Many things HAVE to be done daily, adding to the overwhelm of all that life can bring, and eating is one of them. It’s not one of those things you can skip or put off when things get busy - not long-term anyway. So, when I look at the things that have to be done in a day, I am always trying to find the most efficient ways of doing them.
I want to give you some solid tips and shortcuts to keeping good food in the house, on the table, and in line with your overall health goals.
Meal prep is a reliable way of simplifying the busy week, but following through and getting it done, well, that doesn’t always happen. If you’re like the rest of us trying to implement subtle ways of making the long week easier to navigate, then you’ve probably tried planning out your meals and portioning them into easy-to-grab containers.
Ok, let’s stop right here for a second. There’s a good chance lots of the hacks I’m going to discuss here are things you’ve already heard. Maybe on a podcast, a health blog, from your coworker, trainer, spouse, etc. BUT HERE IS THE THING. Not even the best advice is going to help you create better habits, or simplify life, or get you to your goals UNLESS YOU TAKE ACTION. Crazy thought, right?
Here’s the thing, with any “GOAL” or “dream” or really in any area we want to make changes, we have to take action. Simply hoping, wishing, researching, or listening to advice won’t help you.
I would hope this sounds like the most simple advice of all time, but you may be surprised at just how many people don’t put action into their plan. You know what? MAYBE YOU AREN’T surprised because you are guilty of that yourself. I know I have been from time to time. If you often get bits of knowledge or advice that, in all honesty you know would help, but your FOLLOW through falls short, it's time to stop. Don’t let this be another one of those 'listen but don’t apply' areas.
So how can you implement what we are going to talk about here and be successful?
WRITE IT DOWN.
Listen in on the Her Inspired Journey Podcast all about meal planning here. Episodes of the Her Inspired Journey Podcast can be found on Podbean, Stitcher, Spotify, the Apple Podcast app and most places podcasts are found. Just head to your favorite place to listen to podcasts (or download Podbean if you aren't listening yet, and look up Her Inspired Journey).
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I recently posted about this on Instagram -- "those who write down their goals are 42% more likely to actually achieve the goal."
It seems simple, but so many people don’t STOP what they are doing to take the time, find a paper and a pen and WRITE IT OUT.
Now that we have that down, you see the value of writing it out and making your goals real life, let’s loop back into the bulletproofing your Meal Prep.
Here are the steps you need to follow:
1. Make a plan, a food plan that is. What do you want to end up on your plate this week? From protein-filled breakfasts, easy-to-grab snacks, and dinners that don’t leave you wanting to eat the rest of the food in the house, write it down. Use the food plan outline I mentioned earlier. This will help you line it all up and take control of your weekly meals.
For those of you who may be new to prepping food, take a look at the food storage containers you have on hand before you shop. If you need to pick up some more Tupperware when you head to the store, do it.
If you are on a budget or trying to be as frugal as possible, hit the dollar store or make a point to reuse food storage (glass, plastic, or whatever).
Note: some people may only need to prep certain parts of meals (like their main dish at dinner). Others may need to pre-plan meals for when they are away from home (like lunch), and others may need or want to pre-prep every meal, including snacks. I can’t personally tell you which you need to focus on, BUT I can tell you it’s worth being very honest with yourself about where you are struggling with food. This is especially true for those who don’t have a healthy relationship with food to start.
If you have tendencies toward stress or emotional eating, food prep will be a good option. If you are someone who often “forgets to eat” until after the long day starts to wind down and then the mood strikes to eat everything in the house… MEAL PREP IS KEY. Take a look at your life, and get very HONEST with what you need.
I also have to mention that with MOST goals you start on it's usually best to begin with bite-size pieces of it and add to it as you become more used to the routine, and create momentum in those areas. BUT I think that for most people going ALL IN on meal prep is the way to go. Like I mentioned above, slipping up and making unhealthy choices will pull the wind out of your sails and block you mentally and physically from seeing Meal Prep time as important or successful.
2. Schedule in the time to prep. Unless you are resorting to lots of prepackaged goods for your meals (which shouldn’t be your first choice for obvious reasons), you will need to plan a couple of hours for meal prep. Some people may choose to do two smaller prep sessions per week. Others may need just one. Take a look at your schedule and see when the best time for you is.
3. Make your list. Getting to the grocery store without a list will be an easy opportunity to fumble and come home with junk that can derail you. Make sure your list is thorough for managing time in the store and for avoiding later last-minute trips that will likely lead you down isles of temptation. Having an ongoing list on the refrigerator, or your phone will also help with those “easy to forget” items.
The best rule of thumb here, if it doesn’t make it into the cart, you can’t use it to sabotage your self later. Avoid unhealthy junk altogether. And secondly, NEVER, and I repeat NEVER, go to the grocery store hungry. Additionally, if you can, avoid going during “that time of the month” when you are likely to be fighting your worst cravings.
4. Time to prep. Now that you have what you need for the week, revisit your food plan, and get to prepping. Whether you are preparing loaded salads or pre-cooking your proteins, line out at least 4-5 days of meals. If you want to do more, try making and freezing the other half of the portion for down the road when you are traveling or unable to make time to prep. This will be your back up plan, and can also be your go-to meal on nights that you forget to plan dinner, or need a super easy, pop in and reheat kind of meal.
5. Store your food in a designated place. Make a specific area in the fridge, cupboard, or pantry for your food. If you mix your prepped food into the open spaces instead, you risk overlooking them, or losing them in everything else and walking into the day without your food. (I have my own cupboard in my house for my food and snacks so I can also avoid the “not for me” items my family has. Out of sight, out of mind works to combat those tempting treats for me - this may work well for you, too).
6. Plan one free meal a week. Make sure it is pre-planned. Just like I talked about in EP 038 Forming New Habits and Become a Morning Person, if you wait until the last minute and start negotiating with yourself on the fly, this will likely hurt your long-term progress.
For example, here, if you forget to bring your lunch with you to work or don’t have a plan for dinner after you get home from a long day, YOU WILL MOST LIKELY FAIL. Don't save your cheats to use here. The possibility of falling off if you do and not getting back on track is super, ALTHOUGH THIS DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO GET BACK ON TRACK. Still, I guarantee it will cause you a feeling of failure which CAN and WILL get in your head and throw off the process of creating this healthy relationship with food, and your new habits.
If you are on a mission to lose weight or are working to avoid food triggers, chose one day a week (can also be on the weekend) to have a meal or snack outside of the prepped food. Allow yourself to enjoy that goodie you’ve been craving guilt-free then get back onto the plan.
Now that you know how to start prepping your meals, it’s time to put it into action. Planning when it comes to nutrition can save you a lot of time during the week and can help keep you on track with your fitness or weight loss goals - but you have to follow through. Aim to make this a weekly tradition, and if you can, get a partner. Chances are there is someone else in your circle that could benefit from prepping meals. Team up to be accountability buddies, or you can even get together on the weekend and have a prep party.