Weekly meal prep - Bulk cooking approach
For me, meal prep is a weekly staple that helps me immensely to stay on track with my nutrition. It's hard to have an excuse not to eat a healthy meal when it's already ready and waiting in the fridge. Unfortunately, for many, meal prep is an overwhelming situation that ends up taking a huge portion of their day. I promise, it doesn't have to be that way! I spend around 1-1.5 hours each week and it saves me so much time during the week.
Below, I've outlined my process as well some helpful tips and tricks. There is no right or wrong way to meal prep and how you do it will depend a lot on what you are preparing. I like to use a 'bulk cooking approach' which means I prepare a number of protein, vegetable and carb options that I can assemble into a variety of meals throughout the week. I like the flexibility this allows me throughout the week to mix and match meals in a way that not only fits with my macros but also what I feel like eating. A big downfall for me in sticking to nutrition is when I get bored and am eating something that doesn't sound very good. This allows me to ask myself what I feel like eating each day and assemble accordingly. At the end of the post I'll explain how I could assemble all the different ingredients I prepped into different meals and macro profile
Tip #1 - Rome wasn't built in a day, your meal prep doesn't need to be either. If one big prep day is too overwhelming, try meal prepping twice a week to make things more manageable. Another alternative is to make multiple servings when you make a meal fresh. That will help reduce the number of meals you need to prepare.
Prepare: Create a plan
The most important part of meal prepping is creating a plan. This doesn't have to be anything complicated, but taking a few minutes to organize what you want to eat makes grocery shopping and meal prepping significantly easier.
I like to start but brain storming some lunches and dinners that sound good to me for the week. Once I have those I start slotting them into my daily schedule of meals. This doesn't need to be written in stone and meals can easily be swapped out, but it is a good indication of whether you are preparing the right volume of food. Once I have those meals straightened out, I can easily make a grocery list and get to cooking!
The other planning that I like to do is create a list of what I have available to me to eat throughout the week. I do this after my weekly meal prep, I list out what I have prepared, what leftovers I have, what pantry staples I have, what's in my fridge etc. I find this so helpful so I can quickly at a glance see what options I have for each meal/snack. This is also a great way to ensure you aren't wasting food throughout the week.
To make this meal planning process easy for you, I've created a one page meal planning template. It's the template I use to track all the things I talked about above. To download my meal planning template click the PDF below.
Cooking: Prepare the ingredients
Have you ever been cooking and realized that you need an ingredient NOW but you have yet to wash or chop it? There is no quicker way to turn your meal prep into a stressful situation. To avoid this, I always recommend starting with preparation so everything is within arms reach when you're ready to cook.
Things to prepare:
- Pull all your ingredients out and put them on your counter (including spices)
- Wash and chop veggies
- Open your cans
- Get out your measuring cups/spoons
- Get out your containers that you will use for the final dishes
Cooking: Determine your order of operations
The next step is to determine what order you are going to cook things in. To increase efficiency I always recommend starting with the things that take the longest to cook and work your way down. That way you are taking advantage of the cooking time to prepare other food.
1) Anything that goes in the instant pot/slow cooker
2) Casserole or 'one pot meals' that bake in the oven
3) Root vegetables you are roasting (potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnip, beets, squash etc.)
4) Meat you are cooking in the oven (meatballs, baked chicken etc.)
5) Softer vegetables you are roasting (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts etc.)
6) Stove top items (stir fry, meat in the frying pan like ground beef, rice)
7) Steamed vegetables
Cooking: Execute your plan
Now for the fun part, actually cooking! I think you'll find this step is so much quicker and easier with the upfront planning that you've done. All you have to do now is add your ingredients and wait for them to cook. If I have extra time while I'm waiting for things to cook, I like to start making my list of pantry and fridge ingredients I can use throughout the week. You can also use the time to portion out snacks or sauces that you will use during the week.
Cooking: Packing up prepared food
Now that you've cooked everything, it's time to package it up. The most important thing I recommend doing is weighing out the full recipe as you add it into your container. This allows you to easily determine what one serving size will be by weight. This is valuable to ensure you are getting the right number of portions out of a recipe as you would like. In a big container I find it difficult to estimate and may leave myself with a portion of food that's challenging to use.
Tip #2: Let everything cool on the counter for 15 - 20 minutes. I like to make sure they have full cooled to room temperature before putting containers into the fridge. If you don't wait, the heat will create condensation in the container and your food will get soggy. No one likes soggy food.
Tip #3: Make sure you write down the weight of the recipe so you can easily recall the serving size weight later in the week. I do this on my meal planning template so it's easy to refer back to. I always think I can remember the serving size at the time but somehow it always escapes me by mid-week.
I hope these tips and tricks can help you start to make meal prep an easy and fun part of your week! If you would like to see some examples of how I meal prep and meal plan, I have lots of information in my instagram highlights. Happy prepping!