Every time I hear the words “meal prep”, I picture a gym hard-o lugging a gallon of water and 80 containers of Tupperware, looking super swole and going, “Fail to plan, PLAN TO FAIL, BRO!”
...that’s a normal reaction to those words, right? Maybe? Probably not.
Anyway, despite that made-up mental image, “meal prep” is a very real, very essential aspect to any fitness goal-digger’s life-- and something many people struggle with.
I go through the importance of meal prepping with all of my clients quite often. Not only is it key for helping them achieve the health and fitness goals we’ve planned out (think about it, having meals prepared means you are in control of what you eat, how much you eat, and how often you eat), but it is also a huge time (and money) saver during the busy weeks (!!) ....if done correctly.
So, how can you get all the benefits of meal prepping WITHOUT sacrificing one of your entire weekend days? Here are some of my top tips often handed out to my trainees…
Muscle By Maria Top 8 Tips
1. Cook protein and vegetables in bulk!
Cooking food in large batches saves you time while also yielding quite the weekly bounty! Some of my favorite ways to do this are in the oven and with a Crock Pot.
In regards to the oven, every week mine is packed with some combination of meats and veggies (chicken, pork, tilapia, broccoli, diced sweet potatoes, squash, asparagus…). I have found it easiest to line some trays with foil, lay a bunch of chicken (my go-to) on one and veggies on the others. Place them both in the oven at 350, and proceed on with whatever else I have to do around the house that day- checking back every so often. Once everything is cooked/roasted to my liking, I take it out and now I have meat and vegetables ready to throw directly into Tupperware for lunches, veggies to store and use as salad toppers, and protein to refrigerate and be thrown into whatever salad, soup, or meal I want later in the week!
With the Crock Pot, I like to use it to prepare and slow roast (then shred) large amounts of meats like chicken or pork. Again, this can either then be refrigerated in a big storage container for quick protein fixes throughout the week, or divvied up amongst multiple containers for weekly lunches! Another way I use the Crock Pot is for soup (such as my favorite black bean soup). One big pot of soup stocks me up on lunches and/or dinners throughout the week, and the great thing about soup is that you can portion it out and freeze any leftovers for the future!
2. Go for raw or no-bake snacks!
Almonds, fresh veggies, individual Greek yogurt packs, overnight oats, fresh fruit, rice cakes and PB-- the list goes on and on! Perfect for quick snacks during the day, and for the most part, the only prep you have to do here is putting things into ziplock baggies.
3. Buy pre-washed and pre-cut lettuce/veggies!
If you’re going fresh, and are limited on the time you have to prep, it may be worth the few extra bucks to go for the pre-washed bags of lettuce and pre-cut containers of veggies in the produce aisle. This way, all you have to do is bag the pre-cut vegetables or throw it all into containers for big salads! This will certainly shave some time off of your meal-prep routine.
4. Buy frozen veggies!
If you’re planning on steaming/cooking/roasting them anyway, go for the frozen version instead of fresh. Not only will this save you some money, but there are some that argue frozen is actually better than fresh nutrient-wise since they’re being frozen at the peak of freshness. While I’m not so sure the nutrient difference is really anything worth caring about, I do think convenience is worth it! With frozen veggies, all you have to do is pop them in the microwave and let them steam in there while you handle other things! A few minutes later, badda-bing, badda-boom, steamed veggies ready to go!
5. Cook starches and snacks in bulk!
Similarly to the strategy of multitasking in an oven to cook meats and vegetables in bulk, you can use a stove top to multitask and cook big batches of starches and snacks! Utilize those multiple burners by cooking large amounts of rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, or whatever other starch you want to eat (either hot or cold) throughout the week.
Another favorite of mine is getting a big pot out to boil a dozen eggs. Now you have hard-boiled eggs to either snack on (great, quick hit of protein right there!), top salads with, or make healthy egg salad or healthy deviled eggs with all week long.
6. Double up on your dinner!
When you’re making dinner, plan to make more than whatever the recipe calls for or you were planning for. This way, you can have the leftovers the next day or the next few days! Diving back into those during busy nights/days is one of my favorite ways to save time.
I don’t know why they got such a bad rap when we were kids, grown-up Maria quickly realized that leftovers ROCK.
7. Invest in the right containers!
Make sure what you’re prepping your food in is microwave safe and reusable! As well, varying sizes come in handy for achieving the right portions (for example, a small snack could use a smaller container than a big, full meal).
I also recommend hopping on the “mason jar” trend! People aren’t just using them because they’re cute and hip-- they are microwavable, dishwasher safe, and air-tight meaning any smoothies, shakes, or soups won’t spill all over your bag! They also keep veggies fresh longer, making them ideal for salads.
Investing in a big box of ziplock baggies isn’t a bad idea either-- perfect for dry snacks and they take up much less room!
8. Don’t be afraid to go bland!
You can only have so many days of the same flavor, so when cooking in bulk, don’t worry about seasoning anything, because by the 3rd day of having lemon-pepper tilapia or bbq chicken, you’ll be awfully sick of it.
Instead, cook everything bland or with very simple seasonings like salt/pepper/garlic powder-- nothing too overpowering but enough to give things a little flavor. Then, go spice crazy on a meal-to-meal basis as you package things up. My go-tos are powdered seasonings (Mrs. Dash has a bunch of good flavors) and low-cal dressings or sauces.
Ditch the notion that meal prepping has to be this long, overwhelming process. There is a time and a place for ultra-detailed, super time-consuming meals, but that is NOT during the busy work week-- so “keep it simple, stupid”...
...use these 8 tips to stick to your health and fitness goals and make your meal prep as simple and painless as possible! Not every one of your meals needs to be "Pinterest-worthy" ;)
It is 100% cliche, but 100% true:
Fail to plan, plan to fail.