Outside of a lack of willpower, one of the biggest reasons many people cannot seem to stick to a diet usually comes down to a convenience or “time” issue. It’s much easier to just go out to lunch each day with your coworkers and have someone else make your food than it is to plan all of your meals for the week. We’ve all seen the pictures of endless trays of Tupperware, a food scale, and a messy kitchen that depict “meal prep Sunday”, and paint it as a daunting task that will take up an entire day. You can definitely make it into an all-day affair, but you can also be far more efficient and knock out a big chunk of meals in an hour or two, max.
Here are some tips on making meal prep easier:
1. Grocery shopping: Don’t go into the grocery store without a plan.
Make a list of essentials and then pick out a few “fun” foods to round out your list (make sure 80% of what you buy is whole, real, unprocessed food). If you like going to the grocery store or have a specific place you like to buy from, by all means keep doing that, however one of the best decisions I’ve made is to order most of my groceries from Peapod. Not only does this cut out the time in the store, it makes it very easy to just reorder my essentials with a click of a button, and if you factor in the cost of getting to a grocery store and the time shopping, the small delivery cost is totally worth it. For anyone who’s never tried Peapod, you can expect roughly Jewel Osco prices.
2. What meals to prep: Determine which meals you have the hardest time with.
I assume lunch is the main issue for many, but if you find yourself ordering in food each night for dinner instead of taking time to cook, then you might be better off prepping dinner too. If you eat dinner at home, I suggest having some side dishes like your veggies and carbs already made, and then just quickly cooking your protein source fresh so that you aren’t eating every meal reheated. For breakfast, I’ve previously posted about some meal prep ideas here to save time.
3. Sample prep step by step: So you've got your fridge stocked with groceries and you know what meals you want to have ready for the week. Depending on your goals, there are obviously different options on how to put specific meals together, but each meal will ideally have a main protein and a veggie. If your goal is to gain weight or you are very active, then you probably want a starchy carb in there too. If your goal is to lose weight or you are less active, then you can leave it as protein and veggies or include some lower calorie carb source. For the sake of this example, we’ll use potatoes, as they take the longest to cook, and are extremely versatile.
Meal Prep Example
Protein: 90/10 grass fed ground beef
Veggies: Broccoli and cauliflower
Starchy carb: White potatoes
- Turn oven to 400 degrees. While oven is preheating, chop potatoes into small cubes and put on baking sheet covered with zero calorie cooking spray.
- Wash and chop the broccoli and cauliflower and spread on separate sprayed baking sheet.
- Season veggies and potatoes to taste.
- Once oven comes to temp, put in both sheet pans. Set timer for 20 minutes.
- Cook ground beef in pan, seasoning to taste.
- Once timer is done, remove veggies and set another timer for 20 more minutes on the potatoes (20 total for veggies, 40 total for potatoes.)
- Portion your meals into plastic containers for the week.
This is obviously just one example, but this is one of my go-to meals for lunch. You can substitute chicken or turkey or a meat substitute for the protein. And now that it's summer, you can certainly grill your food instead of sauteing in a pan, but the total time really shouldn't be more than an hour. For veggies, you can opt to make a stir fry on the stove, or a side salad, or whatever, but the idea is to be efficient instead of just cooking one thing at a time and having this turn into a full day of food prep. To keep things interesting, you can add different seasonings or sauces to the food when you heat it up. Liquid smoke is a delicious zero calorie option, so is Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce. I used potatoes in this example because they are very filling and nutritious when they’re not covered in fat, but rice, quinoa, or even pasta are also fine options that take even less time to cook.
4. Setting up portions: Once all of the food is made for the week, portion it out evenly.
You can obviously do this with a food scale if you want to spend a little extra time, but here’s another awesome way to “measure” it. This infographic from Precision Nutrition (the organization through which I am a certified nutritionist) sums it up nicely.
Meal prep really shouldn’t be a daunting task as long as you plan properly. Have your groceries ready, know what meals are a problem area and start multiple parts simultaneously and you’ll spend relatively little time making sure your nutrition is on point for the week! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.
Need help with those meal prep skills? The Chopping Block offers cooking classes for all skill levels from basic to advance. Their August class calendars were just released this morning, so check them out!