Tips and Tricks for Successful and Effective Meal Prepping
Summer can be a time where eating mindfully takes a back seat to overindulgence with vacations, holidays and celebrations in your calendar. You’ve probably considered preplanning meals to help keep your health goals on track but maybe the idea of actually doing it is intimidating. Luckily, we have rounded up some super helpful directions to help you get on your way! As always, please make sure you talk to your doctor before you embark on any kind of weight loss journey to make sure your body is ready for changes in your diet, especially if you have diabetes or are taking medication.
One of the first steps to take in your meal prep journey is to figure out your daily nutritional needs. Some people prefer meeting with a nutritionist or registered dietician but others can also figure out a ballpark range of macronutrients on their own using several different online resources. Using a calculator like this one to figure out your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, you can figure out approximately how many calories your body burns in a day. When you combine your BMR with the calories you burn in a day through exercise you figure out your TDEE or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. Those figures are what you could consider your ‘daily maintenance’ needs. If you eat below this amount, you will lose weight, if you eat above, you will gain.
Once you’ve figured out your macros, the rest of the work will come from choosing and preparing the actual foods that will fit within your daily allowance. A good resource to keep track of your daily intake of calories through various foods is My Fitness Pal! You can also use this app to measure the amount of food you should incorporate into each meal to help keep yourself on track.
So, what’s the next step? Figure out whether your goal is to work on portion control or simply having prepared food ready at a moment’s notice. If you are seeking to create portion controlled meals, look into buying Tupperware in bulk that is ideal for meal planning. Sometimes you can find a good deal at big box stores, as well as on the internet. They should be machine washable and reusable to prevent creating excess waste. Another useful item to have in your kitchen is a slow cooker! They are great for making hearty stews with vegetables and other kinds of foods that are great for batch cooking. Here are some other helpful utensils and materials that you may want to have on hand:
• Reusable food containers or Tupperware (just pop them in the dishwasher)
• Muffin tins (great for portion control)
• Slow cooker (set it and forget it, have a meal waiting for you when you get home)
• Rice cooker (rice is a great side to have on hand for many meals)
• Food steamer (steam any vegetables or seafood in no time)
• Griddle or Foreman grill (great for proteins and vegetables, too)
• Lunchbox (bring your meals to work or school, or wherever!)
• Ziplock snack bags in different sizes (these are great for freezing, too!)
• Foil and plastic wrap (great for cooking and for storage)
• Sharpies or dry erase markers (label your bags with dates)
Batch cooking is the best strategy for preparing food in advance. Why cook every single day when you can cook everything at once and take the next couple of days off? The secret to keeping batch cooking fresh is your freezer! Foods that freeze best are: rice, meatballs, oatmeal, sauces, soups, bread, quinoa, fruits, beans, casseroles, lasagna, chili, muffins and so much more. Here is a handy chart that helps you determine how long certain foods can be frozen according to the FDA and Food Safety officials. Also, remember when defrosting foods to never leave things out in a warm room, or even room temperature. The safest way to defrost is going from freezer to refrigerator or submerging it in cold water.
Another quick trick to make portioning your foods out easier is to use muffin tins! They will help you stick to small portions that can be quickly reheated and stored as part of a meal or snacks. They are also great for making small egg muffins that are perfect for breakfast on the go. Prepare eggs as you would for a scramble and pour it into the muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350F until the eggs are cooked. Let them cool for about 10 minutes before removing and now you have delicious egg muffins whenever you want them!
Now that we’ve equipped you with a number of helpful links to get you started, the only thing left to do is to pick your favorite recipes and get cooking! Some of the first basic steps to take once you are home from the store are to wash all fruits and vegetables, cut them up and place them in storage for the freezer or refrigerator. Next, prepare your proteins by baking or roasting your chicken or meat, cut up the pieces for each container and place them in cold storage for the week to come. Usually, proteins last up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Lastly, prepare all pasta and rice, which will last in the fridge for about 3-5 days. Freeze anything extra and you will be able to use them for the following days.
If you don’t have any particular weight or health goals in mind, you could still benefit from meal prepping for other reasons. Some people are looking to cut down on how often they eat fast food or out at restaurants. By having food prepared and ready to go at home, it could help curb the urge to take a trip to the drive through. Not only is eating home-prepared food healthier, it’s also much cheaper than constantly eating out! Preparing meals ahead of time and buying fresh foods is much more efficient and economical than spending money on meals every day. Your wallet could be getting fatter while your waistline slims down all due to incorporating meal prep into your life. Meal prepping can help you as an individual but also your entire family!