If you follow my Fitness Journey on Instagram, you know that each week I dedicate 3*ish* hours to Meal Prep n’ Chill. Sometimes I marathon-prep on a Sunday afternoon, and sometimes I break it up throughout the weekend. Either way, it’s marked by a big messy bun, Say Yes To The Dress, and a lot of battered up spoon lickin’ 😉 Recently, I’ve received tons of requests seeking my Meal Prep tips – from planning to efficiency – so I’ve rounded up some of my best kitchen-wisdom for your preppin’ pleasure. Before we get started, click here to read my initial Meal Prep 101 post for kitchen essentials.
Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Roll up your sleeves and repeat after me, “I am a meal prep goddess.” Think you’re ready to take on the kitchen? Not quite yet, sister. First things first, we have to make a plan. I plan my meals in two ways: 1) On weekly scale, hand-written, held up with a magnet smack-dab in the center of my refrigerator and 2) A daily, more detailed digital plan in MyFitnessPal. See below for my at-a-glance weekly meal planner.
Consider the Big Picture. I’ll admit, planning 5 meals per day across 7 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 extra 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.
Plan in Patterns. After considering the big picture and making note of any must-have menu items or predetermined meals, I plan in patterns. Start with one mouth-watering want. Protein packed donuts flooding your Insta-feed? Better bring out the mold. Body begging for some fresh greens? How about a big ol’ kale salad for M3? Once I identify a craving, I build my menu around that meal. Typically, since I track both caloric and macronutrient intake, I experiment in MyFitnessPal until I hit all my magic numbers in a way that satisfies my taste buds. But, you can totally plan intuitively! In fact, I recommend it! It’s so important to get in tune with what your body needs and how it reacts to certain meals. A few intuitive planning tips: Can you find any overlapping ingredients to maximize your grocery spend? Does a super carb’d out breakfast call for a lighter, leafy lunch? To make things easy, I divide my menu into a 2:3 day split, where M1-M4 will follow a pattern on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and again on Wednesday and Friday. I like to leave some wiggle room with my M5s, because I enjoy some – albeit simple – cooking after a day in the office. Saturday and Sunday are for special breakfasts, meals with friends, and on-the-go snacks, so they usually look a bit different than my weekday menu. But, nonetheless, they are always planned. I find that this technique allows the perfect balance between keeping Meal Prep simple without sacrificing variety. It doesn’t have to be rows and rows of chicken, brown rice, and broccoli, sister!
Make a List. Lists aren’t just for grocery hauls any more! Using your at-a-glance weekly meal plan for reference, jot down all of the items you want to have cooked or prepped by the end of your session. Check items off as you go for a major sense of accomplishment (and a guarantee you aren’t forgetting your fave dish!) Check it twice. Cross reference just before the dishes are all cleaned to avoid any last minute mishaps or scrambles.
Now that you’ve planned, it’s time to prep!
I think Meal Prep gets a bad rap of not being “worth it” – the time, the precious Sunday, the money, the energy… the dish cleaning 😉 I’m here to set the record straight. Meal Prep is the most worth it thing you can do if nutrition is a major part of your healthy lifestyle goals (which, it absolutely should be – but that deserves a whole blog of it’s own). I could champion the benefits of Meal Prep for paragraphs and paragraphs but I’ll sum it up with this: Meal Prep saves time, saves exponentially on expenses (picture me gawking at the price of restaurant-made salads), and makes success easy to achieve. It’s a nutritional triple threat. What more could you want?
Ready, Set, Strategize. Just like anything in health & fitness – waking up early for an #amwo or the first mile of a 5k – the hardest part of Meal Prep is getting started. I like to begin by prepping all of my low maintenance dishes to go into the oven (or their corresponding appliance – read more on that below). I’ll assemble my egg muffins, whip up my blondie batter, and season my protein, then pop them all in the oven at once. While these dishes do their baking thang, I maximize time by prepping the attention-grabbing meals, chopping veggies, and cleaning dishes. Tip: set timers on your phone for reminders to peep your dishes!
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. Think egg muffins, protein, and baked goods for those M2s and 4s.
Get Low (Maintenance). Close cousins to the oven, a rice cooker and crock pot are equally low maintenance kitchen appliances that maximize a Meal Prep timeline. If you’re serious about Meal Prep n’ Chill, invest in these tools! More time for Netflix… amirite? Tip: my favorite use for the rice cooker is quinoa. No more measuring out the perfect amount of water only to have too-firm quinoa stuck to your no-stick pot. SMH. The rice cooker will heat the quinoa long and slow while you whip up all your other meals! The result is perfectly fluffy and golden.
Wash, Chop, n’ Store It. I’ll let you in on a secret… Meal Prep doesn’t have to mean all of your dishes are completely cooked, packed, and ready to microwave come Sunday evening. If you’re anything like me, you happen to enjoy some simple stove-top action after work and you happen to despise soggy roasted sweet potatoes. What do these preferences have in common? If you’re looking for fresh-out-the-oven freshness without a labor intensive cook sesh, use the *very official* partial prep technique. Store portioned baggies of washed and chopped veggies so that come dinner time, all you have to do is season, assemble, and bake or sauté.
Finding my Meal Prep groove took several Sundays spent bouncing between the stove and the cutting board, but I stuck with it and have mastered a technique that works for me. Keep at it, sister, I promise this will pay off! Any questions I didn’t answer? Leave me a comment!