True confessions of a nutrition coach and gym owner. I hate to meal prep! Whew – I said it! But the fact of the matter is that when I do meal prep, my life is so much simpler in regards to deciding what and when I’m going to eat.
We all know what it feels like to be “hangry”, don’t we? Meal prep makes it so I have healthy meals prepared, and don’t make bad choices on the fly.
Have you ever heard that saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail?” Well it holds true with meal prep just like it holds true with many other things in our lives.
Often time we know the right foods to eat, but because we don’t have them readily available we make choices that are not conducive to our health and wellness goals. Meal prepping solves all of that. I feel like I can speak for a lot of people when I say that the last thing I want to do when I get home from a busy day is stand at the stove and thaw ground turkey or chop up bell peppers.
Having those tasks done ahead of time saves so much effort when preparing for a busy night of kids activities. Tacos for example would take 1/2 the time if the meat was already cooked or at the very least thawed, and all the sides chopped and prepared.
Even thinking about what to eat takes effort! We’ve all been there. Trying to decide what the family is going to eat on a nightly basis is one of the worst tasks in the world. Everyone wants something different, everybody is starving and no one will concede. If that is done ahead of time, so much stress is alleviated. All this angst can be solved with meal prep.
So let’s get right into it! In this article we will teach you how to meal prep in 5 simple steps!
What Is Meal Prep?
Meal prep refers to the process of preparing and organizing meals in advance, usually for the upcoming week. It involves cooking or prepping ingredients, and portioning them into individual containers for quick and easy access.
Meal prepping is a time-saving and efficient way to manage eating habits. Especially for those who are health conscious and those who have busy schedules.
What Are Some Tools Needed To Meal Prep?
Having the proper tools to meal prep is so important. It makes the process go so much faster and is more efficient than “making due” without certain items.
Here is a comprehensive list of basic tools we believe can help with meal prep.
Air fryer and/or traditional oven
Measuring cups and spoons
Meal prep containers
Strainer and grater
Baking dishes including muffin tin
What Are The Benefits Of Meal Prepping?
There are so many benefits to healthy meal prep!
Meal prepping and batch cooking eliminates the need to cook or prepare meals every day, saving time and reducing stress.
Promotes healthy eating
Prepping meals in advance allows you to control the ingredients and portions, making it easier to eat healthily and maintain a balanced plate.
Reduces food waste
Meal prepping helps to use ingredients efficiently, reducing the amount of food waste generated.
By prepping meals in bulk and taking advantage of bulk purchasing and sales, you can save money compared to eating out or buying pre-made meals.
Supports weight management
Prepping meals ahead of time helps to control portion sizes and reduces the temptation to reach for unhealthy snacks. Anyone trying to lose weight could really benefit from this.
Having meals ready to go for the entire week makes it easy to stick to your eating plan, even when life gets busy or hectic.
A study done on meal prep showed that people who meal prepped were more likely to eat better quality food, more balanced meals and an increase variety of foods eaten. Additionally the study showed that those who meal prepped lowered their odds of being obese.
Given all the benefits of this task, what are you waiting for?
3 Meal Planning & Prepping Principles
Principle #1 - Add More Whole Foods Into Your Diet
Whole food options such as hard boiled eggs, brown rice, and fruits and veggies contain much less sodium, fat and sugar than processed foods.
Principle #2 - Focus On Balance
Balanced means that every meal and snack contains all three macronutrients; proteins, carbs and fat. Doing this ensures that your body stays fuller longer and helps prevent unhealthy snack indulgence due to hunger.
Reshape your plate by practicing the plate method!
1/2 of your plate = non – starchy vegetables
1/4 of your plate = lean protein
1/4 of your plate = starchy carbs
Principle #3 - Limit The Added Sugar
The American Heart Association has guidelines on added sugar.
Males should consume no more than than 9 teaspoons of added sugar daily
Females should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily
Remember that added sugar is different that natural sugar. The main difference between added sugars and sugars in foods is the source and purpose of their presence.
Sugars in foods refer to naturally occurring sugars found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and some grains. These sugars area almost always paired with fiber. They play an important role in providing energy, and helping the body function properly.
Added sugars, on the other hand, are sugars and syrups added to foods and drinks during processing or preparation. They are often added to enhance the flavor, texture, or sweeten food and drinks. Added sugars provide excess calories and contribute to weight gain and increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.
It’s important to note that the total sugar content listed on food labels includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. To reduce the intake of added sugars, it’s recommended to choose minimally processed foods, read food labels, and limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks.
5 Steps To Meal Prepping Healthy Meals And Recipes
Now that we know the benefits of meal prepping, let’s get into the steps!
Step #1 - Plan 3 Staple Main Meal Recipes
Recipes can sometimes make it hard to determine balance if you are a beginner. Starting with simple meal prep ideas is a very important.
Pick 1 Breakfast Recipe (examples below)
Pick 2 Protein recipes (examples below)
Pick 1 starch recipe (example below)
If recipe inspiration is needed, we have a ton of healthy recipes on our website. Additionally, I have some linked under each category above! Fresh fruit is always a great place to turn for your starch if you don’t really know what you want.
