You’ve heard about meal prep to eat better, but never seem to get around to actually doing it. Here’s what happens instead:
It’s 3 p.m. in the afternoon. You’re tired, you’re hungry, and a little stressed out. You don’t have anything on hand to eat, and you already know you don’t have anything in the fridge at home to make dinner.
That’s the way a lot of people plan their meals. They don’t. Instead, too many people adopt a feast or famine approach to eating. And what ends up happening? It usually looks something like this:
- You go to the nearest drive-through and order a burger, fries, soda, and make a sundae.
- You drop some coins in a vending machine or go to the nearest convenient store and wolf down a biggie-sized candy bar.
- Or you make a grocery-store pit stop and load your cart with frozen pizza and processed foods that are high in calories, low on nutrients, and the wrong ratio of macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs).
It’s a vicious cycle. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And so it goes, day after day.
You eat whatever is easy and convenient to ward off hunger. You feel like crap. You’re not losing weight like you want to. And getting shredded seems like it’s impossible.
But wait. Maybe you try and make up for poor food choices by skipping meals.
Intermittent fasting might work to help you shred fat, but if you skip a meal and then binge on unhealthy food, that’s not going to get you the results you want. That kind of dieting is a recipe for weight gain.
A little meal prep goes a long way
Fortunately, you can break the cycle. And it’s not that hard. Investing just a little time in meal prep once a week or so can have a huge impact on your overall health and your fitness goals.
Here’s how 13-time Mr. Olympia competitor Shawn Ray puts it: “If you don’t follow a good nutritional plan, you’re bodybuilding with one arm behind your back.”
Maybe you don’t have any plans to step on stage, but eating the right foods, the right amount of calories, and right macronutrient ratio may be even more important than what you do in the gym to achieve your fitness goals.
It’s why meal prep is so important. If you have healthy food ready to eat, you’re a lot less likely to let your diet go off the rails. And you’re a lot more likely to see results and be able to measure progress from all your work in the gym.
In fact, research shows that people who spend more time preparing meals at home than going out to eat, are significantly more likely to eat a healthy diet than those who don’t.
Meal prep made easy: Follow these 6 steps
If you really want to build muscle, shred fat, or transform your body, you’ve got to eat the right foods. Here’s how to make meal prep work for you:
#1 Create a shopping list based on calorie and macro goals
It’s the only way you can develop a meal plan that meets your needs.
- If you’re trying to bulk, you’ll need more calories.
- If you’re trying to shred fat, eating fewer carbs can help.
- And if you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll need more protein.
When you have this critical piece of information, you can create a shopping list to get the foods you need for prepping healthy meals.
#2 Buy foods in bulk
One of the biggest excuses people make for not making time for meal prep is being too busy.
And it makes sense. If you rarely have more than a day’s supply of food at home, you’re constantly going to be running out of things to eat.
When the inevitable question arises, “What’s for dinner?” you’ll probably end up ordering another pizza.
The fix: Buy in bulk.
If you know you’re going to be eating 200 grams of protein a day, you’re carb cycling, or carb cutting, that’s going to determine how much chicken, beef, rice, broccoli, and sweet potatoes, you might buy.
When it makes sense, buy in bulk. Shop at the right stores, and you’ll typically save some money on your food bill over a month’s time.
Plus you’ll have everything you need to make healthy meals, without the need to take another trip to the store or hit speed dial for pizza on your phone. That’s time saved.
#3 Keep it simple
Sure, you can find a million different recipes for high-protein meals, low-carb options, healthy snacks, or desserts that won’t destroy your diet.
But if they’re too complicated to make, or require exotic or expensive ingredients, are you really going to take the time to make those meals? Probably not.
So keep it simple.
Build a meal plan that includes foods you like, and foods you know you’ll take the time to prep at home.
Pick out easy-to-make ingredients for meals and snacks you can prep for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and those in-between meals. An ideal meal plan for most people includes 6 to 8 meals and snacks a day.
Other ways to keep it simple:
- Eat plenty of leafy greens. Practically no prep time, if you buy your favorite greens in a bag.
- Make smart substitutions. Wrap a burrito in lettuce instead of a tortilla. Drink water instead of juice or soda. Eat Greek yogurt or quick oats for breakfast.
- Include protein shakes as part of your meal plan.
- Stock up on ingredients to make green smoothies with fruit and veggies.
#4 Plan ahead
Take a look at the primary reason you end up eating junk, eat too many calories, or don’t hit your macros. The reason? Poor planning is typically to blame.
If you make meal prep just as important as working out at the gym, you’ll be a lot less likely to let your diet go off the rails.
It’s a lot easier to eat healthy when you’ve got something to eat right in front of you, so plan ahead.
Some people like to dedicate a chunk of time on the weekend, for example, to prep all their food for the coming week. Here’s how:
- Cook meats, vegetables, and rice, for example, in bulk.
- Measure out by weight or serving size.
- Repackage foods in in reusable or disposable containers for a complete meal.
- Store meals in refrigerator or freezer.
- Take a day’s worth of prepped meals with you when you head to work, school, etc. Use a cooler if you don’t have access to a refrigerator.
- Keep a shopping list, or use an app on your phone, to know which ingredients you need to buy on your next shopping trip.
#5 Add seasoning and spices
Think chicken and broccoli tastes bland? Don’t like eating plain oats? Can’t stand the taste of brown or plain-white rice?
Fine. There’s an easy fix that should be part of your meal prep process.
Instead of using high-calories sauces and too much salt, use seasonings and spices to flavor your food.
They taste good. And they’re healthier than sauces typically high in calories and sodium. That’s because many herbs and spices contain antioxidants your body uses to fight inflammation and prevent disease..
Try seasoning your food with:
#6 Get started
Meal prep isn’t that hard. Sure, it might take a little time to go grocery shopping and cook all the food you need for a week, package it, and store it.
But it’s worth the effort to help you hit your calorie and macro goals, and ultimately build the body you really want.
“Now” is always the best time to start.
Are you prepping your meals? My customized meal plans make it easy to hit your calorie and macro goals, and eat food you love.
- Ma, Y., et al. (2003). Association between eating patterns and obesity in a free-living U.S. adult population. American Journal of Epidemiology. From: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/158/1/85/174075/Association-between-Eating-Patterns-and-Obesity-in.
- Monsivais, P., et al. (2014). Time spent on home food preparation and indicators of healthy eating. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. From: http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(14)00400-0/fulltext.
- Carlsen, M., et al. (2010). The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition Journal. From: https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-9-3.