Meal prep. You know it’s important. But, every week you start unprepared having failed to get ahead over the weekend. Here’s how to meal prep like a boss.
Why YOU should meal prep?
If you find it hard to maintain consistency, because your eating schedule or quality of food is limited by your lifestyle, then you should consider meal prepping. If you’re a lazy cook, then you should consider meal prepping. If you’re dieting and finding it a pain in the butt to track your calories and macros then you should consider meal prepping. If your not one of the luck lot that gets to cook from scratch every meal, you should probably consider meal prepping.
Meal prep, or preparing your weeks meals in advance is a great tool for both health and body composition. Both exercise and nutrition are all about consistency, and this is what prepping allows you to do. In short, prepping in advance limits your excuses for not eating properly. Excuses like:
“I’m on the road all of the time, so I have to buy my lunch or eat out” – This may be the easy option, grabbing a gas station wrap on the go, or similar. Suppose it’s better than a big ham and cheese baguette or a Big Mac, but if you put rubbish in to your body then you’ll get rubbish out of it. Low energy, blood sugar fluctuations, low work productivity and mood swings, and poor workouts. If you’re concerned with nourishing your body with the correct nutrients, then consider leaving home in the morning with all the food you need for the entire day.
“I have to eat from the office canteen, and there aren’t any healthy choices” – That’s because you’re taking the easy option, like the point above of buying your food. Consider the quality of that food, whether it’s giving you what your body needs, and even what it’s costing you every week. Save money, fuel your body, and be the envy of your co-workers with your healthy meal prepping skills.
“Eating healthy every day is expensive” – It’s expensive because you’re buying pre-packaged healthy food, or foods that are marketed to be healthy. That’s going to cost you a ton! You can meal prep for less than £2 a meal if you’re good at it. You can’t buy a single California sushi roll for less than that!
“I use a meal prep company” – Yes you can do this, but consider the source of those ingredients. These companies have a pretty big profit margin on the produce itself. Their costs come from other places. But they also know what you’re willing to spend due to the convenience. If you trust the quality of your supplier, then simply consider it a time versus money argument. The cost of the meal prep company, versus you buying the same ingredients and the ‘cost’ of your time for making it. If a meal prep company charges you less than the cost of the produce and your time, then by all means go for a meal prep company. If your living month to month however, or you need to cut the cost of your outgoings a meal prep company just doesn’t make sense.
“I don’t have time to meal prep” – Saying you don’t have time for something, doesn’t mean you don’t have time for something. It means you haven’t placed it on your list of priorities. Taking an hour or two, once a week to sort your meals for the entire week will save you hours upon hours of wasted time. Successful people in life and business are good at managing their time, and focusing efforts on one particular task, rather than darting around all over the place (sometimes referred to as the monkey brain). Just like I’ve segmented time in my week to write this article you’re reading right now, you should learn to do the same with your food.
Meal prepping saves you time, it saves you money, it keeps you on track, and allows you to make leaps towards reaching your body’s’ full health and fitness potential.
What foods should I eat?
The age-old question that any seasoned personal trainer, nutritionist or fitness expert gets asked multiple times a day. It’s confusing, I get it, but that’s because amongst some very good information out there there’s also A LOT of junk. Now, this is an article about meal prep, so we’re not going to go in to specific diets or what you should be eating, but we do need to cover briefly what your meal prep might look like.
Whatever nutritional approach you choose, what all good sustainable eating plans have in common are pretty much the same across the board. Your diet should have the following characteristics:
- A good variety of foods and colours. Eat the rainbow.
- Carbohydrates that vary according to your activity levels, and adjustments for individual tolerance of carbohydrates. While one person may work well with 400g + of carbs each day due to high tolerance, high activity levels or genetic factors, someone else may respond better to a lower carb or even ketogenic-style diet. Consider your own needs.
- Moderate intake of healthy fat sources that come from a mix of mono- poly- and saturated fats.
- A moderate intake of protein, from good quality sources. This should be based on your goals and weight.
- Count calories and macros if you have big short-term goals, but self-regulation of calories are key in the long-term. Learn to become an instinctive eater over the long haul, and how to really dial it in and track your macros when you need to get to a specific target quicker.
- Focus on nutrient dense foods. Get a lot of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants for your calories. For example, berries are a very nutrient dense food with very little calories. Again, eat like a rainbow.
- Pack in lots of vegetables, with particular emphasis on fibrous veggies over more starchy varieties.
- Learn proper use of herbs, spices and condiments to keep things interesting.
Some practical tips on meal prep
So where do you start? Hopefully you know some cooking basics, so we won’t go over those. But there are some important things you should consider before jumping in.
