Meal prep…people either love or hate it.
Meal prepping is the act of preparing ones meals ahead of time. There’s a number of ways to do this, but most often seen as pre-portioning into containers into proportions. YOu’ve likely seen pictures of fitness people or people following a nutrition plan of their fridge stocked head to toe with plastic containers filled with broccoli, chicken, and rice.
Now, meal prepping provides a number of benefits…
Helps with a busy lifestyle
Saves money and time
Prevents going off-plan
Prevents stress-eating after a long, rough day
Ensures consistency and keeps you adherent in a diet
Makes macro-counting fairly simple
This is why people love it. Meal prepping is one of the guaranteed ways to seeing results because of its ability to keep people on track.
That being said, meal prepping can be incredibly boring. It can create a lack of motivation and drive, which is just a recipe for disaster when it comes to your diet. When you’re not motivated to eat and when you’re bored of eating the same thing, you tend to go a bit more off-track and struggle to see the results you want to see. It’s also really hard, not to mention completely unrealistic, if you have a spouse/partner or a family to always eat out of these plastic containers and often is met with a lot of resistance by those friends/family members.
This is actually one of the biggest complaints around a nutrition plan. Most of the time in my intake forms for new incoming clients, their non-negotiables is not having to meal prep. Most people want to be excited when it comes to food and eating, not just another chore…something that meal prep often feels like.
Unfortunately, as I previously mentioned, though, meal prep is one of the guaranteed ways of seeing results…
So what are you to do? Suck it up and deal? Live out of plastic containers? Eat separate meals from your family members?
If you know me or have followed me at all, you hopefully can imagine my smirk and eye roll as I say these things because the obvious answer is no!
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be boring! It’s just the pre-conceived notion that all forms of meal prepping involve boring foods in plastic containers that you eat day in, day out. Now for some people, this works. If it works for you, then don’t change it (although maybe skip to #4 to get in some more variety).
For those, however, that just can’t find themselves to stick to daily microwavable broccoli, chicken and rice, fear meal prep no more.
Below are 5 ways to finally make meal prep fun again…so that you can stay consistent on a good sustainable and effective nutrition plan, but also still enjoy the food you’re putting in your mouth!
1. Prep in bulk
Make your food in bulk. Prepare 1-2 large batches of protein (chicken, ground turkey, beef, pork, etc.) and 1-2 large batches of carbs (rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc.). You have the option to prepare a large batch or two of veggies, but this completely depends on you. Some don’t like microwaved veggies. If this is you, simply keep frozen veggies on stock to microwave and prepare daily (4-6 minutes) or prepare the veggies every step of the way besides cooking (peeled, cut, etc.), so that all you have to do is throw them on the stove and get to cookin’. If you do like veggies microwaved, prepare 1-2 batches ahead of time.
Why do this? Because you can create different meals/day based on your mood. One day you could prep a lunch of ground turkey, rice, and kale, and the following day do turkey, roasted potatoes, and a side salad. One day you could have chicken for lunch instead of turkey, but it all takes the same amount of time because it’s prepped in bulk. You just have to compile the meals how you want. This also lets you feel like you’re still “cooking”, but it’s still saving you a bit of time and still preventing the thought of “Oh, nothing is prepared at home and I’ve had a long day, let’s just go get BBQ.”
2. Change how you prepare your food
Don’t always cook your food the exact same way. One week, roast your veggies. The next, steam or blanch them. The following week, you cook on a stovetop. Switch between shredded, grilled, or ground chicken or beef, for example. Switch between roasted potatoes, julienned potatoes, and mashed potatoes. Change up the seasonings and flavor profiles so that you’re eating the same stuff, quality-wise but varying the taste and texture tricking your brain into thinking you’re keeping things different and interesting, but really it’s all the same.
3. Pick one fun meal/day
If you prep every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’re doing to get burnt out quick, especially if you’re not a fan of meal prepping. Keep one meal per day that’s going to be fun and prepared. For most people, including myself, this is my dinner. This is where I have a bit more fun to cook steak or salmon and vary up how I’m preparing things and including foods that don’t save well and therefore can’t really “meal prep”. Keeping just one meal in a day that you look forward to and have a bit of freedom lets you compromise with keeping the other meals simpler and more prepared ahead of time. Generally everyone eats the similar thing for breakfast. Most people eat lunch on the go at work, and [should] be bringing it with them to work, so this is another meal that’s easy to be prepared ahead of time. This just leaves dinner. You may be bored with meal prep if all meals are always prepared, but I find that everyone can tolerate and actually enjoy meal prep if they just include even one meal that isn’t prepared.
This is also the step that you need to take if you have a family or eat with other people…as most others aren’t interested in “dinner served” being a plastic container of chicken rice and broccoli being sat down in front of them.
4. Vary weekly or biweekly
This is the step that everyone needs to take, regardless of whether you love or hate meal prep. We call this the “2-rule”. Pick 2 proteins, veggies, and carbs weekly to prepare ahead of time that will be the base for your meals. Depending on how long these foods last you, the next time you go to the store, choose 2 different proteins, veggies, and carbs to prepare that week. This ensures a couple of things. It ensures that you’re not getting stuck in a routine and eating the same things over and over again. It keeps you interested in food because it’s still changing things up. Lastly, it ensures you’re getting in the necessary variety in your diet to get in a full and complete micronutrient profile, keeping you as healthy as possible!
Whether you vary weekly or biweekly depends simply on how quickly you go through these foods. People cooking for more than themselves, or eating a lot of food like yours truly, can go through these foods pretty quickly and tends to grocery shop weekly. Others can stretch it out a bit further or buys more in bulk and freezes foods not needed immediately. For those, alternating foods every other week works just as fine.
5. Periodize your diet
This is yet again another reason why your nutrition needs to be periodized. Planned periods of cutting, gaining, and maintaining brings in different degrees of meal prepping and preparedness. The deeper you are into a cut, the more you’re going to want to deviate from the plan. The more those cravings are going to tell you to forget about abs, go for the donuts. During these times, you’re going to want to meal prep a bit more strictly to ensure you’re staying adherent even when your mind doesn’t want you to. The more prepared you are, via meal prepping, the more successful you will be. This, however, is only when you’re deep in a cut, which should only be about 4-6 weeks. If you have planned periods of maintenance and even gaining, you have way more freedom with your diet to not meal prep. Calories are up because your intake is up. This lowers cravings and binges considerably, so your preparedness isn’t as crucial. During these periods in your diet, you can relax a bit and not meal prep as strictly. This makes those 4-6 weeks completely doable because it isn’t constant year-round.
I’ll end with a secret. I hate meal prep. Yes, you read that. I’m a nutrition coach, who likely just like you, can’t bring herself to eat the same things every single day. I love veggies, but not when it’s day 4 of steamable microwavable broccoli. I need some variety and some love when it comes to my food.
But I also see results in my diet because I do these 5 things, and it works. I have finally found that middle ground that keeps me engaged and interested but also consistent year long, and I know it will for you too!
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.