“Willpower becomes a habit by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”- Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
Meal prepping is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. It will save you time. It will save you money. And it will save you pounds on the scale.
The concept of cooking a week's worth of meals in advance is frightening to many people, but I assure you it’s so much easier than it’s perceived to be. Here’s a crash course in Meal Prep 101.
Keep It Simple
Ditch the Recipe Book
Too often, I hear stories of people trying to follow complex recipes and prepare a wide variety of dishes only to fail miserably when they realize how high they’ve set the bar.
Scrap the “I need 16 herbs and spices to make this chicken” mentality. 90% of the time, you can make food taste great with nothing but a little salt and pepper or a good seasoning blend (I’ll touch on that later). When it comes to meal prep, it’s all about sticking to the basics.
The Basics- Real Food
EAT REAL FOOD.
Generally speaking, your diet should be made up of lean protein (poultry, beef, seafood), vegetables & fruits (any and all), clean starches (potatoes, oats, whole grains), and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil). That’s it. Nothing processed or artificial.
If I could only give one piece of nutrition advice for the rest of my life, this would be it.
Eliminating the man-made garbage from your diet can have drastic effects on the way you look and feel. All of these foods can be easily prepared using basic household appliances (microwave, oven, stove).
Cook What You Know and Use What You Have
I’m all for adding variety to your diet, particularly if you enjoy cooking, but meal prep is about simplicity. Save the exotic dishes for special occasions and one-off dinners.
When you’re cooking for the week, you want to focus on foods that you can prepare easily, efficiently, and in bulk. Use the appliances that you have. You don’t need a fancy new grill or slow-cooker to prepare great meals. In fact, everything that I cook can be made on the stove.
Plan Ahead and Schedule Time
Determine Your Ideal Week
Before you begin prepping your food, or even shopping for it, plan your ideal week.
How many meals per day will you need? What will you eat for each of those meals? How much food do you need to buy to support that plan?
Portions are tough to judge, especially for a beginner. My advice is to take note of how you feel after each meal, and make adjustments as necessary. Are you too full? Still hungry? It takes some practice, but eventually you’ll get to the point where you know exactly how much food is right for you.
I previously wrote a blog about healthy grocery shopping, so I’ll just give you a quick rundown here.
Make a list and stick to it. Only buy the items you need to prepare the meals for your ideal week.
Buy in bulk. There’s nothing worse than running out of food mid-week, forcing you to either go out to eat or make a second trip to the store. If you get too much, you can always freeze it.
Schedule Time to Cook
I’ll admit that I’m guilty of buying a fridge full of food from the store, only to let it sit there for days because I didn’t set aside time to actually cook it.
From my experience, you need to schedule a specific time every week to do your meal prep. Sundays are the obvious choice. If you cook efficiently, a week's worth of meals could take you less than an hour to prepare.
Multi-tasking is a major key to meal prep. For example, while my 10-12 chicken breasts are baking in the oven, I cook my 4-5 pounds of ground turkey on the stove. In 30 minutes, all my food is ready to go.
Involve your family and friends, too. If you have plans to watch football all day, throw your bag of chicken on the grill while you enjoy the game. If you truly want to succeed with your diet, you have to set aside time to prepare your food.
Tools of the Trade
Meal Prep Containers
When it comes to meal prep, I’m a huge advocate of taking a little extra time on the front-end of the process to make things simpler on the back-end. That means separating your meals into individual containers as soon as you finishing cooking them.
You could just throw everything in a large tupperware and divide your portions out each day, but sure enough you’ll be running late one morning and convince yourself that the extra effort isn’t worth your time.
I get my containers from Costco, but these from Amazon will work great, too.
A food scale is a great tool for cooks of any skill level.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s tough to judge portion sizes simply by eyeballing it. A food scale will give you exact measurements and will make tracking your macros a breeze (if you’re into that sorta thing).
I recommend this one.
Frozen Steamable Veggies
I’m all about simplicity, and bags of frozen steamable veggies are about as simple as it gets.
Just pop them in the microwave for 5 minutes and you’ve got 4-5 servings of high-quality vegetables. In fact, frozen veggies are often more nutrient-dense than fresh because they’re flash-frozen at peak ripeness.
Mixed veggies, broccoli, green beans, and peas are all great options.
Mrs. Dash Seasonings
I put Mrs. Dash on everything; and I mean everything. To be honest, I don’t even use other spices or seasonings.
There are a ton of flavors, and all options are salt-free and MSG-free. I cook chicken almost every week, but it never gets old with this stuff.
My personal favorites are Southwest Chipotle, Fiesta Lime, and Garlic & Herb.