- Write out your meals before writing out your grocery list. Have a plan. This will save you a lot of time and money. Plus this gives you the option to buy in bulk.
- Be creative with your food choices. Learn how to make healthy one-pot meals, homemade sauces, what spices and herbs go with what, and how to turn some boring veggies in to something you’ll look forward to.
Here’s a quick and simple hack, try throwing fresh rosemary on to your meats, or veggies. It goes particularly well with pumpkin, sweet potato, and butternut squash. It’s a taste powerhouse, contains trace vitamins and minerals, and it’s been proven to improve mental focus. So a little of this in your lunch box will turn you in to a productivity ninja for the rest of the day.
- Know how many meals or days you want to cook for. If in doubt more is better. You can always freeze some for next week.
- You don’t have to be a good cook. It’s just about knowing your timings, and having the right tools.
- Some people prefer to only prep a single meal. For example only choose to meal prep their lunches for the week. Just prepping for one meal each day could be a good introduction to see if it works for you.
- Set aside an hour or two every week to do it. An hour at the weekend will save you hours upon hours during the week, as well as calories and time.
Get the right tools for the job
Some things food prep pros consider extremely useful are (Amazon Links):
- Good cooking trays. Or disposable cooking trays for those that don’t like the washing up.
- A good oven-proof casserole dish. For one-pot meals, and less washing up.
- Pressure cooker. A great time saver!
- Croc pot/slow cooker for fuss free one pot cooking.
- Good quality knifes and cooking utensils.
- A high powered blender. Many can double up as a food processor also so a good all-rounder for smoothies, mixes, sauces, soups, etc.
- A sharpie pen or labels. There’s nothing worse than finding an old container in your freezer and not knowing where it comes from or what it is.
- Storage containers, like THESE plastic THESE glass, or THESE stainless steel. Glass storage jars like THESE are also excellent and becoming more popular over more common food containers.
Plastic versus metal or glass containers
Plastic containers can be harder to wash, and are easy to stain if you’re a big sauce person. Plastic containers can also seep xenoestrogens (not good if you have moobs!), and then there’s the issue of BPA’s (note some like THESE can be BPA free). They also break easily. However, they’re inexpensive and good for a beginner or those that aren’t worried about the potential issues mentioned. GLASS and STEEL are easier to wash, are BPA and xenoestrogen free, and look great in an Instagram meal prep picture! But they’re more expensive and heavy to carry around. You also shouldn’t really freeze them if you’re considering doing so. At the end of the day the choice is yours, just weigh up the pros and cons for each according to your own needs.
Mavericks perfect meal prep day
2 hour time limit
0:00 – Make appropriate selection of tunes…. Bob Marley always goes down well. Something that gets the hips moving. Nothing too fast paced otherwise you might get carried away with your knife skills and chop something off!
0:05 – Get out all the tools you need to cook with so you’re not running around looking for stuff. This is all about productivity. Start thinking of yourself as an efficient production line.
0:10 – Get out all the ingredients you need. Today we’re meal prepping marinated chicken thighs (cheaper and tastier than breast, plus Maverick is more of a thigh than breast person) with summer veggies (colour, nutrient packed, can also be seasonal) for this weeks’ lunches.
0:15 – In a jam jar (or old protein shaker) make a simple marinate of good olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. This is what we mean by creative, simple things like this pack a flavour punch and are super healthy.
0:17 – Trim chicken thighs and allow to marinate in the fridge while you’re preparing your veggies. Ideally marinating for 30 minutes or more.
0:25 – Get your cooking pans out ready (oiled up) and oven on the go. Prepare and chop your root veggies and chuck them in the oven. Sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, beets, they all work well.
20 minutes free time. Winning!
0:45 – Around half way through cooking take your root veg tray out of the oven, then place your other veggies on top that’ll take less time to cook. Place your now marinated chicken on a separate tray and in the oven as well, usually for around 25-30 minutes depending on oven type and temperature.
1:15 – Take everything out of the oven and let cool a little. 30 minutes to do some more cleaning, or housework, or watch the footie on TV.
1:45 – Evenly distribute your meat and veggies in to each container. On each container write the date made, and what it is. If you’re calorie/macro tracking you can write this info too. Bare in mind tracking would require you weight the ingredients prior to cooking.
2:00 – Be sure to place the containers in the fridge once cooled fully, but apart from that you can just chill. Preparation is key, and if you have everything on hand, all the right ingredients and tools, and you know your timings then it’s easy. That’s lunch done for the entire week, easy.
Meal prepped like a boss!
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