Working It Out: How Meal Prepping Helped Me Drop 81 Pounds
Preparedness is one of those concepts we tend to only think about when it comes to natural disasters and road trips, but it’s a principle that also serves people quite well on their weight loss journey. I know because over the past nine months I’ve noticed the difference in results when I make a concerted effort to eat clean; and I’ve also seen how susceptible I am to falling off the wagon when the food I should be eating is nowhere to be found.
In case meal prepping sounds incredibly intimidating — or daunting — to you let me start by saying there are levels to this ish, as Meek Mill would say. There are some people who spend their entire Saturday or Sunday bagging and bottling every single cooked thing they will ingest for the next seven days. On the other end of the spectrum are people who spend their weekends doing pre-cooking preparations so each night they can come home and simply plop some chicken on the grill or throw a casserole in the oven and eat. My method tends to fall somewhere in the middle, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of leftovers, and I tend to get bored eating the exact same thing every night. So here are a few of my standard practices when it comes to various items of the food pyramid:
On Sundays, I usually pan grill strips of chicken breast using Mrs. Dash’s all-purpose or chicken seasoning (I use this type because it doesn’t have salt) and a little extra-virgin olive oil (healthy fats). If I’m supremely on top of my game, I’ll go the extra mile and weigh 4 oz. portions and separate them into plastic containers, but usually I just put all the cooked meat in Gladware and pull it out each night to make dinner or the next day’s lunch. With basic chicken, the meal options are pretty endless, but I usually use the meat for salads, tacos of some sort, homemade pizza, or even pasta. I also prep ground turkey the same way — minus the olive oil — and use it to make gyros or tacos, like these. Ground beef can be done the same way as well, just be sure you’re using an option that is 93 percent lean.
I’m lazy, which is why my vegetables of choice tend to be leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale or corn — none of which require much prep other than pre-portioning and separating into containers for the week. Every now and then I switch things up and grill asparagus underneath my stove, all of which can be cooked at the same time and warmed up throughout the week and spruced up with a (measured) sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. I also love this recipe for baked green bean fries. The preparation is a bit time-consuming, but once the fries are made, all they need is a quick zap in the oven to heat them up and keep them crisp each night.
One of the first foods my trainer introduced me to was quinoa, and he’s pretty adamant about me having at least one serving of it per day. Thankfully, like rice, cooking the protein-heavy seed requires nothing more than water and a pot, unless you want to get fancy. At the top of the week, I tend to make a big pot of quinoa without any seasoning and then put cup-sized portions in individual containers that I can pull from Monday through Friday. Most days I eat quinoa as a plain side but sometimes I add meat and flavoring to make a pasta-like dish and separate my lunch and dinner portions after cooking. One of my favorite recipes is garlic butter shrimp and quinoa. I also love buffalo chicken quinoa bites, which give you meat and grain all in one, that way all you have to add is a vegetable of choice as a side.
Even with all of these at-home preparations, I still sometimes don’t feel like toting everything I need between my apartment and my office. So I’ve taken to leaving some things at my workplace to make my diet life a bit easier. That includes a set of measuring cups for times when I don’t pre-bag the 1/4 cup of cheese I use for my salad or the dressing I put on top. I still drink protein shakes as meals or snacks from time to time, so I bought a container of protein powder just for the office, so I don’t have to transport that big jug back and forth. I keep protein bars in my desk drawer for times when sweet cravings hit me too. I also try to bring most things I’ll need for the week on Mondays. For instance, if I made salmon burgers, I will put all the patties in one container and put them in the office fridge and leave the buns sealed in my desk drawer as well. The basic premise is the less I have to do when I get home from the gym around 8 p.m. each night, the better. That is also why I sometimes bring two sets of gym clothes to work in a day and leave one set at my desk for the next day.
Now the obvious question you might be asking is, why do all this work? And to that I would say you have to do the work anyway. The real question is, do you want to do a lot of work each night or a lot of work in one day and save time throughout the work week? Depending on your lifestyle, cooking meals from scratch might work for you each night, but I know myself. Meal prepping helps me in a few different ways because I know myself. Just the act of putting together sensible meals on Sundays resharpens my focus on my fitness regimen. Especially because I tend to start my day with a 10 a.m. Zumba class, go to the grocery store, and then come home and cook for the week. With that regimen, there’s little room for error. As a person for whom the saying “Idle hands are the devil (food)’s playground” rings far too true, I need to spend that time trying to prevent downfalls throughout the week.
While restaurants boast “healthy” meal options, the truth is there’s no way to know exactly what you’re putting in your body unless you make it. Sure, I can pick up a salad somewhere on days when I forget my lunch but as someone who is a bit OCD about counting calories, eating out doesn’t provide the type of accuracy I prefer. Not all restaurants provide calories for their meals either, so while you may be able to guesstimate how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat are in a particular meal you’ll never really know for sure with so many outliers regarding measuring and the various oils used for cooking and so forth. Also, fast food and restaurant meals tend to be packed with salt, which, at the very least, leads to water weight and bloat, not to mention far more serious health problems down the line.
I won’t lie and say meal prepping is easy, but it’s not exactly hard either. I tend to look at it as preventative care because I know if I’m tired and don’t have any food at least halfway ready for me when I come home or go to work, there is a 75 percent chance that I’m going to pick up something that’s no good for me. When I came back from the DR, my weight loss stalled quite a bit because my mind was still in carefree island mode; meanwhile my waist was about to start looking like 2014 again. Now sitting at a loss of 81 pounds, I have to remind myself of what got me to that point, and it wasn’t trying to be like Jarred and eat Subway every day. It was measuring, weighing, and cooking my own food and doing so in bulk so that throughout the week I would have no excuse not to win.