The key to reaching the fitness goals, for many people turn out to be, the meal prep. When someone finally gets the hang of it, their results almost invariably go through the roof. Afterward, they’ll often talk about it like it’s the simplest thing in the world. “Yeah, bro, take a few hours on Sunday and cook everything for the week.”
But, it is not always that easy as it seems, the whole process can prove overwhelming to the inexperienced, and even quite a hassle for veterans. Not only can a week’s worth of meal prep eat up an entire afternoon, but if done wrong, it can turn you off from the idea completely, leaving you scavenging for fast food on the reg.
Successful meal prepping revolves around having a plan. This is crucial. Try winging it on the fly and you’ll likely end up with mismanaged macros, forgotten veggies, or, worse, foodborne illness. Before you even set foot in the kitchen, commit these five meal-prep rules to memory!
1. PICK YOUR DAY AHEAD OF TIME
Depending on how many meals you’re making, doing all the prep on a single day can add up to quite a bit of food and time. Plus, depending on your protein of choice and preferred cooking method, you may still end up as that guy or gal in the office known for their stinky lunches.
Important to know: Meal prep is only going to last if it feels manageable to you. If Sunday doesn’t work, split meal prep into two days. This will cut down on the session length and definitely preserve the quality of your food. Sunday and Wednesday are usually a good pair, but find any two days that work best for you.
2. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
Until you know exactly how much you’re shooting for in terms of number of meals and what those meals are made of, don’t even think about meal prepping.
Meals: It is very important to determine the number of meals and number of days you will be preparing at one time. Some people have more success packing multiple daily meals for the entire week—or even all of their meals. Others find that preparing only their lunch for each day of the week is sufficient, because they’re able to eat breakfast and dinner at home. Regardless of where you fall on the meal-prepping spectrum, choose a spot that sets you up for success and plan accordingly.
Macros: If you’re cycling carbs and you need 350 grams of carbs one day, but only 200 grams the next, know this ahead of time. Outline your daily macros or needs, with specific meal-by-meal guidelines, and post it somewhere in your kitchen. Where better than the refrigerator?
You can also use the “fist” method I discussed in the article “Maintain a Caloric Deficit Without Counting Macros.” But in either case, having concrete guidelines ahead of time will ease the shopping and prep to come. You can even take it to the next level and label containers by day and meal.
3. STICK WITH STAPLE ITEMS
Many people want to include variety within their meals during the week. However, with that being said, spending time crafting gourmet concoctions such as creme brulee French toast or bacon-wrapped scallops in bulk may keep you in the kitchen for much longer than you anticipated. Plus, as a rule, the fancier something is, the worse it tastes when it has been sitting around for a few days in Tupperware.
When you’re prepping, focus on choosing easy-to-cook, bulk-packaged foods that store well. My recommendations: Mix and match from these categories and go to town:
– Protein: Chicken breast, lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, flank steak, lean lunch meat (turkey breast, ham, or roast beef) and low-fat beef jerky
– Carbohydrates: Oats, quinoa, couscous, brown rice, wild rice, whole-grain tortillas and bread
– Healthy fats: Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, olive oil and coconut oil
When it comes to prepped meals, many people are not for a fish, but feel free to experiment. Just make sure you use a well-sealed container!
4. GO GROCERY SHOPPING
This might seem obvious, but beginning your meal prep with the remnants hanging out in your fridge and pantry is never a good idea. Sure, you might get a meal or two that way, but in the end, you’ll either run out of food or become forced to use your protein-powder stash as reinforcements—for nearly every meal. And the problem with that is that it gets expensive fast.
It is important once you know your numbers, to make sure you have everything to meet them. If you’re one of those lucky people with a chest freezer, you may be able to plan weeks ahead of time. If not, make a weekly or biweekly trip part of your prep routine. Not only will it help you efficiently navigate the store, but it will also help to avoid food waste and you save money at the same time.
5. INVEST IN A COOLER OR INSULATED MEAL BAG
After your fridge has been stocked with your meals for the week, the look of it is incredibly rewarding. Instagram agrees. Towers of Tupperware, perfectly aligned with the perfect blend of macros—man, it’s a sight to see! But when you bounce out of bed come Monday morning, you can expect to have a difficult time carrying your gym bag, briefcase, and numerous containers to work. Plenty of undeserving meals have ended up on the ground this way, and yet, again, you waste your food and your money at the same time.
You may be able to swing it, if you’re prepping just one meal a day. If you’re the two- or three-a-day type, a cooler, insulated meal bag, or backpack of some kind is essential. Their controlled temperature can also help protect you from foodborne illness.
It may sound like a luxury this extra purchase , but it has the potential to save you tons of daily frustration. If you’re going to be doing this consistently—which is the only way to do it—then cutting out unnecessary hassles is essential!