One of the biggest things my clients do as to why they see results and reach their goals:
More specifically, prepping their meals ahead of time has been their key to success.
It’s no surprise that nutrition is a key factor to sustainable weight loss. And we know that in order to lose weight successfully, we need to create a calorie deficit.
The easiest way to do this? Through our diet.
The easiest way to ensure you’re in a calorie deficit is to track your nutrition. Creating a structure through meal planning can be your ticket to weight loss success.
This is where planning ahead of time comes into play. When we go too long between meals and are not prepared for our next one, our bodies do not necessarily care what kinds of calories and food choices it wants, it just knows that it needs calories. This is where people tend to fall off. Quick decisions can often lead to bad food choices considering the options that we have available. Fast food joints thrive off our inability to plan ahead. Convenience is always right down the corner from where we are.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t have fast food, I just don’t want you to fall into this trap on a regular basis. I am also not saying to skip a meal altogether just because you are not prepared, as this can lead to poor dietary choices late in the day.
MEAL PREP 101: Cooking in bulk
There is no better way to ensure and know what’s going into your body than for you to make it yourself. One of our primary drivers of obesity in society today is our increasing reliance of meals purchased outside our home. What was once an occasional family gathering, event, or celebration out, has become something many of us will do multiple times per week, and some even multiple times per day.
You vs. Them
When it comes to meals prepared for you, rather than those prepared yourself, chances are they are going to be prepared in such a way that they are both irresistible and hyper-palatable.
In a bid to maximize profits, the food industry has made a science on how to make foods hyper-palatable. They have carefully modified foods to make them less difficult to resist, making you eat more of them. And if you eat more of them, you’ll come back again and again to buy more of them.
For the most part, restaurants and fast food joints do not care how many calories are in their meals, they care that the food tastes amazing, so you’ll keep coming back. How do they make this happen? They add copious amounts of fats like oils and butter to their meals, because fats make food taste great. This is great for them, but not so great for us, and especially our waistlines.
Even when using the restaurant’s website nutritional information to calculate and plug in the meal one had out to eat, it’s merely a guesstimate at best. In reality, the chefs in the back preparing your food are not weighing and measuring out each ingredient they use to make your meal. They are eyeballing and guesstimating.
This is why it’s important to limit our dining out events and learn how to prepare and cook our own meals at home, so we know exactly what we are consuming on a daily basis in our attempts to track and control our calories accurately.
Between the increasing portion sizes, and the money spent dining out that surely adds up overtime, cultivating a loving and positive experience in your kitchen will be a very wise decision on your journey to a healthy and happy body composition. Cooking at home does not need to be a long drawn out process of making gourmet meals. You can keep it very simple and time efficient.
How long does it take to scramble some eggs?
Spread some jelly or peanut butter on a slice of bread?
Open a Greek yogurt and top with some fresh berries?
Often those who report being “too busy” to cook, are the least organized when it comes to grocery shopping. If you find that cooking is an issue for you, start by ensuring that your grocery shopping is a scheduled recurring weekly event as it sure makes it tough to cook if you don’t have the foods on hand to cook with.
Next, ensure that your freezer is stocked up with some “emergency meals.” Sure, these meals may not be as beneficial and calorie friendly as your fresh and raw ingredients you have to cook with, but they are most likely going to be a far better option than fast food or take out meals.
Spend some time in the grocery store looking over some of the frozen foods/meals and find some options that make sense to fit within your daily calorie and macronutrient goals. This way, overtime you can find 3 or 4 staple foods/meals that you can keep on hand in your freezer for the times when you may be too busy or too tired, and the last thing you want to do is spend time preparing and cooking a meal.
You may also want to consider some time saving devices such as a crock pot or slow cooker to use in the mornings that you can throw in large amounts of:
lean proteins (chicken, turkey, lean beef, roast)
carbohydrates (potatoes, squash, rice),
and vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, asparagus, green beans)
So that when you get home later that day, there is something ready and waiting.
With that said, when you do spend the time to cook, make it worth it. Cook in bulk. Use your crock pot, stove, and oven to its advantage.
Cooking in bulk 101:
You can purchase your lean meats in bulk at the grocery store, such as chicken breasts. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, lay all of your chicken breast on a Pam sprayed tin foiled baking pan, sprinkle with your favorite seasonings and toss all 10-12 chicken breast in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes. Take them out of the oven, and you have your lean protein sources stocked up for at least 3-4 days worth of meals ahead. You can rotate your lean protein sources each time you cook in bulk to add variety and different flavors to your meals.
