One of the main, and easiest, factors to getting and staying in shape is preparing and planning your meals. I know a lot of people who, unfortunately, fall short on achieving their fitness goals, mainly because they fail to realize the importance of meal planning in order to maintain their healthy weight. I myself, in my earlier years of training, made very few changes to my physique and it wasn't until I started cooking and carrying my meals with me, that I was able to stay consistent with my healthy eating, maintain a regular eating schedule, and start to see those result I really desired.
You don’t have to be an experienced cook in order to successfully plan and cook your meals; all you have to do is START! Once you get into the habit of it, you will find what works for you and your individual goals. Here are some tips to help you get started in meal planning and prepping!
- First, assess how much time you can spare a week for meal planning. I personally like to prepare and cook my meals every two to three days, and plan my meals accordingly. If, for whatever reason, I am only able to cook once for the week, then that would give me an indication of how much food I will need to purchase and prep to get me through the week.
- Figure out how many meals you will need to prepare for each day. Everybody’s fitness goals are different and some people may eat more or less than others in order to achieve their goals. Take an inventory of how many meals you need to prepare for yourself, for each day and write it down. Having everything on paper will keep you on track. I personally like breaking down my meal planning by noting how many breakfast, lunches, dinners and snacks I need for the following days and plan accordingly. For example, I try to eat every 3 hours, so during a 12 hour shift at work I prepare and bring 2 meals and 2 health snacks. Since I typically cook twice per week, I would cook enough for 6-8 meals and have enough snack on hard to supplement those meals.
- What is your budget? Figure out how much money you can spend for the week in food and that would give you an idea of what kinds of foods you should buy for that week. For instance, Salmon is more expensive than Tilapia, and chicken breasts are more expensive than dark meat such as chicken thighs and legs. You can also save money on groceries by buying in bulk when foods are on sale such as meats that you can freeze, or buying produce and fruits when they are in season and usually cost less. Knowing your budget before hand can make meal planning easier for you.
- What are you in the mood for? Before heading out to the supermarket, have an idea of what you would like to eat the following days. I sometimes prefer turkey to chicken and vise versa so depending on my mood I know what foods I need to purchase once I get to the store.
- Find healthy recipes and try and write them down so that you can easily access them as needed. Some of my meals were in some way inspired by my mom’s cooking. I love my mother’s Dominican foods and have managed to find ways to still enjoy some of those foods by substituting some of the ingredients or changing the way they are prepared. For instance, I substituted white rice for brown, or steam, bake and sauté meats and vegetables instead of frying them. I also use coconut and extra virgin olive oil for cooking instead of corn oil. There are plenty of ways to find healthy recipes for you to try, blogs, heath conscious magazines and cookbooks. Also, don’t forget to take a look at my own healthy recipes here and check back from time to time since I will be adding more new recipes that will make your meal planning and cooking easier.
- Write down your grocery list. Before you head to the grocery store, make sure to have your grocery list all written down. Before you head out the door take an inventory of what you already have and cross those things off your list. This will help you save money, keep you on track and help prevent you from over buying.
- Set aside time to cook. Some people require more time than others to cook and package their meals. Personally for me, It usually takes me anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on how many meals I’m cooking. I usually leave meal prepping for when I am off from work and I know I can dedicate more time to it. Find a time that works for you and start cooking.
- Time to get cooking! Before you get started figure out what takes longer to cook and start with that. When I’m cooking sweet potatoes I place those in the oven first since I know they take the longest to cook. Same thing when cooking rice, start cooking that first, then move on to the meats, and then chop and cook the produce. If I’m short on time, I like to bake my foods such as chicken and salmon. This way you can just put it in the oven and move on to other things. Once you cook your meals, arrange and package them in your favorite tupperware and place them in the fridge or freezer.
- Don’t forget to plan your healthy snacks. I always carry my meals and healthy snacks with me to have available throughout the day. By doing this, I eliminate the possibility of grabbing something unhealthy when on the go and when those cravings hit. Personally, I love to snack on fresh fruits and veggies such as organic apples, carrots, pears, bananas, and celery. I also carry with me either peanut, almond, or cashew butter as well as hummus, whey protein shakes and rice cakes.
Some of my favorite healthy foods include: Sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, chicken breast, salmon, tilapia, turkey breast, eggs, unsweetened almond milk, plain Greek yogurt, hummus, celery, spinach, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, brussels sprouts, peppers, mushrooms, avocados, tomatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, cucumbers, lemons, apples, blueberries, pears, bananas, grapefruits beans, lentils, rice cakes, peanut, almond and or cashew butter, sprouted grain bread, plain almonds, coconut water and green tea.
Food prepping has definitely helped me get and stay in shape and I hope that my tips will also help you in achieving your fitness goals. As always, I want to wish you all good luck with your goals and encourage you to keep at it. Your hard work will pay off.