How many times have you put yourself on a diet? Too many to count? Yeah, me too.
Calorie restrictions are awful!
Watching everyone else eat a full meal (and maybe dessert) while you try to starve a few pounds off your waistline is not what any of us want to do.
And after all that, those pounds tend to find their way back.
So… what’s different about meal prep for weight loss?
Below you’ll learn how to lose weight through healthy meal prep. We’re talking about a FULL belly of food that tastes great, is conveniently ready to eat when you need it, and helps you look and feel your best.
This beginner’s guide to meal prep for weight loss will take you step by step to accomplish your weight loss goals. And you’ll discover just how life-changing healthy meal prep can be. If that sounds dramatic, just know that I used to be exactly where you are now, and these are the steps I took to change my own life in a very dramatic way!
You can do this. And it’s SO worth it.
WHAT DOES MEAL PREP MEAN?
Meal prep, or meal preparation, is simply preparing an ingredient or full meal before you plan to eat it. This could be making a meal a day ahead, prepping an entire week of meals over the weekend, or loading up your freezer with dozens of meals.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEAL PREP?
There are many benefits of meal prepping, including saving time and money. But for you, those are just a nice bonus. You’re here for the proven health and weight-loss benefits that include:
- Portion control
- Curbing cravings
- Eliminating last-minute junk food grabs
- Convenient nutrient-dense meals
And, most importantly, creating a sustainable and enjoyable healthy lifestyle.
DOES MEAL PREPPING HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
Meal prepping alone could give you the benefits you need to lose weight. If portion control and eliminating temptations is all you need, this could be an easy step to get you there. Prepping all, or even some of your meals, ahead of time makes it easier to manage your diet. But for most of us, meal prepping also helps us make necessary changes to WHAT we’re eating, not just WHEN we’re cooking. If only meal-prepping a batch of cookies did the trick, right? So, if you’re really looking to pack a punch in your weightloss goals, take advantage of every element of meal prepping, including finding healthy meal prep recipes.
Also, I’m not a doctor. Your health history and calorie needs are important topics to discuss with your doctor as you begin a weight loss journey. The information below will empower you to make good decisions in the kitchen, but should never be considered medical advice. Talk to your doctor as you apply these ideas for weight loss.
HOW MANY TIMES A DAY OR TOTAL CALORIES SHOULD YOU EAT TO LOSE WEIGHT?
There are so many different diet plans out there ready to tell you when you should eat or to prescribe you a calorie count. Whether you want to experiment with something like intermittent fasting or calorie reductions, again, a dietician is the best person to help guide you through your specific health needs and body type. But I don’t need to attend medical school to tell you that regardless of when or how much you eat, we’re shooting for an increase in fruits and vegetables, fiber, and healthy proteins. A weight loss meal will be low carb, avoiding simple carbs and sugars.
So, if you like your three square meals a day or six small meals, shooting for a non-processed meal loaded with veggies is the way to go. For a rough idea of calories: to sustain your current weight, general recommendations are 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 calories for men. So, you’d likely need to eat below these numbers for weight loss (generally 1,200-1,700 calories a day). The internet is full of helpful calorie calculators to refine these numbers based on your age and activity level.
Remember, fewer calories don’t mean you need to go hungry. Eating the right foods will help you get this number down while still feeling satisfied. So, while understanding the role of calories in your weight loss efforts is important, it’s most important that you focus on making changes to your diet that foster a good relationship with food and that you’ll be able to sustain long term. You want to avoid any yo-yo diets where you push yourself too far or too fast and then give up. Take baby steps in making better eating choices, and you’ll find you gain momentum over time and feel much happier sustaining your efforts.
HOW DO I MAKE A MEAL PLAN?
Every healthy meal prep idea needs a plan. If planning isn’t your thing, don’t worry, this is a lot easier than it sounds. And once you have a plan, you can use it again and again. Start small and simple. Don’t overwhelm yourself right from the get-go or you may give up before you’ve even started. Meal plans are easy to build on over time, so remember that the goal is making delicious meals that are convenient. Follow these simple steps start.
How to make a meal plan:
1. Write out a basic meal prep menu.
You can include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and even treats. Can I say this enough times: KEEP IT SIMPLE. While you’re trying to get the hang of prepping, repeating meals throughout the week and focusing on recipes that you’re already comfortable cooking is a good way to start. You can pull out the chef hat in a few months when you’re a master meal prepper!
2. Make a shopping list.
After peeking in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, write out a list of everything you need to grab from the store. This is one of the benefits of meal prepping – you’ll save time avoiding mid-week grocery runs by hitting the store once for everything you need.
3. Hit the store to round up those ingredients.
If you’re good with bargain shopping, you can strategically shop for the best deals to save money, especially if you’re bulk cooking a single ingredient throughout your week.
4. Plan a convenient time to cook.
This is where making meals ahead of time really benefits people with busy schedules. By picking the best day or two for meal prepping, you avoid cooking on those busy mornings or evenings when you just don’t have the time. And even though you’re cooking lots of meals at once, this doesn’t have to be an all-day event. Try to limit your meal prep efforts to an hour or two so you don’t burn out. Batch cooking a single meal prep recipe can help keep your overall prep time down.
MEAL PLANNING FOR WEIGHT LOSS
As a general guide, when searching for a recipe for weight loss, look for meal ideas that range from 300 to 500 calories each. A healthy snack should be around 100 calories. Again, don’t let calorie counting overwhelm you, and these calorie recommendations are just benchmark targets to use as a guide. So, before you get lost in the numbers, focus on veggies and lean proteins first, and keep the process easy and simple.
For those tracking the numbers, here’s a sample of what this might look like:
Total calories: 1365 calories
And you can prep all of these meals at the beginning of the week!
You can have a full menu and a full stomach at a low-calorie count. It all comes down to choosing the right meals and finding what works for you. If you feel like you’re starving, change the menu! Weight loss doesn’t happen in one day, so making a plan that will be enjoyable over time is what will help you reach your goals.
Menu tips for weight loss meal preps:
- Include healthy fat, protein, and fiber in every meal and snack. This combination will ensure you feel full longer while getting the nutrients your body needs.
- While making everything at home helps you control ingredients and avoid pre-processed foods, not every pre-made item is your enemy. Look for snacks like whole-grain crackers, greek yogurt, and hummus that could make life easier as you meal prep.
- If you find a meal prep idea that really works for you, use it as often as you can without getting sick of it. Most of us are fine with a repeat meal throughout the week. So, focus on being practical over being creative.
- Not all items need to be fresh. While fresh food seems like the gold standard, supplementing your grocery list with some canned or frozen items can be a good idea as well. It’s nice to have some frozen veggies on hand. And it’s not always easy to use up fresh produce before it spoils. Frozen and canned fruits and veggies can also be cheaper.
- Look for opportunities to switch an item out for something healthier. For example, use brown rice or cauliflower rice instead of white rice. And use whole grain noodles, spaghetti squash, or zucchini noodles instead of white noodles.
- If you need some extra help drafting a meal plan, search the internet for free meal planners. These templates can give you a head start if you’re new to menu planning.
- If you’ve got tools like an air fryer or instant pot, look for recipes that put these to good use. Tools like these can make meal prepping even easier for you.
Foods to eat and a healthy meal prep shopping list
While we love how convenient meal prep is, more than convenience, we’re going for a well-balanced, healthy diet. So, it’s time to get selective about what we buy and eat. This includes eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, beans, healthy proteins, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.
As you create your shopping list, take a moment to review the items for a quick health check. If your list doesn’t include a good mix of these types of foods, you may need to adjust your menu.
Shopping list example:
- Non-starchy vegetables – bell pepper, spinach, lettuce, onion, zucchini, green beans
- Starchy vegetables – potatoes, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash
- Fruits – bananas, strawberries, apples, blueberries, pineapple
- Frozen fruits and veggies – mango, peaches, broccoli, spinach
- Beans – black beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Grains – oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta, sprouted-grain bread
- Proteins – chicken breast, eggs, tilapia, canned tuna, ground turkey
- Dairy and dairy substitutes: milk, unsweetened almond milk, Greek yogurt
- Pantry/condiments: garlic, chicken broth, Italian seasoning, Green Goddess dressing, sea salt
- Nuts and seeds – chia seeds, nut butter, almonds
- Healthy fats – avocado oil or olive oil, hummus, avocados
- Other/snacks – coffee, popcorn, protein bars, dark chocolate chips
Your shopping list should match your personal food preferences and will change weekly with a new menu, but this gives you an idea of what one week’s meal prep grocery run might look like.
Foods to avoid while meal prepping for weight loss
Any time you start a new diet by imposing food restrictions on yourself, you’re likely to start craving that food and can even develop a negative relationship with food or your new diet plan. You already know that cutting back on sweets, soda, fast food, and processed food is important for a healthy diet. But instead of focusing on the “don’ts,” instead try to fill your life with easily accessible healthy options. This is a huge reason why meal prep is so beneficial to weight loss goals. Simply having healthy options on hand when those cravings hit makes a big difference in your ability to choose healthier foods.
Again, take baby steps in substituting one unhealthy choice for a healthy choice. Don’t go so fast in completely changing your diet that you give up quickly. You’ll find that your body and taste buds start to crave healthier foods over time. This is not a crash diet, so be patient with your body and weight loss journey. Remember that you’re in this for long-term wins, not the quick yo-yo diet success and rebound.
ADDITIONAL INFO AND TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL MEAL PREPPING
How long can you keep meal prep in the fridge?
Most meals can last 3-5 days in the fridge if stored correctly. Since this doesn’t get you through the entire week, here are a few ways to prep a full week of meals:
- Prep ingredients but keep them separate. Some meals spoil faster when combined, so by prepping all of the elements of a meal, you have what you need to put it together quickly but by waiting until mealtime to assemble it may last longer.
- Freeze meals for longer shelf life.
- Break meal prep into two days each week. Many people prep on Sundays and Wednesdays to keep meal prep time short and to have meals for an entire week.
- Learn which ingredients or meals last longer before spoiling and plan your menu with those in mind.
Can you freeze meal prep food?
Yes! This is a great way to make sure you always have healthy meals on hand. If stored correctly, meals can last up to two months or longer. Bulk-cooking your favorite meal and freezing half of it is one of the easiest ways to start meal prepping.
What meal prep container should you use?
You’ll want to have a variety of containers on hand if you meal prep regularly. Here are a few to consider:
- Freezer-friendly containers, if you choose to prep for the freezer.
- Individual meal containers for portioned meals.
- Larger containers for bulk cooking and prepped ingredients.
Consider whether you’ll need to reheat an item and whether you need an insulated lunchbox or ice packs for eating on the go.
Of course, here’s my personal favorite meal prep container.
That’s it, folks – you know everything you need to jump in and give this a try! Meal prepping is an incredible tool to bring convenient, healthy eating into your life. And your personal weight loss goals are completely achievable through meal prepping.
Whether you count your calories, eat only vegan recipes, eat the same three meals every day for a month, or refuse to give up your favorite dessert – you do you! Meal prepping is a flexible way to fit your personal goals in a style that works for you.
Ultimately, you’re looking for delicious, nutritious, and filling meals to pack your fridge and freezer with, so pick foods that you’ll enjoy.
Here are some recipes to get you started.
Meal prep recipes for weight loss
Breakfast meal prep
Lunch meal prep
Dinner meal prep
Snack meal prep
Find more meal prep recipes here.