“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” While I don’t think Benjamin Franklin was big on meal prep, this is absolutely true when it comes to eating healthy and staying consistent with a workout plan. I’m consistently amazed at how people go into Monday morning without a plan for breakfast, let alone lunches and snacks throughout the week. What do we think will happen? Veggies and lean protein will not fall like manna from above. You must account for needing to eat 2-3 times while you’re away from your home. Without a plan, you’ll default to the quickest, easiest decision no matter how motivated you happen to feel at the moment.
This phenomenon is called “Decision Fatigue.” Basically, the number of decisions you can make in a given day is a zero-sum game. Whether you’re deciding on quarterly objectives for Microsoft or deciding which belt goes best with your watch, you’ve just “spent” a decision. This is why habits like laying out your clothes the night before, making your bed, and meal prep are so key for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Let’s take a look at some low-hanging fruit when it comes to making nutrition choices easier with meal prep.
1. Understand your time value
I was just listening to a physics professor lecture about the sheer magnitude of the quantity of stars in the observable universe. He used money to illustrate what billions truly meant. He used Bill Gates’ (at the time) estimated net worth of $50 billion. Basically, his question was: “What denomination of coin would the average American (based upon their annual salary) take the time to stop and pick up?” The audience agreed that this coin was somewhere between a dime and a quarter. Using the quarter as an example and the average American’s net worth compared to Bill Gates’ as a scale, the professor noted that Bill Gates would not stop to pick up anything less than $45,000!
So, the first question you need to ask yourself is this: Should I be doing my own meal prep? Personally, I LOVE meal prep. I really like to cook and try new things and feel a sense of preparation for the week to come when I complete meal prep. You may hate it. A quick way to gauge this is by taking your annual salary and breaking it down to an hourly rate. If the cost difference between doing your own meal prep for 3-4 hours/week and buying meals from a company does not account for your “hourly rate,” you’d probably be better off buying your meals pre-prepped.
TIP: Be sure to choose a meal company that publishes their caloric and macro-nutritional data on the labels and PAY ATTENTION. Remember, “clean and healthy” doesn’t necessarily mean it has a responsible amount of calories.
2. Stop using recipes
Everyone wants a recipe. Recipes are fun to try for dinner with a significant other or friends. But, recipes are a quick way to make meal prep take way too long and cost way too much. Recipes usually require one or two unique ingredients that would only be required by that particular recipe. These ingredients tend to be niche, expensive, and sit in your cupboard until you move. To keep the cost of food prep low and your adherence high, avoid going to a recipe. Instead…
3. Think of food prep in “macros”
I’m not say to count your macros. If you’re new to food prep, you’re still a year or two away from needing to tweak things on the macro-nutrient level. For the purposes of quick and cost-efficient food prep, however, let’s begin to look at macros as a way to “build” your meals:
Carbs: Rice, beans, tortillas, oats, quinoa, and potatoes are all great sources of carbs that can be prepared en masse and stay good throughout the week.
Lean protein: Salmon patties, chicken, lean beef, bison, eggs, and lean pork are all great lean protein options that can be grilled or baked in large quantities.
Fats: Olive oil, peanut butter, and avocado make for great food-prep fats. Be sure to account for whatever fats you use in cooking so you don’t over-do it on your calories.
By pre-preparing larger quantities of macro-nutrients, you can use them as “building blocks” to make healthy meals that won’t get boring.
4. The slow-cooker is your friend
Seriously. I own two slow cookers that I use on a weekly basis – one for carbs and one for protein. You can throw a bunch of brown rice in one and slow cook some lean beef in the other. In some cases, a slow cooker may have a steamer basket where you can throw some baby potatoes or some sweet potatoes to steam while you’re cooking rice. The slow cooker is a great hands-off way to build some seriously great meals.
5. Ditch the salad for some veggies!
Last but certainly not least are vegetables in the meal prep equation. I prefer to get the maximum fiber and micro-nutrient bang for my buck, so I opt to go with raw veggies in a sandwich bag. Salads aren’t a great workday meal prep item because they tend to get soggy and cumbersome to eat, so we’ll save our leafy greens for dinner. Find a hummus or other low-cal dip that you like and eat a full sandwich baggie of assorted veggies each day – split between two meals or snacks.
Forming a habit with meal prep is just like forming a habit with anything else. The #1 rule is to not let perfection be the enemy of progress. Start small and build. If you fall off the program, just hop right back on tomorrow.