When a person decides they want to change their body composition by either losing or gaining weight, the first thing they do is join a gym and possibly hire a coach. Although this is a necessary step, it’s not the only one and arguably not the most important. Changes in body composition start and end in the kitchen. In order to see true changes and maintain them you have to be willing to change what and how you fuel your body.
First, let me start by saying that I am not a certified dietician or nutritionist. This article WILL NOT include any kind of macro-counting or dietary guidelines. This is purely informational insight into MY weekly meal prep routine. As a strength coach, I am qualified to discuss the broad constructs of nutrition, and provide overviews of how to approach nutrition strategies, but in no way shape or form can I instruct you on what or how to eat. Please bear this in mind throughout the article. Nevertheless, I’m often asked about meal prep strategies, tips, and tricks. I’ll have friends and clients ask what some of my favorite recipes are, how often do I meal prep, how do I even have time for all of that…and the list goes on! Thus, the purpose of this article is to shed insight on how I approach meal prepping, and what has worked for me. If you are unsure of the specific recipes outlined and how they pertain to your diet, please consult with a certified nutritionist or dietician for specificity.
I have been meal prepping consistently for almost three years now. Personally, I do not count macros. That’s not to say that people who do are silly or that it is unnecessary. Macro-counting can be extremely beneficial and helpful for people starting out. A lot of people don’t know just how much or how little they are consuming, and some don’t even realize they are having too much of one macro-nutrient than they should because they have never broken it down for themselves.
Just because I don’t count them does not mean I am unaware of what is in my food and what I am putting in my body… for better or worse. I’m just at a point where it isn’t necessary for me to count and dissect everything I put into my body. For one, I am not preparing for a competition, so the number on the scale is not a make or break at the moment. Secondly, I have gotten to a point where I pretty much eat the same things throughout the week. Having my meals planned out not only saves me time, but it gives me a general idea of the number of calories and macros I’m eating each day. It took me some time to get there, but now the routine is as natural as brushing my teeth every morning.
So how do you get started?
Step One: Plan a day to meal prep
The same way you plan a schedule for when you will go to the gym, pick a day or two that you will meal prep. Knowing that you have a task to do that day instead of guessing when to meal prep that week will keep you consistent. Most people have cleaning days and laundry days, why not meal prepping days? My meal prep day is Sunday. So regardless of what I may have going on that day at some point I will meal prep. It is a priority because it has to be, the same way working out is. It might mean breaking up my meal prep between the morning and afternoon, but it will get done. Sometimes, I will be out of town on a Sunday and won’t return home until Monday. If that is the case, then along with unpacking and doing laundry on Monday, meal prepping will shift a day. It might not be the normal routine, but if I have it in my mind that I have to meal prep on a different day then I will plan my time accordingly.
I once had a woman tell me, she didn’t meal prep simply because she couldn’t be bothered and when she got home from work, she didn’t want to do any extra work. Look, I get it, meal prepping is not in my top 5 favorite things to do, but it saves me time and energy throughout the week, making me feel less stressed and anxious, and most importantly takes the guess work out of the equation- which is where most poor food choices stem from. On top of that, it allows me to control what I am putting in my body and ensure that I am getting balanced meals and not just eating random items in the pantry. No one has ever said, “YES, I can’t wait to go home and meal prep all my food.” But if you want to lose or gain weight and see changes in your body composition, you can’t eat out every single day, it doesn’t work that way. Of course, it’s hard if it wasn’t everyone would do it, but you have to be willing to put in the effort to change otherwise accept that settling and complacency are your new norm.
Step Two: Plan what meals you want to prep.
I don’t mean the recipe itself, but which meals and how much do you need to make for the week. Are you meal prepping for yourself? Or the family? When I first started out, I made two lunch recipes a week. Each recipe produced four lunches so that gave Danny and I two different meals to eat twice a week. The fifth meal will sometimes come from leftovers from a dinner throughout the week or the option of going out to lunch. As I got more comfortable, I began adding in breakfast options and snacks. Now my entire meal prepping regiment consists of two lunch recipes, breakfast, side salads, and snacks and I can knock all of it out in an hour and a half to two hours. I know that sounds like a lot, but once you have a routine in place, it isn’t as daunting as it sounds.
Step Three: Strategize your recipes
The first few times that I meal prepped I was all over the place. I tried making one recipe at a time and it would take me a solid 4 hours in the kitchen. No one has time for that! Chefs spend their days learning how to be as time efficient in the kitchen as possible, even though we aren’t all professional chefs, there are methods that can be implemented to help improve the time you spend in the kitchen. Figure out what recipes take the longest and coordinate what you make with the time it takes.
Depending on what you are making for the week, pull out all of your ingredients. The first thing I do Sunday morning when I wake up, is pull the meat out of the freezer so it can begin defrosting.
Sure, sometimes I forget and when that happens, I pull out my defrosting tray that I ordered from Amazon. It cuts the thawing time down by more than half! Once it’s time to meal prep, have everything right at your fingertips and ready to roll as needed. If you have a recipe that requires boiled water such as rice or pasta, set that up first. While you’re waiting for water to boil and the oven to heat up, start chopping any fruit and vegetables you need. Get all of your other ingredients prepped so by the time the oven is ready so are the pans to throw them right in. Two of my lunch recipes at the moment incorporate oven roasted vegetables; one recipe uses peppers in a rice jambalaya and the other is just seasoned roasted vegetables. So why wouldn’t I chop them all up and place them all on one baking sheet to save time? Having more than one baking sheet also helps to knock out your vegetables and sweet potatoes at one time. If vegetables need 10 minutes and potatoes need 20 minutes, that’s 10 extra minutes vs. cooking one at a time, waiting for it to cool then switching the food to put it back in the oven.
