You get to the gym. You kill your workouts. You reap the benefits of the physical activity and love every minute. Do you ever get frustrated because the nutrition portion of fat loss can be sooo exhausting? Prepping food and taking the time to set meals aside, grocery shop, constantly be packing food can all of the sudden dominate your life. I don’t know about you-but I am all about spending minimal time doing prepping anything and maximal time enjoying life outside of the kitchen and gym.
I remember when I first began competing, my life all of the sudden became way more than just the workouts. I was in the grocery store and kitchen in most of my free time. I am not regretting any of that time I spent prepping food, however I did get to a breaking point and spent years figuring out ways to have a life besides prepping my food in the kitchen.
I didn’t just have ‘sunday food prep day’ which is what I hear a lot of competitors and people do these days. I spent almost everyday prepping some sort of food. It was all labeled and separated in baggies or tupperwares in the fridge and god forbid I ate something that wasn’t ‘on plan’ and I became filled with food guilt.
The problem with spending most of my time focused on and food prepping was that when I was in the real world (which was most of the time) I would get a sudden fear of ‘but this isn’t MY food’ I am going to be somewhere where I didn’t cook my own food;
How do I know what it is?
How it is cooked?
Is it the right number of ounces?
Everytime I was put in situations where food was out of my control, my anxiety set in. It was in my kitchen and in my fridge where I felt a sense of calm. The problem with this way of thinking is that it is NOT real life.
Food prepping can be one of the best tools to help you reach your goals with fat or weight loss, however it can also be one of the most tedious, mind messing and time consuming tasks–so much so to the point where you will want to throw in the towel and say “screw it!–lets go to Chipotle”
It took me years to find a balance between having healthy, delicious, flavorful options in my fridge at all times, AND still having a life with my friends, family, work and relationships. There were times that I found myself missing events on a weekend or avoiding social situations because I was ‘busy’ cooking (and really just wanted to avoid being forced to eat something out of my control) My life was literally cooking and packing food.
Cooking and packing food.
It was a cycle that I knew was not sustainable.
I truly believe that part of what intimidates people about food prepping is that it WILL take up so much of their free time. I am here to share some tips that I have used over a couple years that are painless and mindless. You can still cook healthy food to have in your fridge, enjoy time with your friends and family, go to work on time, exercise, grab a drink with a co-worker, and you will not have to sacrifice anything. When trying to lose fat or weight, having healthy options on hand is extremely important but like I said, it shouldn’t take over your life. It should blend right in!
MY FOOD PREP TIPS
Cook multiple things at once! I usually mutitask everytime I put something on the stovetop or oven. If I am cooking in the oven, I will be cooking meat, hardboiling eggs (YES, in the oven! Just throw them in there and take them out after about 10-15 minutes) Roasting sweet potatoes, veggies, whatever you can think off, I make the move of the oven or stovetop at the same time
2) Cook Grains in Bulk/ Prepare Overnight
This is one that took me a while to follow, for whatever reason cooking grains in bulk didn’t bode over with me well BUT once I started doing it I never looked back. Bulk cook grains like oats or quinoa and store them in the fridge so you can easily whip up breakfast or any other meal in 2 minutes.
Breakfast Quinoa: 1C cooked quinoa mixed with 1/2C of almond milk or coconut milk, 10 sliced almonds, 1T unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 scoop whey protein powder (optional) 1/3C frozen or fresh berries or banana slices, 1T chia seeds or hemp seeds.
Cinnamon Chia Overnight Oats: 1/2C raw oats, 1C almond or coconut milk, 1T chia seeds, 1/2C chopped banana or berries or mixture of both, 1tsp cinnamon, 1T chia seeds.
Both of these recipes are SOOO easy and can be made/prepared even the night before. The overnight oats, you can also make with cooked oats and throw together in the morning if you don’t do it the night before. Try making them in mason jars and throw it in your bag to work the next day! Perfect for post workout as well! You can even eat it in the locker room while getting ready for work at the gym.
