So, I wouldn’t claim to be a meal prep professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought it would be helpful to at least share the methods that have worked for me and have helped me stay on track with meal prepping.
Full disclosure: I track my macros and caloric intake in an app called Cronometer, but I am not currently in a phase of my life where I am cutting calories or trying to lose weight. I track my food to make sure I’m eating enough food. Once upon a time I was eating about 1200 calories a day and working out about 5-6 times a week and burning about 400-500 calories per gym session. Thinking that would help me lose weight. Crying because it wasn’t. Ironically, I started to drop some lbs when I started to feed my body appropriately, because it stopped holding on to every morsel I gave it, thinking it would never get anymore. With that said, my meal preps are designed for my current lifestyle, which involves heavy lifting sessions three times a week and cardio sessions three times a week, working from home, and a goal of maintaining my current weight, but if I lose some fat, then cool. For reference, I eat around 2100 calories, 151g protein, 185g carbs, and 84g fat per day. As you can see, I am not scared of carbs or fat. I never have been, and I have never been of the mindset that cutting an entire macro or food group from my diet would benefit me in any way. Every time I tried that, I came back to the feeling that “everything in moderation” is probably right for me. So that’s why you will see carbs and fats in my meal prep recipes. Because I am not “cutting”, because I am not depriving myself, and because I am fueling my body for my particular lifestyle.
“Meal prepping” is not only for those who are cutting or trying to lose weight. It is for anyone who wants to have more predictability in their menu planning; anyone who doesn’t want to have to scramble to figure out what to eat every day; it’s for anyone who is looking for some convenience around their food. That’s why I meal prep. I spend some time a couple days a week prepping a lot of food so that I don’t have to think about what I’m eating every day for lunch. Now, that’s not to say that when I’m in the office and someone asks me if I want to go to Taco Bell, that I will decline (I never decline Taco Bell!) – it just means that I have food there for me if I want it. If I go to Taco Bell, I still have lunch for the next day.
With all that said, here are some tips that work for me:
- Balance out your meal. Your meal should not be too focused on any one macro. You really should have protein, carbs, and fats at every meal. I aim for about 4oz of protein in every meal prep container, and then the carbs and fats can vary. Sometimes I want to save my carbs for other meals, so I eat salads for lunch. If my carbs for my other meals are balanced, then I’ll wrap my salads in a big tortilla wrap for some carb content, or I’ll add 1/2 a cup of rice. I frequently add 1/2 cup Spanish rice to any of the taco salad or burrito bowl recipes I’ve posted if I need a higher carb content for that week or that day; or I’ll add my favorite green smoothie because it’s basically a carb bomb.
- Meal prep twice a week. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of eating the same thing five days in a row. Especially if it’s salad. So I started meal prepping twice a week – and please don’t let this scare you. On Sundays, I will make a meal prep for two to three lunches of the week, and then on Tuesday or Wednesday night, I plan a dinner that I can make a lot of so that I have leftovers for the rest of the week. Sometimes I will make it even easier, and plan a dinner I can make a lot of on Sundays too, so that I’m basically having leftovers all week, but two different kinds!
- Get a good set of containers. Preferably glass, since you’ll be reheating everything in a microwave. I have two sets of these, and they are reasonably priced, and give me enough containers to have meal prep lunches for me AND my husband for a week. They are also the perfect size for a properly-sized lunch (at least for us). If you love salads and plan to meal prep them frequently, you will want bigger containers, like these.
- Prep familiar food that you are excited to eat. Meal prepping is not the time to try some new vegetable you’ve never had before, or flavors you’ve never tried, or force-feed yourself buckets of lettuce if you absolutely hate salads. It is the time to think of all the foods and flavors you really love or get excited to eat, because you want to eat your meal prep and don’t want to be swayed by outside temptations (ahem, like Taco Bell). So for me, that means a lot of Mexican flavors, and I never get tired of it. Instead of having tacos every day for lunch (which I would have REALLY loved), I found ways to deconstruct tacos and eat them in a healthier manner. You do want to make sure these are appropriate portions, though.
- Allow yourself some flexibility. This looks like a lot of different things for different people, probably, but for me it looks like this:
- Once in a while (really, a few times a month when I’m working in the office), allowing myself to go out for lunch.
- Once in a while, eating non-meal prep lunches mixed with meal prep lunches (like, MWF eat a meal prepped lunch and TTh eat a frozen entree or a turkey sandwich).
- When experiencing meal prep burnout, take a week where you make the best choices possible and don’t stress about what you’re eating.
- Get comfortable eating a lot of the same foods. I’m at a point right now where I eat the same thing for breakfast every day, and I eat one of the same several meal prep recipes for lunch five days a week. Planning my meals in this manner allows me to have a lot of flexibility with dinner and snacks. We eat something different for dinner every night. And having some predictability in my meal prep helps me with planning our dinners. For example, I know if we have tacos for dinner, that’s a really high-fat meal, so I will want to take it easy on the fat at my other meals, especially at lunch.
- Give yourself a break, and don’t meal prep on weekends. I don’t meal prep for my weekends, but I do eat the same breakfast as I do during the week, and I do eat a little more liberally – I don’t really track what I’m eating, but I am mindful of meeting my protein and calorie goals. If I wake up and want a donut with my smoothie, I have a donut with my smoothie and I don’t stress about it. I may just eat less carbs at lunch or dinner to balance it out. Again, this is me though – I don’t have a specific goal I am trying to meet, so your version of meal prepping may have to include the weekends based on your goals. But meal prep burnout is a very real thing (I get there about every other month or so), and I truly believe taking a break on the weekends gives you enough of a variety that you’re ready to invest that time and energy again for the next week’s meal prep.
I hope some of this information helps you on your meal prep journey! These are lessons and things I have learned over time (a long time, like, the last 12-18mos time) that have really helped me stick to meal prepping. When COVID-19 arrived in my county and shut everything down in the middle of March, I already had good habits in place to keep me meal prepping throughout this time where schedules and time meant almost nothing. My entire company moved to working from home, and while I had previously enjoyed a work from home day here and there, they were also harder on my food plan. Being at home and having access to all my kid’s school snacks made me an all-day snacker and forever hungry in ways that I wasn’t in the office! I knew that I could not eat like that to sustain my current lifestyle, so I was very thankful to have so many meal prep and healthy recipes under my belt to draw from and stay focused.
If you make any of my meal prep recipes, and really enjoy them, or even if you put your own spin on them, I would love to hear about it! Find me on Instagram @sluttyfoodblog and tag me!