January 9, 2015
Meal Prepping—The Key to Keeping Your Diet Goals
By William Imbo
January 13, 2015
It’s a new year, and many a CrossFitter will have resolved to reform their diet and eat more cleanly in a bid to better their health and achieve their fitness goals. So, naturally, they will do their research and look at some of the dietary plans available to them—which can be hard when you consider the myriad of options that are prevalent in the worlds of health and fitness. But regardless of your diet goals or indeed the diet you choose in 2015 (be it zone, paleo, etc.), it’s important that you employ the right methods to give you the best chance of achieving them. One such method that has proven to be very effective is meal prepping.
Meal prepping is exactly what it sounds like: You buy food for a set period of time—a few days, a week, or even a month—cook and prepare the food in advance of the coming days/weeks, store them in the fridge or freezer and voila! Your week’s meals are all ready to go.
What are the benefits of meal prepping?
If you never take time, how can you ever have it? By carving out a couple of hours on a Sunday to batch cook your meals for the following five days, you can be sure to save yourself a ton of grief and time when you come home from work or the box and find your meal for the evening waiting for you in the fridge. All you need do is pop it in the microwave/oven and you’re good to go. The last thing people want to think about when they’re on their way home from a long day at work is having to make dinner. But when your meal is already prepped, it’s just one less thing to worry about, and also dissuades you from taking the easy way out….
Dissuades you from eating crap
As I mentioned, when people are tired and hungry the thought of preparing and consuming a paleo/zone friendly meal becomes less and less appealing, whereas that pizza only takes 10 minutes to heat up in the oven and requires no work whatsoever. Oh yeah, those carbs and cheese are starting to look real tasty. Of course, I won’t pretend that I don’t allow myself a cheat meal now and again—where’s the fun in eating healthy ALL the time? The problem is when the temptation of bad food becomes more convenient than the time it takes to prepare a healthy one. But if that healthy meal is already staring back at you when you open the fridge, time isn’t a factor anymore, and that pizza can wait another week.
The first time you buy in bulk, that monster receipt is going to make you do a double-take, so you better be prepared to shell out a lot of dough. Such is the cost of eating healthy, but if you know where (and how) to shop for groceries, you can actually save more money than if you just bought food on a day-to-day basis. Often times big-chain stores like Costco will have some killer deals on food options (even organic food) that you can take advantage of if you buy in bulk. On top of that, buying for the week means you’ll be less likely to spend any extra on particular cravings you have from meal to meal—like that pizza we discussed earlier.
When you prepare your bulk list for grocery shopping, you can sit down and make sure that you get all the vegetables, proteins, minerals and fats that you know you’ll want to eat during the course of the week. You can read it over and make sure that you’ll be buying different food options to allow for enough variety so that the process of meal prepping doesn’t mean you’ll be eating the same things for lunch and dinner two days in a row—which can happen if you buy and cook on a daily basis.
Some tips for meal prepping
Just as you need to carve out a few hours to cook and prepare your meals, you need to devote 10-15 minutes to formulate a solid food list for the length of time you’re planning to prepare for before you get to the store. In addition, you should write down some substitute food options in case they’re out of stock, for whatever reason. As I mentioned above, you’ll want to ensure that your list is varied enough so that you don’t get bored with the meals that you’re making, yet still fits the bill when it comes to following your respective dietary plan. That way you can ensure that you’re getting exactly what you want, saving you stress and time yet again.
Invest in good quality tupperware
You’re going to be making a lot of food, so it stands to reason that you’re going to need a lot of containers to keep all those delicious meals tucked away in the fridge and freezer. Moreover, you’ll likely be bring a container or two with you when you go to work, and the last thing you want is for the lid to fall off in your bag and the food to spill out everywhere. Glass containers are great for keeping food tight and sealed, but aren’t so great for transportation. You’ll need to find a happy medium based on your daily schedule, but don’t shy away from spending a few extra dollars to keep your meals secure.
Carve out a couple of hours on a day of your choice to meal prep
This is where the hard work comes in. Set aside a few hours on one (perhaps two) particular day to get cooking. You shouldn’t have any other immediate plans than spending a good amount of time in the kitchen, boiling, baking frying and chopping away to your heart’s content. Many people might enjoy this, but it can be torture for others—you’ll just have to keep the big picture in mind. With that being said, don’t think that you have to cook absolutely everything in one go. You can prep vegetables and season your meats and leave them in the fridge to be cooked at a later date—that should help to take the load off a little bit!
Prep snacks too
CrossFit has a funny way of spiking your metabolism through the roof, which means that you’re going to be a lot hungrier between meals. These are the make or break hours when the convenience of a cookie or a bag of chips are incredibly tempting. Therefore, it’s just as important to prepare your snacks for the days ahead as it is your meals. Have your fruit, nuts, shakes and leftovers in high quantity and readily available so when the hunger creeps up—and it will—you’ll be reaching for the right option to satisfy your cravings.
Keep it simple and start slow
If you’re new to meal prepping, don’t think that there’s one right way to do it. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error but it’s all about finding and developing a method that works for you. So don’t start off by trying to prep your meals for an entire week. Instead, work with manageable chunks—one to two days at first. Then move on to three to four, then five, and so on. And as you’re progressing, you can get a little more creative with your menu, but start with simple meals. You’re not entertaining guests when you bust out the tupperware, you’re eating to achieve your diet goals. Some bacon, avocado and grilled chicken with some balsamic vinegar. Doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. Be patient with the process yet remain consistent. Eventually, the process of meal prepping—making a list, doing your shopping and preparing the food—will start to become habitual, and that’s when you know you’re on a roll, and the results will invariably follow.
Photo courtesy of Tracy Benjamin/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0