As we discussed last week, diet is the biggest determining factor in any fitness goal. As a general rule, diet determines body weight while your workout determines body composition.
In our first installment of the Food Prep 101 series, we reviewed how the only way to see progress with dietary habits is to be consistent. No matter the goal - weight loss, muscle building, or athletic performance, diet must be taken into consideration. Meal prep and planning is the best way to be consistent, and in doing so eliminates several factors from the equation – the most important of all being choice.
Choices are great, but where there is choice, willpower will trail close. Will power is a limited resource and must be spared. Decisions made throughout the day will affect motivation and energy later on. When it comes to diet, having food prepped and ready eliminates the stress added in trying to find healthy foods to eat, allows you to have a plan for salt and sugar cravings, and helps with adherence.
At first, food prep is pretty daunting but with some practice can be simple and enjoyable.
We have already covered necessary tools for meal planning, and now we will cover menu planning and cooking!
Establishing Your Meal Plan
The best strategy for new "food preppers" is to plan out snacks and the biggest "problem meal" first. Snacks are the easy part – greek yogurt, carrots and peanut butter, or a protein shake, are great simple examples. Aim for 2-3 snacks and make sure each has protein. Next, deal with your biggest problem meal. This is a main meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) that you struggle with most. For many, it is breakfast, though not necessarily the most important meal of the day, you want your first meal to be higher in protein and lower in simple carbs. Most breakfast options will be high carb and fat with little protein. Tackling this meal also helps set up for a good day of eating. Others will struggle with dinner, and less will struggle with lunch. Whatever meal you choose, formulate a plan for it during the work week (Monday – Friday). Weekends tend to get hectic if you work a standard schedule so leave that for later. In total, this will be five meals to plan for. If this still seems like a hassle, aim for two or three. Make it easy. As your confidence and skills build, you can add accordingly. Ultimately, the number of prepped meals will be expanded to include all breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week.
Note – When searching for recipes, pick those that you are 100% sure you can cook - be realistic about your culinary IQ. The point is to make meal prep easy, not fancy, leave experimenting for weekends. Also, make sure you have all necessary equipment to make the recipe, because there's nothing worse than not having the proper tools for a job you already started.
If you want to eat well, the best strategy is to eat the same things MOST days during the week. Doing so will allow you to cook in bulk and keep total kitchen time down. Variety is not the goal here. The goal is to keep your eating consistent. If you insist on eating different meals every day, here are a few tips:
- Change up Sides
- Use different spices and herbs
- Cook in bulk and freeze leftovers
- Cycle weekly or monthly meal plans
Whatever you choose, try to remember that we need consistency with eating habits to get any real results. It is much easier to plan a week of eating, than dealing with it day in and day out. A plan will eliminate stress, promote adherence, and gets your results faster.
Creating Your Shopping List
After establishing meals, create a shopping list based off what you need and go out and buy those items. To save money, buy in bulk (another advantage of eating the same things week by week). Buying in bulk allows you to pay less per unit. For example, one 32oz container of Wegman’s Greek Yogurt costs $4.29, but they have a family pack with two (64oz) for 5.79 (works out to $2.89 each).
Meal Prep Days
The meals have been planned, and the items have been purchased. Now it is time to cook. Pick the BEST day for you to spend 1-2 hours in the kitchen. This can be any day of the week, but make sure it is also consistent. Sunday seems to be the best day since many are winding down from the weekend and preparing for the work week ahead. Following recipes, and eventually going from memory will be easy after you have been practicing for a while. Alternatively, you can pick two days to spend prepping. Either works, experiment for yourself and find a system that works for you.