The Ultimate Guide to Meal PrepPhoto by Wendywatson94 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Experts say that 90% of diets fail, with the average person starting and stopping four times per year.

Let’s face it – even those of us with buckets of motivation and discipline get sidetracked by the trials and tribulations of our chaotic lives. The beauty of the healthy meal prep life is that you get to win the fridge battle in advance - before life’s interruptions get the chance to sabotage your good intentions.

By the end of this comprehensive guide, you will have a complete understanding of how to get started with meal prepping, how to plan your week, and how to make the cooking process easy. We’re going to turn you into a lean, mean, prepping machine (George Foreman not required). Let’s get to it!

Contents

     2.3 - Be Organized
     9.1 - Breakfast
     9.2 - Lunch
     9.3 - Dinner
     9.4 - Snacks
10 - FAQ

 

Portion out your vegetables


So, What’s the Big Deal - Why Does Meal Prepping Matter?      

The purpose of meal prepping is twofold: to control portion sizes and to make your diet easier to stick to. By preparing everything ahead of time and schedule when you are going to eat it, you make decisions when you’re in the right frame of mind. rather than on a Monday night when cooking feels like too much work.

Preparing all your meals in one day will also free up time during your busy week. A little advance preparation will keep you away from the “brown bag of death” otherwise known as fast food. If you plan accordingly, you will never be desperate enough to drive through a McDonalds!

In the business world, a big part of effective time management is separating planning time from doing time so you get the most out of both. The same principle can work just as well for your nutritional goals.

 

Key Tips for Beginners      


It will be OKPhoto by Scott Akerman licensed by CC 2.0

Before embarking on any journey, it's important to set your expectations and get in the right frame of mind. Bear these key tips in mind as we move forward.

1. Choose Your “Struggle Days”      

When you start working on your meal prep strategy, ask yourself which days of the week are most challenging for your diet. If you’re always tempted to order out on Fridays, start there.

Do you have a specific day you find yourself in the drive-thru for lunch? Maybe after Monday’s long night at the office, the burger joint is much more appealing than the kitchen - pay attention to these triggers.

When you start prepping, start with your struggle days. Plan your meals around specific activities that result in lousy dieting. Tackle a little at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed and quit. Turning this into a habitual part of your week is what’s important, and it’s OK if that takes you a while as long as you’re making progress.

2. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint      

Giving meal prep a try once, or prepping only occasionally, when you’re in the right mood, won’t make any difference in your life. Doing it consistently every week will make a huge difference. So make sure you keep the long term vision in mind, and don’t get too bogged down with trying to get everything perfect right away.

Build a support network. Recruit the help of friends and family or anyone who lives with you. Let them know what you are doing and what you hope to achieve.

Having a great support network will be invaluable to you as you integrate meal prepping into your way of life. You also need to plan for how you’ll handle people who don’t share your vision - take into account your friend who always wants to go out to dinner or your cousin who invites you for martinis every weekend.

You don’t need to cut people out of your life, but just let them know what you are doing, and try to find a way to have as much of both as possible (fun with friends AND healthy lifestyle success).

3. Be Organized      

The last thing you want to do is realize you didn’t buy enough groceries - now you don’t have anything to pack for your lunch, and you resort to the “brown bag of death”.

The best way to be prepared for each meal is to be organized. Use a calendar to plan out each day you are prepping. Then break out each meal into ingredients and quantities, and make sure you have them ready for prep day.

 

Pick Your Prep Days      

When you first start your meal prep journey, overwhelm is your enemy. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew (ha!), so start by picking two days out of the week to prep your meals. Cooking a week’s worth of food in one day might be too much.

Sunday and Wednesday are the most popular days because they break the week into two sections.

Start by prepping only for your “struggle days” and expand from there. Decide what meals, on what days you struggle with the most. When I first started prepping I had a terrible habit of going out to get lunch on Thursdays and Fridays (weekend’s nearly here – time for treats, right?).

So I chose to prep lunch twice a week as well as a work snack. You may have a different habit, but once you tackle your “worst” days, the rest will come easy.

Pro Tip: If you have company on a day that isn’t your normal prep day, take advantage of the opportunity. If you are making chicken, make double or triple what you need for your guest and refrigerate or freeze the rest. Make things easy on yourself whenever possible!

Get some hardware!

Get Some Hardware      

Your meal prep journey shouldn’t interfere with your lifestyle. Prepping should not be so difficult and time-consuming that it becomes a hassle.

On the contrary, prepping should make your life a lot easier. Begrudgingly accepting an unwanted invite to your neighbor’s “Tupperware Party” because you lack the right gear – yeah, that’s not a place you want to be!

