Meal prepping. Just the thought or mention of it is a little intimidating, right? It seems like an incredibly overwhelming and time consuming task, and we have no idea where to even begin. I know that's the way I felt when I considered it, and it was a reason I didn't start into it sooner. Yet, when broken down step by step and with the right tools in hand, it's a task that's easily accomplished with some simple dedication and time commitments. It's nothing impossibly demanding, I promise, but it will take a bit of planning and prioritizing. I want to share the way I go about breaking down my own prep every week, in hopes that it will help some of you take the jump into a healthier, easier daily habit and approach to steady nutrition!
Here are three simplified steps to break it down;
1. What/how much to prep
2. Create meals/amounts
3. Plan time to shop/prep
What/how much to prep:
This was probably the biggest question for me, and for many others as well. If I was going to take the time and effort to meal prep, I wanted to make sure I was doing it right. Many people have a general idea of healthy foods, but knowing what exactly to prep and how much is another story entirely. When I finally began working with one of our Registered Dietitians here at Achieving Your Best, all of that was immediately resolved! No more guess work or trying to sort through the endless advice on nutrition, macros, and healthy food. Our RDs can make your food plan as simple or as detailed as you'd like it, which makes it perfect and adaptable for everyone.
They will provide you with a template of every meal/snack, and what you should be eating. It can be as simple as a “handful” or “palm size” of something, to as detailed as the exact grams for different types of carbs, fat, and protein.
If the details and information of grams and constant measuring is overwhelming, they will give you a plan that's suited for that. If you're like me and you can't get enough detail, they can break down ever gram of every macro. Whatever your preference may be, what you'll get from our RDs is the template you'll use to fill out the next step in prep planning.
I personally use MyFitnessPal to fill out my meal template. It's an app that's very user friendly and free to download on any device. You can add foods and subsequent serving amounts, and see the macros broken down per food. You can also set macro goals by either percentage or gram (if you're into that kind of thing 😉 ) and see the macro breakout per meal with the paid version of the app, as well as set macro goals per meal if you'd like. This is the version I personally use, but it's definitely not a necessity! Once I have my template from our RD, I take it and fill it out with actual foods in MyFitnessPal. I pick what protein, starch, fat, vegetable, and fruit I want to eat for that meal, and then put them into the app to set the amounts. Because I work off of grams or ounces for most things, I set the serving size of the food to match the amount that my plan says to eat.
For those who don't want exact measurements, your RD will give you a breakdown of what “2 servings of vegetables” will equate to, and you can simply match that with the serving in the app. This is how I plan most of my meals, and it keeps it simple and easy! I have a fairly consistent list of specific starches, proteins, and fats that I will utilize to prep (our RD will help with recommendations here), and all things fruits and veggies are free game. Once I've filled out each meal template I'll double check just to make sure my overall daily macros are being met on top of the breakout per meal. I like to measure, so I will measure out the raw ingredients (6 servings of meat), and once it's cooked I will re-divide it into 6 even proportions. This is easy to do just by eyeing things, if you don't want to take the time to make it exact!
For those of you who'd like to be a little more exact in your prep, here's what I do for specific recipes I may want to make where I combine multiple components (like starch, protein, and fat) into one dish. If there's a recipe I'd like to prep, say spaghetti, meatloaf, soup, or a casserole, I will alter the measurements of the recipe to match what my macros need to be for a meal. You can create recipes in MyFitnessPal, enter ingredients and measurements and then set how many servings it will be. If I'm making meatloaf, I will calculate the amount of meat I need for 6 meals and the amount of starch (from the breadcrumbs) and I will adapt the recipe so that I have exactly 6 servings of each in the dish of meatloaf. Once prepared I will divide into 6 even servings, and although multiple macro types are combined I know my servings are still on point. For those of you who don't want to spend the time and energy doing this, it isn't necessary! Don't let my own perfection tenancies scare you away, I just hope it might be helpful for some 😀 If you would like an idea of what's in a recipe without being so precise, you can enter the ingredients you already used from the recipe and choose the serving size according to what you cut or divide it into. This will allow you to see what's in each serving of whatever it is you made, (versus determining what that amount will be) so you could adjust amounts or other macros accordingly. That method isn't quite as complex as adapting recipes, but you will still have an idea of your overall daily intake.
Plan time to shop/prep:
And finally, the last step. Once you have the template filled out in MyFitnessPal, the rest is a breeze. You can easily build your grocery list based on what you've planned and you can even know exactly what amount to buy, which eliminates excess food and the need to cook or prepare random things before they go bad. The hardest part of this step is setting aside the block of time to prep, but once you've done that it's a true time saver. Knocking out multiple meals or meal sets at once is efficient in regards to the actual cooking and baking process, as well as dishes and cleanup which only have to be done once or twice a week instead of multiple times a day! I keep 3 different meal sets prepped and I like to prep 6 of each at a time, and always make breakfast the night before or fresh every morning. This works well for me, but maybe you only need to prep one or two meals and only 3 of each; whatever best fits your lifestyle and schedule. I also split my prep up so I prep two meal sets on Sunday and one meal set on Wednesday, simply for the sake of shortening each prep session. This can be a great strategy to utilize if you need everything prepped throughout the week but can't stomach the idea of prepping for hours at a time.
Once you have everything prepped and in containers, it's done! You can sit back and relax, knowing you're set and ready for a week of success for your nutrition. It's such a relief going into every day feeling prepared and ready to conquer anything, without the worry of correctly fueling for performance or daily choices of what to eat. A lifesaver for a busy schedule!
Jess Tull, NASM-CPT & CES, USAW lvl. 1