The concept of meal prep can seem daunting and overwhelming to most; the idea of having to prep several ready-to-go meals and take hours out of your weekend to prepare. It's no wonder we'd rather skip the hours in the kitchen and fly by the seat of our pants instead. However, meal prep does not need to eat up several hours out of your Sunday, it can help you stay successful during the busy work week and it doesn't have to feel so time-consuming either. Here are my top 10 easy meal prep tips to cut down your kitchen time, make things you'll actually enjoy eating & help you have a successful week hitting your macro and fitness goals!
TOP 10 MEAL PREP TIPS
1. Set a designated time and date aside for meal prepping. Meal prep does not have to fall on a Sunday; if you're Sundays are busy with other things and you're short on free time, Sunday may not be the most ideal time for you to try to squeeze in meal prep. Try experimenting on a day you have the least amount of "to-dos" to check off your list and find a time you are most likely to be productive. You may also consider entertaining the idea of doing 2 smaller meal preps throughout the week/weekend if your schedule better allows for that. But at the very least, plan your meal prep time in advance and treat it as though it's anything else you have to commit to doing that day.
2. Have a realistic goal for the amount of meals/snacks you have time to prep. If meal prepping is a new concept for you, you may have the best intentions starting off the work week with all 5 meals pre-planned and prepped, ready-to-go. You're excited, you're motivated, you're focused & ready to tackle your meal prep! Only to potentially realize how long it took to prep a total of 35 individual meals, leaving you feeling exhausted and with a "That took way too long, I'm never doing that again" mindset. You don't have to have such high expectations for yourself; instead, start pre-planning maybe 1-2 meals for the week that you struggle with the most and build on that foundation over time. If you know you can't keep up with meal prepping every single meal, don't set yourself up for failure by giving yourself an unrealistic goal to keep up with. Do what makes the most sense for you and what you realistically have time for.
3. Preplan meals/snacks ahead of time in MFP to help your meals align with your calorie and macro goals. If you're new to tracking macros, I would strongly advise against the "tracking as you go" method or waiting at the end of the day to try to back-log your food intake. What will help reduce the overwhelm and help you reach your macro goals more consistently is to pre-plan your meals and snacks in your food tracking app ahead of time - before you even shop. That way, you'll have a much better idea of how close or far you are to your macro goals in advance; then you can manipulate the serving sizes and portions, or make food substitutions altogether if needed to get closer to your macro and calorie goals.
4. Keep things simple & avoid several ingredient recipes. Remember, simple does not have to mean boring. Avoid the stress and overwhelm trying to meal prep a bunch of recipes that call for several ingredients. This is not only extremely time consuming and potentially expensive, you'll also find yourself more stressed trying to figure out how to best track those several recipes into MyFitnessPal. Make things as easy on yourself as possible and stick with the basics. You can worry about getting fancy later down the road ;)
5. Prep foods you will genuinely enjoy eating and look forward to; it doesn't have to be bland, boring,
"healthy" meals. Ok this is HUGE! When we're starting a new nutrition or fitness program, it's very normal for our diet-cultured brains to think we have to now eat nothing but "clean, healthy, no-processed" types of meals. Chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli sound familiar? Gag. I promise you the fastest way to give up on your previously exciting fitness program is to feel like you're not eating food you're actually excited about. Those bland, "clean" meals will get real boring, real fast - plus, who doesn't enjoy eating a delicious bagel with cream cheese every now and then? So ditch the idea that you have to follow these strict food rules by eating only "good" foods - there's no such thing with flexible dieting BTW! ;) I can't tell you the amount of times I used to eat like that, only to waste my prepped food every week because I'd go out and get something to eat for lunch because I'd rather eat something else (more tasteful) instead. You'll not only feel better but you'll likely stay more compliant with your diet because you're not having to sacrifice your taste buds or your quality of life by preparing and eating things you genuinely look forward to. This is another reason why I absolutely love tracking macros and flexible dieting - no foods are off limits!
6. Bulk prep 1-2 proteins to make multiple meals from. If you don't have time to meal prep full meals, I would suggest at least bulk prepping protein to have on hand at the very least. Protein is typically the hardest macronutrient to consistently consume adequate amounts of; it's far less convenient option that's not typically as readily available compared to fats and carbs. By bulk prepping 1-2 proteins for the week, you have a base you can assemble several different meals or recipes from. I personally like to make a bunch of shredded chicken that I can use for meals like chicken tacos, chicken enchiladas, chicken salad, etc.
7. Pre-portion your meals ahead of time and use a meal prep lunch bag with containers. You can save even more time during the hectic work week by assembling your meal prep into individual containers that fit nice (and cool) in an insulated meal prep bag. This may take a little more time at the front end, but will save you time and stress during the week - it's so convenient when you have the ability to grab and go as needed and the work's already done for you!
8. Cut down on prep and cooking time by using less appliances. Less dishes anyone? I love using my Instapot to bulk prep my meals; it's especially great for frozen meats because you don't have to waste even more time waiting for it to thaw beforehand. The Instapot can pressure cook that frozen chicken in less than 15 minutes - it's truly a game changer! Another kitchen hack is to make sheet pan recipes - roast veggies, potatoes & a protein like salmon (yum!) all on one sheet pan to cut down cook time, appliance use and dishes. We also love using our grill to BBQ a bunch of different things at once (chicken drumsticks, corn, baked potatoes, zucchini, etc.); the concept here is to try to use less kitchen equipment to help cut down your meal prep time. WIN-WIN.
9. Try to keep your meals and snacks balanced; think protein, fats and carbs to assemble your meals and snacks. Life is busy and you're bound to grab something that may not be "ideal" or the perfectly balanced meal - that is a-OK. But you should try to prioritize assembling each meal/snack centered around the 3 macronutrients - protein, carbs and fats. By doing so, you'll not only increase your daily calorie/macro target compliance, but you'll likely find that by adding consistently balanced meals, you're cravings decrease, you stay more satiated, you're less hangry, you have more energy and you have a better idea of what a balanced meal on the go can look like.
10. Make your prep as easy as possible and less time-consuming by using pre chopped or pre-cooked foods. Some examples include: microwavable/steamable vegetables, pre-chopped veggies, rotisserie chicken, pre-grilled/pre-cooked chicken strips, microwavable rice cups. All of these shortcuts will significantly reduce the amount of prep and cook time and make your life a heck of a lot easier!
Hope this was helpful!