So you’re wondering, does meal prepping work? Whether for weight loss or saving money you want to know if it’s worth your time and energy. Before we can discuss if it does (it does), and why, we need to discuss what the definition of meal prepping is and the reasons why people do it.
What is Meal Prepping and Why Do People Do It
I’m in the car for roughly 8 hours a day for work. On a typical day, I would eat fast food or gas station snacks to hold me over until dinner. Think hot dogs, burgers, steak sandwiches, french fries, and even packaged Twinkies. Not at all healthy by any stretch of the imagination.
That is until I started meal prepping.
There is no dictionary definition for “Meal Prepping“. If you define “prepping” though, it means: to get ready. And that’s what we’re doing, getting our meals ready.
So Why Do People Meal Prep?
Reasons people might meal prep:
- Save Money
- Manage portion sizes
- Save Time
- Lower Stress
- Weight Control
I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons why some would want to meal prep but I’ll explain why I do it and the reasons why.
Reasons Why Meal Prepping Works for Me
I used to be about 50 pounds heavier and would jiggle when I walked. I’d wear larger shirts to hide my love handles and man boobs. I’d swim with a shirt on or not swim at all. Embarrassing to say the least.
Once I started taking my health and fitness into account, I knew I needed a way to eat healthy all day, every day. That meant no more Burger King or 5 Guys Burgers. I was going to be one of those people that took healthy eating seriously.
For me, it’s not a question of, does meal prepping work? It’s a question of just how well it does. The top 3 reasons I prep my meals are to save myself time, money, and to know exactly how many calories I’m taking in over the course of a day.
Meal Prep Saves Time
Most people think meal prepping involves hours upon hours of constant food prep, but that’s not the case at all. Depending on your cooking methods and what you’re prepping, you could have a week’s worth of lunch and breakfast meals done in an hour.
I’m able to take an hour on a Sunday afternoon and prepare my lunch meals for the week. This saves me a ton of time during the early mornings when I’m getting ready for work. Just grab a premade lunch, toss it in my bag, and go.
If I’m cooking chicken for lunch that week it may take me a few hours longer. I use the slow cooker for shredded chicken so my prep time for that is only a few minutes. The bulk of the time the slow cooker is doing the work for me so I can be off doing whatever I want.
Save a TON of Money
A huge benefit for mostly anyone meal prepping is the money saved. Like I said before, I would stop daily for lunch and snacks. Every day I worked I would usually buy a snack in the morning before lunch, $5. Then for lunch, I’d stop at different places but usually about $12 on average. That’s about $17 a day spent on food! I work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day and I plan on working 20 years there. Let’s break that down.
$17 x 5 (days a week) = $85
$85 x 48 (weeks, minus vacations) = $4080
$4080 x 20 (years until retirement) = $81,600
Now if we compare that to my average meal prepping costs you can obviously see the savings. This is why it’s so financially beneficial to meal prep.
My cost average could be different than yours and that’s fine. No matter what you’re prepping, I can almost guarantee it’d be cheaper than eating out every day.
I’m not counting the initial costs of containers since they can vary immensely. I use cheap plastic containers like you’d get when you order out.
They’re inexpensive and they work for what I need. You could even save the old ones from takeout. If I’m having a sandwich, I usually wrap it in saran wrap or tinfoil and reuse that throughout the week.
My Total Bill
My total bill at Walmart for a week’s worth of lunch costs me about $42. For a week! That’s more than half the cost of eating out.
At $42 a week, it averages about $8.40 a day. HALF!!
$42 x 48 (weeks, minus vacations) = $2016
$2016 x 20 (years until retirement) = $40,320
$81,600 (eating out total) – $40,320 (meal prepping total) = $41,280 saved by prepping your meals! That’s insane to think about.
You’d have enough to buy a Tesla.
This is just my lunches, I would often find myself stopping for either a coffee and bagel or a breakfast sandwich, or sometimes both. This was an additional $5-$7. Granted I didn’t do this every day like I did my lunch, but enough to make an impact when I stopped doing it. $$$
Perfect Calorie Counting
If you’re a calorie counter like myself, meal prepping can guarantee you are counting the exact calories. Unlike the cheesesteak or slice of pizza where you’re estimating calories, meal prepping lets YOU decide what goes into your body.
