Welcome to my beginner’s guide on how to meal prep for weight loss. Want to know the most effective way to live healthy and melt pounds off your body? Then read on! I have lost well over 100 pounds and have kept it off using this method. I’m just a single success story – there are hundreds of bigger success stories on social media and the internet. Meal prep for weight loss actually works. My guide is based on my personal experience. I will go into detail about why this method is so effective, give you information on the types of foods you should be eating, how much food to prepare, and meal prep tips I’ve learned along the way. I’ll also share beginner-friendly meal prep recipe ideas to get you started. Here is a table of contents for this article, feel free to jump around if you would like:
- Why Meal Prep Is Effective for Weight Loss
- My Beginning Meal Prep Story – Example of Starting Simple
- Foods to Eat: The Rule of Thirds
- How Many Meals Should I Make Weekly? Start with Lunch
- How About Dinner and Breakfast Meals?
- Beginner Meal Prep Tips for Long Term Success
- Starter Meal Prep Recipe Ideas
- Final Thoughts on Beginning your Meal Prep Journey
Why Meal Prep Is Effective for Weight Loss
The reason why meal prep for weight loss works is simple: the benefits you gain from meal prepping are very addictive. You may think meal prep is just another weight loss fad, but it’s much more than that. I would call it a lifestyle, which is one of the keys to long term weight loss success. Let’s list some of the benefits you receive by jumping on the meal prep fan wagon:
- You learn how to cook. It’s super easy once you get the hang of it.
- You don’t have to stress about what to eat next – you have meals ready to eat.
- You save time by not having to make special food pick-up runs.
- You save money by not eating out at restaurants as often.
- You feel better knowing exactly what food is going into your body.
- Variety – you are free to cook hundreds of healthy meals and snacks.
- You lose weight and feel amazing knowing you are being healthier.
Isn’t that a great list? There are many more benefits to meal prep that are not listed, but you get the idea. By simply taking 1 or 2 hours out of your week to cook, you get a ton of great things coming your way. Meal prepping actually saves you time throughout the week. All those drive-through runs add up to more than what it takes to cook and prepare meals. So not having time to “meal prep” is not an excuse, all it takes is a little effort and planning.
Speaking of effort, meal prepping 10 meals takes about one hour in the kitchen. To put it another way, cooking 10 meals takes about one average gym session. However, the benefits of eating healthy for the week is far more beneficial to weight loss than a single gym session. Our bodies are made up of 80% diet and 20% exercise – doesn’t it make sense to skip a gym session and spend that time in the kitchen instead? Now that’s food for thought!
My Beginning Meal Prep Story – Example of Starting Simple
When I first started my meal prep journey, I started by bringing my lunch to work. I knew having fast food every day during my lunch break was a weak link in my diet. I didn’t know how to cook, but I was tired of being almost 300 pounds. I started by making sandwiches on wheat bread, packing bags of baked chips and sliced fruit because that was the simplest for me. My sandwiches where pre-made at home, but I quickly discovered it was tastier to bring the ingredients separately and put the sandwich together at work. The baked chips were a nutritional upgrade to the French fries and regular potato chips I was having. The sliced fruit was also healthier than the chocolate bars I was chowing down every afternoon. I still had cravings for french fries and sweets, but managed to eat them occasionally instead of daily. I’ve written an article healthy snacks that help to curve cravings.
As weeks went by, I purchased a slow cooker and rice steamer. I then made slow cooker recipes with rice and veggies on the side and managed to level up my meal prep game. I still have pizza, french fries, burgers, and chocolate bars once in a while even today, just not every day. As long as you have it in moderation, it should be okay.
I hope my example encourages you to start simple and realize that you don’t need much to start. I recommend you resist the temptation of purchasing kitchen equipment, containers, and lunch bags first – most people will find the basic equipment already in their kitchen. After having a few weeks of meal prepping experience under your belt, you will have a better idea of what type of kitchenware to buy. The point here is to start simple, try out some lunch meal prep recipes and grow from there.
