Meal Prep Mastery
Menu Planning and Meal Scheduling
It’s time! For months, I have been trickling meal prep recipes and strategies week by week, and now it’s time to put it all together! Here is the primary question:
How do we string together a bunch of good ideas for healthy meals into a realistic, workable shopping, cooking, and eating schedule?
First, here are some tips:
- Be realistic about what your week holds. If you know you are going to be out of town on business one week, obviously you should buy more packaged goods that travel well, and not focus on preparing elegant meals at home.
- Be realistic about your daily schedule and resources. If you do not have a microwave at work, do not bother to pack a homemade hot meal for lunch. There’s nothing wrong with a sandwich!
- Pick a day (or two) when you can realistically shop for groceries and cook several meals at once. The goal of meal prep is to reduce the overall amount of time per week that you spend in the kitchen. However, the flip side of this is that you will spend an unusually long amount of time in the kitchen one day per week – probably 2 or 3 hours overall. Pick a day that you know will work out!
- Buy lots of vegetables and fruit! In the media debate of high-fat vs. low-fat diets and frantically wondering if we should be eating butter or putting it in our coffee, we forget that one of the best health decisions we can make is to max out on fibrous, colorful vegetables and leafy greens. Truly good advice does not get blown around by fitness trends.
- Read labels closely on packaged goods. I’m not 100% against buying pre-made, packaged goods. However, read labels like a perfectionist! Avoid items that have more than 10g of sugar or that have impossibly long ingredient lists. I don’t quite subscribe to the idea that “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it,” but ideally most of the ingredients are recognizable and it is a short list.
It’s all about setting yourself up for success, so that you can make the healthiest decisions possible on a regular basis! Remember, my tip is to decrease choice – you want repetition and availability, with some flexibility. But you don’t want each day to be completely open-ended. You want that prepped food there, ready to eat, when you are getting home from work and hungry!
For example, let’s plan one meal prep week for practice. Remember, a week always starts the weekend before – you need that time for shopping and cooking so that the following week is smooth.
Thursday – plan menu for upcoming week. This week, the menu includes:
- Oatmeal with toppings for breakfast, alternated with a healthy protein shake (I recommend Vega brand, chocolate flavor)
- Lunches are chicken pasta alternated with a sandwich option
- Dinners are Thai coconut soup and turkey chili
- Snacks include apples/bananas with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt with berries and almonds
Friday, Saturday, or Sunday – shop and cook, making sure to get additional items like salad and sandwich fixings. Remember to separate your cooked food into individual, portion-sized containers to prevent mindless overeating. Each of the recipes that I have provided are enough for six servings, and they should be stored that way. Family style storage is a surefire way to eat through the food too quickly and run out of food halfway through the week.
All of your food should be ready by Monday, and hopefully you’ve already sampled some of it over the weekend! Here is a sample day of healthy, well-timed eating:
- 7:00 workout
- 8:30 oatmeal with toppings or smoothie/shake
- 12:00 chicken pasta or sandwich
- 4:00 Apple with peanut butter
- 7:00 Thai coconut soup or chili
- 8:00 Greek yogurt with almonds and berries
Is this exactly how you need to eat every single day? Not necessarily. But here are some basic tips to help you feel great, satisfied, and energized throughout the day while still maintaining a healthy caloric balance (or deficit, if you’re trying to lose weight):
- Try not to eat super early in the morning or extremely late at night. Does it ever happen? Yes. But it’s better for it not to be a habit.
- Keep most of your carbs early in the day, post-workout and lunch. Try to decrease overly-starchy carbohydrates throughout the day, so that your food is protein-rich in the evening but light on carbs.
- Bring lunch and snacks with you, if at all possible. Almost anything you bring from home will be more healthy than what is available in restaurants or at your place of work.
- Work out in the morning, when your time is most protected.
- Do not buy large bags of “healthy snacks” that will be mindlessly snacked on at night. Try to have a planned, focused snack in the evening if you know you’re going to eat after dinner, and serve it in a bowl. Do not eat out of bags.
These are the most “technical” tips. Here are some deeper, more thoughtful tips that are just as important (if not more important):
- Listen to your body. How do you feel throughout the day? How do you feel after you eat specific foods? Be mindful about your eating, and make changes based on how you feel after several weeks of observation.
- What kinds of foods do you like? What makes you feel satisfied? How can you leverage these foods in a healthy way to become a regular part of your eating? Don’t force yourself to eat food that you don’t like, or you won’t stick with the new habits.
- How can you reduce stress throughout your week? Even though cooking all of your food at once may present more “up-front” stress, it will reduce stress throughout the week. In the process, try to find other areas of your life that you can de-stress.
To help you out, here is the complete list of meals:
Have any questions? Shoot me an e-mail! Happy cooking!