I’m on a roughly 2300 calorie diet so meal prepping allows me to give myself exactly the calories and macros I need for that meal. My lunch and snacks are about 700-800 calories combined that I eat over the course of the morning. I use the MyNetDiary app on my phone to track everything. When I say everything, I mean, EVERYTHING.
Meal prepping takes the guessing game out of your calorie tracking and can be a huge game-changer if you’re struggling with counting your calories.
Is Meal Prepping Healthy
This is really a loaded question that doesn’t have a yes or no answer. It all depends on what you prepare. For me, meal prepping is extremely healthy since I ONLY pack healthy foods.
*Nothing is stopping you from prepping unhealthy foods so be mindful if you’re trying to live a healthier life!
For a normal day of meal prep, I’ll usually have
BREAKFAST: Overnight Oats with a banana or apple.
LUNCH: Carb Balance Tortilla Wrap with sliced turkey, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion.
SNACKS: Apple Cinnamon or Caramel Corn Rice Cakes, 2 hard-boiled eggs, Hummus and Chips
DINNER: I’m on a high protein diet so dinner is typically chicken, rice, and a vegetable. I’ll sometimes swap out the rice with potatoes but most always chicken and a vegetable.
I truly do find that meal prepping for at least a couple of days in advance lets me pick healthier foods. Since I’ve begun prepping my lunch and snacks I don’t need to stop at 7-11 for junk food anymore and it’s saved me unwanted pounds.
When You Do Meal Prep, is That What You Eat For the Remainder of the Week?
No one really enjoys eating the same foods, day in and day out. I don’t care what you say, it’s just not enjoyable. Since you’re prepping your own meals though, they can all be as varied as you’d like.
Obviously preparing food for 5 different lunch meals is going to take a bit longer than the same lunch meal for 5 days, but the choice is totally yours to make.
Meal Prepping Twice a Week to Change it Up
A lot of people will break up their meal prepping into 2 different days. They’ll prepare Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday’s lunch on Sunday, then prepare Thursday and Friday’s meals on Wednesday evening. I sometimes do this to break the monotony.
I usually vary my sides every few days to spice it up as well. So instead of a container of hummus and chips, I’ll grab some guacamole and chips. It all depends on what we have in the house and how much time I want to invest.
Like I said though, what you eat and how often you eat it is 100% up to you. While having the same meal every day is easier to prepare, it does get boring. If you find yourself not enjoying the same thing you had yesterday, change it up for tomorrow. The world is your oyster so they say.
Does Meal Prepping Work for Weight Loss?
Probably the most asked question about meal prepping. Does it work for weight loss? If you’ve paid attention at all above, it’s completely obvious, it does. Well let me rephrase, it can. Since you’re the one in control at all times, you’ll be the deciding factor whether you lose weight or not.
Calories in must be less than calories out for any hint of weight loss. You can exercise 3 hours a day, but if you’re consuming more calories than you’ve burned, you won’t lose a pound. (kilogram for my friends over the pond)
Does meal prepping work for weight loss?
So for meal prepping to work for weight loss, you’ll need to take your entire daily diet into mind. If you can achieve a caloric deficit, then you’ll lose weight, and meal prepping will have helped. If however you overpack and fill your prepped meals with junk and too many calories, you won’t.
How to Meal Prep for Weight Loss
Like I said, being in a calorie deficit is the key to weight loss. I can’t stress that enough! Meal prepping to lose weight should be a relatively simple task then. Here are some tips to help you lose weight by meal prepping.
- Pack healthy, natural, whole foods as much as possible.
- Weigh your portions for exact calorie and nutrition intake.
- Ensure your meal is within your calorie restrictions.
- Snacks should be filling and healthy. Try and pick satiating foods that will keep you full, longer. Apples, bananas, rice cakes, etc.
- Protein shakes are a quick way to get some calories, and simple to make.
Meal Prepping for Beginners
If you’re new to the meal prepping game you may have questions. What’s the best container, what foods are good to prep, how long will they last? All valid questions and concerns that I had too.
I do think that it’s a learning process though. After a few weeks or months of meal prepping, you’ll figure out pretty quickly what works for you. And you’ll find what doesn’t.
Which Types of Food Storage Containers Are the Best
I’ve used everything from glass, plastic, to even Ziploc bags to store my meal-prepped lunch. So, which ones work the best?
