One of the big reasons people get derailed on their diet is a failure to prepare. Nothing handy when lunchtime rolls around? Shit… guess you’ll have to run by <insert name of random fast food joint> with co workers. Stomach grumbling in the mid-afternoon? No choice, but to swing for the “Heart Healthy” choices in the vending machine!
There is a very easy solution for this. Something that I’ve been practicing for about 3 years. A system that has dramatically cleaned up my diet, freed up a bunch of my time throughout the week and saved me a bunch of money. What is this magical process?
It’s not sexy. It’s definitley not a new idea. But, it’s still something very few people implement. It’s meal prep. That’s right, you shop at Costco, now cook like it! So that’s it. Buy your food and cook it in bulk.
I think it’s informative and helps give people ideas to see how others use meal prep in their life, so I’m going to walk you through my implementation. It’s important to note that my system is something that has evolved over time and is adapted to my current lifestyle. If you have less time during the week, you’ll need to make modifications. If you have different goals and a different activity level, you’ll need to prep differently.
Ok, on to my meal prep….
The first part of meal prep is food procurment. I shop weekly at Trader Joe’s, monthly at Costco and annually at Morris Ranch (for grasfed beef).
Each year I procure approximately one half of a cow which I keep at home in a large chest freezer. The beef is flash frozen and individually packed, so each week I can run out to the freezer and grab what I need.
I only go to Costco once a month, mostly due to the inconvenience of the trip. If you live in Southern California, you know what I mean. Costco trips turn into a half day affair. 45 minutes of fighting it out in the parking lot, 1 hour of weaving in and out of other shoppers lined up for bagel bite trials and then up to another hour waiting in an enormous line.
Each visit I find myself reflecting on the glory days of my Costco trips when I lived in Kansas. In and out in 10 minutes. But I digress…. Typically, I procure produce as well as chicken and pork products here. I store the meats I purchase from Costco in my freezer too so that they’ll last all month.
Finally, I shop at Trader Joe’s each week. Why TJs? Well, mostly convenience, I have one walking distance from my home. Here I pick up items like eggs, olive oil, almond butter, bacon and more produce.
With all my ingredients on hand, I move on to cooking for the week.
The most important cooking day for me each week is Sunday. I usually take about 1 to 2 hours on Sunday and devote it to meal prep activities. This may seem like a big chunk of your day off, but it frees up so much time during the rest of the week, you’ll likely grow to appreciate it. Plus now it’s ingrained as a ritual for me. I break out a drink while BBQing and relax.
In the morning I typically prepare a batch of bacon, cook a large pot of rice, bake sweet potatoes and boil or steam some veggies. These are very hands off activities, so I use the cooking time to do something relaxing, which for me is usually reading some exercise or nutrition related book. By the way, baking bacon will change your life.
Sunday evening I pull the meat out of the fridge that has been defrosting for a couple days and apply whatever seasoning suits my fancy on that particular day.
Each week I usually prepare a batch of hamburgers, a couple steaks and then alternate between chicken and pork. If you don’t have a grill, aren’t adept at BBQing (did I mention I’m from Kansas City) or just prefer your food prepped another way, the crock pot is another great option for mass food prep.
The food on the grill is the only item that is actually prepped with a large enough quantity for the week. But baking more bacon, or making more rice during the week is simple to do and something I repeat whenever I run out of my current batch.
So how does this huge mass of food turn into actual meals?
Each morning I fry up a few eggs with coconut oil and pull out some of my prepped bacon and berries I’ve got on hand. I’ll mix up what I top the eggs with and the prep method for variety. So, if I’m sick of fried eggs, I’ll scramble them or make an omlet with the bacon. In the picture you’ll notice some salsa on top of the eggs, other good choices are guacamole and Sriracha.
Back in my 9 to 5 days I didn’t have time to do this each morning, so I actually added a step to my Sundays where I scrambled a bunch of eggs and threw them into tupperwares for the week. Another great breakfast option is baking a large frittata and packing that up into individual servings.
Even the more time consuming routine that I follow today frying up my eggs each morning requires less than 10 minutes of my time.
When I take a break for lunch I pull out either the pork or chicken that I prepped on the grill or in the crock pot and use that as a protein topping on a big ass salad. I also like to use the veggies that I prepped as a part of that salad. Again, since the meat is already cooked, it takes less than 10 minutes to prepare this meal and that includes the time it takes for me to make my homemade salad dressing. The variety comes by alternating the proteins, veggies or dressing that you use.
My dinner depends on my workout, but here you’ll see a picture of one of my very carb dense meals. Rice, sweet potato, beef, broccoli, eggs and few other items all mixed together in a bowl… what’s not to like? Again, 10 minutes tops.
This dinner is also very easy to vary. Change the veggie out. Looking for something with fewer carbs? Consider trying cauli-rice, or maybe use a bed of Romaine lettuce. You can always wrap your burger in some iceberg for “protein style.” There are a lot of options here, limited only by your creativity.
If you find yourself getting hungry throughout the day, then it is very important to have snacks on hand. Some of the options I find very convenient are: beef jerky, sausage (though you need to keep an eye on ingredients on both of these), nuts (make sure you’re not sitting down to a Costco sized bag of these), full fat-greek yoghurt or veggies + almond butter.
Of course your snacks need to account for your goals. Depending on my goals at the time I’ve been known to sit down with a few spoonfuls of coconut oil. If fat loss isn’t a big concern for you, fruit can be a solid snack too.
So find something that you enjoy and that fits your constraints (do you have a fridge at work?). Be sure to keep a few options on hand for variety and have at it!
The number one complaint I hear from people that try and fail to put meal prep in place is that they get bored with the food. Just like implementing anything new in your life there is an adjustment period as you figure out how to make it work for you and how to get enough variety out of it. When I first started doing this I didn’t even like eating leftovers because of the lack of variety.
So, for most people I think it’s best not to shoot for a full seven days worth of prep the first few times. Make enough food for 3 days and replace what you’ve been doing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with the prepped food and stick with what you’ve been doing on Tuesday and Thursday. Or maybe just prep your lunches for the week. It’s going to take some experiementation and time. But there are a ton of different side items you can add and seasonings you can use to get variety.
One more note on the other extreme. Occassionally someone will take to food prep really well and eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Even if these are “clean” foods, this is most definitely not good for you. Variety is important to ensure you’re getting exposure to a range of micronutrients and it also staves off food intolerances which your body can develop if you’re always eating the same things.
Get to It
So give it a shot. Start simple. Choose to either prep meals for three days next week or pick one meal and prep if for the entire work week. Once you become skilled at food prep, it enables you to really dial in your diet, whether you’re interested in fat loss or performance.
If you do prep your meals, let me hear about it in the comments. Good luck!