You can also use your oven to cook your carbs in bulk. You can chop up potatoes, sweet potatoes, all kinds of different squash for a lower calorie option (butternut, spaghetti, acorn, buttercup, or *my personal favorite* kabocha). You can weigh out servings sizes raw in grams on your digital scale before hand for best accuracy when tracking these foods in your food diary. Spray your tin foil with Pam spray, place the chopped up carbs on the baking sheet, lightly spray the carbs with Pam spray, and sprinkle your favorite seasonings and spices on top. I really enjoy ground cinnamon and garlic salt on mine. Then toss in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-40 minutes (flipping halfway through if desired, but not needed). I usually fill up two large baking pans with these carb sources and bake them all up at the same time. You then have your carb sources for you meals for the next 3-4 days to complement your lean protein.
You can also bake some vegetables in bulk just like you did your carb sources above. Root vegetables like carrots and brussel sprouts, and even broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and asparagus work very well. Another option is to buy heads of lettuce and/or bags of spinach to add some volume, fiber, and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) to your meals. You can make a large, low calorie, and very satisfying meal by tossing lettuce and/or spinach in a large bowl, then top it with your cooked carbs, root vegetables, and lean protein source to make a monster sized salad for lunch or dinner that will keep you feeling full and satisfied for multiple hours.
Aim to keep fats on the lower end when cooking, as at 9 calories per gram, things like oils and butter adds up very quickly to your daily calorie budget. Just one tablespoon of olive oil contains about 130 calories and 14 grams of fat. You can happily add these to your meals when cooking/baking your foods, just make sure to measure out your portion sizes and plan them accordingly into your daily calorie allotment. This is why I’m a huge fan of using cooking sprays like Pam or coconut oil spray… It saves hundreds of calories and fat and gets the job done in the same way, so you can use your fat calories for whole foods instead of oils. For example, instead of cooking with oils or butter and using Pam spray, you may now have the calories and fat to use in your day for things like nuts, avocado, bacon, eggs, etc. These whole food sources will keep you feeling more full and satiated compared to oils and butters.
Meal Prep Pro-tips:
*Crock pots are freaking awesome for meal prep: chili, roasts, pulled pork/chicken, soup, and even oatmeal for breakfast can be cooked overnight while you sleep.
*Divided tupperware helps keep snacks separate (ie, carrots, hummus, and almonds) or for making sure one item doesn’t get soggy (ie, granola separate from yogurt).
*Salads are easy to customize by using a few different veggies. Buy mixed greens and portion the greens into four containers. Top two salads with cucumbers and tomatoes; top the other two with bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms.
*You can also try packing a different salad dressing each day. Just like using different spices on your proteins, this keeps things interesting so you don’t get bored with your meals.
With your lunches ready to go in tupperware containers, all you have to do is grab one on the way out the door. No time wasted in the morning, and no stressing about whether McDonald’s or Wendy’s is a “healthier” lunch option when you get “hangry” at work. Win-win. You can do the same thing with your breakfast, as well, further eliminating the need to think in the morning, which is a triple win!
You now have multiple meals all cooked up and ready to go to keep you on track for the week ahead, without spending every night cooking something new.
Make a point to rotate different foods in each macronutrient group when cooking so you don’t get bored of the same thing day in and day out. We want to have a variety of flexibility with foods, not restricting any certain food from your diet. The goal is to look forward to your meals ahead, not dread them.
You can and should make it a point to try one new food or recipe each week. This is a great way to encourage variety, improve cooking skills, and avoid monotony.
This is also a great opportunity to recruit your family members to help with the cooking process. You can have one night a week be “New Recipe Night.”
This can save you time, create fun family time spent together, and even allow you to teach your children the importance of planning, organizing, cooking and encourage healthy nutrition so they can too grow up cooking and planning their meals.
The calories and money you will save by planning and preparing your own meals and snacks are so dramatic that they deserve special recognition here. The 5 or 10 minutes it will take you to pack your lunches and snacks the next day will have a huge impact on your long term weight management success.
This may go without saying, but worth mentioning that it may be easier for you to pack your lunch and snacks the night before, rather than scrambling around in the morning to do so.
This can be as easy as preparing your lunch by putting your dinners leftovers in a container to bring to work the next day. I use this strategy with myself, and my clients find it very helpful and efficient as well. For your dinner, cook in bulk like mentioned above, allowing you to have large amounts of food to freeze to have on hand, and to pack for tomorrow’s lunch. This way, you won’t have to come home from a long day at work and cook yourself a single meal every night. You may now be only cooking 2-3 times per week is all.
Thanks to the Internet, we have access to millions of healthy recipes online. When choosing them, make sure to only choose the ones that provide you with the measured ingredients and nutritional information listed to ensure you know what, and how much you will be putting in your body.
Knowing that your have the ability, knowledge, and skills to cook your own meals at home that taste amazing, and will also bring you one step closer to your goals each meal, is far more rewarding than the taste of these calorie bomb restaurant meals.