How To Meal Prep
How I Meal Prep And How You Can Get Started Today!
Why Meal Prep?
I decided to start meal prepping about a year ago. Mostly because I wanted to be in control of my diet and insure I was eating what I needed to in order to get healthier! I also did it because at the time I was really struggling with some digestive disorders and trying to figure out what my trigger foods were. Meal prepping allowed me to consciously know what I was eating and that allowed me to pay more attention to my reactions. Even today I LOVE meal prepping because it 1. Gives me more control over my calories and macros 2. Keeps my budget low and 3. Ensures I don't crack and eat something I shouldn't because I don't have anything around.
Before we get into how to meal prep be sure to read my disclosure and know that I am no way a trained professional - all of this is from my own experience and what has worked for me and my loved ones!
If after reading this you're still confused or do better with a face to face conversation please shoot me an email at email@example.com! I'd love to set up a time to do a virtual meeting with you so you can see my screen and I can walk you through it! I love helping people so it's always something I'm willing to do for free!
To see examples of my weekly meal plan click here!
Meal Prepping vs. Meal Tracking
This is an important difference you should understand if you're thinking of meal prepping. Meal prepping is typically planning out your entire weeks meals in advance, cooking it all during one day, and having it ready to go every morning. Meal tracking however is popular one websites like myfitnesspal.com. These allow you to track what you're eating during the day and shows you how much more you should eat. I personally don't like meal tracking because I find as I get to the end of the day I either don't have calories left so I don't eat dinner (a super big no-no) or my macros are out of balance and I don't know what to eat to balance them. I'm an over-planner and over-thinker - so planning my meals out a head of time, for me, gives me confidence that I will have the right amount of calories, my macros will be balanced, and I don't have to cook everyday! Depending on your lifestyle you'll want to choose one over the other. You might do a hybrid for a bit to find what works for you! I personally love meal prepping because I can cook on one day and sleep in everyday because my food is already packed for the day!
Rules of Meal Planning
1. Balance is Key
As with all things, balance is key. If you really love your afternoon snack - keep it! Just plan for it in your meals. I personally LOVE Chocolate Chip LaraBars (the perfect little paleo sugar crusher) and even though the calories are a bit high for my snacks, I plan for them because they make my soul happy :) I'm also going to teach you about MACROS on this blog! Macros include protein, carbs, and fat. I giggle when people say "I'm going on a carb free diet" - and then just eats fruits and vegetables. FRUITS ARE A CARB PEOPLE! LOL. It's all about finding healthy carbs and not over indulging. So you love pasta? Great! Pair it in a vegetable soup or with something you love - Just plan for it in your meals. Don't think of meal prepping as a "diet" as soon as you see it as restrictive you'll resent it and give up after a few weeks or even days. Eat what you love! - Just balanced and in healthy proportions!
2. Eat every 2-3 hours after you wake up
This is really important because it keeps your blood sugar levels steady and prevents you from snacking. I love starting my mornings with the Plexus Pink Drink! It gives me great energy during the day and keeps my cravings at bay. NOW it is normal that you may feel hungry the first couple of days on your new plan and have cravings for your favorite unhealthy snacks. BUT DON'T WORRY! That'll get better as your body gets used to it. Keep water close by and be sure to drink half your body weight in ounces every day (if not more!) This will also help you fight cravings! If you're like me you may not feel hungry during a planned snack - but eat it anyways! Your body will get used to it and it's so important that you eat. Along with that make sure you're eating everything on your plan. If you're trying to lose weight don't think that by not eating you're doing yourself a favor. That is completely BACKWARDS! You need to be giving your body the right balance of macros to preform correctly so you lose weight. If you find that there's something on your plan you dread eating and never do - don't include it next time! It's important to love the foods you plan so you actually go through with it.
3. ALWAYS eat protein with a carb
This is a great rule of thumb and can be helpful during your planning. If you're like me and don't eat gluten there are TONS of alternative carbs (like fruits and gluten free recipes) so don't stress! If you're a carboholic you might have to adjust to just one piece of toast LOL. I'll be writing another blog about healthy carbs soon so watch out for that!
4. Eat for your activity level
This is equally important. If you're working out every day then you'll want to bump your calories up a bit. If it's spring break and you're just laying around watching The Office (me 90% of the time LOL) then you'll want to keep your calories on the lower level. I know for me I bump myself down about 100 calories during finals week because I know I won't make it to the gym that often. Know yourself and be ready to listen to your body.
