It’s the most
wonderful busiest time of the year.
And raise your hand please if eating healthy OR your already healthy food prep takes a back seat to the craziness of the holidays?!
On average, most people gain 1-2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. A couple of pounds really don’t sound like much; however, did you know that most people do NOT lose those pounds? Most people still have those same couple of pounds when the holidays roll around again. That means year after year, the gift that keeps on giving is the weight gain earned from festivities, cookies, drinks, and way too much eggnog.
Now raise your hand if you feel depressed and defeated.
But the truth is, eating healthy is already tough. The pressure of the holidays, if you’re like me at all, can be stressful. While understanding food and knowing how to food prep should be the base of your healthy, active lifestyle; the holidays aren’t typically the times you’re pinning “make-ahead-food-prep-frozen-organic-healthy-vegetable-soup.”
So why not change that? Why not learn how to food prep, make better decisions, eat healthier, AND enjoy the holidays all at the same time?
Recently, many of our readers filled out a survey responding on pressing issues facing them in their quests for ultimate health and fitness. One of the most popular replies sounded something like this:
I need to know what to eat / how to eat / how to food prep / what to buy / how often to eat / how to stay motivated with food planning.
Understanding how much and what I should be eating at what times to keep lean and gain muscle. –SF Reader
Strongfigure is preparing to re-launch its Total Health and Fitness Makeover this Thanksgiving (on Black Friday to be exact). I can’t express to you how much I believe in this book. How much I want to help. How I wrote it to save you, the reader, from having to ask all the questions I asked, or from having to learn about health the hard way. I believe you don’t have to spend eight hours on food prep (I once did) and I wrote The Total Health and Fitness Makeover so that you don’t have to struggle. Obsess. Worry. Or worse, fail.
We created the Insider’s group for purchasers of the book so that you have exclusive access to ask questions any time you have them, connect with people just like you, and help inspire, motivate, and encourage others to believe in themselves the way that I believe in every single reader right now. We wrote this book, created this product, formed the Insider Group not just to make a few dollars (of course, that is awesome) but we wrote it because we have lived the struggles and we genuinely have a huge desire to help.
Our Total Health and Fitness Makeover will be on sale again this Thanksgiving. It will be available in print form and eBook form. And you have the option of buying the book, the workbook, or both. The cool thing about the book is that you don’t have to read it from the beginning, word for word. Our table of contents is extensive and you can flip through and learn what you want when you want. The workbook is just that–a workbook that guides you through (with places to write your own notes and goals and access links to charts and forms) on how to transform your body, your food, and your life. It’s kind of like the Cliff Notes version of our book, but better: we give you secret forms, links, and information that no one else receives.
To show you how much we believe in our book, I wanted to show you a portion of the workbook so that you can see what we’ve done to help. I would be willing to bet that if you have a question about anything in the realm of health, fitness, nutrition, hydration, sleep, stress relief….we answer it in the book, the workbook, or even online. And if we don’t have your answer, we won’t stop until we can either figure it out or point you in the direction of whom to talk to in order to solve your mystery. That’s what you get when you purchase our book: a lifetime commitment from us to help you when and how you need it, and a lifetime of better health because YOU took the time to invest in yourself.
Here’s an excerpt from our workbook on food prep and building a better kitchen for successful nutrition throughout life. Since this topic ranks of highest importance to many, we wanted to share it and hope it motivates everyone to not only start transforming kitchens everywhere, but also be able to stay motivated throughout the holidays and learn how to make better, smarter decisions this year.
Food Prep and the Healthy Kitchen
Healthy eaters have healthy kitchens. One of the best ways to get started on a healthy eating plan is to eliminate the temptations of foods that hinder your goals.
Obvious junk foods that have little to no nutritional value, dangerous ingredients, and addictive qualities should be removed from your kitchen and never brought into your home. If they are in your cupboard they will be eaten. Eliminate the temptation and eliminate the food.
What a Healthy Kitchen Should Look Like
Step One: Time to go shopping!
Food Prep Starts With Making Your Grocery List
A sure fire way to prepare you for nutritional success is to prepare your food. Food prepping once or twice a week all of your meals helps you to assure you are meeting your daily caloric and macronutrient requirements, keeps you from splurging on junk foods, and helps promote higher nutrient dense eating.
Shopping for your weekly food can be both fun and challenging. To help you on your mission to choose better foods we have put together some helpful strategies and sample grocery lists to guide you to making better choices.
- Most grocery stores have the fresh and therefore healthy food located around the perimeter of the store. In such grocery stores, it is best to stay on the outside to do all of your shopping.
