Healthy Meal Prep Basics: A Step by Step Guide for Busy Individuals
Would you like to meal prep but don't know where to start?
If you have a busy, unpredictable work schedule, it can be difficult to find time to actually plan out and prepare your meals in advance.
Thankfully, we have developed a few tips and tricks to help us meal prep healthy dishes, despite working 80 hours a week.
Welcome to the second installment of the WCT time hack series, where we go over actionable ways to be more efficient in improving your fitness.
- In Part 1, How to Eat 6 Meals A Day (Even With A Busy Schedule) we discuss 5 high-yield strategies to help you keep your nutrient intake high in a short amount of time.
One of those strategies included healthy meal prep.
Meal prepping is the difference between struggling to eat healthy some of the time, to eating like a champion all of the time.
Today’s Post is Going to Cover
The Benefits of Meal Prepping
The Downsides of Meal Prepping
Meal Prep Basics for Those with a Busy Schedule
Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for the Week
Benefits of Meal Prepping
Do you struggle to make healthy food choices during your busy schedule?
There is nothing like eating real, home-cooked food whenever you are on the go. Aside from the convenience of having each meal prepared, there are several other benefits of meal prep.
- Control Over What You Eat
The most important benefit of meal prepping is the ability to control what you eat. When you rely on having to buy your meals, there is no definitive way to know what is actually in your food. The food may be marketed as ‘healthy’ but it could be cooked with questionable ingredients or fried in industrial refined vegetable oils.
- Saves Money
Prepping your meals will also save you money. To buy individual “high-quality” meals, you will most likely be spending upwards of $10-15 at each sitting. However, buying the ingredients to prepare your own high-quality meals will average out to a fraction of that cost!
It should be mentioned that buying all of the necessary ingredients to prep your food will come with a high upfront cost, but it is definitely worth the investment. Also, many of these items can be purchased to last 2+ weeks.
- Eliminates Having to Make Unnecessary Choices
One of the most underrated benefits of meal prepping is the peace of mind. You never have to worry about where your next meal is going to come from. No more decisions regarding which place you are going to order from, or which item to order, how much to tip, or how long the lines will be.
Eliminating unnecessary choices also improves your productivity, which we discuss further in 9 Proven Ways To Increase Productivity and Save Time.
- Saves Time
Most importantly, meal prepping saves time. Doctors and other busy professionals benefit significantly from streamlined processes. Knowing that you already have nutritious, high-quality meals ready to go allows you to focus less on your hunger and more on what matters the most.
The Downsides of Meal Prepping
There are definitely some obstacles to meal prepping, however, these shouldn’t discourage you from using this vital strategy to improve your health and fitness dramatically.
Here are the top three downsides:
- You Must Invest Time Each Week
Having meals prepared for the week is awesome, but it takes a good amount of time and effort to prepare them. In order to have 2-3 meals ready for the week, it is necessary to invest ~ 3 hours to prepare them. Most people choose to do this on their day off. Either way those 3 hours a week will pay back dividends handsomely.
- You Have to Eat The Same Foods
The whole basis of meal prepping is that you buy foods in bulk and prepare them for a specified amount of time. This usually means consuming the same, or very similar foods for multiple days.
However, if you start to view food as a nutrient vehicle meant to fuel your body, then it won’t be a problem.
- Get Ready For A Pile of Dishes
The last downside of meal prepping is the amount of dishes you will have to wash after you are finished. If you have a dish washer, then this may not be a problem for you.
Now let's move on to the fun stuff...
Meal Prep Prerequisites: Containers and Space
First and foremost, before anything else, you must have adequate storage space.
This means containers to put the food into, and refrigerator space to actually store the prepped food.
The best way to store the food is in Glass containers. Snapware is a good brand that we have been using for quite some time. They have containers in various sizes which is great for different meals and snacks.
The Best Meal Prep Containers
Please do not use plastic containers, and please do not microwave your food in plastic!
The second prerequisite is space. You should also have at least one refrigerator shelf available for all of the prepared containers.
You should also plan on making enough freezer space to store any unused items that are perishable.
Meal Prep Basics: The Food Preparation
Okay, so you got your containers and you have enough freezer and fridge space.
Let's get started.
First, we think about the meals we are going to prepare for two consecutive weeks and write down all the ingredients. You could also do this on a weekly basis but it saves us time by decreasing the number of shopping trips we need to do.
1) Buy Ingredients in Bulk
The first thing that you need to do is to buy the food that you are going to prepare. We always buy in bulk, which decreases the amount of times we have to go grocery shopping.
We typically go to Costco, which is our local wholesale grocery store and load up. We get enough food so that we only have to go ~2 times a month.
