As the saying goes, “failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” This adage could apply to almost anything but is especially true for diets. A healthy diet can be challenging to maintain on the fly and is especially difficult if you are trying to lose weight.
You can make lifestyle adjustments that will help you lose weight, and it doesn’t involve counting calories. For example, being well-rested and consistently getting 8 hours a night on your millet pillow can help you maintain a healthy weight (read more on how sleepless nights can lead to weight gain here). Having a balanced diet and meeting your nutritional needs, as well as meal prepping, can also help!
Picture this. You come home from an exhausting day at work and are feeling famished. You are trying to lose weight and forgot to pack a lunch. Although there are fast food options near your office, you decided it wasn’t healthy enough, and just skip lunch and wait for dinner.
By the time you get home you are starving! Your stomach is growling loudly, and you don’t feel great, so you grab a box of crackers to snack on while you decide what to make for dinner. You’re tired and hungry and left with the option of baking chicken and chopping vegetables or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven. Many of us in this position would opt for the quick 15min pizza!
Now imagine this same scenario, but you meal prepped your dinners. You come home, open your refrigerator and pull out a Tupperware of cooked chicken souvlaki, sauteed peppers, rice, and broccoli. All you need to do is pop it in the microwave or oven for 5 minutes, and you have a hot, healthy meal. And, if you had meal prepped your lunches for the week, you won’t reach for the crackers as soon as you stepped in the door.
Whether you are trying to lose weight or not, meal prepping is a great way to save yourself time and stress during busy weekdays. Many people get dinner fatigue, tired of thinking of what to cook each night, and when meals are planned in advance, it can make grocery shopping easier.
Without a plan, you may buy things you don’t use (we’re all guilty of throwing out unused vegetables at least once!), and you don’t buy the things you could use. This can result in you making more trips to the supermarket and wasting money.
You don’t need to count calories, calculate your macros or follow a strict diet plan for meal prep to be beneficial. Instead, you can cook up meals based on your personal preferences and nutritional requirements. There are no rules when it comes to meal prepping! You can prep all your meals and snacks or just prepare lunches and dinners.
If you are new to meal prepping or want to perfect your meal prep skills, follow these expert tips:
1. Sit down and plan it out.
Though this sounds obvious, many people still do a lot of their prepping on the go. They look in their kitchen cupboards and try to create meals with whatever they have. This can be super resourceful but can also lead to uneaten, prepped dishes in your refridgerator.
Sit down with pen and paper and write down what you want to make. Find a recipe and write down all your ingredients. Then go through your kitchen and see what you already have. Anything left on the list will be your grocery list.
Ask yourself how many meals you want to prepare. For example, are you looking for one meal to last through Monday to Friday, or do you want to switch it up every couple of nights? Use your answers to these questions to determine how many servings you will need to make.
2. Invest in some suitable meal prep containers.
If you’re are new to meal prepping, start slow and get just enough containers for the meals you will be preparing. For example, if you want to start by preparing three days of lunches in advance, get four containers. Then, wash them as they are used, and by the third day, you’ll have four clean containers to prep again.
According to Toby Amldor, the author of the best-selling book, The Healthy Prep Cookbook and Smart Meal Prep for Beginners, you should pack your meals immediately. Once cooked start dishing it out evenly to ensure you have enough for all of the meals you want to prepare. This will also help with portion control. If you are meal prepping to lose weight, creating individual portions will help ensure you are consuming the right amount of calories. Lastly, select containers that are high-quality and durable. If you plan to reheat your meals in the microwave or oven, ensure they are safe to do so.
3. Multitask in the kitchen.
If you are looking to cook a few different meals, sides, and snacks, try to multitask. Look for recipes that will utilize the same equipment. For example, put a big tray of cut-up vegetables, baking dishes of protein, and even a healthy casserole in your oven at the same time (just be mindful of cooking times!).
While you have food cooking in the oven, clean and chop fruit and veggies to put in Tupperware for snacks. Equipment like slower cookers or the Instant Pot can also make the process more seamless. When things are cooking, you can prep cold dishes. For example, you can prepare salads in mason jars or overnight oats for breakfast.
Although multitasking is a great tip – keep the tasks food-related and stay in the kitchen while cooking. If you start multitasking by doing laundry or cutting the lawn, you risk burning your food or a kitchen disaster.
4. Choose a theme for your meals.
You can save money and make recipe research easier by picking a theme for your meal prep. When many of your dishes share similar ingredients and spices, you’ll make shopping easier (and cheaper), and kitchen clean-up will be faster.
A great example is a Mexican theme. There are so many tasty, healthy dishes you can make for different lunches and dinners. Tacos salads, lettuce cups, Mexican street corn, and burrito bowls are delicious options that taste great when reheated.
5. Keep your pantry and spice rack stocked.
Many basic pantry staples can be added to your meal prep. These items last a long time and are great when you are stuck on what to prepare. For example, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole-wheat pasta, or legumes like canned black beans can add fiber and healthy carbs. Baking essentials, oils, and canned goods are also great to keep on hand.
Instead of waiting until you need them, try to buy them when they are on sale and keep your pantry well-stocked. This will help keep your grocery bill down and make these trips more manageable.
In addition to a well-stocked pantry, keep plenty of different spices on hand. Spices make all the difference, enhancing the flavor of meals. Herbs and spices will make your food taste better and also have health benefits. If you are an amateur chef and just starting to get into cooking, don’t feel you need to go out and buy 30 spices. Instead, start with the basics like garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, etc. From there, you can build up your collection.
6. Start a meal prep routine.
Although meal prepping will save you time, you will still need at least a couple of hours to prep a week’s worth of food. You need to carve out the time to do this and a routine will help keep you consistent. For example, on Friday afternoons you could plan out the meals you want to make and write out your grocery list, on Saturday you could do your shopping and on Sunday you can cook!
Not all dishes will last five days, so you may need to cook two days a week if you want to meal prep for the week. You can still do all your planning and shopping on Friday and Saturday but do a bit of cooking on Wednesday as well. If you have more time to spare on Sunday, plan for more complex meals early in the week and simpler meals at the end of the week.
Meal prepping is a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When combined with blissful sleep on your millet pillow, a multivitamin, and plenty of water, you can feel more energized, strengthen your immune system and even feel happier!
Although there are plenty of #mealprepgoals images seen on social media, with five days of meals neatly spread over a dining room table – this is a lot of work. Start small and use the tips listed here, and you can enjoy all the benefits of preparing your meals in advance while simultaneously saving yourself time and money!