If you’ve been following diet plans and weight loss programs on social media, you’ve probably seen photos and posts about meal prep.
You’ve probably also noticed that often, these posts are from bodybuilders, personal trainers or fitness models, all trying to show you how meal prep can help you lose weight.
But really, row after row of single-serve containers filled with dry chicken breast and steamed veggies has never got anyone excited.
So you told yourself that food prepping is just for gym junkies, and ignored their advice.
But what if meal prep could be family-friendly AND help you lose weight?
And what if you didn’t have to eat the same boring food over and over again?
Would you be interested?
What’s meal prep?
Meal prep is a structured process to ensure you consistently have healthy meals in order to achieve your weight loss goals, while saving yourself time, money and stress.
Meal prep also eliminates one of the main reasons people get off track with their weight loss goals. Human behaviour dictates that we’ll always eat the food that’s readily available, regardless of our intention to lose weight. So having healthy food ready to go, means that you’re not going to get off track, and indulge in emotional eating.
Meal prep is one of the skills that we teach all of our clients, because it’s an important tool in the journey to lose weight and keep it off long-term, without the need for dieting.
Cooking up steamed chicken breast and veggies is dieting. Meal prepping is not.
The truth is that meal prepping is for everyone, whether you’re trying to lose weight or not.
Meal prep isn’t difficult, but for it to become a new habit you’ll need to practice it.
When you understand the benefits of meal prep and how it helps you lose weight, we guarantee that you’ll want to add this to your skillset.
Why should you meal prep?
In a nutshell, meal prep makes your life a whole lot easier. It:
- reduces your stress levels. (And we know that stress is a key factor in weight gain)
- ensures you stay on track and avoid emotional or binge eating
- saves you money, which is great for your family budget
- saves you time, which means you can spend more time with your family, or doing the things you love.
Benefits of meal prep
There are several benefits to preparing your meals in advance:
You’ll reduce stress
Having a healthy meal already prepared means you’re never scrambling for food. You’ll also avoid the daily dilemma of ‘what are we having for dinner?’ If, like most families, you have a busy lifestyle, rushing from one thing to another, you won’t have to try to find time to cook dinner every night. And when you’re tired or stressed, you can take some time out, instead of spending more time and energy cooking food.
You’ll stay on track
We all know that we’re more likely to eat what’s readily available than to go to the extra trouble of preparing a healthy meal. Regardless of how important your goals are, there will be times when you’ll reach for the quickest, easiest option. Having food already prepped and ready to go will help you avoid the trap.
It reduces emotional eating and binge-eating
When we’re tired, stressed or time-poor, cooking healthy food is one of the last things we feel like doing. What usually happens is that we choose the easy option, often giving in to the temptation of take-away, junk food and other bad choices. All of this emotional eating often leads to binge-eating, which can really sabotage your weight loss.
You’ll save money
When you know what you’re going to cook for the week, you’ll only need to go to the grocery store once or twice a week, instead of every day. With a shopping list you’re less likely to give into impulse buys as well, only buying what you need. In addition, prepping larger amounts of food means you’ll be buying larger quantities of ingredients, and often, buying in bulk works out to be cheaper. And when you’re prepping your own food, you’re not buying take-aways or fast food during the week, which saves you even more money.
You’ll save time
Spending a couple of hours a week prepping food will save you lots of hours during the week. This means that you’ll have more time to spend with your family, do your scheduled workouts, socialise with friends and rest and relax.
Why people don’t meal prep
Despite the benefits of meal prepping, there are many who don’t do it because they don’t know how, or they don’t know where to start. Here, we address some of the common hurdles people face.
I don’t have time — A couple of hours of meal prep will save you a lot more hours during the week, which will actually give you more time to spend with your family, or doing the things you love.
I don’t know where to begin — Meal prepping isn’t hard, but it can feel overwhelming. Start small by cooking one or two meals in advance each week. Aim to build on this every week or so, as your skills improve.
I have a family. What will I cook? — What does your family like to eat? You’re only limited by your imagination (and your family’s food preferences).
Some of that food will be off by the end of the week — Put some in the freezer. This is an excellent way to ensure that you always have healthy meals readily available.
I don’t like frozen food — How important are your weight loss goals? Would you rather eat a healthy meal that has been in the freezer, or order unhealthy pizza that will sabotage your results?