Foods to Eat: The Rule of Thirds
Our goal is to try and eat a wholesome and nutritious meal with every sitting. You want to feed your body with essential vitamins and nutrients from different food sources. When cooking our meals for the week, we should aim to include these 3 food sources with every meal:
- Protein helps you to stay full longer and is needed to repair muscle and tissue.
- Complex Carbs are digested slowly into sugars which give our bodies energy.
- Green Vegetables improves your immunity system by providing nutrients, vitamins, and phytochemicals that have proven effective against many medical conditions.
How much of each food source should we eat? An easy way to remember this is by using the rule of thirds. If we look at a food plate top-down and divide it by 3, we can fill each third with a protein source, a complex carb, and vegetables.
Here is a sample list of each item to include in your weekly meal prep routine:
|Protein Sources||Complex Carbs||Green Vegetables|
|Lean Pork||100% whole-wheat bread||Brussel sprouts|
One important thing to keep in mind is that variety is king. Don’t eat chicken breasts for weeks on end or just broccoli. Not only will you burn out fast, but your body is missing out on all the nutrients that other food sources have to offer. By mixing it up every week, you get to try new recipes and will have more success sticking to the routine.
Meal prep gets a bad reputation of being “boring” and “repetitive”. However, this isn’t meal prep’s fault. You wouldn’t eat lunch at the same burger place every day for weeks, then blame the burger place for being boring, would you? The emphasis on keeping things interesting and fresh falls on you. Luckily for all of us, we have the internet today with access to unlimited recipes and ideas that will keep our meal prep going.
How Many Meals Should I Meal Prep Weekly?
We eat an estimated 21 meals a week (7 days x 3 meals a day). Unless you are a professional MMA fighter getting ready for their next big fight, you don’t need to go crazy preparing that many meals a week. With just a handful per week, you’ll notice the rewards of meal prep right away.
To start with, I recommend preparing just 5 meals that you can take to work with you for the first few weeks. This equates to 1 or 2 recipes with some veggies mixed in. By starting slow, you’ll start to develop your own food preferences and cooking techniques. You can try different recipes without worrying about not liking a particular recipe. Starting simple also helps you stick to a new weekly meal prep habit. You’ll be prepping 10 meals soon after that as you get faster in the kitchen and learn to prepare food your way.
It has been 5 years since I’ve been on this meal prep journey, and my recipes and cooking methods continue to improve. Trust me when I say this – it gets really easy after a few months.
How about Dinner and Breakfast Meal Prep?
For me, breakfast was the easiest meal to eat healthier for. Before meal prepping, most of my breakfast meals consisted of coffee and a sugary pastry. This ranged from donuts, bagels with cream cheese, and brownies. I replaced sugary pastries with whole-grain bagels and having them with peanut butter instead of cream cheese. I would just keep a peanut butter container at work and would simply grab the whole-wheat bagel out of my fridge every morning. Eating high amounts of sugar every day really hurts your weight loss goals, so try to minimize sugar in your diet.
After growing tired of having wheat bagels every morning, I started bringing oatmeal packets, omelets, protein pancakes, and breakfast burritos for breakfast. For all the egg recipes, I purchased an easy to use electronic egg maker. I can make any type of egg in less than 7 minutes, so it’s great in the mornings while you brew a cup of coffee. The egg, bean, and cheese burritos are also really simple to make ahead of time and can be kept frozen for weeks.
If you are just beginning to meal prep, concentrate on preparing meals that you can eat while away from your home – for most of us, it will be breakfast and lunch. For dinner, we can prepare something healthy when we get home. I focused on dinners that would take me 15 minutes or so to make. For example, I made sure I had at least one fish fillet, chicken breast, or lean steak in my fridge that I could quickly season it and throw in the oven or pan.
Making dinner at home can be impossible some nights, so if you need to start by picking up healthy fast food meals, then do so. As you get better with meal prepping and cooking, you’ll soon realize that prepping dinner meals is just as easy. You simply need to make extra recipes and all the sides stay about the same – rice, beans, veggies, baked potatoes, hummus – these are all great sides to have along with either your lunch or dinner protein-based dishes.