3) Staple Items
If you know me, you know my love affair with turkey and beef meatballs. I make some sort of meatballs usually every week if not every other week. To me-they are a STAPLE and I find them so easy to be a part of my weekly food prep. They are such easy way to get in my protein and also not have it be another boring plain piece of chicken. I use the multiask method when making these so I am always roasting up some veggies or potatoes or squash at the same time they are cooking away.
Step 1: Buy lean ground turkey, beef or chicken. I usually go for 93/7 or 96/4 for leanness. I like to have some flavor when it comes to the turkey so that’s usually the 93/7 variety.
Step 2: Decide what flavors to use. For the most part, I throw in whatever herbs I have on hand (usually basil, oregano or herbs de provence) with a combination of grainy or dijon mustard (about 2TBSP) salt and pepper
Step 3: Get fancy! This is when I buy a fun, new ingredient to try out to give the meatballs flavor. For instance in my curry meatballs, I threw some sliced apple in there. I have made Asian style meatballs with soy sauce, fresh chopped ginger and fish sauce. There is no rule that says meatballs have to be italian style or boring. Get creative! Throw in scallions or onion or fruit such as blueberries or dried cherries. The sweet and salty combination is DELICIOUS and may surprise you! I have some recipes listed below for you to try!
- Basil Turkey meatballs
- Basil Red pepper meatballs
- Curried Meatballs
- Spicy Meatballs with Garlic
- Beef/turkey meatballs with spinach
4) Make Lists:
Don’t go to the grocery store without a list. If you want to be efficient in there and get what you need, prepare ahead of time-even if it’s jotting down on you cellphone what you need to get. If I DON’T do this, I always end up spending way too much money and always forgetting some essential item I needed, in addition to getting things I certainly didn’t need. I have a grocery list (click the link below to get my list!)
There are always staple items such as fruits and veggies that I get every week. Things like peppers, zuchinni, spinach (for smoothies and salads) Frozen berries and bananas for smoothies, baby carrots, brocolli. These I will ALWAYS get every week. Then I think about protein; what do I already have frozen in my freezer that I can take out to defrost? I always have on hand chicken sausages if I am in a pinch and don’t have meat pre cooked in the fridge. I just take one out and pair it with veggies or sweet potato or both. If there is chicken on sale such as buy one, get one free, I ALWAYS get it for the freezer.
Next, I think about cuppoard items like balsamic vinegar, mustard, oils, nutritional bars, nut butters-what do I need and what can I get to keep the variety in my kitchen.
Some weeks I use generally coconut oil to cook and others I use olive oil. I always think about variety when it comes to my food. The same goes for fruit. Some weeks I’ll use blueberries, others I will use strawberries or kiwi!
5) Utilize One Pan with Multiple Flavors
One trick I have been trying out is taking a cookie sheet and seperating it in half with aluminum foil. On one side I have chicken marinaded with balsamic, basil, maple syrup and dijon and on the other side I have chicken that is dusted with cumin, curry, salt and pepper. I have two totally different flavored proteins but cooking them in one pan. The same can go for sweet potatoes! I will have half diced with cinnamon, coconut oil and sea salt and the other side will be dusted with herbs de provence. Two flavors-one pan!
6) Utilize Muffin Tins!
These are SUCH a savior when it comes to meal prep!
Egg cups (crack 1 egg in each one and fill with some veggies, salt and pepper) I sometimes add turkey bacon or turkey breast for added protein. Cook at 350 for abour 30 minutes and store in the fridge in a clear tupperware.
Frozen Smoothie Cups: Make a protein shake as you normally would (I use 1 scoop whey protein powder, 2T unsweetened cocoa powder, 1T coconut oil, handful spinach, 1/2C berries and 1/3 banana, almond milk and ice) Once blended pour into muffin tins and freeze. once frozen, take out of the tins and keep in a plastic bag or tupperware in the freezer so you can grab a couple and go! A great idea would be to throw 3-4 in a tupperware before your workout; by the time you are done, the cups will be perfectly thawed out and ready to eat!
Protein Bites: You don’t HAVE to make these in tins, but I find its a good way to measure portion control and lets you freeze them evenly! One sneaky trick I like is to always have something protein packed and sweet on hand. I ALWAYS have these in my freezer; literally ALWAYS. If I see that I am running low, I whip up another batch-they take 5 minutes to make!
