Like most good things in life, looking and feeling your best doesn’t happen by accident. It takes some forethought and preparation. That’s why meal prep is one of the most important factors of getting and, more importantly, staying fit.
You’ve probably heard abs are made in the kitchen, and it’s true. You can work out every day for weeks, but you won’t see real change until you get your eating under control, too. Thankfully, meal prep helps with portion control so you don’t overeat, and it gives you total control over what goes into your food.
Despite common belief, meal prep doesn’t need to be a day-long activity. It’s not as easy as sleeping in on a Sunday, but it isn’t as complicated as whipping up a holiday feast. To start, prep one meal, like lunch. Why lunch? Well, especially if you have a desk job, lunch is kind of a “throwaway” meal. And that’s because you don’t really have enough time to really sit down and enjoy it. Yeah, it’s a nice break, but brown bagging it means that even if you don’t get a chance to savor every bite, you’re confident that what you’re eating is helping you reach your fitness goals.
Here’s how it’s done.
Photo credit: Workweek Lunch
Step 1: Plan your week.
Here are some questions to consider: Do you need variety, or can you eat the same thing every day? How many meals do you want to make? Do you plan on freezing some or just leaving them in your fridge?
Look at your schedule and assess when you’ll definitely eat the lunches you make. Every week is different for me, so I tend to cook twice a week. Sunday nights I’ll cook lunches for Monday to Wednesday and then on Wednesday, I’ll cook two more lunches for the end of the week. Simple.
Step 2: Decide what you’re making.
When you’re starting out, keep it simple. Think brown rice, chicken and green veggies like asparagus, broccoli and string beans. If you’re stuck, use what you normally buy for lunch (Chipotle, sushi, etc.) as inspiration. Trust me, it’s easier than you think to make sandwiches, burrito bowls and roasted veggies.
When looking for recipes, look for dishes with no more than five main ingredients. Remember, cooking is creative, so if you see one with a ton of spices, you can always just stick to salt, pepper and olive oil.
Step 3: Build a meal, even if you don’t have a recipe.
#Fitmeals consist of protein, lots of vegetables and some complex carbs to fill you up. That means no white pasta, rice or bread. Veggies can be anything you want, but they should be the biggest component of your meal. Pick a lean protein that’s easy to cook like chicken, fish, ground turkey, beans or chickpeas.
Stick to whole grains, quinoa, sweet potato and whole wheat pasta for carbs to keep it simple.
Step 4: Hit the grocery store like a boss.
You’ll only need 30 minutes top for a quick shopping trip when you have a game plan. No browsing, just business.
If you know the layout of your grocery store, you can hack your food list by ordering the items by what you encounter first at your store. Most of the time, produce is in the front. So put your fruits and veggies at the top of the list!
Buy ziploc tupperware if you don’t have any meal containers. They work very well and are cheap, easy to clean.
Step 5: Prep all your ingredients.
Washing, chopping and preparing your ingredients is the most important part. It makes actually cooking go by so fast you don’t even realize it’s happening.
Hack: Place a bowl on your counter or near you just for the pieces of food you won’t be using when chopping ingredients, e.g., the end of an onion or garlic peels. That way you don’t have to constantly make trips to your garbage can.
Step 6: Get to cooking already!
When you know exactly what you’re making and your ingredients are all ready to go, cooking is a joy. To minimize clean-up, try to wash dishes while you have food cooking. To make cooking more fun, throw on your favorite TV show or album that gets you pumped. Crack open a beer or pour a glass of wine while you prep, too.
Step 7: Divide and assemble.
People struggle with portioning, but I’m a firm believer in eye-balling. Plus, you can’t take more food with you per meal than what you fit in your containers. So unless you bought unnecessarily large containers, you should be good.
Divide the food once it’s all cooked as evenly as possible in your containers. But if you have some leftovers that don’t quite make a full meal, don’t force it. You can save that to incorporate to a weeknight dinner or to let a friend try at work. Make sure to let the lunches cool to room temperature before covering them and putting them in the fridge.
Step 8: Make this week’s meal prep your bitch.
If you’re still overwhelmed by all this cooking, the only thing to do is just start. Every time after the first time becomes so much easier. And the more confident you become in the kitchen, the more diverse your meals will become.
Controlling your diet by cooking will supplement the hard work you do at the gym. You’ll be able to see the changes you work so hard for faster if you fuel your body with the foods it needs. There’s a two way street between your kitchen and your gym.
Your body will thank you.
For more meal prep tips and recipe ideas, visit Workweek Lunch.