What is food prep?
Like in anything that you do in life, the chances of success increases based on the amount of planning that goes into it. So there is no surprise that a key to sticking to a healthy meal plan (diet) will largely depend on how you prepare.
So food prep is the art of planning your meals a few days out in advance so some of ‘life’s unexpected schedules’ such as work, family and friends, do not deter from what you need to eat throughout the week.
The biggest failure in ones health and fitness goals usually revolves around nutrition, the lack of and frequency. This is due to not being prepared!
Starting the prep, break the week down…
So how does one even start getting ready for food prep? It’s like taking a vacation, you plan what to take with you. The same is true with food prep. You plan what you are going to eat in advance.
I have found one trick to make food prep easy is to keep it simple. Do not over complicate your meals. After all, you shouldn’t be planning for a seven course meal every time you sit down to eat.
I break the work week down into two parts, Monday – Wednesday and Wednesday – Friday. Some people try to go all out and prepare all at once, Monday – Friday.
So for part one meal prep, Monday – Wednesday, I prep on Sunday. For part two, Wednesday – Friday, I prep on Wednesday night.
There are two things to be cautious of when you prep only once for the entire week, Monday – Friday. Food prepping will take a little bit longer doing it all at once, and you must place all your meals into separate containers because opening and closing the same container throughout the week as you serve out your meals you may find that the food will start to spoil by Thursday or Friday.
Another option is to freeze part of your food and take out the day before you are going to eat it. I also recommend to use glass containers since they seem to keep the food better preserved.
What and how do I plan my meals?
Again, simplicity with nutrition is the key. Since I break down my week into two parts, this means I perform two meal preps for the week. One is usually Sunday night and the second one on Wednesday night.
You need to plan how many meals you will make for each day first. This is predicated by your fitness goals, in other words do you want to lose weight and gain muscle, maintain what you have, etc. Based on that, you determine how many grams of protein you want to consume and across how many meals over the course of the day.
Take me as an example. I weigh 180lbs and very lean, about 10% or less body fat. I am in a maintenance mode. For me this means consuming between 150-180 grams of protein a day spread over six meals. My calorie breakdown for protein/carbs/fat is 40-45% protein calories, 40-45% complex carb calories and 10-20% fat calories. Notice how I maintain an equal balance of protein and complex carb calories. I AM NOT A BELIEVER OF LOW CARB DIETS, then again, a future blog post!
So my six meals for the day are broken down as follows with the meal preps identified in boldfaced:
Meal 1, breakfast, half chicken breast, three egg whites/one yolk omelet, bowl of oatmeal
Meal 2, chicken or fish with wild rice and veggies
Meal 3, same as meal 2
Meal 4, this is a pre-workout meal, I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, yes you heard right, about an hour before workout I love this stuff! My entire life I have always trained better with a quick meal before a workout. I have tried training on an empty stomach, for me it sucks. After my workout I have a whey with water protein shake. The combination of the sandwich and the shake is considered a meal
Meal 5, same as meal 2
Meal 6, protein shake made with casein protein (long lasting digestive protein) with ground up chia, sesame, and flaxseed. The casein and seeds make for a long, all night digestion that the next morning will totally cleanse your digestive tract!
So this means for meal prep, part one, I need to prepare for nine meals, three days times three meals during the day. For meal prep part two, I would prepare six meals, two days times three meals a day.
Now, if you want to make something else at night for meal 5, then prep for six meals in meal prep part one and four meals in part two.
What do you eat?
We go back to simplicity. Your meals should consist of protein and complex carbs. Keeping with lean protein sources I found that I don’t have to worry about fat calories.
So I eat chicken one part of the week and fish the other part. Which half of the week goes first doesn’t matter, change it up.
Complex carbs comes from wild rice, my favorite is Lundberg rice, high in fiber with some protein content, sweet potatoes, quinoa and/or pasta.
Along with that, I also steam broccoli and/or cauliflower to go with the meals. I also like to add to the rice for a little more flavor, sliced avocadoes which I add on the days I am going to work so they don’t go bad in the container.
How are they prepared?
That’s a topic for another blog post since it involves cooking your meals to reduce sugar and fat content. But just to add a little insight to it, I prefer as a first choice marinating chicken and fish in rubs rather than sauces. I know some will balk at the sodium content in rubs but I am not giving you a competition diet here, I am simply showing you how to prepare meals in advance and besides, like I mentioned, how to cook your meals is for another post which will take that into account. In addition, if you are exercising hard, the extra sodium should not be a big deal.
I like grilling outdoors since living in Florida gives me that luxury year round. For those not that fortunate to have perfect outdoor weather year round, you can prepare your food in the oven via bake or broil or like I sometimes do, in a wok.
When using a wok I love to cut my chicken up into small chunks. I do about eight breasts at a time. While stir frying it I add spices and herbs rather than doing a pre-rub. When the chicken is almost halfway done, I add onions, scallions, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. Basically, any type of veggies that you like to eat.
The same goes with the rice. Buy yourself a real good rice cooker, they usually are made to steam veggies as well. This will be the best investment you have ever made. Three cups (from what is provided from the cooker manufacturer) is perfect for three days of meals.
So how long does all this prepping take?
Once you get good at it, no more than 75-90 minutes. You will actually find more time during the week to spend on more important things like family and exercising.
What about the rest of the family?
Ok, some of you are probably saying, this is great if you are a single person or live life as a hermit, what if you have a family? Very good question!
The best way to accomplish this is to get the entire family involved in healthier eating and living. First of all, it would make no sense for you to be on one meal plan while the rest of the family is eating fast and processed foods.
Secondly, part of parenting is teaching your kids. I have always said one of the most important things to teach your kids is to lead a healthy and fit lifestyle. This is something that will carry over to them for the rest of their lives and they can pass it on to their kids.
When I go grocery store shopping I am deeply saddened when I see overweight parents with overweight kids. Looking at their shopping cart gives you the answer to their condition.
So you need buy in from your spouse to begin with. Once you have that, the entire family can help with the meal prep. This way, they can each add additional flavors or sides to what you are preparing over the next several days. Special side dishes to add variety to meal 5 (typical dinner at home) can be placed in separate containers so each can choose what they want for that day.
As a special treat, include nutritious desserts such as different fruits or low fat or low sugar dessert. Watch out and read labels, many products that are low or no fat have high sugar and those with low or no sugar may contain high fat. You just have to find the balance between the two.
Believe me, it may be hard at first but it can be done. I did it so can you. Once the entire family starts seeing the benefits of good nutrition such as more energy and alertness, it will just become a habit.
Healthy food leads to healthy bodies leads to healthier life for the entire family!
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain to be….Fit Forlife