Meal prep can look many different ways, and take on multiple forms. However, meal prep for weight loss is a different challenge altogether—foods that are created ahead of time need to adhere to certain nutritional principles. Here are six tips to keep your prep on track and help you reach your health goals!
Meal prep is my #1 weight loss strategy. Yes I know that’s quite a statement and you might not agree. However, I believe it to be true. It’s been over 5 years since starting my weight loss journey and I can tell you planning my meals ahead of time has been key.
That being said, I have to do more than just plan out my meals. I must take time every week to prep some or all of my food in advance. This can be a batch of buffalo chicken, a week’s worth of mason jar salads, green smoothies prepared and frozen ahead of time, or all of the above. Of course the more prep the better.
However, even a few things prepared ahead of time will make it easier to eat healthier. Meal prep for weight loss worked to help me lose weight (and keep it off) and I know it can work for you.
Meal Prep for Weight Loss: 6 Tips to Hit Your Goals
I have talked about the logistics of meal prep for weight loss already. If you want to get a highlight of my process, here are a few posts to check out:
- what my meal prep day looks like
- a beginner’s guide with tips and recipes
- tips to meal prep when you’re short on time
- my favorite glass meal prep containers
Each of those posts is filled with great practical information that will help get you started on meal prep.
Today, I want to talk specifically about using meal prep for weight loss. Meal prep, in general, can help ease stress and eat better. However if losing weight is your goal then here are 6 tips that you should keep in mind.
#1 Know Your Daily Calories/Points/etc When Planning Meal Prep for Weight Loss
I know some of you want to throw quinoa and kale at me when I talk about tracking food. But….here’s the thing: too much healthy food can still make you unhealthy and fat. Just sayin.
Sure, I love smoothies but if I drink an 800 calorie green smoothie every morning and then eat an 800 calorie salad for lunch, I’ll go over my daily calories (or points) with just 2 meals. So while those meals might nourish my body better than a Big Mac I’ll still struggle with losing weight by not tracking portions and/or calories.
Weight loss happens when you burn more calories than you take in. Period. Sorry, it’s just the way it is.
Therefore, when weight loss is the goal, you need to know your daily caloric intake or Weight Watchers point target before preparing your meals for the week. Obviously, if you use Weight Watchers you can find out your daily points on their website. To figure out your daily caloric intake for weight loss try using My Fitness Pal. That’s the website I use and it’s free.
Plan Your Week Around Your Calorie Goals
Understanding the amount of food you need to eat to lose weight will help as you plan and prep your food for the week.
For example, if your daily caloric intake is 1500 calories, and you want to eat 5 times a day, then you can plan your meals accordingly. Here’s a glimpse into what that can look like:
- Breakfast – 300 calorie green smoothie.
- Morning snack – 180 calorie portion of almonds
- Lunch – 350 calorie mason jar salad
- Afternoon snack – 90 calorie cheese stick and 80 calorie apple (170 calories total)
- Dinner – 500 calorie pasta recipe
Now you need to take that goal and use it to meal prep for weight loss. Here’s what to do:
- Create frozen smoothie packs so you can assure you have the ingredients to quickly make the smoothie in the morning.
- Portion out the almonds ahead of time and put them in a refrigerator snack bin.
- Prepare mason jar salads on Sunday for the week. You can see my mason jar tutorial here.
- Depending on the pasta recipe either the sauce can be prepared ahead of time or components of the dish can be made in advance. For example, the ground turkey can be made ahead of time for this Turkey Chili Mac recipe. That shaves about 10 minutes off the recipe when you are ready to prepare it.
Of course, you don’t need to do all of that prep but doing some will assure that the food you plan to eat will be available.
#2 Choose Healthy Recipes
Does this sound too basic? It kinda is but I wanted to add it to the list anyway because we can all use little reminders. Using meal prep as a strategy to achieve your weight loss goals will only work if you stay within your daily calorie limits. It’s easier to do this with healthy recipes.
I don’t recommend filling your meal plan with 15 brand new recipes every week. That probably wouldn’t end well. Instead, make small changes. Maybe take your favorite ground beef recipes and substitute ground turkey instead.
As someone who has been meal planning for YEARS, I suggest keeping it simple. Plan to eat the same things for breakfast and lunch every day. If you need to switch it up then do so for a couple of meals. Plan 1-2 new recipes a week and then fill the rest of the week with lightened up family favorites.
Check out this clean eating meal prep post for all of my best clean eating ideas and recipes. It’s filled with healthy suggestions for busy people to make eating clean simple.
Great Cookbooks to Consider
I also HIGHLY recommend investing in some healthy cooking cookbooks. I continue to learn to cook healthier by following the recipes and advice in these cookbooks.
#3 Focus on food struggles
Prepping your meals ahead of time allows you to become intentional with food. This alone can help change eating habits. However, you can take it a step further by focusing on eating habits you struggle the most with.
For example, if you struggle with eating a healthy breakfast then take time on Sunday to prepare breakfast burritos, steel-cut oatmeal, or smoothies for the week. Now instead of rushing out the door with no food in your belly, and heading to the drive-thru for a processed high-fat breakfast sandwich, you can grab a wholesome nutritious meal right out of your refrigerator. You’re welcome. xoxo
For 14 years I worked full-time out of the house and lunchtime, along with the 3:00 o’clock hour, was always a huge struggle for me. Often, if I didn’t have food with me I would grab something from the vending machine or just starve until I got home. At that point, I would ravage my kitchen for anything. It wasn’t pretty.