- Food that has an expiration date is typically much healthier for you than food that will last for years.
- There are two to three aisles in every grocery store (chips, candy, and sugary drinks) that should always be avoided.
- Shop for color. Fresh foods, with a variety of color, mean a variety of nutrients!
- Don’t shop hungry (or thirsty). We often make the worst decisions about food when we are hungry or thirsty.
- Whenever possible buy organic, free range, and local. These foods are almost always healthier options and they usually taste considerably better.
- If you do buy processed foods, look for minimal ingredients that you can pronounce.
- Minimal packaging usually signals less processing.
Your Shopping List Guide
As we stated in the Total Health and Fitness Makeover book, one key to proper nutrition is to eat a variety of food – especially a variety of vegetables. With that in mind, we have created a shopping guide in this work book to help you better accomplish meeting those nutrient needs:
If you would like this resource in a printable .PDF format please go to: http://books.strongfigure.com/shopping-list/
Food Prep Begins in the Grocery Store:
These lists were created with consideration of typical American grocery stores. Remember we encourage you to eat a variety of high quality foods. If you have access to nutrient dense foods that are not listed in this guide then eat up!
Depending on your caloric needs, you will need to determine how much protein is needed. Most people will need approximately 30 servings of protein a week or about .8-1 gram of protein per pound (your weight). Lean protein is typically better if you are getting your fats from other sources and variety is always good.
YOU: I need ____ servings per week of a variety of protein from this list:
Poultry (organic and hormone free):
- Chicken (whole chickens are best)
- Eggs (chicken)
- Egg Whites
- Eggs (duck)
Meat (organic and hormone free):
- Beef (lean ground beef, roasts, steaks)
- Beef offal (liver)
- Wild Game (venison, rabbit)
- Fish (wild if possible):
- Shellfish (shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels)
- Other (bison, ostrich)
Dairy (organic only):
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt (plain, add your own fruit)
- Whey protein
Plant Based Proteins:
- Lentils, beans, peas
Choose quality fats to balance out your daily macronutrient requirements.
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Flax seed oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Ground flax seeds
- Nuts (varieties) and nut butters (varieties)
- Seeds (varieties)
Veggies and Fruit
Fruit should be selected sparingly and most people will need around 35 servings of vegetables a week. Remember a variety of color means a variety of nutrients.
YOU: I need _____ servings of a variety of colorful veggies each week from this list. You should have a few options from every color.
Green (most of your servings from this list and choose organic):
- Beet greens, collard greens, mustard greens, mixed greens, turnip greens
- Bok Choy
- Broccoli (spears)
- Broccoli sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Green onions
- Green peppers
- Lettuce (all forms)
- Peas (snap and snow preferred)
- Black grapes
- Black cherries
- Black plums
- Red cabbage
- Blood oranges
- Red apples
- Red grapes
- Red lettuce
- Red peppers
- Red plums
White (organic when possible):
- Mushrooms (varieties)
- Onions (varieties)
- Potatoes (red and russet)
If you are following a strenuous training program the body will need wholefood carbohydrates to fuel these workouts and avoid metabolic slowing. Sweet potatoes, red and russet potatoes, and yams should be a part of your carbohydrate plan for meeting your macronutrients.
Whole grains are other suitable options:
- Brown rice
- Oats (steel cut preferred)
- Red rice
- Wild rice
Orange and Yellow (organic):
- Oranges (varieties)
- Orange cauliflower
- Orange peppers
- Pineapple (sparingly)
- Sweet potatoes
- Yellow peppers
Meal Prep for Beginners
Strong Figure Ambassador, Amber from http://www.eatsandexercisebyamber.com, is a wizard at food preparation!
If you need some food preparation guidance we highly recommend you start with her site. Check out this article, Meal Prep for Beginners, for a basic guide to food prep.
Food Prep Made Easy
One of the easiest ways to food prep is to make all of your meals the same size. This will not work for everyone but it is super easy and for many reading this it will make life SO easy.
What do you determine your daily total calories to be? _____________ (Reference THIS POST if you need to figure out your daily base calories.) Now divide that number by the amount of meals you prefer eating: ___________
So for example, let’s suppose you figured your total daily calories to be 1900 and you like to eat 5 meals a day, then each meal would be a 380 calorie meal.
What did you determine your daily protein in grams to be? ____________ (Reference THIS POST if you need more help determining your daily protein intake.) Now divide that number by the amount of meals you prefer eating: ___________
So for example, let’s suppose you figured your total protein to be 145g and you like to eat 5 meals a day, then each meal would need 29 grams of protein.
Multiply the number of protein grams you will eat per meal by 4 and this will give you how many calories of protein you will need to eat per meal: ______
So for example, if your protein per meal was 29 grams and you multiplied that by 4 then you would be eating 116 calories from protein per meal.
Subtract the number of calories from protein per meal from the total number of calories per meal.
So for example, if your protein calories per meal was 116 and your total calories per meal was 380 then your answer is 264. This is the number of calories you will get from carbohydrates or fat per meal.
We recommend choosing the majority of your fat calories before your workout and the majority of your carbs after your workout. But if you work out in the morning, you will want to eat your carbs closer to your workout and your fat several hours after your workout. And make sure you are getting your fiber requirements!!!
Three Meals and Snacks
Not everyone will want to have five or six evenly portioned meals. Many reading this may prefer to have three meals and three snacks. If this sounds like you then just keep this in mind when prepping your food:
- Eat protein at every meal and snack
- Eat veggies at most meals and snacks
- Make sure you are still getting your total daily calories and total daily protein
- Make sure you choose carb choices that will help fuel your workouts and these choices should be eaten close to your workout time.
- Use resources such as My Fitness Pal to help you track your daily calorie and macronutrient needs. Refer to the Total Health and Fitness Makeover book for more details about how to use My Fitness Pal correctly.
Food Prep Shopping
One day a week plan to go shopping for that week’s meals. It is better to buy fresh ingredients so a weekly shopping trip is preferable to doing your shopping for longer periods of time. Steph likes to plan her shopping trip ahead of time; wheres, Erik prefers to let the produce and the meat choices shape his weekly meals. This will be a personal choice for you.
After you have determined how many grams of protein you need per meal:_________, multiply that number by the amount of meals you will eat per day, ________ and then by the amount of days you are prepping for ____________.
So for example, if you determined you will eat 29 grams of protein per meal and 5 meals a day and you are prepping for 7 days, you will need to buy 1015 grams of protein in your weekly shopping trip.
We recommend at least 2-3 different protein sources per week. Erik always tries to choose one source that swims (fish), one choice that flies (chicken or turkey), and one choice that walks (beef or pork).
Here is a list of typical protein choices and how much protein is in each per typical serving size:
- 4 oz. Ground turkey or turkey breast 26g
- 4 oz. Skinless chicken breast (boneless) 23g
- 4 oz. Lean ground beef 24g
- 1 egg 6g
- 1 cup of egg whites 21g
- 1 5 oz. can of water packed tuna 28g
- 4 oz. Pork loin 23g
- 4 oz. Top round steak 35g
- 4 oz. Flank steak 32g
- 4 oz. Top sirloin 35g
- 4 oz. Tilapia filet 23g
- 4 oz. Salmon filet 15g
- 3 oz. Shrimp 18g
Veggies: Buy lots of veggies that are easy to prepare. Use the shopping lists from earlier in the workbook, and choose a wide variety of colors but make sure green is the dominant color choice. Frozen veggies are easy and they will last a long time so you do not have to worry about buying too much. It is a good idea to buy 35-40 servings of veggies per week.
Starchy Carbs: Make sure you make smart choices that will help you to fuel your workouts for the week. Sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa and other such choices will help fill your carbohydrate choices for the week. Personal preference and how much you work out will determine how many starchy carbs you should be eating in relation to your total carbs. Typically you will fall somewhere between 35-65% of your carbohydrates coming from starchy carb sources. If you have very demanding workouts then you will likely be between 50-65% of your total daily carbs coming from starchy sources.
Here is a list of starchy carb choices to fuel your workouts:
- 1⁄4 cup White rice (uncooked) 42g
- 1⁄4 cup Quinoa 31g
- 4 oz. Sweet Potatoes 23g
- 4 oz. White Potatoes 20g
- 1⁄2 cup Oats 27g
- 1⁄4 cup Brown rice (uncooked) 35g
Fats: much of your fat will likely come from your protein sources but it is also good to have smart fat choices as well. Make sure you have plenty of good fat sources in stock, such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, ghee, and grass fed butter.
Treats: Remember 10% of the time you should be treating yourself to your favorite foods. This will keep you sane, prevent binging, and help you to stay on track for your Total Health and Fitness Makeover. Often the treats will even help you to stay motivated to get to the gym. Just choose wisely – avoid too many ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, trans-fats, and things you cannot pronounce.
Portioning Your Meals
High quality storage containers with tight fitting lids are essential in your meal prep. Here are some tips to consider when choosing your storage containers.
