So, you have made the decision you want a healthier diet. Perhaps the convenience of fast foods might be keeping you from attaining your fitness goals. Or maybe you don’t want the hassle of cooking and washing dishes every day. Or perhaps your weekly dining expenses are weighing heavily on your finances. Whatever the reason, when done properly meal prepping can be a huge value-add in your life!
I have become a master at meal prep, but it didn’t come without many mistakes and through trial and error. But these skills have helped me stay focused on my fitness diet, saved me money, and required minimal effort in cooking and cleaning daily. It’s a must for any fitness-focused individual.
I usually do it once a week (usually on a Sunday night) and can last me any where from a week to 2 weeks (depending on how much I freeze).
There is so much to cover regarding meal prep, especially if you want to do it successfully and stick to it. I will cover more specifically how to meal prep and some of my favorite recipes on future posts. Below are some key first steps to successful meal prepping that I have learned:
- Get the right containersInvest in some quality microwavable containers that will last, as durability is important. I generally like three compartment containers to separate my protein, veggies, and carbohydrates. I generally don’t like my different foods to touch. Otherwise, for example, chicken juice might run into your brown rice and make it mushy. For smaller meals or snacks I will use a small single container.
- Invest in Self CookersSelf-cookers are life savers when it comes to meal prepping! While I am off cooking different ingredients, these self-cookers are cooking for me. Four I use and highly suggest are rice cookers, the George Foreman grill, slow cookers, and steamers. Set it and forget it!
- Change-up your mealsTo prevent yourself from becoming tired or sick of the meals make sure you are changing your meals. I know I can get tired of eating the same thing again and again. You can change the ingredients (such as switching up your proteins from chicken to shrimp, or fish to beef). Even by changing the way you cook your food can influence flavor and texture which can make a big difference (grilled, sautéed, or oven roasted chicken for example).
There are millions of different recipes, many of which can all be done even for prepped meals. Need more inspiration for recipes? A great place to find tasty recipes is on Pinterest! A simple browse on Pinterest can leave you with endless new recipe concepts!
- Mix and MatchRather than cooking everything and matching it with the same ingredients, mix and match your food! This way no meal during the week is truly the same. For example, if your protein is chicken fish, and beef; alternate these with your carbs/veggies (rice, potatoes, spinach, asparagus). With enough sides, you can make many different meal combinations, making every day a little different.
And now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, here are several other considerations that are helpful to keep in mind when meal prepping.
- Spices, Spices, Spices
Often, I am asked “how do you eat them, do they taste good?” My answer to this is to spice it up! Spices add flavor often with few if any calories for the health conscious. This prevents food boredom and helps make each meal different, for example, adding cayenne to make my chicken spicy or garlic/Italian seasoning for a more savory flavor. There are a ton of spices out there, so try some new ones along or in combinations to find the perfect match for your palate!It doesn’t have to strictly be spices to add flavor to your food. Things like lemon, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, or even dipping sauce (usually not for the weight conscious but certainly for the body builder).
- Don’t fully cook your vegetables
This was one I learned on my own after eating soggy vegetables each week. Gross! Instead, I now cook my vegetables only slightly, so that they are undercooked when I put them in the containers. Once I microwave the meal, my vegetables cooked to perfection with just the right amount of crunch!
- Set a Timer
I learned this one the hard way, with plenty of burnt or overcooked meals. The reality is you aren’t superman in the kitchen. When you’re multitasking, it’s easy to lose track of one of your ingredients as it cooks. You will learn the general cooking time for each item, so be sure to set a timer for each food as it cooks. I suggest setting the timer slightly under the expected cooking time so you can check it before it’s overdone. Learn from my mistakes and time your ingredients!
- Make your meals pretty
We are very visual people, it makes sense we are visual eaters too! When planning your meals there are a few ways to make them “pretty”. One way is in the way we cook them. For example, you can grill patterns on your chicken. Also adding lots of color, especially different color. Use sweet potatoes for orange, cauliflower for white, or for green use broccoli. You get the point. Making sure your meals look delicious will increase the likelihood you’ll eat them and stick to your diet.
- Correct Amount, Measure!
If your goal is to lose weight or build muscle, you will want to measure your portions. I use a basic kitchen scale to accurately portion my meals for my desired goals. It only adds a few extra minutes, but ensures your diet is on track.
- Freeze it!
Each week I make my meals, I take a handful and put them in the freezer so they will last longer. This safeguards your food from spoiling and allows you to prep for the week or two in advance. Just make sure to take it out of the freezer and place it into your refrigerator the night before consumption. This also permits you to add in cheat days or dinning out, just place your prepped food in freezer for later date. I just make sure to eat the meal within a week or two, otherwise I feel the quality and taste of the meal decreases.