Time is a luxury these days. All of us feel the pressure to juggle an amazing career, a loving family, and the perfect life. In our rush to master all of these, how are we supposed to make picture-perfect meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
It's burning us out.
So for a lot of people, we suggest considering prepping a few meals ahead of time to create more free time during the week. The idea of meal prep isn't new, but the process to make it successful often leads to food going stale in the fridge or not making enough which results in quick grabs at the closest fast food joint.
Before we go into what will make your meal prep successful, let's talk about one of the biggest reasons most people don't meal prep. They don't have enough time. Proper meal prep will take some upfront time but I argue you make that time back five-fold throughout the week. My typical meal prep takes about one hour and I often do it during the Sunday football or basketball game. Sometimes, I even combine my Monday morning breakfast cooking with meal prep if I didn't have the time over the weekend. Either way, the amount of time you get back during the week because of meal prep is going to be much higher than the upfront cost.
Another reason you should consider meal prepping is to prevent emotional eating. We consistently see the biggest reason for weight gain comes down to stress and emotional eating. As the workday increases, our stress, and our brain, and body gravitate toward sweeter and more fattening foods. Meal prepping with meals that align with your goals will allow you to fill yourself up with satiating foods that help reduce cravings for sweeter or fattening foods. I won't say meal prepping will solve your cravings, but as you do indulge in those fattening foods, the amount you indulge in will be lower if you started with your meal prep foods.
In the end, the reason why meal prep is the answer for so many people is that it lowers stress and saves time. So here's our step-by-step guide on how to make meal prepping successful for you.
Step 1: Look at Your Schedule
Some people have the same work/meeting schedule every single week. Others have erratic schedules that involve days of travel and random emergencies. Before you start prepping for the week, you’ll need a rough idea of how your week is going to look. Starting here is critical to ensure we don’t either run out of food for the week or we cook too much and it ends up being thrown away. Review what your week could look like and start thinking about which meals you'll need to plan for. This leads us to step number 2.
Step 2: Plan Out Your Macros
In conjunction with reviewing your week, you’re going to have to figure out how much and what you’re going to eat. You do this by logging in an ideal day of eating in MyFitnessPal. A day of eating that could be a realistic depiction of your busy week. Do you have a lot of meetings what quick grabs would you want? Are there days when you could have similar meals or use the same food in a different way? What do your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks you like to have look like in MyFitnessPal, and how close will that get to your ideal macros and calories? I strongly encourage you to plan or estimate every single meal you'll have, even the meals you don't plan on meal prepping. This allows you to visualize how you’ll hit your macros, where you can fit in some flexibility, and then which meals you can prep to save you time.
Step 3: Create Efficiencies
This step can be very frustrating. Early on, I used to think every meal had to be Pinterest worthy so each meal utilizes many different foods. This left me with a huge list of groceries and using only small portions here and there. This is why we encourage you to keep it simple, sometimes the basics get the job done. Try to use similar foods in many different ways or even ask yourself if you're ok with having the same meal over and over again. Heck, we do it with breakfast and rarely think twice. What I like to do is to think about the core elements of each meal. I'll typically cook my proteins and carbs and then leave the veggies and fats as late add-ons to give each meal flavor. So, my meal prep often looks like a lot of rice, beans, potatoes, and then two to three different meats. By taking care of the core elements of your meal, I can switch out a few elements to give each meal a different flavor each day.
Step 4: Pick Foods that Makes Sense to Cook Ahead of Time
Not every aspect of a meal makes sense to cook ahead of time. If you've ever opened up an avocado with plans to eat it later in the week only to find it gray and black when you start looking for it, you understand. As I mentioned earlier, think about what the core elements of your meal will be and what food takes the longest time to cook. Those are usually the items you want to prep ahead of time.
Step 5: Cook!
Not everything will require cooking because you can prep salads or dressings, but most of the time meal prep will involve some cooking. Most things have different cooking times, so start with the longest prep time. For me, I'll fire up the grill and as that starts to warm up I'll start cutting my potatoes. Overall, cooking usually takes under an hour from start to finish.
Step 6: Pack it Up
You can either pack every single meal separately or pack each food separately. I’ve seen it work both ways. I personally like packing all of my food separately and then when I want to grab it I’ll scoop out what I need from each container. This may not work if you’re going into the office each day, but you’ll need to find the method that works for you.
Remember, the goal is to lower stress and to help you default to the actions you want in your life. Meal prepping helps do that. This may take a few weeks to understand which meals make sense to meal prep and for how many days. Many people like to meal prep on Sundays and Wednesdays and others like to make big batches one day a week. Again, this is all personal preference and you'll need to understand which route equates to the lowest amount of stress for you.