Ingredients (Chocolate Coconut Flavor)
- 1/3C coconut flour
- 1 Scoop vegan brown rice protein powder (you can use whatever protein you like!)
- 1T chia seeds
- 2T nut butter (I have cashew or almond on hand)
- 1 dropper full of liquid stevia (optional)
- 1-2T unsweetened cocoa powder
- Enough water to make the whole mixture into a paste/dough
7) Prep meal components, not full meals
I used to prep full meals and put the same exact thing in tupperwares. Quinoa, chicken, greens beans. Quinoa, chicken, green beans. Omgeeee-this was beyond boring and actually made me crazy to open my fridge and see the same exact meals for 5/6 meals. I have found that I am actually way more efficient and look forward to eating my food WAY more when I simply have components prepared in my fridge rather than full meals. Some people would argue the complete opposite, however I like variety all day, everyday. If I cook up chicken breast, I don’t necessarily want to eat it with sweet potato and peppers everyday.
Above, I have white rice (pre cooked) and chicken breast (pre cooked) with avocado and some peppers. This is just one meal using the rice and chicken that I had; added in some good fat and veggies! I will not eat this same meal again in the same day. Personal choice that makes my meals WAY more exciting. I also sometimes season my food AFTER it is cooked to add instant new flavors to otherwise plain foods. Mustard, basil, oregano, cinnamon-you name it and I will use it on my food!
8) It’s NOT All Or Nothing:
Remember that you don’t have to spend HOURS in the kitchen for ‘meal prep’ to happen. Focus on one thing at a time and nail it before overwhelming yourself with everything all at once. If you want to ensure that breakfast is a priority, focus on prepping some breakfast items like egg cups or oats and whey protein in overnight oats. Have veggies pre washed and cut and the same goes for fruit. Start small; once you master one small task, you will feel confident in moving onto the rest of the food!
9) Be Realistic
We all have crazy days and weeks where food prep just isn’t happening. Maybe work is insane, maybe you were traveling in the earlier part of the week. Whatever the case may be-don’t stress if you can’t get to your ‘normal’ prep schedule. I always ensure that my freezer has at least 1 bag of frozen fruit and veggies, chicken sausages that take 5 min to cook and defrost and frozen fresh herbs. I always sometimes also have leftovers in the freezer that makes those weeks way easier! If I anticipate traveling, I ensure that the week prior, I make some extra food to freeze for when I get back. defrost some frozen veggies and BAM!
10) Be FLEXIBLE
This is one of my biggest take aways I want you to think about from this post. Life is way more important that standing in the kitchen for hours cooking food and storing it in tupperware’s. Been there, done that and I won’t ever make it the priority in my life. If my food prep day is typically sunday and a friend asked me to go for lunch and shopping, there is no WAY that I would turn that down to sit in my kitchen and cook chicken and rice. Too much dependence on food prepping can take you away from experiencing life. Moderation and flexibility have to come into play because this is a part of life. Yes, I cook food and usually always have options to get me through the week, but I also eat a decent amount of food from local salad/sandwich shops, sashimi from my local sushi restaurant etc. Some days, I just want to NOT worry about cooking my food. I finally came to a place where I realized that food prepping wasn’t the end all and be all of my healthy lifestyle. I can be healthy, eat right, stay lean and be happy without spending hours in the kitchen. You have to trust yourself and know that the only thing that will happen to you not DEPENDING on food prep is that you will experience freedom and flexibility and enjoyment in other areas of your life.
Yes, I wanted to share these food prep tips with you because they ARE helpful in leading you down the right path but they are not written for you to add an obsessive component to your already structured life. Think outside the box and what really matters. Its experiences, its friends, family, career, social events and yes, while eating clean and healthy is one of the top 5 most important things in my life; I have taught myself to let go of the anxiety I feel when I am not set in a structured ‘plan’ and you know what? I have gotten leaner, happier and my workouts are 10x better since letting this stress roll off my shoulders.