Do you ever find yourself coming home after a long day, hungry for dinner, and stuffing your face with whatever you can find in the fridge? I confess–I’ve done this in the past, especially when my schedule has been jam-packed. But I’ve found a solution and I learned about it from…instagram.One of the keys to feeling in control of your diet and health is having a plan. For quite a while instead of having a plan of what I was going to eat, I allowed my hunger to rule my food choices. Luckily, I’m a pretty healthy eater but even healthy eaters can overindulge in healthy food which can lead to feeling guilty and being physically overfull.
I became aware of the hashtag “mealprep” on instagram and it really made me curious. Beautiful images of people preparing a weeks worth of healthy, colorful, protein-packed lunches, dinners, and snacks appealed to both my senses and my love of nutrition. It made complete sense to me to cook and prepare most, if not all, of my meals for the work week.
There are so many benefits to preparing your meals ahead of time. First, it saves you a ton of money. Before I started preparing my meals for the week, I would usually buy a sandwich or a salad at Trader Joe’s or another health food store by my work which added up to about $6-$10 every day just on lunch. I would also either make a different meal every night (which I enjoyed doing but it required me to purchase a lot of different ingredients each week), or I would sometimes go to my favorite health food store for their organic deli options, which isn’t cheap.
Another benefit to preparing your meals ahead of time is how it allows you to control your portions and make sure you are getting in your daily needs for fruits, veggies, lean protein, dairy or dairy alternative, healthy fats, and whole grains. It’s not always easy to make the wisest choice when you’re hungry and in the moment, so preparing ahead of time takes away some of that temptation and is also helpful in avoiding impulse buys (there have been many times when I’ve bought a chocolate bar at Trader Joe’s to go with my sandwiches).
Another benefit is the amount of time it saves. Dedicating one day of the week (usually sunday night for me) to preparing the meals for the week saves me so much time during the week. Each week I decide what I would like to eat for lunch and what I would like to eat for dinner for the next 4-5 days. I usually try to keep “staple” ingredients (like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, healthy dressings and sauces, beans, fresh fruit, etc.) in the house and I usually veggies and other protein sources on the weekends in preparation for meal-prep sunday. Another way meal-prepping saves time is that since you’re cooking big batches of food, theres less daily dish washing and cleaning that needs to be done which is a big win because I don’t know anyone who enjoys washing dishes.
The one possible negative of preparing your meals ahead of time is the issue of boredom. If you’re someone who gets bored of eating the same thing every day then you’ll have to use a little creativity when planning ahead. Perhaps you can use the same staple foods but in different ways. Keep in mind, you don’t have to eat the same food every week because you’re only preparing the food a few days in advance. I also try to be more flexible on the weekends and usually one night a week I go out for dinner.
If you’ve decided to give meal-prepping a try, here are my tips:
- First, decide what you want to eat during the week for Lunch. Do the same for dinner. The goal is to keep these meals as healthy as possible.
- With that in mind, aim for a whole grain at lunch, a veggie (or two), and a protein at lunch. For dinner, you can also aim for a grain/veggie/protein but choose different foods. For instance, for your lunch you can make brown rice, sweet potato, kale, and beans plus 1-2 tbsp. of sauce or dressing. For dinner, try whole wheat pasta, broccoli and carrots, sautéed tofu and sauce.
- Pay attention to calories. Sometimes planning ahead so much can actually make your caloric intake too low or too high. We all need different calorie amounts based on age, gender, activity level, etc. Calorie needs also vary each day depending on whether you’re mostly sitting all day or hitting the gym for an intense workout session. Tailor accordingly.
- Read the labels. Check the serving size and then multiply by 4-5. For example, 1/4 cup of dry brown rice is one serving, so to make 4 servings, simply cook 1 cup of brown rice (make sure to adjust the water amount too).
- For snacks, try packing 6 oz. containers of yogur or soy yogurt, protein bars or granola bars, fresh fruit, and carrots with dipping sauce (like hummus or salsa).
- If you want to plan your breakfast too, feel free. Usually I eat oatmeal so I’m already used to eating the same thing every morning, but I try to do different things with my oats like adding different fruit, nut butters, cinnamon, or adding a little trail mix for a satisfying crunch.
- Buy (or make sure you have) enough tupperware to pack 4-5 lunches, 4-5 dinners, and containers for your snacks. Don’t forget to pack utensils if you don’t have them at your work or while out and about!
- Experiment and keep an open mind. Make notes about how you felt the week of eating went and what you can do to improve, whether it is cooking technique, sauces, and how the food kept. I like to cook ahead for 4-5 days but I probably wouldn’t cook food meant to be eaten past that because most healthy perishable food goes bad within 5 days of cooking it.
- If you feel like you’re missing out or feel restricted, allow yourself a small treat every day. I like to eat a small piece of chocolate or a little sweet treat under 200 calories when my sweet tooth beckons.
If you’re a regular meal-prepper, or if you’re curious to try, feel free to comment. What are your experiences with preparing your meals ahead of time? I would love to hear from you!