I’ll get bored eating the same thing all week — You don’t have to eat the same thing each week! When you know how, you can still do weekly food prep and ensure that you eat a variety of food.
I don’t want to eat chicken and veggies all the time — Who says you have to eat chicken and veggies? Just because bodybuilders, or people trying to shred weight quickly do, doesn’t mean you have to.
Can’t I just buy pre-made healthy meals instead? — Buying your food instead of prepping it yourself won’t teach you the skills you need for long-term weight loss success, nor will it address the habits that have got you in the situation you’re currently in.
How do I even know what to do? — That’s a good question, and it’s one we’re going to answer with an example.
Example of a meal prep plan
Susie is a busy mother of three teenagers. She’s married and also works full-time. Her children all have after-school activities that often finish or start around dinner time. Because of her job, it’s often difficult for Susie to get home from work in time to cook an early dinner. And on the nights when the activities finish later, she’s usually too tired to be bothered.
Susie is also trying to lose weight. She knows it’s important to fill her body with good food, especially around her workout but mornings are often rushed, especially as she has to do the school run and get herself to work. She certainly doesn’t have time to prepare a good post-workout meal and make lunch for work in the mornings.
Susie has more free time on the weekends, so she takes advantage of this by planning and prepping some of her meals for the week.
Here’s what Susie’s week looks like…
Looking at the above, Susie knows that to ensure her week runs smoothly and that her family have plenty of healthy food to eat (remember, she has three teenagers!), she needs to prepare some of it in advance. The food she will prep includes:
- 4 x post-workout meals (for herself)
- 5 x lunches (for herself)
- 3 x family meals
Susie does her grocery shopping on Saturday, and spends some time on Sunday prepping her food.
Susie knows that she needs to include a source of protein and carbohydrate for her post-workout meal, so she makes a chicken and vegetable casserole in the slow cooker, and cooks some rice to go with it. She knows this will make around eight meals, so she portions them out into single serves, and freezes half of them. This means that she’s got four for the week ahead, and four in the freezer ready to go for another week. Win!
Total time to prep:
10 minutes prep time, 4-6 hrs cooking time for the casserole
15 minutes cooking time for the rice
Susie understands that to be productive at work, she has to look after herself, so she makes a point of taking her lunch with her every day. This week, Susie is going to make a vegetable frittata, which she can have with salad. To ensure she doesn’t get bored by eating the same thing each day, she’ll also include some roast chicken and some salmon as her protein options to go with her salad. She also plans to take leftovers from a mid-week meal one day.
The frittata makes six serves, so Susie freezes four of them and keeps two aside for the week
Total time to prep:
Vegetable frittata – 10 minutes prep, 30 minutes cooking time
Roast chicken (left overs from a family meal)
Salmon – pre-packaged
Salad – 15 minutes to chop, mix (undressed) and portion into four individual containers
Susie maps out her evening meals, according to her weekly schedule.
SUNDAY – Roast chicken and roasted veggies (she will cook two chickens and use leftover chicken for lunches during the week)
MONDAY – Meatballs in tomato sauce (prepped in advance), served with freshly steamed veggies
TUESDAY – Pork fillet stir-fry with noodles
WEDNESDAY – Chilli con carne (prepped in advance), with salad and wraps
THURSDAY – Chicken burgers (patties prepped in advance), with rolls and salad
FRIDAY – Salmon and veggie curry
SATURDAY – Dinner out with the family. Susie believes food should be enjoyed, and so makes it a priority to enjoy a meal out each week with her family.
Weekly meal prep
Meatballs in tomato sauce – 10 minutes prep time, 20 minutes cooking time
Chilli con carne – 10 minutes prep time, 10 minutes cooking time
Chicken burgers – 10 minutes prep time, 20 minutes cooking time
Excluding the cooking time for the slow-cooker, Susie’s total time spent meal prepping for the week is 65 minutes of prep time, and 95 minutes of cooking time.
However, it’s important to note that Susie can be cooking food while she preps for another meal. For example, while the frittata is in the oven, Susie can completely prep and cook her chilli con carne. And while her rice is cooking, she can prep her salads for her lunches.