- Choose the right size. Consider how large a typical meal will be in size and choose containers that are the exact size. Prepping food for an entire week will take up quite a bit of space. So clean out that fridge and make room for your evenly portioned containers.
- Some foods do not need to be evenly portioned. For example if you are going to be eating a 1⁄2 cup of rice 10 times throughout the week then it might make more sense to have on container hold 5 cups of rice and just use a half cup measuring scoop each time. Of course, this will depend on how often you eat away from home.
- Some people prefer to portion out their entire meal and may want to choose shallow containers with dividers. For example, if you plan to eat a chicken breast, with 1⁄2 cup of quinoa, and two servings of broccoli for your work lunches that week, you may want to purchase five shallow containers with dividers that can be stacked nicely and neatly in your fridge.
- Portioning is convenient. But if you have more time than refrigerator space. It might make more sense to only portion for a day or two at a time instead of for the entire week.
5 Tips for Food Prep Variety
Erik likes to eat variety and sometimes it is difficult to food prep for variety so here are some tips if you also like to mix up your meals and not eat the same thing for lunch every day.
1. Mix up the veggies. One of my favorite meals to prep for my weekly lunches is London broil. Simply season the meat with a dry rub, sear the outside, and cut against the grain and you have 5 quick and easy lunches for your week. To keep that from being boring, I food prep multiple veggie options to mix in with my lunches and dinners. My favorites include: steamed broccoli, using the same dry seasoning on the London broil; steamed collard greens with salt and pepper; and cauliflower tossed with a spicy condiment such as your favorite healthy salsa.
2. Mix up the condiments. By nature condiments tend to be unhealthy. So choose healthier varieties such as mustard, vinegar, and salsa. Alternate the condiments you use for various meals and the meal completely changes.
3. Mix up the seasoning. Same meat, different seasoning. This really takes very little extra work or time. Erik will often will do this on the grill with chicken thighs. He will cook a third of the thighs in a tomatillo salsa verde-like sauce, a third with a spicy dry rub, and a third with a lemon pepper seasoning. This strategy takes very little extra work.
4. Mix up the format. Erik likes to use a giant skillet and throw in a bunch of different veggies, a very large can of diced tomatoes, with a meat source such as chicken. It is an easy meal to prepare for dinners or lunches. To vary this meal, just serve it in a variety of ways. You can eat it with rice after a workout, on spiraled zucchini when keeping carbs lower, or toss it into a salad of romaine. It is essentially the same base meal but it tastes completely different depending on how it is served.
5. Mix up the snacks. Ok so it is difficult to always mix up your lunches and dinners. But it is not difficult to mix up your snacks! For those of you who like to add snacks between your main meals, here are 20 quick and easy favorite snack ideas:
- Snow pea pods and your favorite hummus
- Hardboiled eggs with a condiment (I like mustard)
- Cottage cheese (which mixes well with fruits, olives, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, the list goes on…)
- Natural peanut butter and celery
- Deli roast beef* and horseradish
- Plain Greek yogurt with your favorite curry spices
- Wrap some jicama (Mexican turnip) in deli ham*
- Freeze a banana-almond milk-kale smoothie in ice trays.
- Frozen grapes
- Make your own yogurt parfait with plain Greek yogurt and fresh berries
- Ricotta cheese and strawberries
- Homemade guacamole with endive leaves as dippers
- Tomatoes and goat cheese (our farmer’s market has the best goat cheese in a variety of types and flavors)
- Celery sticks with plain hummus and Kalamata olives
- Carrots with a chipotle yogurt sauce (mix 1 tsp chipotles in adobo sauce with 1⁄2 cup plain yogurt)
- Sliced cucumbers with Greek seasoning
- Seasonal fruit such as blood oranges (use sparingly since often high in sugar)
- Pickles, jalapenos, and low fat mozzarella (this one might sound strange but it is one of Erik’s favorites)
- Snap peas with plain yogurt and Old Bay seasoning
- Sea salt mixed nuts (can be high calorie so make sure you keep counts to fit within your daily caloric goals)
*Deli meats are quick and easy but should be used sparingly since they are processed meats and often have sulfites. If you do eat foods high in sulfites, eat foods high in molybdenum, such as lima beans. Lima beans help detoxify sulfites.
Using the shopping list, Amber’s Meal Prep for Beginners guide, and the 5 Tips for Food Prep Variety, start planning out your next grocery list and food prep strategy!
Start with a One Day Plan.
We can only take you so far. It’s time to make your plan. Grab a pen and paper and let’s do this! Here is an exercise to try for one day that will help you to start thinking about food preparation, meal planning, and meeting your nutrient goals for one day.
