A goal without a plan is just a wish.
Full disclosure: I don’t like meal prep.
Nevertheless, my nutritional goals are to improve body composition and to support training performance whilst training clients in the gym, working as an online coach, producing online content like this blog, and spending some “me time” with my partner or pursuing my hobbies.
For this reason, it would be counterproductive to simply throw meals together as and when, therefore I have found ways to make meal prep fit into my lifestyle rather than the other way around.
Do you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of spending all Sunday making meals for the week? Then read on!
In this article, I aim to outline a number of strategies that have helped me and my clients tailor goal-appropriate nutritional choices to a hectic lifestyle.
1. Choose your meal prep frequency.
Who says you have to prep your meals once per week?
Not only is meal prep not a weekend exclusive; you also don’t need to block out four hours to do it all at once.
Other suggestions for meal prep frequencies include:
(a) Every day when you get home from work or after dinner.
I started doing this when I was working a full-time job in London in 2017 and resumed when I began personal training and doing evening shifts at a commercial gym in 2019.
(b) Every day when you get up in the morning.
This might require waking up half an hour earlier than usual. To counteract the negative effects of a reduced sleeping window, you could plan to go to bed earlier.
(c) Every two to three days.
Prepping every day may take you anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Doing so every two to three days may require an hour to an hour and a half, so that you have enough time to make as many meals as you need until your next scheduled prep.
This would be a good middle-of-the-road choice if you can’t or don’t want to make meals in advance every day, but you also don’t want to dedicate an entire afternoon to it on a Sunday.
2. Choose what to prep.
Again, who says you have to prep an entire meal every time? Even making one or two meal components can save you loads of time when you are busier.
Protein sources and produce are arguably the foundations of a balanced diet, so you will want to prioritise these when you make your meal prep plan.
These are some examples of what you can do:
(a) Boil eggs for 10 to 15 minutes and store them in the fridge for four to five days. Each one contains 7 to 8gr of complete high-quality protein (depending on egg size) and all you need to do is remove the shell.
(b) Batch-cook any vegetables or lean meat like chicken or turkey breast, lean beef, or lean pork, and either store it in the fridge for up to 48 hours or in the freezer for up to six months.
(c) Stock up on canned tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, or other fish of choice; Greek yogurt pots; and protein bars or shakes.
(d) Buy a pack of any fruit, such as apples, pears, and bananas, then wash and portion them out, then keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag or container.
3. Choose low-key cooking methods or no-prep foods.
Some of the easiest cooking methods include boiling or stir-frying, which require either a pot or a pan; broiling and baking, both done in the oven; and microwaving.
No-prep balanced choices are foods like the abovementioned canned fish and yogurt, but also canned vegetables and beans; nuts; pre-sliced bread and other pre-portioned carbohydrate sources, which are also easier to log on MyFitnessPal; small single-serving pots of any nut butter; pre-cooked bags of noodles and rice; rice cakes; etc.
I have afternoon and late evening shifts three days per week and a variable personal training schedule throughout the week. The shifts never change, therefore I have a structured meal prep schedule for those times.
Here is how I apply some of the above strategies throughout the week, depending on my work shifts and training days versus rest days:
Shift days: Monday, Thursday, Sunday
I prepare fruit for my pre- and post-workout meals for the week either on Saturday or Sunday morning the previous week. I pick two items and keep the selection simple: usually bananas and apples, pears, or a similar “easy” fruit, of which I portion out five to six servings at a time, using Strategy No. 2 (d).
Lunchtime on these days is my biggest “prep time”, consisting in:
(a) Making my third meal, which I eat right away, and the last one of the day, which I take to work with me.
(b) Making a post-workout meal, which I leave in the fridge in a plastic container and take to the gym with me the following morning.
(c) Making two servings of vegetables, so that I have a pre-made serving for my last meal. I also do this on “non-shift days”, although I don’t always pre-cook this second serving. Nevertheless, I will at least cut up and wash it.
(d) Occasionally, I also have to meal prep fruit for the following days if I have run out, but I try to plan so this doesn’t happen too often on “shift days”.
The prep takes an additional half an hour to forty-five minutes on top of the usual meal-making time.
My favourite low- or no-prep items
Who says you have to stick to the way everyone does meal prep? There are many ways in which you can make it work for you. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas!
In Future Episodes:
In the next article, I will consider the pros and cons of various popular diets for different goals, like fat loss and muscle gain.
Any meal prep tips? Contribute them in a comment!
A personal trainer who likes superheroes, bread, lifting weights, and studying “fitness stuff”.
Want to work with me? Check out my services!