Meal Prep for Weight Loss

I am so excited that next week I am rolling out my newest client service – done-for-you, in-home meal prep in NYC!  I have been brainstorming this service for quite some time, and I’m ready and jazzed to start in March.

Personally, I love to cook, and I have meal-prepped “my way slim” for years. I truly believe that it is the most effective way to eat nutritiously and deliciously while maintaining a healthy weight, without spending every waking second in the kitchen, over-testing my willpower, obsessively counting calories, or feeling bad about overeating.

When most people say they have “NO TIME” (and yes, the phrase is always delivered with that intensity of emphasis), I take it with a grain of salt. However, a few of my clients in the medical profession have made me realize that some people truly have “NO TIME.” Really. When they are not at work, they are sleeping or trying to spend time with loved ones, and, despite good intentions to manage or lose weight, the healthful shopping and cooking is simply not a priority.

And that’s OK! Because I’m here to help those people out!

But for everyone else…

Why Meal Prep is an Incredible Strategy

Most people, however, can push together a few hours a week to make meals ahead of time. If you think about your time management during the week, there is a huge likelihood that you spend some time doing absolutely nothing – wasting time on Facebook or Instagram, binging on Netflix, or just staring at your phone in general, waiting for something exciting to happen.

Some fitness professionals urge that you use this extra time to exercise. I think this is a great idea, but what I would emphasize even before exercise is using that time to plan, buy, and prepare your food for the week.

Meal prep takes strategy. If you’re not an experienced or intuitive cook, you need to look up recipes in order to create a structure. I often joke with people that they should check their Seamless order history to know where to start – creating healthier versions of your favorite takeout foods is a good way to find out which recipes to look up!

I firmly believe that meal prep, even more than exercise, is the direct route to weight loss. I don’t encourage “short-cut” thinking, but if there were short-cuts in fitness, meal prep would be at the top of my list. It’s much easier to not eat calories in the first place than it is to exercise them off. I think that exercise should be for cardiovascular fitness, functional strength, pain reduction, and fun, but not directly intended for calorie burn. When exercise is spent on the elliptical staring at the “calories burned” number, some of the joy is lost in the process.

One of my meal prep coaching clients wrote to me,

Despite my initial skepticism, because other diets and meal plans never worked for me in the past, I noticed tangible results within one week. My most aggravating fat deposits have disappeared, my waist is more defined, arms and hips are slimmer, and I’m never bloated after eating–and this is without adding exercise into my daily routine!”

If all you want to do is burn calories, don’t hit the treadmill. Instead, start planning and cooking your own food, and you will short-circuit the whole “calorie burn” hamster wheel.

When you meal prep, you: 

  • Eat better versions of foods that you like, with less salt, sugar, and fat
  • Don’t over-stress your willpower
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Snack smart
  • Eat out (and order in) less

In other words, eat for weight loss, and exercise for fun. 

Five Steps to Easy Meal Prep

If you’re new to cooking or to meal prep in general, here are some general principles that will help you enjoy the process and get the most out of it:

Make sure you have the right equipment.

Before you even shop for food, it’s even more important that you have a few pots and pans, a cutting board and a good knife, measuring cups, and – most importantly – individual portion-sized containers. Don’t cheap out on the containers – I literally have 24 of them for just myself and my husband, and I use Duralex glass. It’s worth it, because separating your cooking into individual portions is one of the most important aspects of meal prep – it will literally save you hundreds of calories per day.

Look up recipes ahead of time and make a shopping list. 

Like I said before, get inspiration from the way you eat at restaurants or order takeout. You can get a good idea of your palate from your go-to orders. While you may not be motivated to make sushi at home, most dishes can be easily replicated in a more healthy way – everything from nachos to pasta to burgers can be created in a delicious and nutritions way at home. If you’re new to cooking, buy a few magazines or use popular food blogs for inspiration, but make sure to keep it simple so that you don’t get too overwhelmed with complex and time-intensive recipes.

Buy the right amount of food for the number of people eating. 

This may seem extremely obvious to the point of absurd, but this is a common problem for my clients. For example, one serving of lean meat is anywhere from 2-5 ounces, but most people would serve themselves more like 6-8 ounces without measuring. The result is that a meal that is supposed to last several people several days is suddenly gone in one sitting. My no-brainer tip – that takes out the guesswork – is to divide one pound of carbs or meat into 4-6 servings, and to put a cup of vegetables with each meal. Also, do the math on how many meals you need per week – for myself and my husband, we need about 24 meals per week, and we eat out the rest of the meals. Then shop accordingly!

Buy as many items pre-made as possible. 

Keep your life simple! This is very individual, because some people enjoy the process of chopping and dicing and sautéing, but for some people, the work needs to be done as quickly as possible. If you’re in the latter group, don’t make life too difficult on yourself. Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, complicated, or overly time-consuming. Make no-brainer meals that don’t require a lot of ceremony (think in “blocks” – protein, colorful vegetable, grain/starch) , and buy as many vegetables pre-chopped as possible. For some of my clients, I even recommend buying meat pre-cooked. Your work will be incredibly streamlined by having some of the ingredients pre-prepared.

Meal prep your snacks too. 

The snacks that I recommend for people include:

  • Hardboiled eggs
  • String cheese
  • Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Protein shake with skim milk
  • Yogurt
  • Berries

I recommend pre-packaging these snacks “Starbucks-style” either in containers or snack bags so that you have snack packs ready to last you all day, every day.

Need Guidance?

Do you feel totally confused by meal prep?

Then I encourage you to sign up for my 12-week coaching group, “The Nutrition Revolution: 12 Weeks to Mindful Eating.” We will use science, mindfulness, and habit-formation strategies to help you get your eating on track for good! Fill out the form below to register:

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Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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