Last week, I shared with all of you how eating gluten free can be healthy and affordable. In the post, I referenced how much planning and preparing your meals in advance plays a factor in all of this. By taking the initiative to plan my weekly food schedule, I can not only eat a delicious and celiac-safe meal, but I also am saving some serious green.
Since I’ve compelled you to begin prepping your own meals, (or at least encouraged you to give it a go) I decided to round up some of my favorite tips and tricks to help make your meal planning strategy a reality. Throughout the post, I also debunk several myths and misconceptions about meal prepping with the intention of putting you at ease. I swear. It’s not as hard as it looks. Trust me on this.
Make It Work For You
We’ve all been there. You are scrolling through Instagram, and you see these super strong, bodybuilder-esque fitness models with their Tupperware. Their perfectly proportioned meals look just as polished and refined as their twelve-pack set of abs.
In their posts, they refer to meal prepping as a labor of love that takes time. They spend hours and hours on end prepping breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for all seven days each week in one sitting. Some, dare I say it, even prep two to four weeks in advance and freeze meals for future consumption. Crazy, I know.
While this isn’t necessarily false, it certainly isn’t true. It is important to know that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to meal prepping. Some prep seven different breakfast, lunches, dinners, and snacks for each day of the week, while others eat the same thing at each meal all seven days.
Take dinner for example, for me, I usually will prepare one or two proteins for the week on Saturdays that I will eat for my dinners that upcoming week and throw in the rest of the sides for dinners while I’m at it.
Multi-tasking is key here. Throw your broccoli in a pot on the stove, while you are cooking your meat. Save time when you can!
To be honest though, I can get lazy or I simply have a lot of things planned on Saturday. So, some weeks I will actually just put raw vegetables in my Tupperware so I don’t have to cook them. That way, I can just pop them in the microwave or the oven to cook when I am reheating the protein anyway that weeknight. Side note — I also love eating potatoes at dinner too because I never have to prep them in advance, and let’s be real baked potatoes are bomb.
When it comes to lunches, I usually prep two or three salads at a time (typically starting on Sundays), and do the rest throughout the week as it goes on. I also will bag up my snacks on Sundays most weeks, but sometimes I do it the night before I go to work each week. It’s always up in the air based on my schedule.
As far as breakfast goes, I never prep that in advance. I love waking up early in the mornings and taking my time to cook before heading into the office. I only ever prep this meal in advance if I know I won’t have time in the morning or if I have to get a workout in before I go to work.
Moral of the story, there are no rules.
If you love cooking each night and are not a morning person, cook your dinners and prep your breakfasts/lunches while you already have dirty dishes that evening. If you have picky eaters make several options to accommodate them. Make meal prepping work for you and your life. It doesn’t have to be an intimidating day-long affair unless you want it to be.
You Don’t Have To Count Your Macros
Myth #2 about meal prepping: it doesn’t have to be healthy.
Though I enjoy eating clean, I, like all of you and even those photoshopped fitness models, am human. (Today, I’ve already had 5 mini milky ways and mini snickers bars on top of the normal meals I prepped. #NoShame)
Many of those fitness fanatics that I referenced above use meal prepping as a way to achieve certain health and fitness goals by counting their macros – short for macronutrients – which refer to the number of grams of fat/protein/carbs/fiber they eat in a day. However, to meal prep, you don’t have to follow any of these stipulations. Christ, you could meal prep a pizza for every meal if your heart desires.
The point of meal prepping is ultimately to save you time and money in the long run. The added health benefit is only yours if you want to make it that way. So don’t feel like you have to eat these super clean and lean meals each week to be “meal prepping”. Eat what you want, when you want.
Personally, I loosely use macros as a reference. I am at a point in my fitness journey where I am trying to gain more muscle. Therefore, I am actually eating more than I normally would and lifting heavier to compensate for that excess amount of food I’m consuming to get to where I want to be athletically.
I also use macros as a guide to get an idea of what to prep in advance. I look at my menu for the week and allocate plenty of fruit/veggies, starchy carbs, and meat/protein for each meal. As a celiac, I also pay very close attention to my water and fiber intake to ensure that I have regular bowel movements each day. Over time, what I’ve come to learn is the more fiber and water I consume each day, the better.
Get The Right Tools
In order to be able to prep and store your food each week, you have to have the right tools at your fingertips. The tools in question depend on the foods you love to eat and frankly the amount of storage you have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
Having to share a fridge and kitchen with two other roommates makes space limited. Especially when you have celiac disease and they don’t. Luckily, they are very understanding and hate cooking. Therefore, I was allotted ample amount of space in the kitchen to stow away all of my gluten free utensils, Tupperware, pots, pans, and silverware. I even have a whole kitchen island dedicated to my g-free goodies.
For me, the tools I use each week the most to store food are big (non-portioned) Tupperware containers and plastic sandwich bags.
Over the years, I’ve found you can squeeze a lot more into a container when it isn’t pre-portioned out for you. So, most weeks, I will put my dinners in the long rectangular ones – especially when I make meals like pasta or dishes that have a protein, rice/quinoa, and veggies. I also use these containers to store extra veggies and the meat that I freeze when I buy it in bulk. That way, I can create more space in the fridge/freezer and take out a piece of meat or grab a handful of carrots as I please.
When it comes to prepping salads (my go-to lunch option), you can actually put more in a tall square tub container than a long rectangular Tupperware. It also takes up less space in the fridge.
The sandwich bags work great for prepping veggies as snacks in advance. In fact, I actually reuse the same bags each week until they start to smell and tear because I’m so cheap. In my mind, I’m saving a little extra money and am being less wasteful. Good for the environment and my wallet.
Keep It Fun!
Meal prepping shouldn’t feel like a chore. If you don’t find cooking to be therapeutic like it is for me, try to make the best of it. Grab a friend (in-person or chat them virtually – peace. love. technology.) or your kids to have them help you out in the kitchen or to just make the time go by faster. It’s a great way to bond with those special people in your life, and to catch up on all the hot gossip.
Single or friends aren’t accessible during your ideal cooking time? Crank up some tunes or listen to your favorite podcasts. You can even turn on a movie while you cook up a storm in the kitchen. I personally switch back and forth between my podcasts and Pandora when I meal prep. For example, when I make Italian food, I always blast some old-school Dean Martin just like my dad used to do when he cooked us pizza and pasta as kids.
I will say, it also helps when you cook meals you actually want to eat. Get on Pinterest, and try a new recipe. I love trying new ingredients and incorporating new meals into the mix. I hate eating the same things over and over again so use the Internet to spark your creativity.
Now, take a moment and soak all of that in.
See for yourself. It’s not as painful as it looks. In fact, it’s actually a lot of fun when you make it work for you. So give it a go. What’s there to lose?
Regardless of your experience, let me know how your next week goes.