When you’re feeling completely empty at the end of your day—no energy, nothing in your stomach, zero willpower—the last thing you want to do is spend time getting dinner ready. That’s why preparation is ultimately the key to weight loss success. Doing a little extra work now so you can have an easy meal later seems like a small price to pay to save you from ordering gut-busting take-out.
Whether you cook full recipes or just prepare a few healthy basics for a meal-prep buffet, stocking your fridge with the right kinds of fuel will save you a lot of time—and calories—throughout the week. Plus, research has shown that spending more than an hour a day on meal prep is linked to better dietary habits, like eating fruits and vegetables.
1: MAKE TIME
For meal prep to work, you have to actually find time to cook! Sunday works the best for most people for obvious reasons—it’s closest to Monday to keep your food fresh throughout the week, and it’s a weekend so you have time off. Even if you don’t have much time on Sunday (you’ll need 2-3 hours), just getting the shopping out of the way or getting the prep out of the way will still save you time during the week. But if you don’t happen to have time on the weekend, make Monday night your shopping and/or prep night. You can also split up your meal prep into a Sunday night and Wednesday night cooking fest.
2: WHAT DOES YOUR WEEK LOOK LIKE?
You have to do more than plan what you’re going to eat for the week; it’s also important to plan when you’ll eat your healthy meals. Do you need breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day or is there an office meeting with a team lunch on Monday? Are you going on a business trip on Thursday? Are your parents coming to visit? Maybe you planned to meet up with a friend one night. Make sure to factor in exactly how many days you need to be prepping for.
3: DOUBLE IT
If you want to make full recipes to eat throughout the week, go through your cookbooks and pick recipes that make large batches or choose ones that you can double. Even if a recipe is intended for one person or one night, just doubling or tripling it will allow you to cook it once and eat for a week. Before you head to the store, do the calculations first. Usually the rule of thumb is to double big items like fats, proteins, and produce, but adjust smaller items like spices and seasonings to taste. And when it comes to cooking, it usually won’t be double the time. Check the recipe for doneness at the time called for in the recipe, and if it’s not ready, check again in roughly five minute increments.
4: FIND INGREDIENT OVERLAPS
When picking recipes for meal prep, try grouping them by overlapping ingredients. If you need to make rice one night for a chicken curry dish, you can use it later in the week for fried rice. Spinach can be used in a salad or in the filling of lasagna roll ups.
5: MIX IT UP
If you can’t fathom eating the same thing two days in a row, plan on making two or three different dishes that you can alternate or mix-and-match throughout the week. With the right planning and creativity, you can make the same food go a long way. By just making different sauces, already prepped chicken and vegetables can be an Asian stir-fry one night, Mexican chicken fajitas the next, and Italian chicken cacciatore another.
6: GO FREEZER-FRIENDLY
The first thing to consider when choosing recipes is making sure they’re freezer-friendly. Some food is better suited to freezing and reheating than others: “Soups, broths, smoothies and sauces can be frozen in ice cubes trays, which comes in handy for portion control and weight management. Veggie-based casseroles, whole-grain wrap burritos and homemade turkey or veggie burgers can be frozen individually, giving family members a healthy grab-and-go option,” explains Stephanie Brookshier, RDN, ACSM-CPT. When your meal is already made and only needs to be reheated, you’re less likely to give into calling for takeout on hectic evenings.
7: MAKE A LIST
Once you know how many meals you’re making and what you’re making, use your recipes to write a detailed shopping list with specific numbers, weights, and measurements. Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN explains, “Making a list will help you avoid unhealthy impulse buys, and knowing what you’re cooking in advance will prevent you from ordering sodium- and calorie-filled take-out fare or bingeing on whatever’s in the pantry when dinnertime rolls around.” Keep in mind to look through your pantry and fridge before heading out the door to see if you already have some things you need.
8: GET PROPER CONTAINERS
9: GET CHOPPING
Wash, chop, and prepare most of your veggies for the week—whether they’re going to be left raw or used in a cooked dish—and store them in tupperware containers. Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD shares her reasoning, “I love vegetables, but I’m more likely to eat and cook them if they’re cut and ready to go. Store each vegetable in an individual container so when it comes time to cook, all you have to do it grab the ones you want and get to work. They’re also great to have on hand to snack on when you get hungry.” There are a few exceptions, though. For example, slicing strawberries ahead of time is a mistake because oxidation devalues some of their nutrition, and an herb like mint is best chopped immediately before using.
Alissa Rumsey, RD recommends roasting “a large batch of veggies so that they’re ready to use throughout the week. Veggies add fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to your diet and can easily bulk up a variety of meals.” We recommend using veggies that roast well, like carrots, asparagus, zucchini, cauliflower and peppers, which you can make in a large batch and then use all week in many of your meals, like in pastas, salads, or on a sandwich. You can also roast regular or sweet potatoes to use as your carb options.
11: GO RAW
Fully cooking batches of things like casseroles, soups, enchiladas, or pasta dishes that you can reheat in the microwave or oven is always great, but “despite what many people think, you don’t have to cook entire meals ahead of time—that can be overwhelming” says Stephanie Brookshier, RDN, ACSM-CPT. Instead of baking, just prep all your food Sunday and sequester it raw into baggies. This way you don’t feel like you’re eating leftovers every day. Throw a bag of pre-portioned chicken and veggies into the slow cooker before work, or put an unbaked, frozen casserole dish in the oven right when you get home. Sometimes just a little shortcut here and there will save you hours in the long run.
12: CREATE BUILDING BLOCKS
Similar to a bouillon cube, you can make yourself meal building blocks to get dinner started in a jiffy. Freeze pre-portioned packets of chicken or vegetable stock, pesto, or herb compound butter, or make up baggies of your own spice mixes—oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme for an Italian dish; onion, garlic, and chili powder, paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper for a Fajita seasoning; and chili powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne, paprika, and garlic powder for any barbeque rub.
Overall, changing your eating habits is only one component in living a healthy, balanced lifestyle that will help you achieve your best health. Call Total FX Fitness to get a FREE workout or try one of our offers to begin your fitness and wellness journey today.