Lately I have had a lot of friends and co-workers ask me where to even start with meal prep. Everyone has this initial fear of weekly meal prep. However, the root of uneasiness varies from person to person. Some are unsure how to change grocery habits, others worry how much time meal prep might actually take. Then there are people who think they have to throw out everything they have in their pantry and start from scratch.
Honestly, your approach must depend on your end goal. Is this another diet fad or is this more of a lifestyle change? What people forget is that habits become habits because we do the activity repetitively. You had to start somewhere. Same is true of meal prep.
I wanted to outline a few helpful hints for my meal prep newbies. Who knows maybe seasoned meal preppers (don’t worry newbie, you too will be a pro soon) will find some aspects of this post useful. My approach to meal prep is a mix of clean eating and efficiency. I wake up at 5 am to work out before work Monday-Friday; therefore, the less thinking and scrambling I have to do in the morning, the better! I also believe that eating healthier during the work week provides a nice counter balance to the gluttony of weekends. Yes, I am one of those people that believes in “cheat” days…eating clean is easier when you know you can splurge a bit at the end of the week ;)
- Don’t set yourself up for failure. If you are worried going into meal prep then start off by brainstorming what it is you want to make. I usually break it down into breakfast, weekday lunch, and snacks. Notice that I don’t have dinner in the mix. Well that’s because I like to mix up dinner every week. I always buy a few random things at the store and plan dinner the day before. That way when I get home from work I have a game plan.
- Make a list. Ahh yes, my type A heart is fluttering. I work best with lists. I write down the meals and the foods I need. This helps me focus in the grocery store, since it is one of my favorite places in the world. I kid you not…I could spend hours browsing the aisles. This is why lists are crucial. Now for other people lists may be critical because they are overwhelmed at the grocery story. Either way, you will be thankful for the list.
- Spring Cleaning. If you are choosing the meal prep route to help you live a healthier lifestyle then you probably have some pantry purging to do. Now this depends on the individual, I still keep pretzels, granola, cereal, trail mix essentials, baking supplies, etc. in my pantry. Again, it’s up to you to determine what the purpose of meal prep is and what foods you want to give up.
- Grocery Shop.
- Pick a time, a place, maybe make it a date. I always set time aside on a week night to do the main grocery shopping. Some people prefer to go on the weekends, but I feel like that is when the store is busiest. I don’t want to feel like a salmon swimming upstream…when all I want is some fresh produce. Another way to succeed is to pick one main grocery store where you can get the majority, if not everything, on the list. The more places you have to shop, the more meal prep will feel like work. Also, all shopping is better when you have a friend. Ask another person to hop on the meal prep band wagon or have your sig other go to the store with you. If they aren’t interested…make shopping into a game/race. Whoever gets all the items to the register wins?!?! Just don’t be the person they are referring to when the overhead speakers says “Clean Up on Aisle 10.”
- Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store. I am not a nutritionist or a personal trainer, but I believe that this is a good rule of thumb. I gravitate toward fresh ingredients and minimize my trips down the center aisles. I use a lot of canned beans and frozen produce, snack on trail mix/granola, consume nut butters by the truckload, and I cook with quinoa. I’m not judging you for going down the aisle, just get in and get out. Put down the unnecessary, overly processed cookies. If you’re craving them, it’s better to make them from scratch and know what you’re putting in your body ;)
- Time Management.
- Know your limits. I realistically set aside 2 hours on Sunday to prep for the week. That may seem like a lot of time, but it’s better to set aside extra time on Sunday than to be rushing Monday morning. If 2 hours seems like a lot of time then split up the meal prep into 2 days, an hour each day. Everyone has a different schedule. Do not feel guilty if you want to spend the day doing other activities; however, do not leave meal prep for 9 pm on Sunday when you have to wake up early Monday. You will end up stressing out and that was what you were trying to avoid!
- Multitasking is key. I like to have multiple things going on at once. This makes meal prep even more efficient. For example, I will preheat the oven for my roasted sweet potatoes, while my eggs are coming to a boil. While the eggs are finishing up, I prep and throw together all the ingredients for that week’s slow cooker creation. If you don’t own a slow cooker…invest in one now, you can thank me later. Do not worry about your home burning down while you’re at work and if you are stressed about that, then make the meal over night. I peel my hardboiled eggs right away so I’m not fussing over them when I want to eat them. That’s just one example of multi-tasking, but there are so many ways. Another favorite of mine is slicing, dicing, mincing, rinsing any and all produce all at once. Then you can divide it up amongst meals as needed.
- Portion control. I’m not talking about your waist line, I am referring to packing everything into ready to-go containers. Separate the fruit, veggies, trail mix, nuts, snacks, and meals ahead of time. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but this is key to meal prep. If you made everything, but you’re still spending 10 minutes in the morning getting ready then you are losing out on 10 minutes of sleep, gym, or puppy snuggle time.
- Change It Up.
- Sure I love macaroni and cheese, but I couldn’t eat it every day. This may be the most critical step to meal prep. Yay you’ve done it, you have created awesome portable breakfasts, snacks, and lunches to go. You are meal prepping like a boss! But let’s be honest, there are only so many hardboiled eggs, apples, and sweet potatoes one can eat. So mix up the fruit, roast different veggies, grill or bake a different protein for your weekday salads, use that slow cooker to it’s max potential. Don’t get in a meal prep rut. If you are choosing to be healthy, it does not mean you have to sacrifice on options or flavors. A true meal prep boss never let’s their A-game slip up ;)
How to Meal Prep Like a Boss Part 2 coming soon! With some of my favorite recipes posted next weekend :) Do you have any fun meal prep tips/ideas or a recipe that is your go-to for the week. If so, please share. Teek and I are always looking for a new idea.