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Ever feel like you’ve gotten into an unhealthy eating routine and you have every intention of getting out of that rut but don’t know quite where to start? Well, we feel ya! This is particularly common when it comes to the work week because our lives have so many demands and, all too often our health (particularly eating healthy) gets pushed to the “back of the plate”. At work it can be easy to get so wrapped up in what we are doing or striving to meet deadlines that when we finally get a break, we put checking things off of our to-do list at the forefront (such as paying bills or scheduling that doctor’s appointment we have been putting off). We feel we “don’t have time” to eat and then we push on with our work.
Before we know it, it’s 2 p.m. and we haven’t had a single thing to eat today. Your stomach is rumbling so loud it has your coworkers looking out the window for storm clouds! With no meal planned out and growling belly, the most convenient option is to head downstairs to the food court in your office building. Or what’s that? There’s a Panera right next door? Perfect! Until that becomes a habit (sorry Panera!) that leads to us consuming too many calories and spending lots of unnecessary money! Cringe.
Enter the meal prepping solution.
What is meal prepping, you ask? Meal Prepping, quite simply, is preparing some, or all of your meals ahead of time. Meal prepping takes the guess work and stress out of figuring out what you are going to eat each day and allows you to prep a week’s worth of meals in one or two session per week with healthier and unprocessed ingredients.
Like anything else, meal prepping can initially feel daunting because it seems like a lot of work. That being said, once you develop a system and strategies week after week, it will become easy and save you so much time in the long run! We’re going to give you the tips and tricks necessary to get you started and have you well on your way to meal prepping on the reg! Implementing it into your routine will not only help you eat healthier but offers a whole host of other benefits. Let’s dive in to see what those are!
The Benefits of Meal Prepping
- Saves You Money (who doesn’t love that?!
Meal prepping will save you money by being able to buy things in bulk and take advantage of your fridge/freezer. When meal prepping, you can buy larger volumes of food because you are prepping it for the whole week.
- Saves You Time
When you don’t meal prep, each day require you to mentally prepare to cook, search for recipes, go to the store, prep and cook your food and clean up the mess. When you prep, you get it all done at once. Planning ahead allows you to cook things in bulk and freeze for a future meal or make extra of a protein to use in meals throughout the week.
- You Will Eat Healthier
Consuming a nutrient rich, real-food diet is crucial to one’s health health, but it isn’t easy because it requires advance planning. Meal planning lets you decide, before even going grocery shopping, what healthy meals you want to prepare for the week. This allows you to think about it, avoiding impulse buys and helps ensure that you purchase healthy foods while knowing exactly how they will be used. If you stick to your list, this will help in moments of weakness because you can’t eat something that you don’t have on hand!
- Less Food Wasted
With meal planning, you know how all food will be used for each meal prior to ever purchasing it. A weekly meal prep plan will implement leftovers so that food is rarely wasted. If you feel you bought more than you need to use, freeze what you don’t need until next week!
- Less Stress
When you plan ahead, there is less chance for unexpected surprises, plus you still have time to do things like workout, spend time with your family and relax after work that you wouldn’t have otherwise had if you were stressing over what to make. Also, meal prepping for breakfast and lunch lets you eat in a healthy manner (because we all know that breakfast, and sometimes even lunch, gets forgotten about when you are busy at work) at appropriate times without any thought! Having a written plan takes the uncertainty and stress out daily meal decisions and overall.
- You Will Learn Portion Control
When you prep your food in advance, it’s a sure way of knowing exactly what you are consuming. When we don’t meal prep, it’s easy to just make the whole box of pasta and load up your plate, eating until you are full. By paying attention to your food when cooking, you will gain insight into what a true portion of food is and the more accustomed to it you become, the less likely you will be to overeat. We would recommend investing in a kitchen scale such as the Etekcity Digital Kitchen Food Scale for getting portion sizes right. Also, by having to divide and store meals, you are limited on how much you can put into each container.
- Adds Variety
When you don’t plan in advance you are more likely to revisit your go-to meals that are tried and true but also have become a bit monotonous. Meal planning allows you to ensure variety and avoid falling in to the trap of eating the same meal every couple of days. Even if, for example, you use chicken as your protein for one week, you can use different spices, helps or marinades to help change it up from day to day!
First, figure out what you need:
- Invest in some good storage containers that will keep your food fresh and, if needed, allow you to transport the food to work without spills (see our bonus blog post with the best storage container options, their pros/cons and links to purchase).
- Buy a food scale (see above)- this isn’t a necessity but if you are concerned with using the appropriate portion size, this is a strong recommendation
- Consider using a meal planner journal. Sometimes writing things down makes it easier to get your thoughts in order and stick to something. There are a variety of meal planner options.
- Other: Sharp knives, cutting boards or mats, measuring spoons and cups, spices and oils.
- Start looking for recipes specific to meal prepping that appeal to you and create a place where you keep everything together and organized (like using a Pinterest board). This way, everything is in one place and you don’t have to search every week.
Steps Involved in Meal Prepping
- Pick a designated day to meal prep for the week.
Many people choose to meal prep on Sunday or will split it up and prep three days worth on Sunday and the rest of the week on Wednesday. This is up to you to decide what works best for you.
- Plan Your Menu
Decide what you’re going to make and how much you’ll need for the week (or however long you’re prepping for). Some beginner tips:
- If you feel overwhelmed, start small (see our blog post on goal setting to read more on this). Try prepping one specific meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) to begin with. As you start to get the hang of it, add more as you like. If you never have time for lunch, maybe start by meal prepping lunches for the week. If you dread coming home and not knowing what you’re going to do for dinner, may start with dinner. Find what works best for your specific needs and build off of that!
- Choose one major protein for each week, to begin. Then, choose a variety of different vegetables so that you can switch up the accompanying sides each day and things don’t get too repetitive.
- Once you choose a protein, vary it up each day by simply using different spices, herbs and marinades when cooking your protein.
- Create a grocery list (and stick to it!) and go grocery shopping
- Prep for cooking
- Line your pans with foil and begin chopping. If you are using a crock pot, use a liner and turn it on now. Roast veggies first (all together) while other things are cooking on the stove. Save baking for last while everything else is cooking. Over time, you’ll find your own routine that works best for you!
- Divide food into separate food storage containers for every meal
- Put containers in the fridge or freezer
- Pat yourself on the back (Now wasn’t that easy?!)
Other Quick (and Important) Tips
- Be mindful of moisture. If your produce is still wet when you are storing, place a paper towel in the container to remove excess moisture.
- Portion out fruits and vegetables into small baggies or containers and grab and go.
- Place fruit, spinach and protein powder and other ingredients into a storage container ready for blending into a shake.
- If you do want to prepare vegetables fresh at each mean, at least have them washed and chopped and set to make.
- Keep individual hummus, guacamole, peanut butter or ranch snack cups readily available for a fast and easy snacks.
- For breakfast and lunch, keep it simple to start. Try mason jar salads and parfaits, raw veggies with hummus, fresh fruit, nuts, granola or granola bars, premade muffins (freeze), hard boiled eggs, etc.
So tell us, what are some of your favorite foods to make when meal prepping?