Updated: Apr 16
Do you think meal prepping is too hard for the Average Joe (or Josephine)? Do you see those stacks of perfectly measured containers in the Instagram fridges of your favorite fitness influencer and think:
"I wish I had the fill-in-the-blank (time, energy, money, patience, motivation) to do that!"
With all the companies out there now dedicated to cooking up, measuring out, packaging up and shipping their brand of "prepped" meals to your door, it makes you feel like that level of preparedness and eating healthy is only for the pros.
Hint...it's not. ;) But it IS a great way to get you closer to your health and fitness goals!
Let's break it down in 5 easy steps.
Step 1: Know HOW You Should Be Eating
Calories and macros COUNT!
I don't care who you are or what the last infomercial/Dr. Oz episode/Cosmo article told you --they do.
I'm not going to go into a ton of depth here because we'll end up down a rabbit hole. But do not willy-nilly this step. Either reach out to a professional for help, (I know a gal...), or do some solid research on your own to determine how many calories you should be eating in a day and, within that range, what percentage should come from each of your macro-nutrients (i.e. your proteins, carbohydrates, and fats).
Step 2: Find Out What You LIKE
If you don't enjoy eating it, it's not going to work.
Meal prep is somewhat repetitive. So whatever you're prepping has to not only meet your caloric and macro requirements, it has to be something you're going to actually willingly consume on a daily basis.
Personal example: Kale is good for you. "All the fit people eat it". You see it in healthy reciepes all the time. Yeah k. I've tried it. I've made it in the oven. I've made it in my eggs. I've put it in a salad. I've put it in a smoothie. I've tried it in a house. I've tried it with a mouse. I do not like it, Sam-I-Am, I do not like green eggs and....kale. (I <3 Dr. Seuss.) IMHO, it tastes like cow farts and feels like chewing last years yard clippings. So guess what? I don't make it. Now YOU can like kale and eat it all you want. Rock on! (weirdo...) ;)
But the point of the story is, if you're new to eating healthier, try stuff until you find your favorites, and then stick with them. Don't waste your money (because stuff ends up rotting in the fridge) or force yourself to eat something just because you think you should be. Eating healthy can and should be enjoyable.
Step 3: Use a Method that Works for YOU
Make meal prepping as low stress and efficient as you can.
Do you prefer stove-top cooking methods? Invest in at least one large, quality pan. Make it big enough so you can cook a lot at once and get many meals out of one cooking session.
Oven lover? Roasting a large spread of veggies is a really popular method with my clients and members. Make sure you have a couple of good baking sheets.
Another great oven idea is those little breakfast "muffins" made with eggs and veggies (you can add meat and/or cheese depending on your goals). So grab some muffin tins.
Personal example: I love our crockpot. Not counting cook time, this meal takes me less than 10 minutes total prep. We use this ridiculously easy meal as grab-n-go lunches for my hubby during his work week and for me when I don't feel like a salad when I'm working from home.
No, literally. Less than 10 minutes.
Lay the chicken breasts in the crock pot.
Cover with a low cal, flavorful dressing or marinade.
Set the crock pot in the morning when you get up. It's ready either for lunch or dinner. (Cook time depends on how much you're making. I generally make about 4-5 lbs and I set it on low and leave it for approx 4-5 hours. I use the "shred test" to see if they are done.)
Those 3 steps take less than 5 minutes.
For the broccoli, (the more "time-consuming" part), you can:
cut and steam fresh on the stove top,
roast some in the oven, or
just microwave a "steamable"
Depending on your broccoli method, this part takes 5-20 minutes. As you can see in my pic, we generally use a frozen option* because it's easier to keep on-hand in the house without it going bad and it's quick and easy when we both get home at 8:45 PM and still need to eat dinner.
Another personal example: I hate chopping veggies for salads or meals. I feel it's time consuming, I'm not super awesome with a knife, and a cutting board is just one more thing to have to wash. So I bought a decent pair of kitchen shears and "snip" everything right in the bowl or on the plate! (I can just feel all my foodie friends rolling their eyes right now...sorry not sorry guys!) Do what works for you. *NOTE: Do NOT stress or feel guilty about the small stuff! I.e.: Using only fresh instead of frozen veggies with every meal. Only organic all the time. Local-sourced food always. Etc., etc. All that stuff is awesome! BUT just get started eating healthier and then tweak and improve the details as you grow.
Step 5: Containers
Ya gotta put it all somewhere once it's all cooked up.
Again, consider what works best for you. Will you need to microwave these meals at lunchtime in the office? Get those glass containers with the snappy lids.
Are you on a jobsite all day with limited access to heating/cooling possibilities? They make a ton of great all-in-one gizmos nowadays that will keep everything hot and/or cold until you're ready to chow down. (A 30 second internet search came up with this awesome little number below. I'm sure there are many more like it to suit your individual situation. We've got options, people!!)
Personal example: Keep your eyes open! My hubby and I came across a Pyrex/snap-lid treasure trove at an estate sale last summer. We picked up a huge set of those things, nearly new, all shapes and sizes to fit our needs, at a fraction of the cost. Healthy does not equal expensive if you think outside the box a little!
BOOM! Now you're a PRO! Woohoo!
I know when you're just starting out or want to really start digging into a healthier lifestyle, the food side of things can be super confusing and intimidating. But it definitely doesn't have to be! You just gotta break it down, do a little trial and error, and get into a rhythm of your own.
Ready?? What are you going to try first? If you have a recipe, post it in the comments! I'd love to see. AND, don't forget to make sure you're following my page on Facebook so you don't miss my next post! Happy healthy eating!!
Cassandra R. Bradin is a certified personal trainer who is passionate about the essential idea of longevity in training, creating programs that enhance function, mobility, strength and internal well-being. She specializes in weight loss, Olympic weightlifting, nutrition, and fitness for seniors. With a full-time career in fitness, when she's not working with clients in her studio or coaching, Cassandra enjoys spending time on her mini farm in Oakland, MI.