Meal Prep: How It Helps
Fitness journeys come in many shapes and sizes. Whether you're trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or even just trying to live a healthier lifestyle, meal planning and preparation (aka "meal prep") can help you reach the goals you set at the beginning of your journey. Meal planning is not something to take lightly, however, as it does take a decent amount of time each week to plan, shop, cook, and prep all those meals. Don't let that scare you away, because meal prep will actually benefit not just your waist line, but also your wallet and your crazy schedule as well.
Portion control is part of the nutritional side of fitness that not many people talk about. Many of us know that eating healthy means choosing non-processed foods, more fruits and veggies, and not eating out as much. What isn't taught in school, is how portions can affect your diet as well. If we over-do the portions, then the calorie intake isn't going to change as much as we think it is. Meal prepping and eating at home helps us control the portions better than eating out, where most restaurants will over-proportion your meals (not to mention the chips and salsa, because who doesn't plow through a couple baskets of those, right?).
By planning everything out, your food intake is undoubtedly going to be healthier. Not only that, but by prepping your meals ahead of time, you are less likely to have meals where you say, "Let's just pick something up tonight." We often choose the unhealthy options of fast food based on it's convenience, especially since in today's world we all live such high-paced lifestyles. What's more convenient than having dinner ready made in the fridge?
Avoid Wasted Food
We've all done it. You cook a larger dinner than you need, you put the leftovers in the fridge, and then it goes to waste. With meal prep, you reduce cooking more than what you really need, and therefore waste less food. Not only is this good for your conscience, but it's good for your wallet too. The USDA estimates about 40% of food is wasted each year, which roughly equates to more than $2000 yearly per family household. Think of what you can do with even just a few hundred extra dollars each year!
There is obviously a ton of prep work that goes into meal planning. If you're meal planning for 3 meals a day for 5-7 days a week, you're going to have the front end load of cooking all that, prepping it in containers, and cleanup. But don't let that discourage you, because for the time you'll use in the prep stage, you'll save that and more come meal time.
Think about it, each night you cook (the USDA estimates it takes, on average, 37 minutes to cook dinner), then you have to clean up (let's say another 15-20 minutes there). So if you include cooking and cleaning, that's about 6 hours just on dinner that you're saving throughout the week, which can mean the world if you have a jam-packed schedule or want to start spending some extra time with your family during the week.
Having a menu planned out can make a difference and help you save time as well. Let's say meal planning your lunches is all you're able to handle one week, or maybe you enjoy making dinner for the family each night, having a weekly menu made ready to start your week can save you from the "What are we having for dinner?" conversation that every one of us has had at least once. Plus, having that menu ahead of time can help when you're browsing the pantry as well!
Think about all the times you went to work without a lunch and ended up picking up Subway or Taco Bell during your lunch hour. By meal planning, your lunch is already pre-made, so really the only excuse for not having a meal is that you forgot to grab it on the way out the door. With most fast food joints costing roughly $7-9 per meal per person, this can add up pretty quickly if you're eating out for lunch each day.
Let's run the numbers:
Just for numbers sake, lets say you eat out for lunch 3x per week for a month. Using the low end of the average cost of a fast food meal, it comes out to be $21 per week or roughly $81 per month spent on lunches (that's just 3x per week). Compare that to a meal prep of $4 (the average cost of a home-made meal), you're saving about $34 a month when you make lunch instead of eating out.
What about when you go to the grocery store and don't know what you're making for the week? On those occasions, you tend to spend and waste more because you end up buying things that you really didn't need and you fall victim to the dreaded "Impulse Buy," which often doesn't sit well with your nutritional plan. The preparation that goes into meal prepping helps you control yourself in the store, ensuring your grocery list is lined out to exactly what you need for the week. This saves money, time, and frustration!
One of the most interesting technological advancements in the past 3 years is that many stores now offer grocery pickup. This option almost completely eliminates the "Impulse Buy," thus saving you even MORE money on your monthly grocery bill.
Avoid Decision Fatigue
Whether you run a 500 person business or are a stay at home mom, your day is filled with decisions. Some experts and institutions estimate that an adult will make roughly 35,000 conscious decisions every day. With that many choices, its inevitable that as our day progresses, the quality of those decisions deteriorates. What also happens later in the day? Dinner. By planning our meals and prepping them ahead of time, that's one less decision at the end of the day, helping us avoid bad eating habits and saving time.
Meal Planning Services, Meal Kits, or DIY
As we said earlier, our lives seem to be more jam-packed than ever. We can now work on the go with the evolution of the mobile device, and that can mean that meal prepping for ourselves isn't possible either. Lucky for those busy folks, services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and CookSmart have popped up to offer either pre-made meals or meal planning services like recipes, grocery lists, and how-to videos!
These services make it even easier for your diet to stay on track, even if you don't have time to search Pinterest for recipes, hit the grocery store, or spend some of your weekend or evenings prepping your meals for the week. Whatever method you chose or how in-depth you go, meal prep can help guide your fitness journey toward your goals!