Beef and broccoli stir fry meal prep lunch box containers with rice or soba noodles

Meal Prep 101 – Want to Lose Weight? Get Out the Tupperware

What’s the number one reason it’s really hard to lose weight? I know, you probably think of tons of reasons like:

  • Too busy to exercise
  • Too busy to research healthy foods and meals
  • Hate to cook
  • Can’t give up my comfort foods
  • I have no idea where to start
  • I’m having a bad hair day

What I’m going to say here is that those aren’t reasons. They’re excuses.

I know this because I’ve used these excuses and many, many others. The scientific reason behind weight gain and/or not losing weight is about eating too many calories. Exercise helps, of course, but it helps more with changing your body composition (lose fat, gain muscle and sometimes the scale doesn’t move) and avoiding weight gain.

It’s your diet that’s key and there are three major obstacles that stand in our way when it comes to weight loss and diet:

  1. Portion sizes are too big
  2. We eat too much processed crap
  3. We eat when we’re stressed, bored, or emotional

There’s a lot to unpack there and, obviously, that doesn’t cover everything, but there is something we can do about all of these things.

Meal Prep

Meal prep has exploded into the world of home cooking and, unlike trendy diets or fads, this one is sticking because it isn’t a diet. You aren’t deprived. You can eat the foods you love (not all the time, but sometimes) and the most important key:

You Are Prepared

Think of the times when you get off track with your diet. It happens to me a lot, particularly with snacks. When I don’t have snacks prepared, I will graze. And graze. And graze. Instead of just making something, sitting down and eating it.

If I don’t have a plan for lunch and I’m starving, I’m going to reach for the easiest thing near me…oooooh, there’s a frozen pizza in the freezer! How did that get there?

That’s where meal prep comes in. It’s a way to portion out your food for the week so you’re eating the right portions, you’re eating healthy whole foods and all you have to do is grab your container and go.

Meal Prep Myths

One thing I hear from my clients and readers is that they do NOT want to spend an entire Sunday cooking and chopping and preparing for every single meal that week. Some people will go that route and probably enjoy it.

I’m not one of those people.

However there, are different ways to meal prep and you can choose. Just some

Meal Prep Options

  • Prep for an entire week of meals – Breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner – whew!
  • Easy Prep – Make double of some of your recipes so you can have the leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Way Easy Prep – Just pick one meal or, say macros. For example, for me, my snacks are out of control so sometimes I’ll prep all my snacks for the week (here are 20 Ideas for Healthy Snacks). Similarly, you could approach it by choosing, say, the proteins that you want to eat this week. I typically roast a whole chicken and then we cut it up and it’s ready for the entire week.
  • Way Way Easy Prep – Just prep for one day and go from there.

What You Need to Meal Prep

The most important things you’ll need are:

  • Containers for storage – You can use glass containers, which is what experts often recommend, but I like plastic containers that are BPA-free and dishwasher safe. I like these that I ordered from Amazon. Mason jars are also great tools for making meals ahead – salads, overnight oats, and more. And, of course, freezer bags – label them y’all. Trust me on that one.
  • Time to plan for your meals – This is crucial. I usually set aside about an hour on Sundays or Mondays to go through my recipes, pick the meals I’m going to make, and make the grocery list.
  • Time to shop for your groceries – Yep. You’re going to have to go to the grocery store. I’m sorry. I know. It hurts.
  • Recipes – Yep. This is cooking y’all. But I’ve got some recipes for you, so no worries.
  • Some really good music or an audiobook to listen to while you work. Necessity.

Now, if you’re making big batches of stuff like, say, soup, you should also have a big stock pot, a food processor, a slow cooker or maybe an Instant Pot, good knives, measuring cups, etc.

The Basics of Freezing and Storing Your Food

Okay, now here’s the confusing part. What foods should you freeze? How do you freeze them? What can go in the fridge and for how long?

The answer – It depends. I know, but I’m going to give you some guidelines.

Protein

Cooked proteins like chicken, beef, and fish are usually safe for about 3-4 days in the fridge. If you’re going to prep for more days, freeze the rest. Make sure you let the meat or fish cool before you freeze it and don’t leave it out at room temp for more than 2 hours.

Pasta, Grains, and Rice

Pasta

You can also freeze pasta. Here’s what you do:

    • Cook the pasta until it’s just less than al dense (like a little crunchy)
    • Spread the noodles out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
    • Toss with olive oil and put the cookie sheet in the freezer
    • When they’re frozen transfer them to a zip-top bag
    • When you re-heat your pasta, in the microwave or stovetop, make sure the pasta lies flat.
    • If you do it stovetop, you can toss the frozen pasta into simmering sauce and that will defrost it.

Tip: If you’re making sauce, pour it into ice cube containers, freeze and then pop a sauce cube out, defrost and voila!

Rice can also be kept for 3-4 days in the fridge or you can freeze it when it’s cool and thaw in the microwave.

For grains, if you’re not refrigerating them, cook them completely, cool them on a tray until they’re completely cool and dry. Portion them out into containers and freeze.

Veggies and Fruit

When thinking of prepping and storing fruits and veggies, think about his: The softer the fruit or vegetable, the squishier they can get over time.

If you’re eating fresh fruit, don’t wash or cut it until you’re ready to eat it. You can also use frozen fruit, but it does get mushy when thawed – I use that for smoothies.

For veggies, the harder ones are going to stand up to storage better than mushy ones (like mushrooms). Think carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, squash, asparagus and celery.

Can you freeze veggies? Yes, but they won’t always have the same texture when thawed, so consider using frozen veggies for things like soup.

One thing I like to do is keep a big bowl of lettuce ready for salads. Here’s how you store it: Don’t wash it, but wrap it in damp paper towels in a perforated bowl. Wash it when you’re ready to eat it.

I also keep cut up veggies in containers so I can use them for snacks or salads.

Check Out This Amazing Produce Storage Guide from workweeklunch.com

Soups

Soup is big in our house because you can make a big ol’ batch and eat on it all week. I usually don’t have enough to freeze, but if you make a lot, you can totally freeze it.

The best soups that freeze are soups that are more brothy with veggies and proteins. Creamy soups don’t always freeze well, so experts recommend leaving the cream or dairy out and then adding it when you thaw it out.

Some tips if you’re freezing:

  • Leave out things like dairy or noodles to your soup and add them later
  • Undercook your veggies a bit so you don’t end up double cooking them
  • Let the soup cool completely before you freeze

Give it a Try

Now it’s time to give it a whirl. I’ve got 6 great meal prep recipes that show you the exact amount you need to make for your weekly meals.

6 Amazing Meal Prep Recipes

And get this really great cookbook:

The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook

 

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