It’s important to take every step necessary to ensure your success, and one of the most crucial steps is to get the right containers and the right hardware.

Go out and buy some BPA free, glass containers that are partitioned. Cooking fifteen chicken breasts and putting them into a big bowl with foil will not help you achieve your goals. Portion control is the King of Meal Prepping! Don’t forget snacking either. Buy a few small plastic containers and snack bags - use these to bring healthy snacks like granola and dark chocolate to your desk.

If you are packing a lot of veggies into your meals, get a good vegetable chopper or something similar so you don’t have to spend hours slaving over a chopping board every week.

Keep your meal prepping containers separate from the rest and be proud of yourself for getting to this point!

 

Start Planning      

In the beginning, go with recipes you know and enjoy. Just because you’re meal prepping now doesn’t mean you have to drink the health nut Kool Aid and start making wheatgrass juice, acai bowls and gluten free something-or-other. (Unless you like them, of course!)

Pro Tip: When you find a menu that works for you, save it. You can then refer back to it in future weeks and months for inspiration. Then you won’t have to build a new menu from scratch every week.

You can start by prepping the meals you are currently eating, just work on getting into your batch cooking groove and measuring your portions. At this stage, it’s getting into the habit that’s most important. Once the basics become second nature to you, then it makes sense to start experimenting more.

What do you do if you have absolutely no time and you think grocery shopping is about as fun as a root canal? Get delivery! There are so many food delivery resources and online grocery stores out there now, so there is no excuse! Shopping online will save you a ton of time and also make things easier. You can buy most of what you will need online and just shop the grocery store for produce and meats.

A non-exhaustive list of online grocery stores:

Tap into others for inspiration. Find out what’s working for other people, use results as your motivation, and get support from others whenever you feel like giving up. Your family and friends will be the ones to lift you up when you need it.

The most important thing to remember is, this has to make sense for your lifestyle. If it doesn’t, you’ll never be able to stick to it. This is a long term process so take it slow and ease into it. Just don’t hesitate to get started.

Quick recap:

  • Start by prepping for your “struggle days” only
  • Build your support network
  • Organization is the key to success
  • Get glass divided containers
  • Start with recipes you already like

 

How neat is this?

Get Cooking      

Start by cooking a few simple meals a week and portion them out. No matter how great of a recipe you find, if you can’t be bothered to cook something with fifty different ingredients, then keep it simple.

Also, you don’t have to cook everything ahead of time if you don’t want to. If you prefer to have freshly steamed carrots with your meals, then you can put the raw carrots in your container and cook them when you’re ready to eat.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to prep all your meals. Take a decent chunk out of each prep day, so you don’t rush and take shortcuts. Just because you are cooking the food ahead of time doesn’t mean it can’t be healthy and delicious.

Utilize every aspect of your kitchen to maximize your time spent cooking. If you need to prep four different meals for four different days, try to do it in a way that can exhaust every cooking option your kitchen has.

You could be baking chicken and sweet potatoes in the oven, boiling vegetables and frying garlic and onions on the stove – all at the same time. Also, so you're prepared, chop and dice everything you need ahead of time. If you buy meat in bulk, separate it out into individual portions and freeze it. Then, the day before prep day, defrost only the portions you need.

Focus on balanced meals with adequate protein, healthy fats, and good carbohydrates. You don’t want to get stuck eating the same thing every day. While it might be more complicated to cook a bunch of different meals in one day, it will help you have a better experience. You should still be having good food that you enjoy every day.

 

Don’t Forget Snacks      

When I started meal prepping, I made a big mistake by not incorporating snacks into my daily meal prep. Don’t feel like you need to eat your entire meal in one sitting either. Pack a small side container of fruit, nuts, or my favorite, olives!

Fit Men Cook suggest taking all your extra fruit and veggies - blend them and pour the mixture into ice cube molds. Use these ice cubes for your smoothies!

Pro Tip: The best snacks are the ones that contain healthy unsaturated fats. Olives, avocado, almonds, and dark chocolate are good examples. You’ll feel fuller for longer.

 

Give it Time      

As with any lifestyle change, it’s critical to keep at it long enough to experience the benefits, learn from your mistakes, and allow it to become habitual. Experts say it takes about 66 days to form an active habit that will stick. Meal prepping is no different.

You need always to stay focused on your goals. There’s always a lag between when you start on a new venture and when you start seeing the benefits of it. So until you start feeling the improvements in your life that prepping will give you, you might need to remind yourself why you started and discipline yourself to keep going.

