This might be bold for me to say, but I consider myself a master meal prepper. I’ve been meal prepping on and off for the past seven years. I started in 2009, after finishing grad school when I realized that living on garbage for the past few years had taken a toll on my health. To fix my predicament, I started running and then I stumbled upon fellow Canadian and fitness enthusiast Tosca Reno and her Eat-Clean Diet books. The books appealed to me because they weren’t just about losing weight, but viewed the diet as part of overall fitness. Important for us, her plans emphasized the importance of meal prepping. Being the Type-A that I am, I loved the ideal of planning meals and being ready for the week.
Seven years later, and here I am running far more than ever and meal prep has become essential to balancing my running goals with the demands of daily life. Over the years I’ve refined my prep, and offer these five tips to meal prepping like a champ.
1. Designate a time for meal prep
Whether it’s Sunday or Monday, or whatever day of the week that works for you, have a time set aside for meal prep. For me, it’s Sunday evening before I make dinner. I’m already messing up the kitchen for dinner, so it all gets done then. Meal prep normally takes an hour to an hour and a half. Some might think this is a lot of time to dedicate to meal prep, but think of this as time in the bank for later in the week. Good nutrition makes for good running, so view this time as part of your training. To get in the zone and make the time enjoyable, I often play music or listen to podcasts while I’m preppin’.
2. Know your plan
Before I get into the kitchen, I do a bit of groundwork in planning the week. I stopped thinking of my food in terms of three squares years ago. Instead, I plan Meal 2 (lunch), Meal 3 (snack) and portions of Meals 4-5 (dinner + evening snack). My Meal 1 (breakfast) is made from scratch each day, but some may find it helpful to prep that one too.
Meal prepping has minimized my trips to the grocery store, as I generally know what I am going to eat for the week and do one grocery haul on the weekend. Meal prepping has also helped trim our grocery and eating out budget. If there are things that I eat every week, I either buy in bulk or stock up when they are on sale or I have a coupon. (No, I am not an extreme couponer and do not have a sweet potato stock pile!)
If you use a food diary, you can plan out your meals or “macros” beforehand and adjust for your goals. For example, I’ve recently been upping my fat intake, so I’ve been planning meals to include more avocado, olive oil, cheese, and coconut butter (!).
3. Invest in proper containers
After going through stacks of yogurt containers, I can say that it helps to have proper tupperware for your meals. Meal prep is easier when you are able to lay out containers that are suitable to the portion of the food you are storing in them. For example, small containers for nuts or a few pieces of dark chocolate, and big containers for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad.
Many people have access to a fridge during the day, so a cooler isn’t necessary for everyone. However, if you are on the go all day, invest in a good insulated bag or cooler.
4. Make as much as you can for the week and know how to store it
I normally prepare salads for lunch with some sort of carb, like sweet potato or quinoa, and protein, like hard boiled eggs or salmon. In the winter, I may make a crock pot of ground turkey, sweet potatoes, and spices. I portion out five servings for either lunch or dinner and place Monday-Wednesday’s in the fridge and Thursday-Friday’s in the freezer.
In my experience, foods that don’t do well in the freezer include: spinach, salad, apples, and eggs. I normally leave these things out of my tupperware until a day or two before. For example, I will cook a bunch of sweet potato or chicken for my lunch throughout the week. I will prepare Monday-Wednesday on Sunday, and Thursday-Friday on Wednesday. At that time, I will add the spinach, apple, carrots, olive oil, nuts, kitchen sink to my tupperware.
5. Perfection is not the goal
I encourage you to see meal prep as a helpful tool and not a strict regime. Especially when you are starting out, take a couple weeks to determine if you need to add in more snacks or carbs to your lunch. I also keep protein bars handy, recognizing that I won’t have the time or motivation to make homemade snacks every week.
Do you make a habit of meal prepping? What are your best meal prep tips?