By: Bryee Shepard, MS, RD, Vivante Health Dietitian
Meal preparation is a hot topic these days on blogs and social media. The food pics are gorgeous and colorful and make it seem so simple, yet intimidating at the same time. Maybe you’ve encountered in-the-know meal preparation folks in real life. You know the kind: they call it “meal prep” for short and always seem to have it together at lunchtime, whipping out their perfectly portioned container at noon, relaxing as they savor their delicious, fresh, no-doubt healthy meal. Meanwhile you’re forcing yourself to down a half-stale tuna sandwich or grabbing greasy drive-thru in a rush.
In this post, we’ll explain how easy meal prep really can be with 5 simple steps for getting started. Hopefully, this will ease any doubts so you can ditch the to-go counter and become a savvy meal prepper. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, eat better in general, or eat for a particular condition or ailment, learning how to meal prep will be your saving grace. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, first things first.
What exactly is meal prep?
Just as it sounds, meal prep is planning and preparing meals in advance in order to ensure nutritional goals are met throughout the week. This last part, ensuring nutritional goals are met, means that some thought and foresight go into it. We will touch on this in a bit, but first…
What are the benefits of meal prep?
- Assurance that you won’t detour from your diet. When your meals are available at your fingertips, you’re less likely get off track. Whether you’re prepping for health or weight control, when you have the appropriate meals for your preferred way of eating prepared and ready to eat, you’ll have no reason to hit up that vending machine, food truck or drive-thru.
- It’s a no-brainer. A little thought up front allows for a relaxed mind throughout the week. By allowing just 60 to 90 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday to prepare meals, you’ll save yourself hours throughout the rest of the week. No more trying to figure out what to cook the day of and then scrambling to the grocery store for missing ingredients, or thumbing through take-out menus in a pinch. Meal prep frees up extra time to focus on hobbies or other things you’re passionate about.
- Cost savings. Meals prepared at home are far more economical than meals purchased outside the home—it’s just a fact. Whether you buy in bulk or in traditional quantities, your money and your ingredients will go further when you adopt meal prepping.
- Less waste. To piggyback on the cost savings, it’s important to note the decrease in food waste that goes along with meal prepping. Because you’re planning ahead, you purchase foods to fit your upcoming menu, and stray little from there. All ingredients will be put to good use.
- Portion control. By assembling your prepped meals, you are naturally practicing portion control, which in and of itself is worth the effort!
How to Meal Prep
We’ve covered they why of meal prep. If you’re still reading, then hopefully you’re convinced! Now let’s move onto the how. It’s important to remember that there are many, ways to incorporate meal prepping into your life—and there is no right or wrong way, as long as it works for you.
5 Steps to Getting Started with Meal Prep:
- Generate meal ideas. Look up some recipes or ideas to get a sense of the meals you’d like to prepare for the week ahead. When thinking about meal choices, remember to include as many food groups as possible to help balance each meal. I love to make large batches of soups and stews in advance and freeze portions of them for future weeks when I may be shorter on time. Another idea is to keep it simple with a protein, whole grain, and veggie for each meal. There’s nothing wrong with grilling a few chicken breasts and tossing them over brown rice and asparagus. Salads also work well for meal prepping. I just recommend making sure meat is cold prior to adding to the salad, and keeping any dressing in a separate container. The sky’s the limit! TIP: Check out https://vivantehealth.com/recipes/ for recipe ideas.
- Make a list. List all ingredients you’ll need for the week. Hit the grocery store to pick up anything you don’t already have at home.
- Clean and prepare fruit and vegetables. When you get home from the grocery store, knock this step out. This saves so much time when you want to throw a quick meal together, and you will find it makes you more apt to grab a fruit or veggie to snack on if it’s already washed and ready.
- Organize and lay out your storage containers. For easy meal assembly, do this step before cooking. This includes small dressing containers and even snack containers that you may be filling with hummus or peanut butter. This will help make post-cooking cleanup a breeze, and will help you avoid the last-minute stress of searching for lids and parts when the food is ready. TIP: Resist skipping this step.
- Get cooking! Set aside 60 – 90 minutes on a day off to cook and assemble meals. You won’t believe how investing a little time before the week starts will save you loads of time and stress throughout the week. You’ll find that having your meals ready not only helps you eat healthy, but also alleviates the thoughts and worry about what to eat during the day.
About Vivante Health
Vivante Health is an innovative digital healthcare company reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed. Our mission is to fill the unmet needs of people living with chronic conditions that are invisible, neglected, or stigmatized, starting with digestive disease. Our health management ecosystem, GIThrive, empowers people—through brilliant technology and advanced science—to spend less time worrying about their digestive condition and more time living life.