Meal prep: it’s the buzzword in the weight loss world right now and you might be wondering if you’re missing out on something. Should you be doing it too? What are the benefits of doing it? If you’re on Instagram and follow any weight loss or fitness-focused accounts, you’ve probably seen some amazing examples of meal prep – 30 days of meals, all laid out in neat boxes, each meal meticulously planned with macros calculated. This makes it seem daunting, but meal prep doesn’t need to be Insta-ready, you just need to find what works for you.
The beginner’s guide to meal prep
What is meal prepping?
Put simply, meal prepping is preparing your meals ahead of time. This can be anything from chopping veggies ready to use in meals during the week, grilling up a big pack of chicken for lunches on the go or it could even be religiously planning, preparing and cooking all of your meals and snacks for the entire week.
Why should I do it?
We’re pretty lazy creatures by nature and leaving things to chance often means you’re doomed to fail. Sometimes life gets in the way of that healthy homecooked meal you planned to make. When you’re stuck working late, you might find that by the time you get home you’re just too tired to cook and having to do so feels like an insurmountable task. This, for me, is when I fire up my laptop and head to Just Eat for a quick and satisfying takeaway, which adds needless calories to my day and leaves a sizeable dent in my bank balance.
How will meal prep help me lose weight?
If you’re caught unawares, you’re much more likely to go for something unhealthy because you want something quick, be that a takeaway or a calorific lunch out. But if Sunday-night you has already done the hard work and all you have to do is heat up your dinner, you’re far more likely to eat that instead. And if you’re planning it out and making it yourself, you know it’ll be tailored for your weight loss goals – low in cals, high in protein, etc., and sticking to this will help you lose weight. Like my English teacher was fond of saying, fail to plan and plan to fail.
Do I have to meal prep everything?
No – do what works for you. If you know you don’t have much time in the morning to make a healthy, filling breakfast, focus on preparing your breakfasts in advance. These breakfast egg muffins are low in carbs, high in protein, quick to make and there’s a lot you can do to switch things up so you don’t get bored.
But if you enjoy cooking after coming home from work or you’ve found a Boots Meal Deal that fits into your calorie goals and you like eating it for lunch at work, carry on with that.
How do I get started?
First up, make a plan. What do you need to prepare, and for when? Are you going to go all out and make all of your meals for the week, or will you just focus on prepping your work lunches? As mentioned above, figure out what’s going to work for you. Try and identify those times where you might need a little help to stay on track and start there.
Isn’t it a pain in the arse?
Well, it depends on how you look at it – yes, it can seem like a lot of effort when you’re in the midst of it, when you’re surrounded by tupperware boxes and the kitchen looks like a bomb’s hit it. But that’s all forgotten when for the rest of the week you eat like a king and all you’ve done is put a box in the microwave. It’s a little bit of pain for a week’s worth of gain. Or loss, actually.
Alright, I’m sold. What do I need?
- A time to do it
Carve out some time to do it – Sunday afternoons are a popular time to meal prep because you’re probably not doing much anyway, and you can prepare for the workweek ahead. But if you’ve got an unusual shift pattern, are busy on Sundays or would rather only prep for a few days in advance then choose a time that would suit you better. Think about what you’ll be making too – things like curries and big batches of lasagne will last longer than salads that might start looking a bit worse for wear by Day 5.
- A space to do it in
Before you start, make sure your kitchen is ready. It’s a lot easier to meal prep if the washing up is done and the kitchen counters are clear. Get out the pans and utensils you’re going to be using and tidy as you go along, because if you’re cooking 7 days worth of meals in one go things are going to get pretty messy.
- Something to put your meals in
Your old mismatched plastic food storage boxes will be fine, and if you’ve got any old takeaway containers lying around, they’ll do the job too. But if you haven’t got any or if you can’t find the right lids (where do they go?!), you can pick up food storage boxes cheaply at supermarkets, Wilko, Ikea, Poundshops, etc., or you can get fancy compartmentalised ones like this set of 14 on Amazon. If you’ve got money to burn, Joseph Joseph does a set of nesting containers which you can get here, or there’s a set of glass containers from Wayfair here.
If you are buying new ones, remember to make sure they’re microwaveable, reusable and if they’re plastic, BPA-free. You can also get ones which will make your life a little easier by being stackable and dishwasher-safe, if that’s something you’re interested in.
Where can I get meal prep ideas?
There are loads of Instagram accounts dedicated to the art of meal prep, like Meal Prep On Fleek , MealPrep and Mealprepster. If you’re looking for recipes, these accounts post a lot of them, or there’s plenty of inspo on the web – there’s 40 healthy meal prep ideas here, or some great budget-friendly meal prep ideas here. You can also get more tips for how to win at meal prep here.
But there’s no need to go all out if you’ve already got your favourite meals. Even if you only bought a few packs of mince and a pack of chicken breasts, you could make chilli, lasagne and bolognese, grill up the chicken to add to pasta for your lunch and there you go – a week of meals, done. OK, so it’s not particularly exciting, but it’s a start, and if you wanted to branch out a bit you can add in new recipes when you’ve got the time.