Meal prepping is all the rage right now, and let’s be honest, it makes a ton of sense for a lot of reasons. It saves unspeakable amounts of time and money, allows for greater portion size and macronutrient control, and allows you to devote less energy to the what/when/where/how of nourishing yourself – that means more energy focused on your goals.
But meal prepping can sound daunting. We know it’s a time-saver when you zoom out and look at the whole week, but spending 6 straight hours in the kitchen is a hard sell to anyone! We’ve put together some key tips for meal prepping like a champion during even the busiest of weeks.
Plan, Plan, Plan.
Just like a good training regimen, masterful meal prepping takes proper meal planning! Print out a weekly calendar and start by making “appointments” for the behind the scenes work. When can you book 30 minutes to choose recipes for the week and make a grocery list? When can you set time aside for your (hopefully once-weekly) shopping run? And when can you set aside an hour or two for the meal prepping itself?
This exercise of making appointments is great for revealing what you do and don’t have time for. If you truly can’t make time to do your own grocery shopping, consider using a delivery service like Instacart, Thrive Market, or a delivery from a local store. The schedule also helps you stick to your routine and realize just how little time it actually takes to create an entire week of meals and snacks!
Meal prepping is a long-term money saver, but it gets a lot easier if you can invest in quality equipment to get started. You’ll need at least 6-10 pieces of tupperware or other food storage system, and getting the good stuff is beyond worth it. Nothing is more annoying than cheap plastic that bends and warps, doesn’t seal properly, or is impossible to clean.
Then consider the kitchen appliances – a rice cooker is worth its weight in gold if you plan on utilizing rice as a common “base”. A slow cooker or Instant Pot can be a game changer for soups, stews, or braised meats/veggies, given that you can just load it up with some liquid and seasoning and let it roll while you’re at work, overnight while you sleep, or all evening while you take care of the rest of your to-do list. You’ll also want to make sure you have one or two great, solid baking sheets – tossing protein and veggies in some olive oil and seasoning, then spreading across a baking sheet and oven roasting is a quick and easy way to create a great foundation for a few day’s dinners at once.
If you’re new to meal prepping, don’t dive into the deep end right away. While it’s obviously more efficient for time, money, and energy, crafting an entire week of meals at once can quickly become overwhelming, repetitive, and unsustainable for those new to the game. Start with just 3 days – if you can meal prep on Sunday afternoon/evening, then just try to plan Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday.
Look at your new meal calendar and plan out just those three days; maybe you can do oats and fruit every morning, and then see if you can craft three lunches and three dinners from the same assortment of ingredients. If you’re following a 50/25/25 nutrition plan for example, choose 3 of your favorite vegetables, 2 proteins, and 2 starches (or just more veggies instead). Plug and play to use those ingredients to make 3 different combinations, make two portions of each, and boom – 6 meals done and ready to enjoy!
Not literally – but when it comes to planning your meals for the week, see if you can create unique combinations from the same ingredients, as mentioned above. That way you can shop in bulk, cook in bulk, and then assemble meals that won’t get repetitive. For example, a rotisserie chicken can quickly become a fajita bowl, stir fry, or chicken soup, all using overlapping veggies. Invest in a huge variety of sauces and spices to keep things fresh!
Let the Grocery Store Help.
If you’re tight on time, there’s absolutely no shame in letting the store do some work for you. You’ll pay a bit of a premium and lose some control over what exactly is going into your food, but the switch from raw ingredients to pre-portioned and prepared can save a ton of prep time. Trader Joe’s, for one, is rapidly becoming known for their frozen vegetable bags that include a blend of veggies, precut, cooked, seasoned, and portioned. Just microwave and add into any of your meals for the week. The aforementioned rotisserie chicken is also a day one meal prepping hack – $4 to $8 gets you a whole roasted chicken, ready to get chopped up and added to virtually any meal in seconds.
So now you’re ready to tackle the world of meal prepping! With a little discipline and practice, you’ll find that setting aside time to prepare your food can be transformative. Kick your takeout and delivery habits, get time back in your day to refocus into your training, work, or other goals, and realize a new level of control over your nutrition choices. Suddenly, counting calories and hitting macros gets a lot easier when every meal is planned and prepped! And heck, plan your cooking time around your favorite podcast or show and you might even have fun doing it. Enjoy!
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