Healthy meal prep: a drastic measure taken only by extreme dieters and nutrition enthusiasts, right? Not so fast! Meal prep is one of the easiest, simplest ways to save time, save money, and stay healthy. In today's society, it's so hard to lose weight — or, once you've lost it, to keep it off. Coworkers always want to go out for lunch, we don't have time to cook healthy meals every day (let alone the dishes that come with it!), the list goes on. How can we expect to stay healthy and lose weight when it's this hard to control what goes into our bodies? The answer? Healthy meal prep!
What is meal prep?
Meal prep is the practice of portioning out, preparing, and packing up a meal in advance so you have an easy meal you can enjoy later. Think fast food, but without the unhealthy connotations associated with it. You can meal prep anything, from major meals to snacks, and depending on what it is you want to prep, you can do it even months in advance!
How does healthy meal prep help with weight loss?
- Gives You Control Over Portion Sizes: Portion sizes in American restaurants have tripled over the last 20 years, and studies repeatedly show how large portions "have a role in the development of obesity." Meal prep lets you take portioning into your own hands, making sure that you only eat exactly what and when you need.
- Gives You Control Over Your Impulses: According to R.D. and C.D.N. Lisa Moskovitz, having meals "made ahead of time is extremely helpful to avoid impulsively ordering meals from restaurants or fast-food restaurants." If you already have a meal set aside from earlier that you plan on eating, you'll have less of an urge to eat out.
- Gives You Control Over What You Eat: Because you'll be preparing your food yourself, you'll know exactly what goes into your food, making it much easier to track your calories and other nutritional information. This same amount of control simply doesn't exist if you eat out, since only restaurants that have over 20 locations are required to publicly post their nutrition facts. That means the only restaurants you'll be able to count your calories at are fast-food and chain restaurants — which you should be avoiding in the first place!
- Takes the Guesswork out of What to Eat: Stop me if you've heard this one before: "What should I eat?" Choosing what to eat can be a herculean task, and the longer you delay, the hungrier you get, making the temptation to just head to the nearest burger joint an get it over with seem like more tantalizing an option every minute. If you plan your meals ahead of time, you'll know exactly what to eat and when, taking all the stress out of choosing something to eat.
- Adds Variety to Your Diet: Even if you're already on a diet, it can still be easy to just reach for the same things every meal to avoid having to pick something to eat, which decreases the chances that you'll stay on that diet. As they say, variety is the spice of life, and an extra bit of spice may help keep you from getting bored with what you eat.
- Saves Time: A common complaint with healthy eating is that it takes too much time to prepare, but with meal prep, you can frontload all that time to the weekend and save yourselves hours overall per week. Meal prep may take two or three hours a week, while getting fast food takes 27 minutes on average per trip. If you have fast food three meals a day, that adds up to over nine hours per week!
- Saves Money: Another common complaint with healthy eating is that it costs too much money. However, fast food can actually cost over four and a half times more than home cooking — and that doesn't even include the medical bills you'll have to pay later down the line due to your unhealthy diet!
Find out what works for you
The versatility of healthy meal prep means you can customize it to your needs, increasing the chances that you'll stick with it. For example, those who struggle to resist the temptation of the doughnut shop down the street may find it helpful to portion out daily healthy snacks instead, while those who can't wake up early enough to make breakfast might benefit from preparing those breakfasts ahead of time. As with most dieting, what works for others may not necessarily work for you, so experiment! Once you hit your groove and find out what kind of meal prep works best for you, you'll wonder why you didn't start earlier.