Knowing how to efficiently meal prep is one of the most important skills a health-conscious person can learn. Whether you’re a 16 year old athlete trying to get stronger and improve performance or a 40 year woman trying to lose some body fat to get ready for beach season…YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO MEAL PREP. The whole point of this article (and video) is to show you how easy meal prep can be and the benefits you can reap.
Let’s put a nutritious spin on one of my favorite quotes from Ben Franklin:
“Early to bed. Early to rise. [MEAL PREP] makes a man Healthy, Wealthy, & Wise.”
The benefits are too great to ignore:
- HEALTHY: Keeps you on track to your nutritional goals.
- Hard to sneak in cheat meals when your healthy food is already made for you and ready to eat.
- Can easily sort out the correct macronutrients for pre, post, and non-workout meals respectively
- WEALTHY: Saves $$$
- Average but healthy “out to eat” lunch: $10+/meal
- Average but healthy “out to eat” dinner: $15+/meal
- Average meal-prepped meal is about $6-$7/meal
- WISE: Saves you from wasting energy and 3-4 hours PER WEEK
- Does this sound familiar?
- Figuring out what to eat
- Figuring out where to get it
- Going out to get it/preparing it/waiting in line for it
- Instead… just pull your ready-to-eat meal, heat it up, eat.
- Does this sound familiar?
Meal Prep is a 3 Step process:
Planning Phase > Execution Phase > Eating Phase
- Planning phase, the most important
A) Select your meals: Start by answering the following questions:
- What are my fitness goals?
- Which foods do I need to eat to reach my goals?
- How much of those foods should I consume to reach my goals?
*MEAL PREP HACK: Select foods that can be prepared in similar ways
- Keep It Simple Stupid
- Similar cooking mode (and temperature)
- Similar preparation (the basics: olive oil, sea salt, pepper)
*Pro Tip: If you are unsure of the answers, don’t worry, most people are in the same boat. Save your self lots of time and money spent on the wrong food by consulting a nutrition coach*
Real life example:
My goals: gain muscle, decrease body fat (5’9, 180 lbs, training 4x week)
- Protein Shake (per meal) 30g Protein, 60g Carbs, 16g Fats
- 8oz almond Milk
- 1 banana
- 1 serving oatmeal
- 1 handful of spinach
- 1 serving protein powder (20g)
- 1 serving almond butter
- 8oz of chicken
- 2 cups mixed veg (1 handful)
- 1 medium sweet potato
- 8oz of ground beef
- 2 cups mixed veg
- 1/2 medium sweet potato
B) Put together your shopping List (WE WANT 3 DAYS OF FOOD)
* Lunch & Dinner
- 24oz of chicken breast
- 24oz of ground beef
- 5 sweet potatoes
- 1 cauliflower head (2-3 servings)
- 2 broccoli heads
- 2 large handfuls of brusselsprouts
- 1 Bushel of bananas (6ish)
- 1 box of spinach
- 90oz of almond milk
- 1 jar of almond butter
- 1 oatmeal tub
*Constants (Things you should always have in your kitchen)
- Olive Oil
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- Protein Powder
- 6 tupperware or glassware storage containers
- Blender/Nutribullet for breakfast shakes
C) Select a time to go shopping AND cook your food (1 hour for each activity)
- A good practice is to do the following:
- Sunday: Food Shopping/Meal Prep
- Monday: Eat prepped food
- Tuesday: Eat prepped food
- Wednesday: Eat prepped food & Food shopping/Meal Prep
- Thursday: Eat prepped food
- Friday: Eat prepped Food
- Saturday: Eat our or prepped food
2. The Execution Phase: Purchasing, Cooking, and Storing the Food
Each of these steps have their own separate challenges. The 1st phase requires you to just sit down, analyze your goals, and planning ahead (not easy for some). The 2nd phase requires action and a couple basic life skills that not everyone has had enough practice with yet. Both phases get easier with every attempt.
The Purchasing: (The crossed out items did not apply to this food prep)
Factoring in that we purchased more almond milk, almond butter, bananas, and beef than we needed then we are around $6.50 PER MEAL. This will save you roughly $50+ per week and $200 a month. Eating healthy is only expensive if you are consistently eating out.
