If you hear the words "meal plan" and your ears perk up, you already know about the amazing benefits. Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time ensures that you'll have healthy, perfectly portioned food waiting for you, so it's key if you're trying to lose weight.
It also diminishes the stress of figuring out what you're going to eat and the rushing around trying to make food for every single meal. You're less likely to make unhealthy food choices, you'll save time and energy making food all at once, and nothing beats the satisfying feeling of gazing at your stocked fridge full of containers.
Before diving headfirst into meal-prep Sunday, here are some rules you need to follow in order to make meal planning successful.
Thou Shalt Plan Ahead
OK, so maybe this seems obvious, but if you just hit the grocery store and grab whatever, then get home and try to figure out what to prep for meals and snacks, you'll get quite frustrated. This part of meal planning might take you the longest, but it's worth it.
Sit down and figure out what you want to eat for the week, and how many meals and snacks you'll need to make. Maybe you only need to prep lunches and snacks because you can eat breakfast and dinner at home. Peruse Pinterest and other sites for recipe inspiration, and write it all down! Jot down what you want to eat (you can even post it on a chalkboard!), then make a detailed grocery list so you don't leave anything out.
Also make sure you have the appropriate containers on hand, clean and ready to fill. Mason jars and plastic and glass containers work great, but you may also want to invest in containers with sections to encourage variety and portion control.
Thou Shalt Make the Time
Set aside several hours to plan, shop, cut, cook, and store. Some people prefer getting it all done on Sundays, but you could also split it over the weekend and do the planning and shopping on Saturday and the cooking and cutting on Sunday. Or prep a few days worth of food on Sunday and a few more days in the middle of the week.
Thou Shalt Respect the Numbers
Whether you're counting macros, calories, or both, know your numbers before you start planning. Maybe you're carb cycling and need to eat more carbs on certain days? Consider what you need to eat and your schedule. If portion sizes are more your concern, also consider this when prepping and shopping. You don't want to make an enormous Crock-Pot of three-bean chili that serves 12 when you only need five meals — you may end up packing a serving that's way too big.
Thou Shalt Be Realistic
In a perfect world, you might want every meal and snack all planned out for the week. But in reality, that takes a lot of prep time, and can be really overwhelming if you're new to the meal planning scene. Set realistic goals, and maybe start with prepping five lunches for the week and a few staples for weekly dinners. As you get more comfortable, add in breakfast and snacks.
Thou Shalt Leave a Little Wiggle Room
Planning out every bite you eat for seven days straight might seem a little too strict. So maybe just plan out lunch and dinner and leave breakfast and snacks open-ended.
Thou Shalt Include Variety
It may be fastest to make an enormous batch of soup and eat that for lunch and dinner five days straight, but by Day 3 of veggie lentil soup, you may never want to eat another bowl of soup again! Be sure to have some variety in your meals and snacks. Even if you're making five mason jar salads for lunch, include different greens, chopped veggies, protein, whole grains, fruit, nuts, and salad dressings so each day's lunch feels completely different.
Thou Shalt Not Be Too Adventurous
I definitely don't want to discourage your creativity or your willingness to try new recipes or foods, but it's not a great idea to try out a new slow-cooker steel-cut oatmeal, make curry for the first time, and cook a week's worth of farro when you've never ever tried it. You'll have the most success when you prep the healthy foods you know you love, and save the experimenting for other days. And remember that you can still include variety with basic tried-and-true favourites!
Thou Shalt Learn Shortcuts
To speed up the process, take advantage of products and prepping hacks that will save you time. Buy prewashed packaged kale, frozen cauliflower rice, or precut butternut squash. Learn how to use your slow cooker, oven, stove top, and microwave all at once. Make double batches of soups so you can freeze leftovers for the following week. Buy protein bars and precooked grains instead of making them if that will leave you time for other things. Choose the easiest, fastest meals so you can make them and be done!
Thou Shalt Do What You Can
Hardcore meal-preppers could easily spend all day Sunday prepping, shopping, and preparing. If you can't devote that kind of time, don't! Do what you can and don't forgo meal prepping entirely because you can't commit three hours straight. Maybe you only have 30 minutes to cut up some veggies for the week. Do it, because every little bit helps.
Thou Shalt Have Fun!
Cutting up endless slices of carrots isn't exactly the most fun way to spend your Sunday, but find ways to enjoy the process. Whether you meal prep with a friend, check out inspiring YouTube videos on meal prep, watch a movie while cooking, or dance in between dicing (put the knife down!), make prepping more than a boring chore.
Also be sure to take a photo of all your hard work and post it on social media. Seeing towers of Tupperware is so rewarding and it'll inspire others to meal prep. But most importantly, it'll give you the satisfaction of knowing your food (and your health) is set for the week!