Allow me to introduce you to my two best friends: Meal Prep and her cousin, Chill. Every Sunday, Meal Prep and Chill and I get together for a few hours. We groove to Selena Gomez, and wash, chop, bake, and bag until my Monday-Saturday meals are housed in their respective containers.
That’s about 30 meals. Also known as 30 opportunities to eat lean, clean and green. 30 ways to save cash on an overpriced salad. 30 excuses to pass on office brownies. 30 reasons to not order Chinese takeout. The list goes on.
Since beginning my fitness journey 8 months ago, I’ve spent approximately 128 hours meal prepping, and today I’m sharing what I’ve learned in the kitchen. But first, let’s cover the basics.
What is meal prep? Meal prep, short for meal preparation, is the practice of cooking meals (or preparing portions of meals) in advance. Meal prep aims to save time and money, and makes sticking to a healthy eating plan a breeze.
What is chill? Chill is a messy bun, a Say Yes to the Dress marathon, your favorite Spotify playlist, and some serious quality time with the couch. Chill promotes sanity, reflection, and intention.
Together, they mesh like PB + banana 😉 Got it? Good! Let’s get to slicin’ and dicin’.
- Have the Right Supplies. In order for meal prep to serve its main function of saving time and stress, the proper tools are of paramount importance.
- Meal Journal. Keep a journal that allows you to pre-plan your meals, workouts and water intake. Purchase one or design your own! (Tip: be honest with yourself. If you opt for a different meal choice than what you’ve planned, add in some extra munchies, or skip a meal – make note.)
- Storage Solutions. After your protein is cooked and your veggies are chopped, they need a place to live. Think freezer-safe and BPA free plastic Tupperware, glass containers, and plastic baggies. Stock up on a variety of sizes to manage portions (Tip: check out your favorite off-price retailer like Home Goods for major cost savings). I have a personal love affair with glass containers. They clean easily, don’t absorb color or smell, and they photograph beautifully 😉
- Food Scale. There’s an unwritten rule that goes something like this: if you eye-ball a serving of Banza pasta, you will cook about three servings worth. Forget guessing and the confusion of conversions – a food scale will provide the most accurate measurement for solid-food serving sizes listed in ounces like grains and protein.
- Measuring Cups/Spoons. As with a food scale, measuring cups and spoons are tools that guarantee portion size. Measuring cups/spoons are especially important when it comes to baking any delicious gluten free treats. Trust me, actually measuring baking soda according to the recipe will make all the difference in your banana bread muffins.
- Kitchen Essentials & Extras. My most-used essentials include baking trays, sauce pans, and muffin tins. When it comes to extras, I recommend a Nutribullet (for blending batters, dressings, and smoothies), donut tin, silicon muffin molds, and mason jars.
- Consider the Big Picture. I’ll admit, planning 5 meals per day across 6 days can seem overwhelming. Take a deep breath, and view the week ahead as a whole to better understand your needs. What do your workouts look like? A heavy lifting sesh or SoulCycle double header might call for some pre-workout carbs or recovery protein. Late night meetings creeping into M5? Add a meal that’s easy to prepare, store, and microwave to the menu. Busy day away from your usual setting? If you’re on the move during M2 or M4, pencil in a protein bar. Grey’s Anatomy mid-season finale? Plan for a craving compromise, you know you’ll want it! Make this practice a habit – it will spare you from scrambling over last minute adjustments and letting meals go to waste.
- Choose Overlapping Ingredients. When planning meals for the week, find recipes with common ingredients. If you’re craving cucumbers and hummus for M4, spread that hummus on a healthy pita for M3 the next day. After baking your egg white muffins, sauté remaining spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms with quinoa for a delish stir fry base. Top your stuffed peppers with almond cheese and use the leftovers in “cheesy” spinach quinoa bites.
- Love the Oven. The oven is my favorite low maintenance tool for prepping in bulk. No need to hover over the stove monitoring 4 pans on a fickle cook top. Simply preheat to a universal temp (350-400 is my sweet spot), stack in the pans and trays, and let ‘em bake. Be mindful to adjust suggested cooking times based on your temperature.
- Use. Rinse. Repeat. Resist the urge to let the sink pile up. While it is impressive that you can in fact use all of your kitchen tools in one prep session, cleaning your supplies as you go will prevent counter chaos and promote a positive relationship with meal prep. Plus, it will make snapping that gorgeous after pic so much easier.
- The Power of Portion. If you’re anything like me (a combination of guaranteed plate-finisher and certified snacker), clearly defined portions are crucial – especially for those M2s and M4s. For these filler meals, I love to bake up single serving muffins and donuts, or grab a whole piece of fruit. If my meal of choice is packaged with multiple servings, I measure out exactly what I need to prevent celery and two tablespoons of peanut butter becoming a jar of peanut butter with a side of celery. (Tip: muffin tins are perfect for portioning – and not just baked goods! Think egg white frittatas, quinoa bites, and even frozen smoothie packs.)
Most importantly, develop your own relationship with meal prep and be flexible with the process. I promise, that snap of the last Tupperware lid will be so very rewarding!