All up, in around two hours Susie can make:
- 8 x post-training meals (remember the casserole made 8 serves)
- 8 x lunches (remember the frittata made 6 serves)
- 3 x family meals to serve 5 people.
That’s a total of 31 individual meals. In around two hours.
How to nail your meal prep
So now you see how quick and easy meal prep can be, let’s give you some tips to help you nail it every time.
Always schedule your meal prep time — When it’s planned and scheduled, you’ll always get it done. If you do it ad-hoc, there will always be something that comes up to prevent you from doing it.
Always plan your meals — Planning meals in advance means that you won’t have to overthink during the week, and you can ensure you have all the ingredients you need at your fingertips. Don’t forget to ask your family for some input!
Always make a shopping list — Base your shopping list on your meal plan and stick to it. This will mean you won’t have to go back to the grocery store during the week, unless it’s to top up a few items. (Teenagers eat a LOT of food!)
Don’t shop on an empty stomach — It’s a known fact that if you shop when you’re hungry you’ll buy more than you need to and you’re more likely to make unhealthy choices.
Buy smart — Where possible, buy in bulk and buy in season. Buying in bulk is often cheaper, as is buying fruits and vegetables that are in season. Plus, fruits and vegetables that are in season often taste better, or are of better quality.
Know where to shop — Grocery stores may be convenient, but they’re not always the best option. You’ll save more, and get better quality produce if you take a more individualised approach. For example, fruit and veggie shops often have a larger, better and cheaper range of fresh produce than a supermarket. Buying from your local butcher is also often cheaper and you’ll end up with better quality meat. Try different stores until you find the one that works for you.
Chop your veggies — To make meal times quicker, pre-chop your veggies into serving sizes and store in containers in the fridge. That way, you only have to wash them before cooking, saving you time during the week.
Get organised — Make sure you have all the things you need in the kitchen (e.g. pots, pans, knives, utensils, mixing bowls and containers). Throw away pots and pans that have seen better days and update them with newer ones. Ensure you invest in a good set of knives, and make sure you have separate chopping boards for your meat, fish, chick and veggies. Stock up on quality containers that are air-tight, freezer-safe and dishwasher safe. And before you start cooking, ensure your work area is clean and clear from clutter. Being organised will mean you’re less stressed about cooking.
Multi-task — To maximise your time in the kitchen, work out what you can cook in the oven, what can go in the slow-cooker and what can be done on the stove. That way, you can be cooking three different meals at the same time.
Always cook extra — Where you can, cook extra food and put it in the freezer. This stock-pile of food will mean you’ll never run out of healthy options, and will ensure that you have a great variety of meals to choose from.
Portion food — You don’t have to do this with every meal, but in the case of Susie, portioning out her post-workout meals and her lunches makes it easier for her to grab and eat them, instead of spending time, portioning them out of multiple containers every time she eats. Portioning food means you’re not always overthinking your food choices, wondering what you should have at each meal. This will save you time and stress.
Include variety — Avoid the diet mindset of always eating the same thing, or cooking food that has few calories and little flavour. Including variety eliminates boredom with food, and when you’re bored with your food, you’ll go looking for more ‘exciting’ options (e.g. junk food and take-away).
Don’t forget to include a variety of colours in your meals. The more colourful your meal is the more nutrition it has. Not only is this good for the metabolism, but getting optimal nutrition reduces the likelihood of bingeing.
Have fun with your food — Try new recipes, and cook things you know you’ll enjoy. When you love the food you eat, it’s easier to stay on track and lose weight. When you do your food prep, get your family involved. Make your food prep time enjoyable by playing music. Pouring more love into your food and your prep time will help you establish this habit. Don’t forget that it’s okay to eat out every now and then as well. Food should be enjoyable. Don’t treat your eating plan like a diet and try to be perfect. You’ll be far more successful with your weight loss if you enjoy your food, even if it means having treats every now and then.
Develop a list of favourites — As you develop your food prep skills, keep a list of favourite meals handy. You might even like to check out our Recipe Book! Record which ones your family loves and how long they take to make. This way, you’ll develop a menu of dishes that are tasty, easy to cook and guaranteed to put a smile on the faces around the dinner table.
Need some help?
If you’re ready to make a change to your lifestyle habits in order to achieve long-term weight loss, we’re ready for you.