Having a balanced diet that supports your fitness and lifestyle goals can be a challenge for those who are single, have limited funds, or are “not adventurous” when it comes to foods. Being in a relationship and/or having kids can also present similar or even additional challenges, as there may be multiple dietary needs and “likes” to consider, etc. Food prepping is instrumental in both short and long term adherence and success. You can develop your own strategies but generally here is what works particularly well for me:
(a) Plan meals for the week and shop accordingly.
(b) Meals that will be eaten away from home (e.g., work and school) are often the most challenging, so consider your nutritional needs for the entire time you will be away from your home. For me, these are often 10 to 12 hour days, so I take a few extra minutes planning these “away” meals and snacks.
(c) Make a list of each type of meal or snack (breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning snack, afternoon snack, evening snack, etc.) and within each type list things that you like to eat. List as many things as you can. Next to each item, specify the macronutrient content (protein, carbohydrates, fat) of each. This will allow you to quickly pick and choose a few foods for each category that will suit your tastes and meet your macronutrient goals; this will also help prevent boredom caused by lack of food variety.
(d) You can save time and money by eating the same meals for the meals eaten away from home for that week. For example, if you plan on eating oatmeal with sliced bananas, 2 hard boiled eggs and Greek yogurt for breakfast, plan and prepare for this same breakfast times X number of days.
(e) When planning, make sure you individually list every ingredient / component that needs to be purchased and prepared.
(a) Buy in bulk where possible
(b) Take advantage of sales and freeze what you can use later. My local Sprouts market has chicken breast on sale several times throughout the year for $2.99 a pound. When it goes on sale, I will also ask the butcher to grind a few one pound packs of chicken breast for me, as there is no extra charge. I put what I don’t immediately need in the freezer.
(c) Warehouse stores such as Costco are your friend! Every week I buy a huge bag of kale salad for less than $5. Compared to what the grocery store sells the small bag for, I save 75% or more.
(d) Carefully look at “use by” and expiration dates; often times stores will steeply discount a product that must be used within 2 or 3 days, and you will end up losing money if you don’t use all the product before it expires.
(e) Consider convenience vs. cost. Convenience does come at a higher cost. For example, I can buy two large tubs of Kirkland plain Greek yogurt (8 one-cup servings total from two tubs) from Costco for less than $5. If I buy plain Greek yogurt in individual cups, the cups are typically 6 ounces and about $1 per cup. 64 ounces of Kirkland plain Greek yogurt = $5. 64 ounces of name brand single serving cups = 10.4 six ounce cups X $1 = more than $10. The tradeoff of saving about 50% is having to use your own containers. Saving $5 per week may not seem like much, but consider that I use this amount every week; that’s $260 per year.
(a) Looking at the quantities of each ingredient that need to be cooked and/or otherwise prepared, set the ingredients out in a manner which will facilitate an assembly line approach.
(b) Consider what you can be preparing and/or cooking simultaneously. For example, you can hard boil eggs while baking chicken breasts. Use the timer on your phone to avoid over-cooking.
(c) Measuring spoons and cups, and kitchen food scales take the guess work out of food prep!
(d) Use non-stick silicon baking sheets and muffin pans. I spray a little non-stick spray into a silicon muffin pan and use that to bake eggs. Eggs slide right out and cleanup is much easier than with metal pans. For baking things like chicken breasts, you can use a silicon baking sheet. For me, this is a much better alternative to putting the chicken breasts directly onto a baking sheet (much easier cleanup) and also cheaper in the long run and more eco-friendly than using foil to line the baking sheet, as silicon baking sheets are reusable.
(a) Where possible, put individual serving sizes into separate containers. This way in the morning, it will only take a minute or two to throw everything into your food management bag.
(b) Buy an extra set of cooler ice packs. If you’re like me, you will sometimes forget to put the ice packs back into the freezer when you get home; you’ll appreciate having an extra set of ice packs.
(c) Make sure you have enough ice packs to accommodate the size of your food management bag; my bag is on the large side and requires 4 Fit & Fresh flat ice packs (these are great because they are rather thin).
You may find that food prep takes a considerable amount of time in the beginning. But the more you do it, the more proficient you become in planning, shopping and preparing. Have fun! Mix it up!
This week’s Strongfigure Conditioning Workouts: