When you think of meal prep, do you think of professional bodybuilders and obsessive athletes? It might seem like a hobby for people who have more time than you do, people who can devote an entire day to standing in their kitchen chopping, cooking, and packaging up perfectly controlled meals for their entire week.
But the truth is, meal prepping can benefit everyone. Especially if you’re struggling to find time to make healthy meals and manage your hunger during hectic weeks of work, family, and everything else that makes your food choices challenging.
There are many ways to manage your meal prep, and with your biggest goals in mind, you can find one that works for you.
What is meal prep?
Meal prep is also known as batch cooking, where you save time by making several meals-worth of food in one cooking session. It can be as simple as making an extra big batch of chili so you’ll have enough for leftovers, or as complex as pre-cooking and chopping all of your proteins, vegetables, and starches for every meal of the week ahead.
Meal prep saves you time in the long run because you only have to get out your equipment, heat up the oven, and wash all your prep dishes once. You end up with super easy heat-and-eat meals that also happen to be healthy and well balanced for your fitness goals. Your macro ratios can vary depending on whether you’re looking to beat your best deadlift, bulk up your biceps, or make your abs look shredded, so meal prepping is a great way to stay on top of them.
In addition to cutting down your actual food prep time, meal prep also saves you time and stress by eliminating all the “what should I eat?” pondering that happens every time you get hungry. It can be absolutely liberating, especially if your meal plan has had you obsessing day and night about finding the right foods.
Your meal prep doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some people focus on dinners or the lunches they bring to work, because that’s when they’re most vulnerable to eating out or grabbing something unhealthy. Others focus on lining up their morning meals so they can start their day right without having to think about it. Even preparing just a few meals a week could make a huge difference in your life. Not only will it make your healthy eating faster and easier, but it will also help you reach your fitness goals.
Why is it a good idea to meal prep?
- It saves time – Personally, I don’t like to cook and the less time I spend in the kitchen the better. Others might simply not have the time to cook every day/night with a full-time job and kids or other obligations.
- It makes it much easier to stick to a meal plan because it’s so convenient. When you have easy, balanced meals at your fingertips, you’re less likely to eat out or grab something not so good when you are hungry. It puts you in control of what you eat, when you eat and , how much you eat, and when you ‘cheat.’
- Having your meals taken care of leaves you more brainspace for other things. No more wasting time on wondering what to cook and eat each day.
- It helps you save money because you eat out less often and you’re less likely to throw out ingredients if you cook everything at once than if you cook individual meals every day.
- It means less cleaning the kitchen and washing dishes—which is good for the environment (I use my dishwasher once a week) and for you because it saves time for more fun things in life.
How do you do meal prep?
First of all, don’t worry about trying to learn a ton of new recipes. By far the easiest way to begin is to prepare familiar meals but in a bigger portion so you have leftovers. Once you get a feeling for how much food you need for a week’s worth of one meal a day, you can start prepping multiple meals.
Second, take advantage of healthy shortcuts. Use pre-chopped veggies, bagged salads, and frozen produce to minimize prep time. These nutrient-packed whole foods will make your work easy so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
When you are ready to try new meals, give yourself time to research, plan, and select recipes that will meet your needs. You can follow fitness magazines or social accounts for new ideas, but stay focused on whatever feels simple and delicious. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Here are three different ways you can prep your meals:
- Choose one main protein, let’s say chicken, but different side dishes so you can mix and match throughout the week. The following week you could choose a different protein.
- Choose different proteins but keep your sides dishes the same. So beef and rice and green beans one day, fish and rice and green beans the next.
- My preferred method: I usually choose at least two different proteins (chicken and beef) and two different carbs (rice and potato) and two different types of vegetables (whatever is in season) and mix and match. This might seem a lot, but I’ve been doing it for quite a while and now, I can practically do this in my sleep. I promise you will get better at meal prep, too. If it seems overwhelming in the beginning don’t give up.
Give meal prep a try
When you master your meal prep, you’ll have more consistency in your diet, more ease in your day, and more control over what you put in your body. You’ll easily feed yourself when you’re hungry (but not starving), you’ll have an easier time fighting cravings, and you’ll have steadier energy throughout the day for all of your work and training. Having easy, delicious, nutrient-rich whole foods on hand will help you break bad eating habits and fuel your body optimally to help you feel good and easily meet your fitness goals.
If you’ve been a meal prepping skeptic up to now, I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try. No matter what goals you have for your fitness and health, mastering your meal prep can be absolutely life-changing.