I am sure you’ve heard this saying before: “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. It may sound a bit harsh but it is so true, especially when it comes to preparing your meals. And don’t let the term overwhelm you- meal prep can be as easy as ‘I’m cooking for the whole week.’
And here’s the thing - yes, it may take some time to organize, plan, and actually cook the meals, however, you will end up ultimately saving more time during the week. Consider all the time you spend thinking about what to eat, making random grocery store runs for a few items here and there. Does that sound familiar? How much time is wasted doing all that? Think about the mental energy it takes up during the week - when really, you have 100 other things to do during the day. If this part of your life is already setup on auto-pilot, imagine what else you would be able to do with that extra time and mental energy.
Perhaps meal prepping can allow you to sit and enjoy eating the meal for a longer period of time. When we dine out - we make it an experience. We sit, relax, and enjoy our meals. Why not make all of your meals an experience? Remember, food is meant to be enjoyed.
So let's talk about why meal prepping is so important
Women now live in one of the busiest times in history . We not only have jobs - but careers, relationships, family, perhaps motherhood, and expected to maintain a social life. Oh right, and take care of ourselves while looking cute. We live in very privileged world as women (I would say it’s a right, not a privilege;)) Beyond this, we still expect more from our women. We are expected to do it all - or maybe we just expect this of ourselves.
So If preparing at least 70% of our meals in advance can help take some stress off the shoulders - why not?
Also, if we don’t plan and prepare your meals in advance, we may often find ourselves eating junk or the wrong foods over and over - just out of habit and routine. We’d be reacting to hunger vs planning for it.
People will often ask me - “What should I do if I don’t have time to cook or meal prep at all?”
When I am presented with this question- I ask the client, “how much of a priority is it for you to feel strong, energetic, and confident in the skin you’re in?” It may sound a bit abrupt, but it’s important to ask yourself these tough questions.
The truth is - we make time for what we believe is important to us. If having an abundance of healthy, delicious foods ready and available to you is important - then I’m confident that you will organize the same 24 hours that we all get so that you do have time to partake in one of the most basic forms of self care - eating.
That being said, there will be times when you will be short on time and in those instances, you make what I call ‘set it and forget it’ recipes (such as casseroles or slow cooker recipes) that you throw together and walk away. Let the gadgets to the heavy lifting.
So now let’s talk about how to actually meal prep:
1. Pick a day of the week.
A lot of people meal prep on Sundays, but it can be on any day you have more down time.
2. Set aside 2-3 hours to complete the shopping, chopping, and cooking.
This may sound like a lot, but remember you will buy that time back during the week. Make it an experience - have your significant other or girlfriends prep with you. Cooking is an incredible bonding experience. If you need alone time, pour some wine, turn on the music, and make it therapeutic "me time.". The options are endless - all you have to do is decide how you are going to make this process enjoyable for you.
3. Plan how many meals you will have from home and how many meals you will eat out. Be realistic.
The purpose isn’t to deprive yourself of eating out, but it is to make sure you are eating cleaning 90% of the time. If you've never tried meal prepping before, don't try to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire week. You'll go crazy. Instead, figure out when you're busiest and make meals based around that.
Maybe you never have time for lunch, or you don't want to cook dinner after a long day. If that's the case, try making a week of lunches and/ or dinners.
4. Pick 3 recipes for the week.
If you pick 2 familiar ones and 1 new recipe, by the end of the month, you will have learned four new recipes. Keep it simple, don’t get hung up on creating fancy recipes. When you’re first starting out, stick to flavors you already enjoy. Eventually, you will have a few favorites that you keep on rotating.
5. Write up a grocery list.
This will help you save time at the grocery store. Try to purchase what is needed and get out - typically within the hour. Try to go grocery shopping during the off hours, so you’re not waiting in line for 20 min to check out.
6. Cook the meal. Start with items that you will take longer to cook such as rice or quinoa. Set a timer so you don't burn it.
Prepare the protein, and bake or grill that as well. While the protein portion is being cooked, chop the veggies and season them generously with seasonings and herbs. Most vegetables taste delicious roasted in the oven with coconut oil and seasonings.
If you’re going to meal prep, you might as well eat something that tastes good. There’s nothing worse then eating bland, boring food in the name of health. If you’re not happy during the meal AND after your meal - it’s also not healthy. Remember, part of being healthy is feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
7. Finally, if you have a sweet tooth, PREPARE DESSERT.
You don’t have to deny yourself dessert, just make a healthier version at home. If you strictly restrict yourself, there is a higher possibility of overindulgence later with unhealthier choices. If you like brownies, try making black bean brownies. (They are delicious, I promise) If you enjoy cookies, bake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. You can also slice and grill apples with coconut oil and cinnamon for a quick sweet bite. Have an apple or banana with Peanut or almond Butter. There are so many options for healthy desserts.
After the food is all done, let it cool and store them in containers. Some people prefer to portion it out for the week, others like to store it in big containers and make different variations everyday. The choice is yours.
If you’re prepping all 5 days, I suggest freezing the Thursday and Friday meals. Some foods stay well for 5 days, others don’t – so use your judgement.
Finally, investing in high quality containers are very helpful. I always recommend using glass containers but If you use plastic, please be sure they are BPA free, especially if you’re going to warm up your meals in the same container. My personal preference is to use mason jars as they are affordable, sustainable, and you can freeze or heat them.
I hope this sheds some light on what meal prep means and more importantly, how to do it. Remember to do what feels comfortable for you and accommodates your lifestyle. A little bit of meal prep is still better than none at all. Even it's just chopping up a few veggies and packing them as snacks, it's a great start!
Written By: Jalpa Dhaduk, Certified Nutrition Counselor
After working as an Occupational Therapist for seven years, Jalpa learned preventative care is truly the path to prevent chronic diseases. She went back to school to train in Integrative Nutrition and founded Nourishbyjd. Now, she combines her knowledge of science and western medicine with nutrition to coach clients to heal their digestion, slim down, and gain vibrant energy via food and lifestyle modification.