Meal Planning and meal prep are popular nutrition buzzwords that are actually worth the hype. They refer to the processes of planning out your weekly meals and preparing all your ingredients so that each evening you can quickly grab your ingredients and put together a delicious and healthy meal.
For some, meal prep means spending an hour or two each weekend to make some meals from from start to finish and having those pre-portioned and ready to go. For others, it is simply deciding what meals will be made during the week and setting yourself up for success by chopping up all the ingredients ahead of time.
The degree to which you plan and prep is up to you and depends on your schedule, but regardless, having a meal plan can definitely save you a headache, a last-minute trip to the grocery store, or a starved trip to the drive through.
Meal planning isn’t just helpful for your wallet and your precious time, it’s also very beneficial for your health. One study found that those who planned out their meals ahead of time had a greater variety in their diet and actually followed nutrition guidelines. This weekly practice can help you eat more frequently at home, or at least meals cooked at home, regardless of where you actually eat them.
Studies have also shown that home cooking was found to be linked to adhering to the DASH and Mediterranean eating patterns, which have both been associated to positive of health outcomes. In particular, those that eat at home tend to eat more fruits and vegetables!
Another study looked at how eating at home was related to eating ultra processed foods. Sure enough, the more you eat at home, the less you rely on ultra processed foods. Similarly, eating at home more often was linked to eating at fast food restaurants less often and having a healthier diet overall.
Now that we understand why nutrition professionals are always promoting meal planning and meal prep, let’s talk about an easy step-by-step plan to get your meal prepping done in an easy and efficient manner!
Meal Prep 101
Step 1: Check your calendar
Do you have an evening appointment or a weekly class? Determine which night is your busiest, and which nights you have a little bit more time. This will help you make decide when to plan which meals to have on which days and which day is your best prep day.
Step 2: Check the Flyer
Take a look at the flyers for your local grocery stores. Who has what on sale? Use those ingredients as inspiration for your meal prep for the week.
Step 3: Shop the Kitchen
Take a look in your pantry and freezer. What do you have that you can work with as a starter? What things could work as side dishes? There might be hidden treasures in your own kitchen, so check it out and save money by using what you already have.
Step 4: Choose your Meals + Make a List
Decide exactly how many meals and snacks you want to plan for. Start small if this process is new to you and prepare a few small things. The one thing to always keep in mind when creating meals is that you want each of the 3 crucial components to make each meal filling and satisfying: protein + starch carbohydrate + vegetable.
Based on these chosen meals, write out exactly what you will need to buy in order to bring these dishes to life and shop for your ingredients.
Step 5: Get Cooking!
Now that you know how to get the job done, what recipes are you excited about putting on your menu for this week?
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- Ducrot, Pauline, et al. “Meal Planning Is Associated with Food Variety, Diet Quality and Body Weight Status in a Large Sample of French Adults.” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol. 14, no. 1, 2017, p. 12., doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7. Accessed 9 Sept. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5288891/
- Lam, Matthew Chak Leung, and Jean Adams. “Association between Home Food Preparation Skills and Behaviour, and Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods: Cross-Sectional Analysis of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2008-2009).” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol. 14, no. 1, 2017, p. 68. Retrieved from https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-017-0524-9
- Mills, Susanna, et al. “Frequency of Eating Home Cooked Meals and Potential Benefits for Diet and Health: Cross-Sectional Analysis of a Population-Based Cohort Study.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol. 14, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–11., doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0567-y. Accessed 9 Sept. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5561571/
- Wolfson, Julia A., and Sara N. Bleich. “Is Cooking at Home Associated with Better Diet Quality or Weight-Loss Intention?” Public Health Nutrition, vol. 18, no. 8, 2015, pp. 1397–1406., doi:10.1017/S1368980014001943. Accessed 9 Sept. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25399031
- Heart & Stroke Foundation. “The DASH Diet to lower high blood pressure.” http://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/dash-diet