Note: We can get this to $5/meal if we change up the following:
- Peanut Butter instead of Almond Butter
- Regular Milk instead of Almond Milk
- Buy your meat from Shaws/Stop & Shop (not so “organic”).
This may be the biggest burden on the novice meal-prepper. I think we can agree that getting really good at cooking is not easy. BUT if we apply the 80/20 rule to meal prep, cooking can actually be extremely easy.
ProTip: Unless you’re super busy, leave the breakfast protein shakes to be made the day of. Pending ingredients, nobody wants to be consuming a protein shake more than a few hours old. They only take 5minutes to make and you can drink them on your way to work or class.
The 80/20 Rule of cooking: We will put in 20% effort to yield 80% results. Going back to the #1 MEAL PREP HACK for all novice meal preppers: make all of your food the same way.
Before cooking let’s figure out which foods take the longest to cook and put them in the oven first and set the oven to 425 degrees.
Sweet Potato fries: 45min (bake)
Chicken Breast: 30min (bake)
Mixed Veggies: 20min (bake)
Ground Beef: 10-15min (stove top)
Most of these steps will look the same because of our #1 meal prep hack for novices. After preparing food you will add Olive Oil, Sea Salt, and Pepper, let’s refer to this step as “OOSP.”
To avoid rushing:
Prep the sweet potatoes and veggies first.
Step 1) Set oven to 425 degrees
Step 2) Peel and chop sweet potatoes into ½ inch by 3-4 inch rectangle blocks and put into 1 bowl and add OOSP (1/2 TBSP olive oil per potato). Spread ‘em out onto a baking pan. Pop into oven.
Step 3) Chop Brussel sprouts in half and gather the flowerets of the cauliflower and broccoli into a bowl and add OOSP. Spread ‘em out onto a baking pan. PUT TO THE SIDE.
Step 4) Put chicken breast onto baking pan. Add OOSP, brush to spread on both sides. Put in the oven at the 30min mark. Timing is key.
Step 5) Put Veggies into oven at the 20min mark.
Step 6) Put 1 tbsp of olive oil onto the skillet (medium heat). Break up the ground beef into 1/2inch to 1 inch cubes with hands while placing on top of skillet. Using a spatula, chop up and spread out the beef evenly along the pan. Add olive oil and sea salt to taste.
Step 7) Once the bottoms of the ground beef turn brown, flip them over, chop ‘em up a little more. Repeat this step sparingly wherever you see red until it’s all brown (cooked).
Step 8) Take out all the food. When do we know if things are done.
- Sweet potatoes will have a little brown/black on the edges (we want minimal)
- Mixed veggies will have a little brown/black on them (we want minimal)
- The chicken, I recommend cutting it open so that is NO pink and only white all the way through. Pro-Tip: use a meat thermometer to gauge internal temp (165 degrees means the chicken is done and takes away the guessing).
A basic but necessary step to address in meal the prep process. You should have 1 storage container per meal. Place the previously outlined measurements of food in each of the following containers (not exact science, eyeball test is ok). Put the following into a a container and put in the fridge.
- 8oz of ground beef (based on what we bought, there should be 1 extra serving left over (4 total).
- 1 big handful of mixed veggies (there should be 1-2 servings left over)
- 1 handful of sweet potato
3. The Eating Phase
FOLLOW THROUGH WITH YOUR MEAL PLAN. The entire point of meal planning and prepping is to, of course, eat the food you made. A huge mistake meal-preppers make is wasting food. There will be times where you forget your food at home or last minute plans force you to eat out, which leaves containers full of food sitting in your fridge for longer than you’d like. This happens every now and again but please don’t make a habit of it. Every diet requires consistency and follow through. If you put in the 100% preparation but have 70% execution, you’re still left with 70% results.
Helpful Tips & Things to Remember
- Novice meal-preppers need to keep it simple to find success early. Early success is stringing together 3-4 weeks of consistent meal prep AND execution with little or no hiccups.
- Meal Prep Hack: Prepare your food in similar ways (cooking modes, cooking temps, prep work) This will save you time, money, and energy.
- Learning the ins and outs of meal planning and cooking is a process. So don’t get too caught up in getting everything perfect, the more practice you give yourself, the better you’ll get. #TrustTheProcess
For more info please click here for the “HOW-TO Meal Prep” Video Guide.
Joe Drain CSCS Pn1
YouTube: Compete Strength & Conditioning