5. Determining your calorie and macro levels takes time
While there's science behind it - you can't get your perfect calorie and macro levels on your first try! Start with my recommended base line and see how you do for a few weeks. I typically try and stay in the same range for a week or two and watch my progress. If I'm not doing that well I'll adjust my calories or one of my macros to see if that works better. For me with IBS I know that a high fat diet doesn't usually sit well with me - but I had to find that out through trial and error! Listen to your body, keep a journal, and start learning what works for you.
6. ALWAYS MEASURE AND WEIGHT YOUR FOOD!
You'd be surprised at how much 4 oz of lunch meat really is. This has a HUGE impact on your results so be picky and get a scale! (They're not very expensive)
How to Get Started
1. Choose your format
There are lots of ways for you to plan your meals - but they're not all the best. If you want to take the meal tracking route I personally recommend myfitnesspal.com. But again - there's literally hundreds of websites and apps that do the same things, so look into them, try a couple, and decide what you want. BUT I'm sharing an excel sheet that I personally use for my own meal prepping with you for FREE! I'll be explaining how to use it from here on, then you can find the link to download it at the bottom of this page.
I like to use excel (in google sheets - I know, WHATEVER same thing lol) because I feel like I have more control over everything. It may be more time consuming at first, but it's really not too bad. It also allows me to pull it up on my phone and check or change things while I'm at the store or school.
To start with, I have a file in my google drive for Meal Prepping. Inside I have my google sheet for my "recipe book" of foods and my weekly schedules. I'm all about going paperless with literally everything in my life. So this works really well for me! I either type up recipes I have at home, or download recipes from Pinterest and throw them in my google drive. (Follow me on Pinterest for LOTS of healthy and/or Paleo recipes!) I also like to do this because I can adjust or add notes to the recipe right there! - Like ensuring I use cupcake liners with my muffins LOL - bad mistake....
Once I have the recipes in my google drive I use the recipe tool on myfitnesspal.com. This allows me to calculate the nutrition information for the foods I make myself. Sometimes I'll change the serving size so instead of 10 muffins I get 7 (so I don't get awkward left overs at the end of the week).
Then I type in that nutrition information (including serving size) to my "recipe database" in my google sheet. This "recipe database" makes it easy for me to copy and paste items into my weekly meals (more info in a sec.) Below is an image of what that looks like - it's also included on your FREE template to get you started!
2. Figure out your calories and macros
Calories is a highly debated topic. There a multiple ways to find the amount of calories that YOU need to see weight loss (or whatever you're goal is) But here's what I find to be most accurate.
First you need to calculate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) this is basically the number of calories you'd burn if you never got out of bed i.e. it's the calories you need to survive. KEEP IN MIND! NEVER eat below your BMR calories every day or you'll put your body into STARVATION MODE! (YIKES!)
Follow these equations to find your BMR: Note the measurement differences
BMR = 66 + (13.75 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)
BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in Yrs)
To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.1
- If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.275
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.35
- If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.525
Once you have determined your daily calorie need, in order to lose weight you should reduce that by about 15-20%. Now this can be higher or lower for different people, depending on your body and your goals. Listen to your body and use this as a starting point! If you're still hungry (actually hungry not just munchy) then maybe do closer to 10-15%, but if you feel full try reducing it closer to 20%. REMEMBER!! NEVER eat below your BMR expecting to lose weight! You're not doing your body any favors at that point. I personally give myself a window of 1500-1600 calories. Be sure to have a window so you don't stress about having the perfect number.
Macros are something not a lot of people think about. But know that in order for your body to function correctly you need to be eating a balance of the right stuff! Macros include Fat, Carbs, and Protein. You can read all about Macros online but I'm just giving it to you straight! Plus my FREE meal prep template already calculates macros correctly so all you really need to do is focus on the percentage. Finding out what you need may take some trial and error but here are the recommend base lines:
For most people a good starting break down is
Protein: 20-40%, Carbs: 20-60%, Fat: 20-40%
But if you want to start more based on your body type see these descriptons (found on this site)
Ectomorph: If you’re an ectomorph, you’re naturally thin with skinny limbs and a high tolerance for carbohydrates. Usually, your metabolic rate is fast. A good starting macronutrient ratio for you would be something like 25% protein, 55% carbs and 20% fat.
