Meal prep: the ultimate beginner’s guide

meal prep on a chopping board

If you’ve been on your fitness journey for a while, you’ve probably come across the term meal prep. You may have seen the mountains of food prepared religiously by preppers every #mealprepsunday. You might be wondering what it’s all about. This blog will hopefully explain the principles behind meal prep, why it’s a good idea, and how to get started.

What is meal prep?

Meal prep pretty much does what it says on the tin. It describes how people plan, cook and assemble all their meals in advance, sometimes including snacks. It’s become synonymous with living a healthy lifestyle because, well, it makes it easier.

Why people meal prep

vegetables on a chopping board
There are many reasons why someone will meal prep…

There’s a whole load of reasons why someone might start meal prepping. Notably, it usually boils down to portion control, price, and time constraints.

Other reasons include:

  • Staying consistent
  • Keeping on track with a specific meal plan (you’ll often see bodybuilders and athletes do this.)
  • To avoid temptation and purchasing impulse meals (like fast food)
  • To avoid food waste
  • To lose weight/tone/reach other fitness goals
  • For accountability and extra willpower
  • To stay healthy
  • To save time
  • To have more varied meals
  • To fuel your body pre and post-workout

Let’s look at a few of these in more detail…

Price: This is where the benefits of purchasing in bulk come in. When you plan out an entire week’s worth of meals, you can make the most of buying large sacks of vegetables and saving yourself some pennies.

Portion control: Most people don’t know what a ‘normal’ portion is. Restaurants, takeaways and so on all serve supersized portions that can warp our perspective. Meal prepping can help you recognise portion sizes after a while. It also helps if you’re on a specific plan (I.E following macros) and you don’t want to sit with a calculator every meal time.

Time: By doing the majority of your cooking at one time during the week, you can save valuable time and avoid temptation when you come home from a long day at work. That also means you’re less likely to order an unhealthy takeaway or delve into the office biscuit tin!

Food for fuel: Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean starving yourself. If you’re working out regularly, your body will need the right mix of food to keep going. Meal prep can stop you from getting hangry and embracing your inner Hulk when you’re on the gym floor at 6 in the morning.

Varied meals: Having a meal plan doesn’t mean you eat the same thing over and over again. With meal prep, you can ensure you have varied meals every day, whilst also keeping to your fitness goals. This will also keep you more satisfied, stop you getting bored, and keep you from stopping your fitness journey.

How to meal prep

There’s no one recipe for meal prepping. It’s different for everyone, according to their lifestyles and goals. However, there are some good rules of thumb to be mindful of.

Timing: A lot of people prep on a Sunday. This is because it’s a day off for many people, and also because a lot of people work Monday to Friday. However, if your schedule doesn’t match this, then you might prefer a different day. Whatever time and day you choose, make sure you give yourself enough time to prep a lot of different meals all at once (and check with any flatmates etc. if you’re going to be using the kitchen for hours on end!).

Ingredients: Again, this is entirely dependent on your goals, plan and lifestyle. There are tons of meal prep recipes out there that are macro-specific, gluten-free, high fat, high protein, keto, vegan, and so on. Pinterest is usually a good place to start exploring different recipes. Be aware that certain ingredients have limited shelf lives which will affect how much of it you prep (more on this below).

salmon for meal prep
Fish has a short shelf life, especially when raw!

Quantity: Some people meal prep their breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Some choose to prep just a few of these. It’s whatever works best for you. I personally prep my lunch and snacks. I have breakfast at home and my dinner is often varied because I might be eating alone, with my boyfriend or with family and friends.

Ingredients like fish have a shelf life of only a couple of days when raw, similarly raw meat will only last about two days. Once cooked, fish and meat will last around three days – up to five for cooked chicken and steak. Most cooked vegetables will last around five to seven days before becoming a bit gross to eat.

Because of this, it’s worth only prepping a few meals in advance. Most people aim for around five day’s worth (usually their entire work week).

meal prep container with fish and veg
Plastic or glass containers for meal prep are common.

Storage: If you’ve got any of the ingredients above, then you’ll need to keep your meal prep in a fridge set at around 5 celsius (40 fahrenheit). There’s a number of opinions about whether plastic or glass containers are best. Some people worry about leaching of certain plastics into food. In any case, make sure your containers are tight – not just to avoid it leaking into your work bag if you’re taking it in for lunch, but also to keep the food fresh and so it’ll keep for longer. You can also use foil, sandwich bags or cling film. Whatever your preference really. If you plan to commute with your meal prep, it can be a good idea to invest in an insulated bag to keep it nice and fresh on the journey.

Make sure food doesn’t stand for longer than two hours at room temperature. But make sure any cooked food cools down thoroughly before putting it in your fridge as it can affect your fridge’s temperature and/or break it. If you have any raw meat or fish, then make sure it’s always kept on the lowest shelf of your fridge, to avoid any contamination if it leaks.

Meal prep inspiration

Hopefully, this post has given you a bit of guidance on where to start as a meal prepping newbie. As for ideas, check back from time to time as I will be putting up some of my favourite recipes for meal prep. In the meantime, I’m rather keen on Pinterest, Greatist and specialist websites like My Protein’s blog and Bodybuilding.com. Checking Instagram on a Sunday often throws up a few ideas as well!

Like most things, great meal prep comes with practice and some experimentation over what recipes work best for you. But keep at it, and soon you’ll be joining the ranks of #mealprepsunday.

One Reply to “Meal prep: the ultimate beginner’s guide”

  1. […] course, there are times when you might not be able to make your own (although meal prepping can help with this!). On those occasions, finding a nice independent place that offers salads is […]

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