While we all strive to live a healthy lifestyle, too often our busy work schedules can make it very difficult to achieve balance. Late hours at the office can zap our energy leaving us with little desire to actually go to the store to pick up the necessary ingredients, much less having to cook them. More often than not, you probably find yourself opting for pricey take-out, restaurant dining or less healthy options that are within reach at a moment’s notice. Meal-prep (or meal preparation) can be a game-changer for you, as it trains you to plan, prepare and package your desired meals and snacks in advance. You acquire nutritional consistency, among a variety of other wholesome perks that may just become the new routine you want to stick to.
It sounds counterintuitive because meal-prep involves committing to and setting some time aside upfront to plan for your desired meals, shop for ingredients and cook them in advance. Set aside a certain time, say each Sunday afternoon, to tackle this. Think about how much time you will have during the rest of the week, especially when you are coming home late from work exhausted. You won’t have to spend extra time running to the grocery store several times per week to figure out what you want to make last minute, let alone cook at all. Instead, you can actually relax. Or maybe you would like to go to that evening fitness class after work but know you will be starving after. You can rest assured knowing you have a meal already waiting for you in your fridge. Ultimately, you are freeing up your weekly schedule to either fit in more opportunities that you enjoy or can choose to reserve your energy so you can rest and be more productive the next day.
Recurring delivery orders, take-out, and dining out inevitably add up. These last-minute, incurred pricey expenses could easily be avoided if you have a steady plan in place. When you take the initiative to plan your meals in advance, thereby having set meals at your fingertips, you automatically help limit the occurrence of impulse buying, ordering and eating out. Another savvy tactic to try? Buy in bulk (Costco and Amazon are great suppliers for this). It’s always cheaper and you can get organic and healthy alternatives at a reduced price when buying in bulk, not to mention a ready supply to help sustain consistent preparation. Don’t forget to take advantage of your freezer when it comes to longer-term storage for foods that will not be made immediately. Buying frozen food in bulk is also often cheaper (i.e. frozen wild caught fish).
Exercise Portion Control
By dividing up your meals into containers, you have a set amount to eat and will be restricted from reaching for more. Compare this to the huge portion size you normally feel tempted to eat in a take-out container or restaurant dish. You can get creative with this process because not only can you divide up your meals, but you can also get different size containers to store healthier snack foods (i.e. carrots, celery and hummus, apples and almond butter, assorted fruit, trail mix) when you feel the need to nibble between meals. You may not be able to control most external factors around you but you will feel triumphant by being able to exercise some personal control when it comes to mastering what goes into your body.
Cut Out Hidden Calories and Unhealthy Additives
Along these lines, you will also be able to restrict your consumption of excessive hidden additives and calories that are so commonly found in ordered food. By being the master of your own kitchen and your own personal chef, you will know exactly what you are putting into your meals, and can rest assured that there are no hidden surprises! You never really know what you are ingesting otherwise so it can feel empowering that you are taking full control over your body and what you allow into it. This is key in weight management and reaching your fitness goals. Exercise always work best when accompanied by healthy eating habits. Similarly, you will have more energy and be more focused without the added toxins like MSG, or fats and sugars that can weigh you down.
Get Better At Cooking
Meal prep trains you to actually learn how to cook. The incentive is to start with simple recipes and seek out new and interesting meals that you would like to try and then once you get the hang of it, can continue to venture towards more involved recipes. The idea is for you to become comfortable in the kitchen and embrace this process as a way to make your food work for you, not the other way around. How often do you find yourself making the same plain meals each week just because you don’t have the time or energy to know what else to do? Meal prep offers you the chance to change that and actually enjoy and look forward to what you’re eating. By planning ahead you will be able to choose from several different food categories (protein, fat, grains, vegetables, etc.) and can then incorporate them however you please. You can try designating special theme days (i.e. Meatless Mondays, Whole Grain Wednesdays, Stir-Fry Fridays). Soon enough you will find the chef within you and may find your tastes advance and can have some fun with it, bringing more variety to your meals. No one ever said meal prep has to be boring!
Less Food Waste
How often do you throw out produce that has gone bad before you’ve gotten a chance to use it? When you are so busy the last thing that goes through your mind is, how do I use up that box of lettuce that has been sitting in my fridge all week. The act of meal prepping gets you accustomed to making a list for only the necessary ingredients you will be using that week. This will help you avoid buying anything that you will not be using and if you plan correctly, you will successfully use up food that you do buy. This will also make grocery shopping so much easier as you will not be aimlessly walking around different aisles figuring out what to get. If you show up with a prepared list divided into categories such as, fruits, vegetables, protein, frozen food, dairy, grains and fats and fill in according to your recipes, you will be done in a flash. If you’re on a set mission, you will also be less tempted to wander the aisles filled with not so healthy options like candy, chips or cookies.
After a long day or stressful week, the last thing you want to worry about is what to cook, or have to buy. Stress affects everything from your immunity to your digestive system and sleep schedule. And eating late because you had to go out of your way for last minute preparation is also not healthy. Instead of adding to the stress by having to figure out what’s for dinner and going through the process of making it when you’re already exhausted, you can find relief in having it all set to welcome you when you get home.
Meal prep is truly an investment in your health. It’s about choosing to eat cleaner and finding an approach that works for you long term so you can find consistency in healthy eating while removing the tendency to resort to unhealthy options. There is no right or wrong way to meal prep. It is a personal experience and what works for one person may not be the right fit for the next. Some people may enjoy preparing each and every meal for the whole week, while others may prefer to prep just one daily meal or one meal a few times a week. Either way, as you get into the swing of incorporating a healthier routine, you will also gradually stop craving the sugary and fatty foods that you used to crave, watch your waistline shrink, find a willpower you never knew you had and open your kitchen to new inspiration.
Danielle is a contributing content writer for Fitspot. She is a former journalist and professional opera singer. Danielle is passionate about whole body wellness and understands the critical role optimal health plays in having the immunity, energy and stamina to excel on stage and off! Running, hiking and yoga are her favorite activities. Danielle resides in New York City and is always on the hunt for the best new coffee spot.