Glass Food Storage Containers
For long-term usage I’d say the glass is absolutely the way to go. Glass food storage containers will hold up to years and years of usage.
|Pros of Glass Food Storage||Cons of Glass Food Storage|
|Years of use||Rigid and won’t fit all bags|
|Doesn’t retain any odors||Most expensive option|
Plastic Food Storage Containers
Plastic food storage containers are my choice for the simple fact they’re cheap. When I started meal prepping and still ate out a lot, I would often have a bunch of those round plastic containers you’d get when you order out Chinese. I’d just wash them and throw my lunch in them. It was free and convenient.
|Pros of Plastic Food Storage||Cons of Plastic Food Storage|
|Cheapest||Not always secure|
|Reusable||Retains some food odors|
|Can get them for free sometimes|
How Long Does Meal Prep Take
How long it takes to prep your weekly meals depends on what you’re making. If you decided you want Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches all week, meal prep should take no more than 10 minutes. If you want something with a bit more nutrition and macros, such as chicken and rice, well, prep time could be a few hours.
I make myself wraps for lunch a lot. Sometimes they’re lunch meat wraps, sometimes egg salad. They’re pretty quick to make so after I have all my ingredients weighed out, it’s just a matter of slapping them together. Then I roll them up tight in saran wrap. I prefer the saran wrap over a container for these since it’ll keep them rolled together very nicely.
This whole process, weighing out my meats and cheeses, getting the wraps out, putting everything together, and rolling up takes about 15 minutes.
Start to finish.
Don’t Forget Your Sides
Then I take a few more minutes to gather any sides I’m having like chips or pretzels. I take apples and bananas as well, but I’ll usually just grab them the morning of.
What are Good Methods for Meal Planning
With time in mind, your first step in meal prepping is meal planning. You’ll need a good “plan of attack” so they say to make meal prep easy. Which it really is.
For really efficient meal planning some things to consider are:
- Write down what you plan on making, check out our free printable meal planning templates here
- If you’re cooking different items at once, try to time everything to be done at roughly the same time. This speeds up the whole process when you’re ready to pack just as everything finishes.
- Will you need to be constantly stirring, checking, or will the slow cooker be doing the work
- Are the foods you cook going to last a few days in the fridge
- Will you be prepping foods for just you or the whole family
- Are you preparing all 3 meals for each day
How to Meal Prep Lunch for the Week
My process for meal prepping my lunches and snacks is pretty simple and depending on what you pack, your process could be just as easy.
Before you Begin
- Start with a clean kitchen. Counters wiped down, utensils washed, and hands washed!
- Set out all your ingredients and unwrap anything that’s packaged.
- Get out your mixing bowls, spatulas, measuring cups, and other cooking utensils
- Have all your food storage containers washed, dried, and ready to be filled
- Be sure you have a trashcan handy to toss any waste. No need to fumble around with the lid if you can help it
- If you weigh your foods, have your scale handy as well. It helps to keep a notepad or as I do, a small whiteboard next to my kitchen island. If I need to jot down a measurement it’s right there.
Now You’re All Set and Ready to Prep
Simply divide up the food you’ve cooked into the separate food storage containers you’ve already laid out. If you’re weighing out your portions, I find it easier to divide up one particular part of the meal completely, than to move on to the rest. I like to keep things moving efficiently and I’m not swapping out spoons and bowls every 10 seconds.
So for example, if your meal consists of chicken breast, rice, and broccoli, you’ll line up all your containers and place a chicken into each one. Then come back and put a scoop of rice in each. Finally, come back through with the broccoli. Doing the dividing up this way keeps you focused on one aspect at a time and lets you move quickly through the process.
Gotta’ Let it Chill First
If you prepped hot or warm foods, I recommend leaving the filled containers uncovered and let them cool down before putting them in the refrigerator. Putting the lids on when they’re hot causes moisture to build up and could spoil your meal. At the very least, it makes things soggy. And we all know, no one likes a soggy bottom.
Put it Away and Forget About it
After everything is divided and cooled down, pop your lids on and store them in the fridge. Some meals can be prepped and stored in the freezer if you want also. If you’re going to store in the freezer, I’d suggest the glass food storage containers. Cuts down on the freezer burn by a lot.
After All That, Does Meal Prepping Work?
Absolutely, positively, 100%, yes, it works, for whatever reason you’re deciding to do it.
It works if you want to save money, shave some pounds from your waistline, or you’re just the type of person who likes to not think hard in the mornings when getting ready. Meal prepping can be a bit intimidating at first, but with consistency, you’ll be an old pro in no time.
Good luck and happy prepping!!
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