‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ - Benjamin Franklin
You can start with the best intentions to exercise and get fit, but if your diet isn’t supporting an active lifestyle, it’s almost certain that you’ll lose sight of your fitness goals and fall into old habits.
It’s important to remember that working out and staying active is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle and that the food we eat has a more profound impact on our health and wellbeing than anything else. Everyone has different goals, but a well-planned and prepared diet is the key that will unlock the door to success in everybody’s fitness journey.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of ‘meal prep,’ it is the simple life hack of preparing multiple meals in advance, so that spending time cooking and thinking about what to eat doesn’t interfere with your busy schedule.
By prepping your meals, you are essentially making sure you always have a meal ready, meaning you won’t get hungry and make the poor food choices that compromise your goals. Have you ever been exhausted, starving and on a tunnel-visioned mission to find the quickest and easiest meal, only to end up bingeing on takeaway or processed junk food, in spite of your allegiance to a healthy lifestyle? Yes, all of us have been there…
Fortunately, meal prep can be easy once you get the hang of it, and mastering this life hack can transform your health and fitness, your time management and your ability to be more productive in other aspects of your life. Here are eight ways to meal prep like a boss!
1. Have a plan
First things first - you need to make a clear plan of what you’re going to eat in the week. This will not only help you stay on top of your nutrition goals, but it will also eliminate the excuse for unhealthy choices.
On a weekly calendar, make a note of what you want for each meal of the day, what you want to eat after your workouts, as well as the healthy snacks you’d like to munch on throughout the day. You also need to decide whether you want to take a ‘mix and match’ approach to meal prep - where you cook big batches of proteins, starches and vegetables, and store them separately to create simple Buddha bowl style meals, or whether you’ll be preparing and storing complete meals.
If you are going to prepare complete meals and portion them out, make sure you decide on your recipes in advance of shopping. To reduce costs and avoid waste, look for recipes that use similar ingredients, as well as considering which recipes need to be eaten within a day or two (like salads) and which ones can survive in the fridge or freezer throughout the week.
Another important part of a great meal prep plan, especially for those with specific fitness goals, is to know your numbers. Work out how many meals you need, what your daily or weekly caloric target is, as well as your ideal macro-nutrient breakdown.
2. Make time to save time
For many people, time is one of the biggest obstacles to success on their health and fitness journey. To save yourself time and brain power throughout the week, you need to dedicate at least a couple of hours on your meal prep day.
Meal prep pros usually like to block out a few hours on a Sunday afternoon to get their meal prep done after buying their fresh produce at the farmers market earlier in the day, but pick the day and time that best suits your schedule.
Just as you might have specific times and days that you have reserved for going to the gym, attending a class, or catching up with your bestie, meal prep is much easier to commit to when you give it the importance of its own special time slot in your week.
3. Eat plant-based
There are many reasons to eat more plants and avoid animal products in your diet, but when it comes to meal prep, plant foods are the logical choice for four simple reasons. First and foremost, eating plant foods is much healthier - and eating more healthily is the whole point of meal prep.
The second reason is that plant foods keep longer than animal products, which means you won’t have to worry about your meat going bad and making you sick by the end of the week. Eating plants instead of animal products also means you’ll be saving money and reducing your preparation and cooking time.
4. Keep it simple
Focus on eating a few, healthy staples each week, and avoid complex and overly fancy foods. Rather than thinking about the various potential dishes you could create, try simplifying your food purchases based on their main macronutrient.
You need protein, carbs and fats - so make a list of the healthy whole foods which fit under each of these categories, then pick which ones you’d like to eat that week. It’s quite a different way to think about food shopping, but thinking about food in terms of the nourishment it provides tends to be a much healthier approach.
Do not worry though, because eating simply does not necessarily mean boring if you’re clever about it. For example, you could bake a whole tray of sweet potatoes, but divide them up and use 3 or 4 different seasonings for different flavours throughout the week.
5. ALWAYS have frozen, ripe bananas
Smoothies and smoothie bowls for breakfast (and even lunch) are a wonderful addition to any time-saving, health-conscious and well-prepared meal plan.
However, without ripe, frozen bananas - smoothies just aren’t the same. As the availability of ready-to-freeze bananas tends to vary quite dramatically, it’s always a good idea to avoid disappointment and devastation and stock up on the spotty ones whenever you see them - especially since they are usually much cheaper as well!
For the most amazing smoothie bowls every day - peal spotty, ripe bananas and quarter them, so you know that four pieces = 1 banana, and store them in a single layer in the freezer. Just blend them with other ingredients to create that incredible, soft serve texture that makes breakfast seem more like dessert.
Frozen, ripe bananas can also be used for making your oatmeal decadently sweet and creamy, without adding any sugar, or other hindrances to your health and fitness goals.
6. Stock up on jars and containers
Head to your nearest op shop and stock up on meal-sized containers and jars for storing all your meals for the week.
When you’re a meal prep goddess, your fridge will be full of neatly stacked Tupperware containers and colourful, pre-assembled jars of salad and berry oatmeal.
In case you’ve ever wondered - the secret to assembling a jar of salad that stays fresh throughout the week is to put the dressing down the bottom and the leafy greens or grains at the top, with everything else in the middle.
Unlike a number of oily, store-bought versions - homemade hummus is very healthy. Not only is it great for dipping chopped veggies at snack time, but it’s also a delicious condiment for baked or steamed veggies.
It’s straightforward and cheap to make if you have a food processor - all you need is a few cans of chickpeas, tahini, sea salt, pepper and some lemon. On your meal prep day, make a big batch to store in the fridge to use any way you like throughout the week.
8. Make it a social event
One of the best ways to stick to a new healthy habit is to make it social. If you’re keen to use meal prep to reach your health and fitness goals, along with reducing waste, saving time and spending less money, then it's a great idea to get your friend or partner to join you on your journey.
Instead of spending your meal prep day alone in the kitchen, invite someone to join you in shopping for ingredients and enjoy doing your meal prep together. You might even be able to work out a way to share costs, as well as sharing cooking tasks to save time in the kitchen.
In the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘if you are failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ This couldn’t be more true when it comes to healthy eating.
With our busy lives and endless sources of unhealthy temptation, luring us in when we are hungry and vulnerable, the only way to come out on top is to be prepared. These 8 tips should help provide you with a solid foundation to mastering your own, unique meal prep ritual.