Most of us are pretty busy in our day-to-day lives. Whether you work full or part-time, are a mom, or go to school, planning all of your meals, let alone cooking at home each day can be a struggle! The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. Eating clean and healthy is one of the keys to losing weight, and keeping it off.  Done correctly, meal prep can actually be your best friend.

So, what exactly is meal planning? Put simply, meal planning is deciding what to eat ahead of time and prepping your food for the week, all at once when you have time.   It is crucial that you find a routine that works for you.  Meal planning will essentially save you time in the kitchen and make it easier to eat healthy during the week.  You may need to use a little bit of trial and error to get settled into a routine that suits your lifestyle and preferences. It is all about experimenting and playing around with different foods and ingredients. The best part about this, is that you can share recipes and tips with your friends along the way!

Before actually starting your meal “prep”, the first thing you need to do is PLAN. If you are just starting out with meal prep, don’t overwhelm yourself! Cooking up a whole week’s worth of meals is a big task and even the best of us can struggle with that.  The best advice is to make it manageable. Start by creating a menu for the month. Decide what each meal will be and then make sure you have the ingredients for each week’s meals. Then choose a day to prepare the food. This should preferably be the same day each week, so you get into a good routine. Prepare the portions you’ll need for your diet. Then package the food in re-sealable containers and freeze until you are ready to eat them.

Good quality containers will be important to the process. These can be Tupperware or the glass variety. Keep in mind that if you are going to be reheating your food in these you want to choose ones that are BPA free and won’t fall apart in the microwave/oven. If you are going to be prepping for a few days in a row, it can be a good idea to buy containers that are the same sizes so they can be easily stacked and portioned

If you are wondering why we’re recommending meal prep, there are some pretty compelling reasons to adopt the practice:

Reason 1: Improves nutrition

By planning in advance, you can aim to have nutritionally well-balanced meals throughout the week. For example, you can make sure each of your dinners have the requisite veggies, protein, and grains. Planning your meals ultimately allows you to take control of your own personal nutrition needs. Whether you have to stick to a lower sodium diet or want only to eat whole grains and veggies, you can plan for it! 

Reason 2: Make healthier choices

If you have to come up with something to eat last minute, you'll find yourself probably going out for dinner instead, or throwing that frozen pot pie into the microwave. As a result, you are most likely to end up exceeding your daily calorie and sodium intake! Even just stopping at the grocery store to pick up a last minute dinner may lead to poor choices. When you shop hungry, you are more likely to throw junk food into your cart. 

Reason 3: Eating high quality foods

Homemade meals are almost always more nutrient-dense and filled with less calories, salt, and fat than takeout or quick ready-made options at your grocery store. Choosing your own recipes and ingredients for the week allows you to make important food choices, such as buying local meats or organic produce. 

Reason 4: Saves money $$

Having a meal plan prevents you from throwing out ingredients you forgot you had in the fridge. You can create meal plans that specifically allow you to use up whatever you have right there in your own kitchen. It also prevents you from overspending on processed foods, which tend to be more expensive than natural selections.

Reason 5: Saves time and decreases stress

Your set grocery lists will prevent you from wandering around the grocery store aimlessly and your meal plans will save you from having to think about what to eat every day. Cook larger dinners on the weekend so you'll have something for when you arrive home exhausted and don’t feel like cooking. Pre-portion and split appropriate servings for your family between the fridge and freezer for easy dinners. Soups, turkey chili, ground turkey meatballs and marinated chicken breasts are all great for freezing. Re-heat while you prepare a quick salad or veggie slices, and you’ll have a delicious homemade meal! Ultimately, you’ll be less stressed, you’ll feel better and meals won’t seem so daunting. The daily thoughts that plague our mind are a constant stress to have, but it's easily prevented by having a plan. You can always reuse meal plans and grocery lists to help cut down on planning and prep time.