I make protein pancakes for breakfast for the week, and cooking pancakes creates lag time while you wait for them to cook on the griddle. Rather than staring at them cook like I’m waiting for paint to dry, I put them on there and go back to cooking something else. This is also a great time to knock your cleaning out of the way, making it less daunting because there won’t be as many dirty dishes at the end.
Step Four: Store your food
A lot of people will make their food for the week and put it all in big containers to portion out later in the week. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but I’m lazy. If I’m already taking the time to cook, then I want to portion it all out so I can grab and go as I choose. This is one less thing I need to go back and do when I get home from working all day and saves me time in the morning while I’m getting ready. I have Ziploc containers that I ordered offline with different compartments so that way certain foods don’t affect others when they are reheated.
It’s also important to know how certain things will keep throughout the week. A while back I started adding small side salads into my meals in an effort to get more vegetables in throughout the day. If I put my salad dressing on there on Sunday then by Friday, I have soggy salad. So, I prepare all of my salads and use a separate small container for salad dressing. That is something I will replenish each night.
Another thing are pancakes. If you put them all in a Ziploc bag, condensation will accumulate, and the result will be soggy pancakes. Simply take a paper towel and line the bag to collect the condensation.
This will keep them fresh for well over a week. The hardest part of meal prepping is simply getting started. Once you have a plan, execute it. It may not always be perfect, but like anything else in life, the more you do it the easier it becomes. One thing I have learned through meal prepping is that I now take for granted always knowing what I am going to eat. Not having to think about where to go for lunch saves so much more time throughout the day. I can actually enjoy my lunch break instead of trying to rush to grab food, hope there isn’t a wait, and spend time deciding what I want to order. On top of that, my bank account is much happier.
Depending on where you go to eat, you could spend anywhere from $7-$12 a lunch, and for five days a week that certainly adds up! Here’s a look at the price for all of our lunch ingredients for the week:
-1 cup of rice: $.18
-2 zucchini: $1.18/lb
-2 peppers: $1.60
-1 packages of boneless skinless chicken thighs: $2.92/lb
-1 package if Italian sausage: $3.84
-1 can of diced tomatoes: $.98
-2 sweet potatoes: $1.56
Total: $15.90 to feed two people four days a week
Now let’s take a look at some popular lunch places:
Chick-fil-a, a number 1 is about $7 plus tax.
Chipotle burrito bowl can range from $7-9 depending on protein type and add-ons.
Subway $5 footlong (if you only get the sandwich)
That’s only 3 days of lunch for one person and you’ve already exceeded what I spend on lunch every week for two people.
The other and quite possibly more crucial element that I have gained is time. I don’t spend my lunch breaks figuring out where to get food from and what to eat. When Danny and I moved into our new house, the kitchen was a disaster which resulted in not being able to meal prep for a week. We both thought it would be a fun change of pace to try different places and eat out a little bit. Both of us hated it! It’s like going to a private school and wearing a uniform all of your life to one day going to public school and picking out your outfit each morning. It takes more time and energy to figure out what you’re going to wear the same way you need to figure out what you are going to eat. As far as breakfast goes, I can take my time and sleep a little longer in the morning because it takes 1 minute to heat up and pack my lunch bag vs trying to cook on top of getting ready. I found this great lunch bag on Amazon and it fits everything.
As my meal prep has evolved over the years, I have switched up various recipes, but the consistency remains the same. Here is my weekly Sunday meal plan routine:
Breakfast: 15-20 protein pancakes, bacon, and turkey sausage for the week
Lunch: Option 1- Baked chicken thighs, baked sweet potato fries, and roasted vegetables
Option 2- Sausage and pepper jambalaya
Snacks: Side salad with cucumbers, carrots, and croutons
Sliced apples and peanut butter
Breakfast: I used to make my own pancake batter each week and really liked trying different recipes until I discovered Kodiak Cakes.
It is a delicious protein pancake mix that only requires you to add water or milk and get to cooking. Danny likes to have bacon with his pancakes, and I prefer turkey sausage. I will make two trays of bacon to be able to reheat for the week and then buy the pre-cooked turkey sausage. This saves more time than you realize in the morning and allows us time to sleep-in. I don’t have to wake up and make breakfast because I can simply pull everything out of the fridge and reheat it all
Lunch: Here are 3 of my favorite lunch recipes. You can switch up the kinds of seasoning for different variety, but this is the general idea.
Baked Chicken Thighs:
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
-Chop and season the vegetables and sweet potatoes
-Season the chicken thighs
-Bake vegetables for 10 minutes
-Bake sweet potatoes for 20 minutes
-Bake chicken thighs for 25 minutes
-Cook the rice
-Bake the peppers on the same tray as the vegetables for the chicken
-Saute the sausage in a cast-iron skillet
-Once the sausage is cooked through, add in the can of diced tomatoes, cooked rice, and vegetables.
-Stir and let simmer for 5-10 minutes
-Cook pasta salad
-Brown 1lb. of ground turkey and flavor with taco seasoning
-Microwave a bag of frozen vegetables
-Mix is all together and serve
It doesn’t have to be rocket science and you certainly don’t need to make a 4-pot gourmet lunch. In fact, the less pans you use, the better.
Snacks: These can be as simple as grabbing a bar or bagging up some almonds. These are my 3 go-to’s for snacks throughout the day.
-Make side salad
-Slice up apples and throw some lemon juice on them to keep them from going brown
-Scoop peanut butter into a Tupperware
-Pour salad dressing into a container