Make sure that you get a good supply of protein, fats, and carbs. We discuss the importance of each macronutrient in 3 Key Principles of Diet Planning
An example Protein: 2+ pounds of wild caught fish, or 1 large package of green split peas
An example Fat: 1 large package of avocados, or 1 box of raw mixed nuts
An example Carb: a 10-pound bag of sweet potatoes or a 15-pound bag of quinoa
Our Typical Costco Cart
And of course, a large supply of fruits and vegetables.
Freeze whatever you aren’t going to use for that week. This is very important as it decreases the amount of food that goes bad, and decreases the amount of money wasted on uneaten food.
2) Cook Each Macro-Nutrient Individually, but Simultaneously
Once you have determined which foods you are going to be making for the week, it's time to meal prep.
Most stoves come with four burners and two to three oven rack. You need to be strategic and use most of them simultaneously.
To start, chop up your protein (fish, meat, chicken, etc) into small 1-3 oz slices. Over one of the burners, cook the protein using a frying pan. (Only use avocado, olive or coconut oil).
If you are a vegetarian and you are cooking a legume for protein, place the desired quantity into a pot until they are thoroughly cooked with boiling water.
(Also, you can choose to bake your protein inside the oven if you want to avoid fried foods.)
Over another flame, begin cooking your carbohydrate (rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, couscous, etc) in a pot.
Fat is the easiest macronutrient to prepare, as most of them do not need to be cooked.
For example, you can add a few slices of avocado to the finished meal
You can sprinkle a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to each container.
You can have a side of pumpkin seeds after your meal.
Cook everything (stove top and oven) simultaneously to save gas/electricity as well as time).
3) Diversify Your Spices
Another great strategy to increase the deliciousness of your meal prep is to own a lot of spices. Ensure that you have different cultural spices available in your cabinet to give your cuisine a new twist.
Some of our favorites include oregano, paprika, garlic, cilantro, curry powder, cayenne pepper, turmeric, basil, and cinnamon.
This way, you can consume the same protein and carb week to week, but make it taste like a totally different recipe.
4) Chop Fruits and Vegetables into Small Pieces
While the remainder of the foods is cooking, begin to chop the fruits and veggies.
You can immediately put 2 servings of fruits and 2-3 servings of veggies into zip lock bags to freeze to make WCT Power Smoothies for the week.
You can also set some veggies aside to cook a stir fry or leave them raw to simply add to each prepped meal.
5) Prepare Your Storage Space
Have 7 glass containers open and ready to place each meal into for the week.
Once the carb finishes cooking, place a serving into each container
Same with the protein.
Then, add your vegetable.
The fat could be added afterwards or consumed separately as a snack.
Curried shrimp over zucchini zoodles
6) Pack Away Snacks for Portability
Once you are done cooking and preparing the carb/protein/fat, set some time aside to prepare 2-3 daily snacks for the week.
For example, you can prepare
7 ziplock bags with 1/2 cup of mixed nuts
7 ziplock bags with WCT Power Bars
7 ziplock bags with carrots and a small container of almond butter
7 small containers with Greek Yogurt, Hemp Seeds, and Berries
Or in our case, 24 packets.
How to Choose Healthy Meal Prep Ideas
Every week mix and match different Proteins, Fats, Carbs, and Vegetables. The possibilities are endless, especially with all of the spices available to you.
To determine your portion sizes, use the method detailed in How To Stop Counting Calories [1 Unique Thing To Do Instead]
1-2 Cupped Hands of a Carbohydrate
1-2 Palms of a Protein
1-2 Thumbs of a Fat
1 Fist of Vegetables
Here are some of our recent weekly meals.
1) Shrimp with Quinoa and Asparagus sprinkled with Olive Oil
2) Green split peas with Brown Rice and Bell Peppers with a side of Avocado
3) Salmon with Sweet Potatoes and Kale sprinkled with Avocado Oil
Also, mix up the snacks every week.
Although the food that you eat will be similar throughout the week, every meal prep session brings a new journey and a new delicious plate.
Final Words on Weekly Meal Prepping
These are the 6 strategies that we use to meal prep and eat clean week in and week out.
Meal prepping definitely takes preparation and commitment but once you realize the unparalleled benefits of having your own home cooked meals, it becomes second nature.
Trust us, you won't regret it.
So go and get your glass containers, your spices and your ingredients TODAY! Be sure to include these Terrific Superfoods as often as you possibly can.
Start meal prepping, and conquer your diet!
Now we turn it over to you.
Have you ever meal prepped before? Was it successful?
What barriers do you foresee in a weekly meal prep?
Is meal prepping something you can fit into your busy schedule?
Comment below and let us know.
Be sure to check out the third installment of the WCT Time Hack Series, 9 Simple Ways to Shorten Your Workout and Spend Less Time in the Gym . In this post, we go over a few workout shortcuts you can utilize to maximize your time spent at the gym.
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