It isn’t always easy to choose healthy foods to eat. Our lives are hectic, our schedules jam-packed, and we often find ourselves juggling way more balls than we can handle. When we are stressed out, it is common to reach for the most convenient snacks and foods available. This usually means fast-food, vending machine food or pre-packaged, preservative-laden foods.
In order to keep your food plan on track, it is VITAL that you set aside some time for meal prepping. Meal prep does not have to be something that you dread doing. Like anything else you want to succeed at, planning your strategy ahead of time is the key to victory. Follow these simple tips and before you know it, meal prepping will be a part of your weekly routine.
What IS Meal Prep?
For many people, meal prep is the number one key to their weight loss success. Simply stated, meal prep is preparing all of the components of your meals ahead of time. This includes creating a weekly menu of your healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Those meals are then broken down into a grocery list. After a trip to the supermarket, it is time to wash, chop, cook and package your meals for the week.
If the idea is daunting to you, don’t fret. You are not alone. The thought of having to plan out and set up all of your foods in advance can be overwhelming. We promise you. Once you start incorporating meal prep into your weekly schedule, you will find that you are actually saving time. And the pride you feel after a week of clean eating will motivate you to continue the process week after week.
Five Steps to a Successful Meal Prep
1. Pick your day(s)
The first decision you need to make is what day is going to be your prep day. Many people choose Sunday as their day to food prep. Most adults do not work on Sundays, your kids are home to help out, and your food will be fresh until at least halfway through the work week.
Some people find it less daunting to have two prep days. If the thought of preparing ALL of your meals for the week is overwhelming, consider prepping on Sundays and Wednesdays. The goal is to set yourself up for success. Any potential roadblocks will derail your progress, so be honest with yourself ahead of time.
Organizing Hack: Our schedules are ever-changing. There is no rule saying you need to stick to a specific prep day week after week. Think ahead to your upcoming appointments and commitments and choose your prep day(s) accordingly.
2. Make your list
Think about how many meals you need to prepare for the week. Is breakfast usually a protein shake? Are you prepping for yourself or for your entire family? Take into account any dietary restrictions or food aversions that your spouse or children may have.
When planning your meals for the week, choose recipes and foods that you are familiar with, have only a few ingredients and are relatively simple to make. Overwhelming yourself with fancy concoctions will only stress you out and discourage you. Break down your food shopping list into categories, i.e.: fruits and vegetables, protein, grains, dairy, condiments and miscellaneous items. Estimate the quantities of each item that you will need and be sure to notate them on your list.
Planning Hack: There are many smart phone food shopping list apps that are extremely useful in organizing your supermarket lists. Some even have the capacity to sync your list with other family members, which allows anyone with the app to add items to your list. GroceryIQ is a highly-rated and user-friendly shopping list app.
3. Visit the Grocery Store
You have surely heard the advice to avoid going to the supermarket on an empty stomach. This is the first step to a successful trip to the grocery store. Make sure you have your list with you and be sure to review it before you head to the store.
Try your best to buy ONLY the items on your list. Remember, you worked hard to come up with this meal plan. Don’t sabotage yourself by tossing unhealthy items into your shopping cart! The perimeter of the supermarket contains the freshest and healthiest ingredients. Avoid aisles that are stocked with shelf after shelf of tempting and fattening items.
Shopping Hack: Invest in a sturdy, insulated cooler bag. This will serve double-duty to keep your foods cold on the way home from the supermarket AND keep your meals fresh when you pack them each day.
4. Clean, Chop and Cook
Plan to begin prepping your week’s meals as SOON as you get home from the supermarket. Warn your family that the kitchen will be off-limits for a few hours (unless they intend on helping you).
Unpack your groceries and sort them into piles based on the recipes they are components of. Some people find it easiest to prepare all of the week’s breakfasts first, followed by lunches, and so on. Others like to prep meals day by day. There is no right or wrong way to assemble your weekly meals. Whichever method is most comfortable for you is the one you should go with.
Cooking Hack: The crockpot is a fabulous way to prepare large amounts of food at once. There are a ton of healthy, easy to make meal ideas on the internet.
5. Package your meals
It is very important that you invest in sturdy, portion-sized containers. Simply tossing all of your prepped food into Ziploc bags or large Tupperware containers defeats the purpose of portion-controlled meal prepping entirely.
The best food prep containers are BPA free, airtight and have divided sections. The most convenient containers are clear and uniform in size. Clear containers make it easy to know what’s inside and choosing containers that are all the same size makes it much simpler to store in your fridge and cabinets. It also makes searching for a matching lid a no-brainer.
Container Hack: If there a triangle with the number 7 inside of it stamped on the bottom of your container, it is NOT BPA free. Do not use it for food storage, and most certainly do not use it to re-heat food in the microwave.
Once your meals are prepped for the week, take a peek in your refrigerator and pat yourself on the back. YOU did that! Channel those feelings of pride and accomplishment and use it to motivate you through the weeks and months ahead.