How to Make Meal Prepping Work for You

by Evelyn Valdez

It's true when they say "abs are made in the kitchen." You can't put in the work at the gym while ignoring what you're putting in your body. Healthy eating should be a top priority, even if you're not a bodybuilder. That's why so many people have taken up meal prepping.

Meal prep is all about putting you in control of your diet and staying healthy, regardless of your schedule. You don't need to be a cooking expert with a Michelin-style kitchen to get into meal prepping. All you need are some basic kitchen utensils and your favorite recipes. 

What is meal prepping?

If you haven't guessed by now, meal prep is all about preparing your meals ahead of time. You can talk to almost any bodybuilder and they'll tell you they've followed a steady meal prep plan at least once in their fitness journey. It's also a lifesaver for those constantly on the go and who want to avoid getting off a healthy diet. 

How many ways can you prep your meals?

You might think preparing a ton of meals would take all day, but there are different ways to do it that will fit into almost any schedule. These include:

  • Make-ahead meals- Cook big batches of full meals which can be refrigerated and easily reheated for later. This way is especially popular for dinnertime.
  • Single meals- Dole out portioned meals into separate containers that you can grab and go. Many people do this with their lunches and will make enough to last a few days. 
  • Batch cooking- This involves making large batches of a specific recipe, splitting it all into portions, and freezing it so it lasts you at least the full month. The food can be used later for a variety of dishes or eaten on its own. 
  • Ready-to-cook ingredients- Rather than make multiple meals, you're simply prepping all the ingredients for one part of the recipe. For example, most will chop vegetables, mix together spices, make a certain sauce, and marinate meat as a way to skip a couple of steps so they have time to prepare the rest of the meal. Ingredient prepping is a great option for those who prefer not to have reheated meals all week.

Why is meal prep so important?

Weekly meal prep isn't just for bodybuilders and professional athletes: it's for everyone. The benefits of meal prepping carry over into your day-to-day life and make a positive impact on your physical and mental health in multiple ways, such as:

  • Helping curve cravings- It should be said that indulging in your favorite foods or sweets once in a while isn't a bad thing. Even fitness professionals agree that fighting against the urge will only make the craving stronger. However, random snacking and grazing is a quick way to throw you off your diet and eat a lot of things you shouldn't. Having healthy snacks on hand and ready-made meals in the fridge will curb those habits.
  • Reducing stress about eating- Who knew trying to cook three meals a day for the rest of our lives would be so stressful? Meal prep takes the guesswork out of figuring out what you're going to eat one day to the next. And since your meal plan is totally up to you, you can make all your favorite healthy meals and shake up your weekly menu.
  • Saving you time and money- When you already have full meals ready to heat up, you won't be as tempted to order in or run through a drive-through. By buying your food in bulk, you save time going to the grocery store and be mindful of the kind of food you're buying. You also reduce food waste with meal preps. Reusing ingredients ensures you get the most out of the food you make.

Typical foods used for meal prep

One thing to remember when meal prepping is to think about what foods can be stored for several days that won't go bad and still taste yummy. You also want to think about whether your food will need reheating or not. Consider making dishes that are good both hot and cold. Here are some of the most common food choices people use:

  • Vegetables: celery, carrots, bell peppers, veggie pasta, peas, broccoli, leafy greens, sweet potatoes 
  • Whole grains: oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta
  • Lean protein: chicken breast, boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese, turkey, pork, canned and frozen seafood
  • Nuts and seeds: lentils, black beans, chia, flax, almonds
  • Whole fruits: oranges, apples, pears, peaches
  • Cooking oils: olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, canola oil

Meal plan tips for beginners  

Spending hours in the kitchen cooking might feel intimidating at the start, but easy meal prep is all about being prepared. You don't need to do too much, too soon and wind up getting discouraged from doing it again, so keep these meal plan tips in mind so you can set yourself up for success!

Create a food plan based on your fitness goals 

No two workout or diet programs ever look the same. If you've worked with a personal trainer before, then you know one of the first things you're asked is to define your personal fitness goals. Maybe that's losing weight, building muscle, or improving your cardio levels.

Either way, you need a meal plan that will help you succeed. Increasing or decreasing your calorie intake will greatly determine the effectiveness of your workouts and the final result of your hard work and efforts. You don't want to sabotage yourself right at the beginning with the wrong meal plan!

Keep a grocery list 

The key to success is being prepared, and you can't do that for meal prep without a full shopping list. Write down all the ingredients you'll need while you're putting together your meal plan for the week. Be on the lookout for special deals and take advantage of online ordering or delivery. It will save you even more time and you'll avoid the impulse you normally feel at the store telling you to reach for the sugary and salty treats on the shelves! 

Schedule time to meal prep

You can't find time to cook if you don't make time for it. You need to dedicate at least one day to meal prep, and some people even plan for two days. Most like doing it over the weekend and then again on Wednesday. 

It could take you anywhere between 1 to 3 hours to make all your meals, depending on the dishes you're making and for how many times a day. This is why it's good to start out with some basic meal prep recipes so you avoid overwhelming yourself with recipes that have fancy ingredients and 10 or more steps. 

Having the right cooking equipment also makes all the difference. Anything that can be made in bulk using an instant pot, sheet pan, or crockpot will cut down your overall cooking time.

Make quick and easy recipes 

Cooking doesn't always come naturally for some people. So when coming up with meal prep ideas, keep it simple, especially if you're new to the process. There are plenty of healthy recipes out there that are tasty and don't require 20 different ingredients! For example, smoothies are a great choice for breakfast or a mid-day snack. 

It's definitely worth investing in a cookbook to help you figure out the best meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Remember to have a healthy balance of proteins, fats, and carbs. The more you cook, the easier it'll be to add new recipes over time.

Figure out how much food you want to cook

The one thing you don't want to do is waste the meals you cooked-and in turn waste your money. Make sure you know if you need to prep meals for the whole week or every few days. While you want to make enough, it's important to account for the times where you might not need a premade meal. Maybe you're going out with friends on a weeknight or need to attend a lunch event with your coworkers. It's good to double-check your schedule so you can work your meal plan around it. 

Get high-quality storage containers 

Proper food storage is super important when prepping meals ahead of time. You want meal prep containers that you can grab and go, but that will also keep your food from spoiling. Most of what you'll make is meant to last a full week, so you don't want to end up wasting a bunch of food unnecessarily. Some plastic containers have multiple compartments so you can avoid cross-contamination and better manage your portions. 

Amazon sells all kinds of meal prep containers in five, ten, and even twenty packs. Double-check though that they're microwave, oven, freezer, and dishwasher safe. Mason jars are great for storage, too, on top of being cheap and stylish. We also recommend investing in glass containers. They're extremely durable, so you'll get a lot of use out of them!

Take care of your body inside and out

Improving the quality of your life starts with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Meal prepping encourages you to keep up with better eating habits, no matter how busy life gets. Just find a method that works for you and then modify it as your fitness goals change. You won't regret the time you save or the experience you gain in the kitchen!

Meal prepping is going to be even more important with the holiday season around the corner. See how you can stay on track with your workouts and diet without skipping out on all the treats! You can also use the Fit with Iulia app to help you focus on your goals. You're able to track your macros, track your personal and exercise progress, and find alternative workouts that you can do at the gym or from home.

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