Getting Started with Meal PrepBLOC Staff Coach Ben Patterson wrote a great article on getting started with meal preparation. Meal prep is useful not only to help meet the nutritional demands of barbell training but also as a way to prepare and store meals at home for an extended period of time. Right now, when everyone is trying to spend less time shopping, meal preparation and storage may be just the thing you need to stay home, train, and continue meeting your goals.
Getting Started with Meal Prep
By: Ben Patterson, BLOC Staff Coach
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in hitting your nutrition goals is having access to the right foods in the right portions. Finding good options at restaurants is doable in some places, but that isn’t always sustainable or reliable. The most economical and controllable way to get around this challenge is to prepare your meals ahead of time and bring them with you. We are going to talk about a simple and basic approach here that can be used by anyone to get started.
First, You’ll Need Containers
Before we get into the meat and potatoes (pun most certainly intended), you are going to need some supplies. Assuming you already have some basic cookware, start by picking up some sturdy containers to transport your meals in. You can go with plastic or glass containers, and each type has its pros and cons. Plastic can be more economical if you go with a sturdier option. These containers also tend to nest inside each other, making storage a bit easier. Glass containers tend to heat better and won’t deform over time. However, they do take up substantially more space when stored. Consider how much storage space you have, how much money you want to spend, and whether or not you’ll be heating your meals when making your decision. The quantity of containers will depend on how many meals you intend to prepare ahead of time, but any extras are typically useful to have handy. Having a variety of sizes on hand is also a good idea, especially when prepping foods that are eaten at different temperatures.
Use a Meal Template
Starting with one pre-prepared meal a day is a great way to get started. Pick the one meal out of the day that you have the most trouble staying on track with. For most people, this will be lunch since they are away from home. Keep things simple at first by making meals consisting of a protein, a starch/complex carb, and a vegetable. (Watch here for more information on the “portioned plate” from our nutrition team.)
I’ve included here a simple meal template—a combination of protein, complex carbs, and vegetables that you can cook in larger quantities and portion into your containers immediately after cooking.
- 1-2 palm-sized portions or 4-8 ounces of lean protein
- 1-2 fist-sized portions or 1-2 cups complex carbs
- 2 fist-sized portions or 2 cups of green vegetables
By sticking with single-ingredient foods, you minimize the complexity of the process. But, the constituent parts are easily subbed out to create variety. The protein can be chicken, fish, beef, tofu, etc., while the complex carb can be rice, beans, quinoa, whole grain pasta, etc. Likewise, you can choose according to personal tastes on the vegetables. When preparing these types of meals, remember that spices and seasonings are your friend and can get you a lot of mileage out of what is essentially the same dish. These meals are the easiest to portion out and a great starting point.
Make Six to Eight Servings
Some of us need more variety than others; it’s a good idea to think about how much variety you’d like to have in your weekly meals. If you can eat the same thing every day, then you can plan one meal that you’ll make 6-8 servings of. You might be asking, “why so many servings?” It’s because the few extra meals can help if you miss your prep day, or they can provide some variety in the following week. If you need a bit more variety, plan to make two different meals that you can alternate day-to-day. Now that you know what you’ll make, write a grocery list, and plan to over-buy rather than getting “just enough.” Any extra food can always be frozen for later use.
Schedule a Weekly Prep Day
Next, pick a day of the week that works best for you to do the cooking. For some people, this is over the weekend, or it might be on a day that you are already in the kitchen cooking. On the prep day, start by doing whatever cooking needs to be done and set out your containers to be filled. Portion out the meals into each container and let them come to room temperature before putting the lids on. This will help prevent condensation on the lids and possible frosting. If you are preparing hot and cold foods, use different containers for each when putting the meal together.
If you make more food than you intend to eat in the next 4-5 days, then label the meals with the contents and the date prepared using a sticky note or label maker. Freeze the extras for later on. For meals with sauces or dressings, you might consider packing the desired amount in a separate container. Likewise, you will probably want to package any fruit separately from the meat and vegetables. If you will be using any bread, tortillas, pitas, etc. these are also better stored separately to keep things from getting soggy or dried out.
Plan Your Snacks Too
Since you are already in the kitchen and getting some lunches ready, prepping some snacks as well can be pretty easy. Portioning out some nuts, fruit, yogurt, protein powder in a baggie, etc. along with the lunches can make for an easy “grab and go.” This is another area where a variety of container sizes can come in very handy. Even if you don’t typically have a snack in your normal day, having one or two on hand is a good idea. Things do come up after all, and it helps to be prepared ahead of time.
After getting in the habit of preparing one meal and a snack, you can start to branch out to other meals, moving to the meal that is the second most difficult to keep consistently on track. You’ll repeat the process that you followed for getting started with the first meal. Don’t forget that the meals you’re already making can be subbed in at other times of the day if needed. Another good reason to make a little extra.
Following these simple steps, you can be better prepared to stay on track with your nutrition throughout the week. Not only will this simplify your weekly meals, but it will also support your performance under the bar and help close the distance toward your goals. The experience gained from this simple approach to meal prep will help you better adopt other strategies that will be discussed in future articles.
Ben has been a barbell coach since 2016 and has helped people of all ages to become stronger and more capable. Receiving a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition in 2011, Ben has also guided many to improved health and performance through nutrition. He currently operates as an online strength and nutrition coach for Barbell Logic and offers in-person barbell coaching in western Maryland. You can contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about training and nutrition.