I was having a conversation with my clients Carmela and Cris about the importance of meal prep. “As the saying goes,” I told them, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!”
With a witty smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, Cris replied, “True! Do you know what’s my favorite thing to make for dinner? Reservations!” Both Carmela and I got a great laugh out of Cris’s quip. But truth be told, the mere mention of “meal prep” scares some people to death.
WHY MEAL PREP?
Some of the repeated concerns I’ve heard in regards to preparing meals for the week are, “I don’t know how to cook!” Or, “I don’t have time!” And“It’s too expensive!” These are all legitimate concerns and perhaps, they are keeping you from making the attempt to mass prep your meals.
Why Meal Prep? There are many practical reasons one should begin cooking and packing her own foods. Marlana Anderson is a Vlogger who shares some of her meal prep secrets on her YouTube site, “Blame Marlana.” She told me that the reason she began preparing her own meals was to simply save money. “I noticed a lot of my bank account was going towards lunch, so I started cooking a large amount of food, and bringing leftovers to eat for lunch.” The benefit she got from making this change was two-fold. Her bank account increased in size, while her waistline decreased in size.
Cara Vargas is a construction manager and engineering technician. She made the decision to begin prepping her meals because of time management. Cara explained that cooking every evening after her workouts just wasn’t making sense. Even with her food thawed and “ready to go,” Cara told me that it would still take her 30-40 minutes to get dinner cooked. Then she still had to pack her lunch for the next day. When she added in the time it took her to clean up, she was logging an hour or more in the kitchen! “That [was] seven hours of my life every week that I [could have been] spending in the gym or relaxing,” she noted. Now, she power cooks on Sunday and spends a grand total of 2 hours in the kitchen.
HOW TO EFFICIENTLY PREP
The idea of mass preparing food can be daunting. Yet, Marlana and Cara assure me that just after a few rounds, the art of meal prep can be mastered. First, you will need the right tools. For the actual cooking of food, a Crock Pot, Nu Wave Oven, counter top grill, rice cooker, steamer bags, and microwave all come in handy. Not only do they help speed the cooking process, they allow you to cook a variety of foods at the same time. The Crock Pot, in particular, seems to be the cooking device of choice for many seasoned meal preppers. The reason for this is that you can put an entire meal into it before you head off to work and it’s ready to eat by the time you get home. Cara, for example, will take 6-8 large chicken breasts and place them in the Crock Pot with some broth and seasonings of her choice.
Another favorite of hers is to lightly coat the chicken in sugar free BBQ sauce with a touch of chili powder. Either way, she gets home and has “mass quantities of easy to eat chicken breast that can be served hot or cold.” Marlana also recommends cooking all the foods that take the longest first. Get these foods started (rice and potatoes for example) so you can “set and forget” them as you prepare your protein sources. “The key to less time is timing,” she explains. “So start with what takes the longest and work your way backwards.” This ensures that your foods are completed at the same time. This makes them ready to pack into your meal containers.
To save clean up time, aluminum baking tins and Reynold’s Wrap are going to be two of your best friends. The baking tin can be recycled once you’re finished with it. The aluminum foil can be used to line your regular baking pans. Once you’re done cooking, you remove the foil and reveal a still clean pan. Cara suggested an even better idea.
She lines the baking tin with aluminum foil to keep it clean. Then she also uses it to separate the pan into 2 or 3 sections forming a “little hill” with the foil. By doing so, she can place her proteins in the sections and spice them all differently so she will have a variety of flavors throughout the week. Pretty brilliant!
COST-EFFECTIVE FOOD PREP
Marlana suggests buying your food at wholesale stores that sell items in bulk. Often, these stores will sell fresh produce and protein sources, as well as family sized frozen vegetables and fruits. She also points out that wholesale stores often sell reusable, and microwaveable, containers.
Buying in bulk can often save you both time and money. In larger quantities, many goods cost a fraction of what they normally cost at your local grocery store. Many of these wholesale stores have a membership fee, but they almost always pay for themselves in what you save in the long run. Worth it? Yes!
HAVE A PLAN
Another huge piece of advice: make a shopping list – and stick to it! First, peruse a cookbook that contains healthy recipes you may like to try. For example, I give all my clients Certified Nutritionist Keith Klein’s cookbook The Healthy Chef. Its filled with amazing recipes, and great cooking tips about how to buy and prepare foods. Once you’ve picked one or two recipes you’d like to try, make a list of the items you will need to prepare the meal.
Before making your shopping list, take note of what you already have. This way you don’t over-purchase perishables or needlessly spend money on a spice you already have two bottles of. Once you’ve properly itemized the foods and spices you will need, be sure to buy those items and those items only. Otherwise, you run the risk of unnecessary spending. As Marlana pointed out to me, there were many times she went to the grocery store and “picked up a few extra things here and there. Next thing I know, my grocery bill is 40-50 dollars more because of the ‘few extra things.”
I used to think bulk food prep was a task I could never take on. It sounded too complex and frankly, it sounded like it took too much time. I work, I write, I study, I’m a wife, I’m a mother… and you wanted me to fit in cooking when? Once I found my own “groove,” meal prep became quick, easy, and most importantly, worth it!
Come home from work wiped out? No problem! Lunch is sitting in the fridge portioned out and ready to eat! Too tired to cook breakfast in the morning? Not an issue! Protein muffins ready to go! If you are trying to stay regimented and achieve your fitness goals, I can’t encourage you enough to give meal prep a try. I assure you, just like your gym routine, meal prep will become a natural part of your healthy lifestyle.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.