Making healthy daily choices can sometime seem overwhelming on the fly, which is why so many nutritionists and dietitians recommend finding tips for weekly meal prep before you start the week. According to personal trainer Kayla Itsines, planning your weekly meals ahead of time is just about the biggest factor in sticking to healthy eating. It also helps prevent you from impulsively ordering in or eating out — which saves you a lot of money, by the way. A 2014 study in The Journal of Preventative Medicine also links meal prep to better overall diets and quality of life.
Basically, in theory, planning your meals out ahead of time can do nothing but affect you positively. However, the actual act of meal prep is where things can get kind of intimidating. It entails a lot of planning and organization ahead of time, causing a lot of people to feel overwhelmed and ultimately forgo it altogether.
But for those of you looking to use meal prep as a way to save yourself time and money during the week, there are actually a ton of life hacks to ease you into the meal prep process and make you realize that it's totally within your grasp. Here are seven tips for successful meal prep.
1. Pencil It In
"Designate a specific day to do your meal prep and include it in your weekly schedule to allocate adequate time to complete it," says registered and licensed dietician Sumi Tohan to me over email.
Tohan also says, "It can be helpful to do it before the start of the week when motivation tends to be high and to avoid unforeseen challenges during the week that may get in the way." She also recommends combining it with other necessary weekly tasks, like doing laundry, so that you maximize your efficiency.
2. Invest In Proper Containers
In an article about food prep techniques on her website, Itsines says to make sure you have good quality containers before getting started. She recommended stackable tupperware that will easily fit in your fridge, and sizes that you can comfortably take to work or keep in your bag. "Keep in mind that if you are going to be reheating your food in these you want to choose ones that are BPA free and won’t fall apart in the microwave/oven," she said.
3. Map Out Your Meals
According to Itsines, "there is no use going to the grocery store chucking random things in your cart and hoping for the best when you come out." She recommended planning in three to four day increments so that you don't get overwhelmed.
Additionally, Tohan recommends making a list of everything you are going to purchase, and sticking to it. "Avoid the temptation to pick up additional items, especially those that may be so appetizing that they prevent you from eating your prepared meals," she says.
4. Don't Over-Complicate
Planning a week's worth of food for the first time is already a pretty big step, so don't feel the need to overcomplicate by trying to create the most gourmet and time-consuming dishes you've ever thought of.
"Try to limit how many different foods you are making and choose items that can easily be cooked together," Tohan says. "For example, you can bake proteins like fish or chicken while roasting vegetables like cauliflower and zucchini and starches like sweet potatoes or plantains."
5. Embrace Appearances
"You’re less likely to ditch your meal for the pizza in the break room if it looks appetizing. There is nothing appealing about boiled chicken, white rice, and steamed cauliflower," says Tohan.
Instead, she suggests swapping out bland-looking foods for more vibrant veggies and cooking with colorful and pretty seasonings, like turmeric and sage. "Instead of tossing your food into a container allowing it to turn into a messy, indistinguishable mix, invest in a few that have compartments so you can separate your meal components for an organized and polished look," she says.
6. Be Real With Yourself
"If you plan meals that are too restrictive, full of supposedly good-for-you foods that you hate, it's more likely that you won’t eat these meals," Tohan says. Instead, she recommends including at least one of your favorite foods with each meal and says to "avoid cutting out major food groups, such as carbohydrates, as doing so can leave you feeling hungry, unsatisfied, and with unbalanced nutrition."
Also, if you want super delicious meals but aren't sure how to season, she recommends getting some convenient spice blends, "like herbes de provence, garam masala, adobo, jerk seasoning, or za’atar to achieve exotic yet balanced flavor."
7. Enjoy The Process!
Tohan stresses to enjoy the food prep process and use it as a time in your week to unwind. "Turn up some good music, watch your favorite reality show, or call up a friend on speakerphone while you’re cooking to make the experience more relaxing," she says.
Meal prep doesn't have to be overwhelming or boring. With a few hours on the weekend and the right basic materials, it can even be downright enjoyable and a relaxing part of your weekly routine.