Mesomorph: Mesomorphs are naturally muscular and athletic. They have a moderate carbohydrate tolerance and a moderate metabolic rate. Mesomorphs can usually start at a 30% protein, 40% carb, 30% fat macronutrient ratio.
Endomorph: If you’re naturally broad and thick, you’re probably an endomorph. Endomorphs have a low carbohydrate tolerance and a slow metabolic rate. If you’re an endomorph, try a ratio of 35% protein, 25% carbs and 40% fat.
I personally eat between 1500-1600 calories a day, 30-35% protein, 35-40% carbs, and 25-30% fat. (For reference I'm 20 years old, 5'2", and weigh about 150 lbs.)
Remember to give yourself some leeway in each category. It's unlikely to get a perfect 30%, 40%, 30% each week -that's why I have a window to shoot for. Remember it's about trial and error. So maybe try 40% fat and then if you notice you're not seeing much progress drop it towards 20%
3. Get Planning!
NOW another decision for you. Personally I'm totally ok eating the same thing every day for a week...even a few weeks at a time. But I know for some people that's boring and they need more variety. If you want to plan two plans a week and alternate them - DO IT! If you want every day to be different - DO THAT! Do whatever works best for your lifestyle. If you've got kids and have to make dinner every night and they don't want to eat the same thing, plan for that! Personally I like eating the same things every day because 1. I like them 2. I know they won't make me sick - but if I do get sick I can easily find out what caused it and 3. It keeps my budget low.
Here's a short video that helps show how I plan my meals each week. I just made a quick video for those of you who like to visually learn! Plus I shared some common problems that can happen and how to fix them. If you'd like more help I'd be more than happy to do a video conference like this where you can see my screen and I can help you design your first meal plan! Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I start planning I start by filling in my google sheet (copy and pasting foods from my "database" or "recipe book") with a few of the basics. For example, I have a hard time with solid food before 10am, so I drink a 310 chocolate shake in Almond milk every morning. I really like it and it helps keep me regular. Then I start filling in what I want to eat that week! Don't be too concerned with your macro levels until you've at least hit your calorie count. I used to get so stressed that my macros were way off when I was still 200 calories short! DON'T PANIC! Just fill it out until you're in the range of calories - then we'll figure out macros.
PRO TIP: When you insert a new line make sure the calculation updates, sometimes if you add a line below it won't and your numbers will be off! Watch my video to learn how to fix that if it happens.
Once you've reached the right calorie level let's look at your macros. If you notice you're high in a certain macro - let's say fat, look at what you have in your meal that's high in fat and consider replacing it with something that has a lower level - just be sure to keep your calorie level high! Mess around with a couple of things until you find the right balance. Maybe try lowering a cup of applesauce to 1/2 cup, or adding in another egg so you have 2. It takes practice at first but I promise you'll get the hang out it.
4. Get Shopping and Cooking!
When shopping for my food I typically spend about $20 a week and like $60-$100 a month at Costco. That's super nice for a college student! Plus I don't eat out so my budget stays low. I ONLY buy what I need for that week or things I eat every week (like chicken and almond milk) I don't by in large quantities when I can avoid it. I also love Smith's ClickList and Walmarts pick up service. Because let's be honest, I never feel more like a millennial than when I'm walking around Walmart for an hour looking for Freaking LaraBars. These services save me so much time and energy, and the small fee is worth the saved time and the saved impulse buys.
After I get home I usually start cooking on Sunday morning or afternoon because that's when I have the most free time. I try and multi task, so I'll get something in the oven - then mix the next thing and have it ready to go. After that I'll start the stove top items. It typically only takes me about 2-3 hours (which is a huge time saver later in the week). I also throw on some Netflix - always The Office LOL, cause who doesn't need Michael Scott in their lives. Then I measure and weigh everything as I put them in baggies and Tupperware. In our fridge my mom and I each have our own shelves for the week. From there it's pretty much just grab and go!
So there you have it! Hopefully you found this helpful! Still have questions? Drop a comment, shoot me an email, or reach out to me on social media! I love to nerd out about meal plans!
Here's the link to your FREE Meal Prepping Template! (At checkout you may be asked for your card info - but don't worry! You'll never be charged for Freebies! Also keep in mind that you have 24 hours to download the file before it expires!)