1. Using your macronutrient numbers plan out three meals that constitute 60-70% of your daily calorie/macronutrient goals:
Meal One: __________________________________________
Meal Two: __________________________________________
Meal Three: _________________________________________
2. Using your macronutrient numbers plan out three snacks that constitute 30-40% of your daily calorie macronutrient goals:
Snack One: _________________________________________
Snack Two: _________________________________________
Snack Three: ________________________________________
(If you purchase our Total Health and Fitness Makeover Workbook, you will have access to the formula you need to figure out exactly how many calories, carbs, fats, and proteins, that YOU need each and every day.)
Food Preparation Takes Practice
Food prep is not easy but it is perhaps the single greatest skill you can acquire in meeting your health and nutrition goals. Here are some more tips to help you get started in your food prep journey:
1. Start by food prepping all of your lunches for the week. Choose a time over the weekend when no one else will be in your kitchen. Choose five appropriate sized containers and measure out your portions to meet your daily calorie/macronutrient goals.
2. The following weekend food prep all of your lunches and all of your snacks for the week.
3. In weekend three food prep all of your lunches, all of your snacks, and two dinners.
4. By week four you are starting to become an expert! Prep all of your lunches, all of your snacks and 4-5 dinners.
BONUS INFO! How I food prepped 28 meals in less than two hours:
I’m not kidding when I say that my first experience with food prep took me about eight hours a day–and that was just for myself–breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for five days. I almost got burnt out after a month of prepping and to this day, I do not food prep salads. But I couldn’t quit. I really saw no other way to eat. If I didn’t prep, I was stuck eating processed, frozen, crap and chemically-altered foods, or I’d have to eat out. Neither one would help me with my goals. So I kept going. Eventually I realized what I liked to eat, how to fix it to make it different week by week (if I wanted to) and how long it would take to make certain foods.
I’m a very boring eater. I know what I like and I will eat the same food for months until I decide to switch things up. Some people (Erik included) could never do such a thing. But I’ve met a lot of people just like me: give me foods that are healthy and that I love, and I’ll look forward to every single meal I have to eat.
So how did I eventually reach a less than two hour food prep? Simple. Practice and knowing what is healthy and what I enjoy eating:
- I first put two spaghetti squashes in the oven for 45 minutes at 400.
- While the spaghetti squash cooked, I diced two sweet potatoes and nuked them in the microwave for a few minutes.
- While the potatoes cooked, I chopped up brussel sprouts, asparagus, and dumped a bag of frozen cauliflower into a skillet with coconut oil.
- I then added the diced sweet potatoes to the veggie dish, topped with turmeric and a little black pepper and let cook on med/med-low.
- I then made turkey meatballs with ground turkey, eggs, flax seeds, wheat germ, Parmesan, oats, and pepper.
- I also placed 5 chicken breasts in a foil lined baking dish.
- By this time the squash is done and I can throw the meatballs and chicken in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.
- While the meat cooks, I make a chili by adding ground turkey, a large can of diced tomatoes, a large can of black beans, a bag of cauliflower, and a bag of frozen peppers and onions into a crockpot. No, I don’t cook the turkey ahead of time. It takes 5 minutes to throw everything in the crockpot. I set it to low and will cook it all day and portion it out later.
- I add eggs and egg whites to my sweet potato veggie hash on the stove.
- I then scrape all the spaghetti squash into a container and put it into the fridge.
- I put all the meatballs (now done) into the fridge. I put the chicken in a separate container in the fridge.
- When the sweet potato hash and egg meal is done, I portion it out into seven containers, top with a little feta, and put in the fridge.
- I now have 4 meals for seven days. I’ll eat the chicken topped with a little marinara for snacks. I’ll have my sweet potato, egg, and veggie hash for breakfast. I’ll eat the spaghetti squash, meatballs, marinara and feta for lunch. (The marinara by the way, is an organic sauce picked up from Costco.) Dinner will be the chili. If I need more food throughout the day, I’ll grab a scoop of protein and make a shake, keep cottage cheese on hand, or steam a couple sweet potatoes. I also sometimes keep nuts or almond butter around, organic sugar free applesauce, as well as a little dark chocolate to keep me sane.
This is how you survive the holidays. You plan. You prep. You put this into your calendar just like anything else and you make sure it’s done. You eat healthy 98% of the time and then when you get a dinner or party invite, you know it will be absolutely ok to go and have a good time. Life is about balance, and it’s not hard to find balance once you’ve prepared yourself for success. Spend some time in the kitchen practicing. Just like anything, you’ll get much better the more time you spend working on your craft. I 100% believe that you can do this!