Meal preparation is one of those essential components of an effective fitness program. Besides the fact that meal prep can save you a few bucks, it can definitely save you tons of time. Preparing meals in advance requires a certain level of organization, planning, and strategic use of time. There are many benefits if you are willing to take this road of meal preparation instead of randomly putting dinner together. I am going to help you by covering a few important rules and fundamentals of a successful meal preparation!
Meal preparation should save you time and money and help you in your fitness endeavors. Before you read further you should examine your current schedule and see what are the most suitable times for you to do meal prep. I like to cook my meals twice a week: on Sunday and Wednesday. However, some people like to prepare all the meals on a particular day or cook every other day. Based on your schedule and preference, try to establish a cooking routine and stick to it. Consistency is key! And now, let’s divide our meal prep into 3 sections, which are all equally important: pre, during, and post!
1. Pre-Meal Prep
Before you start eagerly cooking up chicken and broccoli, let’s cover some important things you may want to look into first. Regardless of how well you cook, your meal preparation will not be successful without containers to store your food in. I personally prefer to buy a variety of plastic Tupperware containers of different sizes. Some plastic containers are more suitable for the entire meal, some are better for snacks or sides. Based on your preference you should pick up Tupperware that fits your nutrition plan and the portions of foods you need to either take on the go or store it in your fridge and freezer. You can easily find loads of plastic containers in any of your local grocery stores, dollar stores, or you could use a Myprotein Klickbox, which is perfect for storing your meals. An important thing to consider is whether or not the containers you are planning to buy are microwaveable!
Other types of convenient storage items that are a bit more robust include mason jars or glass containers. Although these options may be more spill-proof, they are a bit more costly and harder to carry around if you will carry your food with you throughout the day. Another essential and very helpful item to buy is a box of sandwich bags. They take up almost no space and it is another great way to store protein powders, vitamin pills, or snacks like nuts and dried fruit. I keep a sandwich bag with two scoops of whey protein powder in my backpack almost all the time. It becomes a lifesaver when you realize in the middle of the day that you have forgotten your lunch on the kitchen counter! If you’re planning on marinating some meats, a huge plastic Ziploc bag is a great option! Just make sure you start marinating prior to your meal prep cookery session!
Once you get your essentials, try to determine the number of meals and snacks you will need based on your current meal plan. Based on the amount of food you will need each day, you can come up with a number of meals you will need per week, which will help you to portion your foods and paint a clear picture of how much you actually need to cook.
The last step in your planning stage is to make sure you create a good enough shopping list to ensure you have all the foods you need for your preparation. It may sound silly, but spending a few minutes prior to grocery shopping, to jot down all important foods you need to buy can save you an extra trip to the store!
Tips: Try to divide your grocery list into four sections: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and others. As you are coming up with the grocery list you can write your items in the particular sections to make sure you’re getting all the macro and micronutrients you need for your meals throughout the week!
2. During Meal Prep
Nobody wants to spend countless hours in the kitchen. One of the key things to do is to separate foods based on how long they take to cook and weigh the appropriate portions. A food weighing scale is absolutely worth investing in as it helps you precisely control your portions. I have also invested in a rice cooker and it has been a game changer. When I am about to go through my meal prep session, I just measure the rice and put it to cook, and I don’t have to worry about it until the end. If you are going to bake potatoes or use foods like beans which require soaking, plan ahead and make sure you take care of these foods prior to cooking up your meats and vegetables.
Once you separate your foods which require a longer time to cook, it’s time to move to the main part. You have done some basic separation and now it’s time to cook! I usually start with preparing breakfast foods, as they are the first thing in the day after waking up! If you like to enjoy smoothies for breakfast, you can toss the freezable ingredients into sandwich bags and put them in a freezer. Fruits such as berries, apples, and bananas are great to cut up and freeze. They are ready to go within minutes once you take them out!
With breakfast out of the way, you can start cooking up or steaming your proteins, which take a little longer than some vegetables. Once the proteins are on their way, you can start preparing your sides such as mushrooms, broccoli, and other types of veggies if that’s what your meal plan calls for! Have your seasonings and sauces ready at hand to add them in your dishes anytime you need.
When your foods are cooked and chopped up, make sure to take out the food scale and portion your ingredients. It saves time to distribute all the macronutrients one by one into all the containers and then move on to the next one. I found meal preparation never ending, whenever I tried to make one container at the time! Either or, there is no right or wrong way, just find your preference.
After finishing up all your main dishes for your meal prep, utilize those sandwich bags and portion your snacks and items for freezing such as berries or cut up fruits. Additionally, the last step of this section of meal prep is to take into consideration any supplements you may be using. The Myprotein Pill Box is a great way to keep your daily vitamins and pills from your nutrition plan organized and safely stored. However, for those who do not take many additional supplements in forms of pills or tablets, using a simple sandwich bag to store them will work just fine.
Tips: A great way to keep your diet balanced and avoid cheat meal cravings is to buy a variety of sources of macronutrients. I use meat as a big part of my protein intake, so I try to get different types of meats such as chicken, tuna, beef, or ground turkey!
Another way to spice things up and make your meal preparation more enjoyable is to design certain dishes in a particular cuisine style. If you enjoy tasty Asian dishes, try to incorporate some stir-fry style meals topped with noodles in your meal planning. If burritos are your favorite, look up some burrito recipes and cook them up! It’s all about making the meal prep tasty and enjoyable for you!
3. Post-Meal Prep
At this point, all the hard work has been done and its time for some final organizational moves! It is not a bad idea to label the containers and sandwich bags with some Post-it Notes or stickers to know exactly what to eat each day. There is nothing worse than opening up a fridge in the morning and having to look for a particular box with your lunch among thirty other containers! If you know you will need to take multiple boxes with you when you leave your home, having your dishes labeled “breakfast” through to “dinner” is not so bad after all!
The very last thing I make sure to do before the meal prep is officially over is to double check I have all my meals, snacks, and supplements in either the fridge or a freezer and that I am not cutting my eating plan a couple meals short.
Tips: I found it very beneficial to keep a few items around at all times. Plastic cutlery, salt, pepper, or a couple of scoops of whey protein, which you can safely store in a Myprotein PowerTower. You can store these items easily in your school backpack, in your office, or in your car and have them ready whenever an emergency happens! You never know when a change of plans occurs and you will need an extra meal, or you’ve got to college or work and realized you’ve forgotten your meal for the day. We’ve all been there!
Take Home Message
Generally, it takes a couple of meal preparation sessions to get used to the concept and to establish your own “system”. It may be hard to get used to cooking big amounts of food at once, but practice makes perfect. Once you get used to your own way of doing things during the meal prep, you will, in fact, realize how much money, time, and possibly stress it ultimately saves. Meal preparation allows you stay more consistent with your eating schedule, hit your daily macros, and gives you confidence that you have a meal ready whenever you get hungry. On top of that, knowing your fridge is full of containers packed with gains means you will be less likely to randomly crave junk food.
At the end of the day, meal preparation is what you make out of it, it can be very beneficial and useful, but it takes some getting used to. I hope this article helped you to knock off your next successful meal preparation! Let me know in the comments below what tips and tricks you use during meal prep and how often you do it? Thank you for reading and happy meal prepping!