When you hear the words ‘meal prep’, do you picture tons of food containers laid out in front of you? Having all of your meals for the upcoming week precisely weighed out and ready to go?
Even though this can be a very effective way to meal prep, there are also different ways to go about meal prepping.
Before you go “Ain’t nobody got time for that”, hear me out.
You can actually SAVE a whole lot of time by prepping (some of) your meals ahead of time. Sure, it takes a bit of planning and time in the short term, but can save you a whole lot more in the long term.
The ROI (return on investment) is HUGE!
In this article we’ll discuss some of my favorite ways to meal prep. These have helped myself and my clients hit our macros consistently, brought structure and clarity to our nutrition, and can be equally beneficial to you.
We’ll first get into how to meal prep the traditional way. Then we’ll talk about one that a lot of our clients like to use, the bulk prep. After that we’ll get into what I like to call the Salad Bar concept. And finally, I’ll throw in some extra time savers for you.
Now let’s get you more consistent and effective with your nutrition, while freeing up some time in that busy daily schedule of yours.
OG meal prep – The traditional way
Whether you prepare all of your daily meals, or just a few of them, is a personal choice. But when it comes to how many days you want to prep for, I’d highly suggest doing so for about 3 days. If you go much longer, things might start to get a little soggy.
For that reason our clients usually prep about twice a week. But if this doesn’t work for your schedule, don’t worry. There’s more coming up!
Figuring out macros
As an example, let’s use a basic whole food meal with the following macro targets: 40g protein, 75g carbohydrate and 20g fat. Today we’ll have chicken and rice with asparagus, some crushed almonds and whatever herbs/spices (which you don’t need to log) we feel like.
I put the food choices into Cronometer and puzzled until I got it ‘close enough’. I started off with 100g of chicken, 100g of rice, 30g of almonds and 8 large spears of asparagus. Then I adjusted the amounts of chicken and rice to meet our targets.
Try this out with whatever meal you come up with, and remember that close enough will do here. If you do end up overshooting certain macros once you’ve planned out a full day of eating, then you can always adjust afterwards.
Turning this into a shopping list
Now that you know exactly how much you need for one meal, you can also figure out how much you’re going to need for multiple meals. Let’s say you’re planning on having this meal for the next 3 days.
To meal prep this meal for 3 meals you’d need:
- 3x80g = 240g of chicken breast
- 3x80g = 240g of white rice
- 3x30g = 90g of almonds
- 3×8 = 24 large spears of asparagus.
- Whatever herbs/spices you feel like.
Now you know exactly what you’re going to need to buy next time you go to the store.
Easy to prep: wraps, taco bowls, chicken/rice, etc.
Meal prepping in bulk
This one’s my personal weapon of choice when it comes to meal prepping. Since I work from home, it’s an easy and convenient way to have a whole bunch of food ready to go without having every individual meal in containers.
A lot of our online nutrition coaching clients like this method as well because this can help them maintain a structure while leaving room for flexibility. More on that in a little bit.
Bulk prepping proteins
Protein seems to be the most difficult macro to hit for most people who are starting out to dial in their nutrition. Bulk prepping your protein sources and having some ready to go in the fridge should make hitting your proteins a lot easier!
I mean, why prepare one portion if you can make a whole bunch more at once? Instead of cooking one portion, fill up a whole oven tray with your protein source of choice (chicken breast/ salmon/ tempeh/ etc).
Although this only covers part of your meal, at least you’ll have the most important macronutrient covered.
Bulk prepping carbs
Same idea, we’re just trying to have a bunch ready to go.
Cooking 10 portions of pasta or rice takes you about the same amount of time as cooking 1 portion. I especially like to do this with sweet potatoes, because it takes like 5 years to bake them.
Load up that oven/air fryer!
To make sure you get your fiber and micronutrients in, because #health, it can be nice to have some fruits and/or veggies already cut up in your fridge.
Anything to save yourself some time AND support your goals, right?
One way to do this could be putting together a big bowl full of whatever veggies and fruits you feel like.
I like to grab a big bowl (with a lid) and fill it up with carrots, then add bell peppers, red cabbage, kale/spinach, maybe some apple, and/or anything else I feel like that week. With that bowl ready to go, there’s really no excuse to not hit my daily fruits/veggies.
Tip: Use a spiralizer for veggies like zucchini or carrots.
The Salad Bar concept
I love the idea of the salad bar, you get to mix and match, and pick whatever you feel like in that moment. Now let’s bring that idea to the kitchen.
This one’s awesome if you want more variety while still maintaining structure. It’s really a combination of bulk prepping proteins and carbs, and throwing in different veggies, fruits and fat sources to change things up.
Since it’s mostly the protein and carb sources that need to be prepared, you’d make those in bulk so you have a good stash to pick from ready to go in the fridge. Then if you want you can pre-cut/portion some veggies and fruits and keep them in separate containers (optional, you can also do this in the moment).
Then whenever you’re about to have a meal, you have multiple foods to pick from. You’re really getting the best of both worlds: structure AND variety.
As an example, let’s pick 2 sources of each protein, carbs, fats, veggies, and fruits.
Protein: salmon, chicken breast.
Carbs: rice, sweet potato.
Fats: cashews, extra virgin olive oil.
Veggies: zucchini, red bell pepper.
Fruits: apple, blueberries.
Just between those few foods, you can come up with tons of different variations.
Maybe one day you’ll go for chicken, sweet potato, extra virgin olive oil & zucchini and the next you change up the protein source to salmon and leave out the olive oil.
Then for another meal you pick chicken, rice, cashews, bell peppers and some berries on the side, the next day you simply swap the cashews for extra virgin olive oil.
Here are a few bonus methods that cost VERY little time that are especially useful if you’re busy.
Preparing your breakfast in the evening
This could be a great start of your evening routine. That way you’ll save some time in the morning, and it might even help you wind down before bedtime since you’ll have an excuse to not be on your phone. Overnight oats are great for this!
Just making some more
Even without having to plan for a bulk prep, you can always choose to just make more of what you were already going to cook. I rarely cook one portion of whatever proteins we’re having for the evening, however much fits in the pan gets cooked!
Throw some on-the-go options in your bag
This one’s great if you’re busy, traveling, or if there’s often a lot of time in between meals. Have a banana and some protein powder ready in your sports bag for after training. Or if you’re looking for easy stuff to bring on a roadtrip/work day think canned tuna, beef jerky, rice cakes, apple, nuts, protein bar, etc.
Meal prep – How to save time and save time
I hope this’ll help you bring some structure into your week. May it help you hit your macros, keep food quality in check and most importantly, free up time in your busy schedule!
For inspiration on WHAT to eat, feel free to check out ‘What is healthy food?’ or ‘Free Meal Plans’.