Beginner Meal Prep Tips for Long Term Success
I’ve learned a thing or two during my meal prep journey. When I was just starting out, I jumped head first. I ended up making many recipes I didn’t enjoy and wasted more food than I care to write about. Below is a list to help you get started with meal prep and hopefully save you from some of the pitfalls I’ve experienced:
- As mentioned already, start small and work your way up. You don’t want 10 meals sitting in the fridge only to realize you don’t enjoy them.
- Try not to skip meals – there are many reasons why skipping meals can hurt your weight loss goals.
- Start with a recipe you already know and enjoy.
- Think about things that you can keep at work to make your breakfast and lunch easier. Things I’ve kept in my cubicle are:
- Almond & peanut butter containers
- Bag of uncooked oats with a measuring cup inside it.
- Seasoned tuna packets
- Protein bars
- Bottle of hot sauce along with cans of beans and a can opener.
- Get a good food thermometer to make sure your meats are cooked all the way through. This is especially important if you are just starting to cook poultry and pork.
- Pre-packaged food isn’t evil, they can complement meal prepping and contribute to your overall weight loss goals. Packaged oatmeal, low sodium frozen meals, and wheat crackers sure beat donuts, brownies, and bagels any day of the week!
- Pre-packaged sides can be a life saver and be just as healthy. Just watch out for the sodium. Some great sides that come pre-made are low-sodium can of beans, microwavable brown rice, quinoa pouches, and frozen mixed vegetables.
Starter Meal Prep Recipe Ideas
As mentioned before, I recommend you start to meal prep by packing your lunch for work. Taking on too much at first can be overwhelming. Below are some meal prep breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas that are beginner friendly which will provide weight loss results:
Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas
- Oatmeal with almond or peanut butter, and a banana
- Kodiak power pancakes – I usually make 2 or 3 days’ worth.
- 2 slices of whole wheat toast with almond or peanut butter
- Pre-made Freezer-friendly Smoothies
- Egg, cheese, and black bean on a whole wheat wrap burrito
Lunch and Dinner Meal Prep Ideas
- Chicken Recipe Ideas
- Healthy Chipotle Turkey Chili Recipe
- Slow-cooker Peppered Steak Recipe
- Pan Seared Blackened Fish Recipe
Complex Carb Meal Prep Ideas
- Brown Rice
- Hummus with wheat crackers
- Beans (black, white, pinto, kidney)
- Brown Rice with Quinoa – cooked or sold in microwavable pouches
- Sweet potatoes and yams (you can microwave these)
- Curry Potato Recipe
Green Vegetables Meal Prep Ideas
- Oven Roasted Vegetable Recipe
- Frozen Vegetables Mix
- Pre-mixed garden salad with low fat dressing
- Freshly cut mix of bell peppers, carrots and cucumber mix.
Healthy Snacks to Have on Hand
- Almonds and peanuts
- Greek yogurt with frozen blueberries
- Low fat cottage cheese with real sliced peaches
- Fruit slices (mango, watermelon, bananas, etc.)
- Read more on Healthy Snacks that require No Preparation
Final Thoughts on Beginning your Meal Prep Journey
Hopefully this gives you an idea of how to start your meal prepping adventure. Remember, no one ever woke up one day and became a master chef – it takes practice and patience. You’ll spoil some food because you made too much or you will sometimes be short a meal or two for the week. That’s perfectly fine, it’s how we learn and you will get better. Once you develop the habit of preparing healthier meals, you’ll soon start seeing a difference in your body and weight scale. After you’ve gotten the hang of meal prepping, slowly move on to making more recipes so that you don’t get tired of the same thing.
Keep a notebook of recipes you liked and forget the ones you didn’t like. Research ingredients that are bad for your weight loss goals (like heavy cream, butter, mayo, etc.) and substitute them for their healthier alternative which almost always exists. Starting is half the battle – once you’ve made your first meal prep recipe, you are half way there! Happy meal prepping, drop me a comment below if you have any questions or comments, and thank you for reading!