org