Step #2 - Plan Your Staples; Snacks & Veggies
Adding veggies to the main staple recipes you picked helps create that balanced plate. Maybe you like roasted veggies, or a crips green salad will do. Whatever you choose, having it prepared ahead of time is key.
In the situation a quick packaged snack is needed, here are some suggestions.
Low sugar greek yogurt
Beef or Turkey Jerky with an apple
Fairlife protein drink with fruit & nuts
Balanced healthy snacks are so easy to forget about as we often grab quick processed foods. Treating snacks like mini meals helps get people in the mindset of always referring back to that plate method. Each one should have protein, carbs and healthy fats.
Step #3 - Do An Inventory Of Your Fridge And Your Pantry
This is my favorite step! There is just something about looking in a clean, organized fridge. When the fridge and pantry are clean, one can easily do an inventory of what is needed for the week in order to make the healthy meal prep recipes chosen.
Additionally, throwing away all the expired condiments and foods just feels good. When that step is over, going through the pantry and getting rid of any unhealthy processed foods is the next step.
After we have given our fridge and pantry a complete overhaul, making a grocery list is next!
Making A Grocery List
A great way to make a grocery list is to detail each category of your meals.
Go through your recipes and compare what you need to what you already have in your fridge and pantry
On your list create a line item list with categories for proteins, fruits & starches, non starchy vegetables and miscellaneous items.
Take a picture of your grocery list before you leave incase you forget it at home (speaking from experience here)
You are now fully armed and prepared to make your meals.
Step #4 - Go Grocery Shopping (Or Shop Online)
This is the obvious step needed next in order to make some food! People now have the option to shop online, or in the store. If I’m being honest I MUCH prefer to order my groceries online and pick them up when they are ready.
Doing so allows me more time to read over ingredients and verify if I really need the things on my list.
Online shopping takes me much less time than me walking around the isles searching for the things I need. Online I type in the search bar the food I’m looking for and add it to my cart.
Shopping on my computer prevents me from putting miscellaneous treats I see on the shelves and items I don’t need in my cart.
Remember, always keep in mind added sugar when purchasing anything with a label. Make sure to read the label before buying it. As you walk through isles or even shop online, outstanding marketing will catch your attention.
Claims like “fat free”, “all natural ingredients”, “low fat”, “reduced sugar”, are all listed in bright bold colors on the front of boxes and packages. Sifting through this food label marketing and not getting sucked in by the claims is sometimes hard.
Knowing how to read a food label and looking for added sugar will help in making good choices.
How To Read A Food Label
One of the most important aspects of reading a food label is understanding SERVING SIZE! One pint of ice cream seems like it would be just one serving. In reality it’s a whopping four servings.
That is why serving size is number one on our list.
Determine serving size
Look at calories per serving.
This tells you how much energy you will get from the food.
Check out saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
Look for micronutrient values
Some examples are Vit D, Calcium, Iron, etc.
Look at % daily value.
This % will help you understand if a product is good for a certain micro/macronutrient or if it is not.
When looking at the ingredients list on food labels, know that they are listed in order of abundance. This means that if sugar is listed first, it is more sugar than anything else.
Step #5 - Meal Prepping!
Remember to block out time after you go to the grocery store to prep your meals. This alleviates the food going bad in our fridge. There have been so many situations in which I have purchases a ton of veggies and fruits from the store, but left them whole in the fridge. This resulted in waste because I failed to cut them up and use them immediately.
When you get home from the store plan for an hour prep time.
Get the crock pot ready
Start the oven
Rinse and chop any fruits and veggies purchased
Here is an example of how to make the most of time by being efficient. Let’s assume you are making pulled chicken and egg muffins.
Start the pulled chicken (10 minutes prep time & 4 hours in the slow cooker)
Cut veggies for egg muffins (5min)
Prepare and bake egg muffins for 25min (5min)
While the muffins are in the oven, finish chopping up the rest of your fruits and veggies and portion them out into baggies for the week. (15min)
Pull the egg muffins out and let them cool. From here turn them into individually portioned meals by placing each serving into an airtight container. (10 min)
Clean up the kitchen and go about your day until the crockpot chicken is done.
After your chicken is done, let it cool until you can remove it from the crockpot. The chicken can be made into a variety of meals as long as you don’t season it a certain way when you cook it.
For example, Monday you can make buffalo chicken sweet potatoes with it, Tuesday pulled chicken tacos, Wednesday sloppy joes, and Thursday stir fry it with brown rice, and a bunch of veggies you chopped up.
Let’s recap our meal planning and prepping venture.
We have spent about an hour in the kitchen and we have breakfast for for almost the whole week. Dinner or lunch is also planned and prepped for each day of the week. This means it is guaranteed that each day we will eat at least one nutritious meal.
Using the pulled chicken breasts in the crockpot as a protein staple allows us to create variety which keeps us from getting bored of our food choices.
Some of the best meal prep recipes come from simple ingredients! Remember – nutrition should not be complicated and we are here to help!
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