Sometimes you’ll make mistakes. And that’s OK. Learn from them, tweak your strategy a little and get back to work.

Food prepping is about making your life easier. It’s a lifestyle change so it will naturally be difficult at first. You will feel so great about yourself every day when you open your fridge and see nothing but healthy food. You will walk with your head held a little higher knowing you are taking good care of your health. And you’ll actually be able to relax after work knowing that your Tuesday night is not held hostage by the tyranny of the kitchen.

 

Meal Prep Ideas      

Understand that there is no wrong idea or “bad meal”, at least when you're just starting out. When it comes to meal prepping, find recipes that work for you and stick to them. You can always refine your menu later, after you have the process nailed down.

Here are a few examples to help you get started:

Breakfast      

Make Ahead Smoothies - delicious!Photo by Ken Hawkins licensed by CC 2.0

 

Make Ahead Smoothies

Quit slicing and dicing early in the morning. Prepare everything ahead of time, store it in a mason jar, and just add your liquid and blend it up. A smoothie will provide you with a healthy dose of vitamins and antioxidants. Substituting this for that morning croissant will also give aid to your weight loss goals.

Get some seriously awesome smoothie recipes HERE.

 

Overnight Oats

This breakfast is almost too good to be true. Oats consumed this way contain resistant starch which helps you stay full longer.

Find a ton of great overnight oat recipes HERE

 

Breakfast Burrito

When you think breakfast burrito, you immediately think bacon, egg, cheese in a flour tortilla. Have you ever thought about a sweet potato and zucchini breakfast burrito? I bet you haven't…

Thank God for great resources like this one HERE.

 

Lunch      

Roasted chicken and vegetablesPhoto by Phoebe licensed by CC 3.0

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Sometimes we need to get back to the basics. A simple chicken and vegetables can be an excellent lunch (especially if you’re pushed for time and have to eat Al Desko!). Having a healthy, delicious meal in the fridge at work will keep you away from the vending machine.

Get the recipe HERE.

 

Lemon Roasted Salmon | Sweet Potatoes | Broccolini

It’s about time we started talking about fish. We all know the endless benefits of salmon, the omega-3 fatty acids, the protein, and B vitamins. You can swap out these sides for anything you prefer, and this could also serve as an excellent dinner idea.

You can find this great recipe HERE.

 

Dinner      

Carnitas Burrito Bowls

Protein, vitamins, whole grains, and healthy fats packed into a bowl - what else could you want? Did you say lime salsa? We never said meal prepping recipes couldn’t be delicious!

Get this delicious recipe HERE.

 

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

Unorthodox, but delicious. This might be one to check out when you’ve settled comfortably into your meal prep routine and want to start experimenting.

Check it out HERE.

 

Creamy Coconut Lentil Curry

This meal takes next to no time to prepare, and there’s never really a wrong time for curry! Here’s another dish that combines all the joys of comfort food with all kinds of nutritional goodness.

Find this recipe HERE.

Creamy coconut lentil curryPhoto by Amy Ross licensed by CC by ND 2.0

Snacks      

  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Granola
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fruit salad
  • Cheese and whole grain crackers

 

FAQ      

Q: What food is good to meal prep?

A: Whatever you enjoy can be prepped. If you like it and it fits into your nutritional goals, it’s always a good choice.

 

Q: How long can you keep meal prep in the fridge?

A: Depends on what it is, but as a rule of thumb I suggest prepping food twice a week to keep it fresh. Doing this means food won’t be in the fridge for longer than three or four days.

 

Q: Do you refrigerate or freeze meal prep?

A: Both! Meals to be eaten the same week can go in the refrigerator. The food you make in bulk can go in the freezer, and you can use it in future weeks.

 

Q: Can you freeze pre-cooked meals?

A: Absolutely! It all depends on how much you are willing to make ahead of time and how fresh you want your food to be. Just keep in mind the adverse nutritional effects extended freezing can have on your meals. (So: maybe meal prepping 3 months in advance isn’t the smartest move. Otherwise, go nuts!)

 

Conclusion      

You made it through the complete meal prep guide! You have the tools you need to get started. Now it’s over to you.

Even more important than educating yourself is taking action. Now that you know:

  • What meal prepping is
  • How it can impact your life
  • How it can affect your health and wellbeing
  • How to structure it into your lifestyle
  • How to plan out your week as a beginner
  • How to cook effectively
  • How to shop
  • Motivation 101
  • A few starter recipes (plus the ones you already know!)

...it’s time to take the first step. Good luck on your journey and stay strong no matter what!