Is meal prep only for the OCD satisfaction of seeing your refrigerator full of neatly stacked containers? Here are three reasons why fitness people are so into cooking ahead…and why it might help you, too.
What is meal prep?
Simply put: meal prep is just cooking ahead – typically, complete and balanced meals and snacks, so that your whole day of food could be ready and waiting for you when you’re hungry.
Whyyyy? Why are you putting me through this?
If you spend 1-2 hours cooking, you could have a lot of extra time in the week to:
- work out
- fold that basket of laundry that’s been sitting in your room for 2 weeks
You will also, probably, eat healthy, nourishing food that you cooked for yourself, instead of foraging for scraps.
30 Seconds of Meal Prep Science
Current psychological theories suggest that we can only make so many decisions in one day before our tank of willpower runs dry. Having our meals already planned and prepared for us means that when it is time to eat, we do not have to make any more decisions.
Often, we have used up all of our decision-making power for the day on a work tasks – especially for those of us with digital jobs – family decisions, traffic, and even just choosing what to wear. We are so decision-fatigued by the time it comes to eat that we are likely just reach for the quickest, most comforting food available if we do not have something healthy and tasty ready to heat and eat.
Having meals that we have prepared ourselves in advance saves us from eating take-out with mystery macros. We know that we are getting the high-quality, nutritious food that our bodies deserve and in fact need in order to feel and function at their best.
Muscles made in the kitchen?
Yes, it really does matter what you eat. 200 calories of mini-snickers bars isn’t the same to your body as 200 calories of carrots, or of scrambled eggs, or of protein shake.
I used up my science quota above, but your body responds differently to different foods (through hormones, like insulin), and this ultimately affects how you look. You won’t look “lean” or “toned” if your body isn’t happy with the balance of carbs, fat, and protein that you’re consuming, or with the amount of sugar in your food. (The overall quantity of food also matters, of course!)
If you have prepared your food in advance, you will know for sure that you’re not eating just carbs, or just protein, or just fat. You can balance your ratios ahead of time (it’s not really much work at all – keep reading), and give your body what it actually needs to reach your goals.
Getting Started – A Mini-Plan
You can dip your toes into meal prep by just preparing a little extra of whatever you’re cooking for any given meal. Leftovers make great lunches!
But if you’re ready to start balancing things out, a good place to start is by splitting up your anticipated plate:
You will need to prep some veggies and/or fruits, some protein, and some kind of whole grain for each meal. Make sure to plan for as many servings as you will need for the week (for example, 5 lunches if you’re taking them to work, 7 snacks if you will need it every day, etc.).
So, you might plan out:
- a breakfast that contains oatmeal (whole grain), bananas and raspberries (fruit, duh), and Greek yogurt or scrambled eggs (protein)
- a lunch that has chicken (protein), brown rice (whole grain), and sauteed squash (veggie)
- a dinner that has salmon or lean beef (protein), broccoli (if you don’t know…), and mashed sweet potatoes (acting as a grain here)
- a snack that has whole grain crackers, carrots, and part skim mozzarella cheese
- another snack that has cottage cheese, dark chocolate chips, and half a banana
Then all you have to do is:
- figure out how many servings you need for each item
- figure out what you need to make each serving
- do a tiny bit of multiplication
- go to the store with your list!
Is meal prep just for fitness people?
I say absolutely not! I think meal prep is for busy people in general.
If I prepare my food in advance, I spend 2 hours cooking for the week.
If I cook as I go, I spend about 45-60 minutes each day cooking…or over 5 hours.
If you fail to plan, you plan to…
A little planning goes a long way. You don’t have to plan boring food like what I listed above – adjust your plan to include things that you like to eat, and you’ll even look forward to what you’ve cooked!
Spoil yourself with a few days of pre-cooked meals. The extra health benefits you’ll reap, the money you’ll save, and the free time you’ll have during the week will make you feel amazing.