Meal Prepping 101
Why Meal Prep Works! And a few ideas to make it easier.
If you are trying to lose weight or improve your health for any reason, odds are you’ve heard or read about meal prepping.
Meal prepping is exactly what it sounds like: preparing your meals (or parts of your meals) ahead of time.
There are a million ways to meal prep and, just like exercise, there is no right or wrong way. It is something that is unique to you and your life and your system. If you don’t find a system that works with you, it probably won’t be something you’ll be able to adhere to in the long run.
But wait, what’s the big fuss about it anyway? Why should you prep your meals in advance?
Alas, I cannot speak for everyone. That’s not what this blog is about. But I can give you the lessons I’ve learned from my own experiences and why meal prep helps me stay on track. And I can also provide you with some ideas on ways to make meal prep a little less intimidating.
Meal Prepping helps me create more balanced meals.
When I prepare some meals for the week, It forces me to really put some thought into what I’m eating. If I’m going to spend the time cooking, and then eat these meals for the rest of the week, I’m going to make sure it’s worth my while.
When I prep, I do my best to follow the MyPlate guidelines and make about half of my meal fruits and veggies, a quarter protein, and a quarter grains. I don’t go crazy in the kitchen, but I eyeball it and make a good estimate when prepping. It doesn’t have to be exact, but having that formula of a well-balanced meal in the back of my head as I cook is very helpful for me.
Meal Prepping helps me with portion control.
Another super important element for me is portion control. Eating healthy foods is pointless if you can’t keep your portions in check, and this is something I have always struggled with. Just a few nights ago I sat down to munch on some carrots and hummus with pita bread, and before I knew it - the hummus was gone! I ate a whole tub in one sitting! That’s like 8 servings!
This is why I love meal prepping. I make a big batch of food, and before I eat it, I portion it all out into Tupperware containers. The 2-cup glass pyrex containers (pictured above) are the ones I use the most, and they are perfect for almost everything I make. I also use these to help with balancing my meals - I’ll fill about half the container with rice (1 cup) and then fill up the other half with veggies!
This is so helpful later in the week when I’m ready to stress eat. If all the food was in one big container, I’d probably eat the whole thing without a second thought. But when it’s all pre-portioned, I can easily grab just one, and it’s usually the perfect amount.
The only downside to this is that it creates more dishes. But that’s a compromise I’m willing to make for a healthier diet.
Meal Prepping helps me avoid cravings and fast food.
That leads me to another great aspect of Meal Prep - that it helps cut down on stress eating, fast food or restaurants, and other cravings.
As I mentioned earlier, the portion control is huge for a stress-binge-eater like me. It helps me out when I’m ready to “eat a horse” as the saying goes (except I’m a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t do that).
Meal Prepping also helps me to avoid stopping for food on the way home or making the mac and cheese I’ve been craving all day. If there’s something in the fridge that’s pre-made, or even a couple days old and going to go bad soon, I’m more inclined to eat that before I stop for food or make something new.
I’ll admit, this doesn’t always work. Just last week I was holding the last container of some eggplant parm I had prepped for the week, and I just really didn’t want to eat it. More than that… I really wanted some pizza. It was cold and snowing, and I always want pizza when it’s snowing. I mentioned my craving to Jim and then tried to talk myself out of it by saying “I don’t want to make the delivery person drive in the snow.”
Jim responded with: “well, I could go pick it up. I don’t mind driving in the snow.” I was sold. I dumped the eggplant parm in the trash and gorged myself on an extra cheese. I like to think I made up for it the next day when shoveling out my car.
Snow day pizza parties aside, most of the time, meal prepping helps me avoid the cravings and restaurants. And for that alone, I think it’s worth it.
“But Jamie,” you say, “Meal-Prepping is hard and time consuming!”
But, my friend, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.
Most of the articles and recipes and videos I see online about meal prep seem to involve a full day of planning out your menu for the week, making your shopping list, going to the grocery store, prepping your veggies and grains and getting everything ready for the week, and then throwing everything together (in just 30 minutes!) the day of.
As I said in the beginning, there are as many ways to meal prep as there are people who want to meal prep. For me, most of the stuff I seen online seems like WAY TOO MUCH WORK!
The best way to make meal prepping easier is to remember this 1 thing: It doesn’t have to be all fresh from the farm and made from scratch meals!
Okay, I’ll probably get some $h!+ for this one, but I don’t care. If the choice is between lazy meal prep and stopping at McDonalds, lazy meal prep is still the better option. ALWAYS.
So I’m here to tell you, it’s okay!
Its okay to use canned or frozen veggies
It’s okay to use pre-made sauces
It’s okay to use spice packets
It’s okay to use boxed mixes
It’s okay to use frozen pre-made meals.
Remember that eggplant parm I mentioned? Yeah, the one I didn’t end up eating… Well, that was the fourth serving of a family-sized ready made frozen meal from Costco. I always keep a couple family sized meals in my freezer, so when I have a week that I just don’t feel like cooking, I’ll pop it in the oven while I watch some TV, and then portion it out so I have meals for the week. Some of my faves are the eggplant parm and Stouffer’s Veggie-lovers lasagna.
I also use a lot of frozen and canned veggies. Some would say that’s blasphemy, but honestly I just HATE washing and peeling and chopping vegetables. It’s exhausting! There are a ton of great frozen veggie mixes at the grocery store. I mix the California combo (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) with pasta and pesto and a can of chickpeas for protein, and it’s a perfect meal.
Another favorite is the oriental stir fry mix, that I mix with tofu or tempeh and then serve with brown rice. And for this I usually use pre-made sauces. Teriyaki sauce and Panda Express’s Orange Chicken sauce are the house favorites. It just makes it easier! I know it only takes 10 minutes to make the sauce from scratch, but that’s another 10 minutes of prepping that I just don’t have the patience for. Never mind the extra dishes! Plus I have to have all the spices on hand, and the fresh ginger, and the scallions, and the herbs hanging from the rafters, and … you get the point. That’s why I find it simpler to use pre-made sauces. And it’s still healthier than whatever I’d get for take-out!
In my kitchen, I always keep a big container of pre-made taco spice, a couple boxes of falafel mix, some packets of pesto (just in case I run out of the Costco jar), a few bottles of sauces, and dozens of canned veggies and beans.
If you have the time and energy to make a menu and peel the veggies and all that jazz, by all means - go for it! But if you’re like me, and that seems overwhelming and exhausting… try a few of these tricks and see how it goes!
Best of luck to you in your next meal prepping adventures!
Let me know how it goes in the comments below or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BurpeesAndBurritos