Enter mason jar salads. A few years ago, I started doing meal prep for weight loss by making mason jar salads and snacks on Sunday for the week. This was a game-changer. I ate healthier, felt less stressed, and lost weight because I had healthy food prepared ahead of time I could easily grab it on my way to work. I knew if I didn’t plan anything else for the week I needed to at least take time to make my mason jar salads.
Today, with working from home, my food struggle is a little bit different. Instead of lunches, I focus on quick easy dinners. We don’t get home till late some days and I want healthy foods to be quickly available for dinner. Of course, I try to do more than just dinners but if I do nothing else I at least need to have dinner ready to go on days we don’t get home till late.
If meal prep has you overwhelmed then just start with a food struggle. I guarantee after you experience the relief and benefits from resolving it you will become a food prep believer.
#4 Portion out “hand grab” foods.
One of my biggest calorie busters is reaching into a cracker box or nut bag and grabbing WAY MORE than one portion. I can’t even tell you the number of calories I would eat by doing this. And why’s that? Because I had no clue. Trust me, in the weight loss journey, ignorance is not bliss and denial will keep you exactly where you’re at. #truth
The best (and only) way for me to enjoy things like crackers, nuts, chips, and anything that comes in a bag or box is to portion it out ahead of time. Someday I might be able to eyeball food, but probably not. I don’t think the problem is with my eyeballs. It’s more my willpower. If you ever feel the need to see a grown woman lose control over Cheez-Its then go ahead and put a family size box in front of me. It ain’t pretty.
Same with nuts. My favorite nuts are pecans, almonds, and cashews. Each one is a delicious high-protein nutritious snack. But…nuts are high in calories and fat. ¼ cup of raw whole almonds is 170 calories and 14 grams of fat so grabbing a handful or two of raw almonds can result in an excess of calories you were not planning on eating.
However, if I portion out snacks ahead of time (using baggies or small plastic/glass containers) then I can enjoy my favorites while still keeping under control. It’s harder for me to grab a second bag of snacks when I know the calories. I store the pre-portioned packages in a bin either in the refrigerator or pantry.
#5 Stock Your Refrigerator or Freezer with Healthy Basics
Okay, let’s say you don’t want to be tied to a meal plan. You want to wake up each day and follow your heart to the foods it leads you too. Or maybe you don’t want to eat the same meal every day. If that’s the case I have a solution.
Obviously you need to have some structure. If you want to lose weight then you need to change up the way you’ve been structuring your eating habits. Sorry. Did you ever hear the saying “If you do what you always do then you’ll get what you always get”? You’re not going to get new results doing the same things. This goes with everything in life.
Staples to Make
If you want to eat healthy but don’t want to be confined to recipes then I recommend filling your refrigerator with healthy food basics. A few ideas include:
- shredded chicken
- quinoa or rice
- salad ingredients
- other ingredients like this
With other simple condiments and/or basics in the pantry then you can create a variety of recipes. For example, you can easily put together a salad, stir fry, casserole dish, wrap, quinoa bowl, parfait, or anything you want using the ingredients above.
Personally, I enjoy having basics in my refrigerator every time I meal prep for weight loss. It helps with a busy schedule and also on nights everyone wants something different.
The only issue I found with preparing foods without a specific recipe in mind is possible waste. If you don’t have a specific recipe for quinoa but make 3 cups of quinoa you might end up throwing some out. I hate food waste so I try to use foods up in a recipe or freeze ingredients before they spoil. This is just something to keep in mind.
Something else to keep in mind is portion control. If you make a batch of healthy foods to keep in your refrigerator make sure to measure portions out correctly as you put together meals. This means you need to get your measuring cups and spoons out. I know I take all the fun out of things but you will thank me when you slip into a pair of skinny jeans.
#6 Create the Amount of Structure you Need with Meal Prep for Weight Loss
Meal prep creates structure in your weight loss journey. The amount of structure depends on you. Do you need all your food prepped ahead of time and organized by day in your refrigerator? Hey, you can do that if you want!
Or maybe you just need a little structure to your morning? Basically, you can have every meal portioned out with the calories labeled or you can just have fresh healthy foods recipe ready in your refrigerator. It’s up to you to create the structure needed to help organize a healthier lifestyle.
The amount of time you spend on meal prep for weight loss will depend on the amount of structure you need. However, don’t be discouraged by time. If you only have an hour, then do what you can in that hour. If you have more time on another day then plan to use that time to stock your freezer with foods.
Where there is a will there is a way. It’s about creating routines and habits. At first, it feels difficult because it’s new. However, after you keep at it and experience the benefits to meal prep you won’t mind taking the time to prep food for the week.
Keep in mind the amount of structure you need changes throughout your weight journey. You might need more structure in the beginning and after a few months not as much. In the end, you’ll find the meal prep routine that works your lifestyle.
Changing your eating habits and losing weight is not easy. However, meal prep makes it easier. It does. It’s easier to eat healthy nutritious food and stay within calories or points, when meals and snacks are prepared ahead of time and ready to eat. Start making food prep a part of your routine today and I know you will see real sustainable healthy changes to your lifestyle.