Chances are, you’ve heard of or even tried meal prep. Meal prepping is something that can save you time and money, as well as keep you on track with a healthy diet. However, meal prep can also become a bit of a hassle and a major task if don’t go about it the right way. If you’re new to it, chances are you’re making these common meal prep mistakes. Here are some ways to fix them.
You have nothing in the fridge.
It seems like such a simple step, but not stocking up your fridge and cupboard with the food you want to use is a common meal prep mistake.
Annette Low, an accredited practicing dietitian, often sees people trying to cook meals with ingredients they don’t have at home. To avoid this when meal prepping, choose the recipes you want to follow, and write out a detailed grocery list. This will cut down on stress and frustration while you’re in the middle of cooking.
“If you aim to shop regularly for a range of vegetables and protein, and [you] keep a few herbs and spices in the cupboard, then you’ll be able to pull together a meal fairly easily,” Low advises.
You don’t have five daily servings of vegetables.
Meal prepping can help you stick to a healthy diet, but this depends on what you prep. One of the biggest meal prep mistakes is not getting in your daily servings of vegetables. Dominic Gallo, an accredited practicing dietitian and the owner of DG Dietetics and Fitness, particularly sees people missing out on non-starchy vegetables. “Getting a good variety of vegetables, particularly of different colors, is the most important aspect of meal prep,” he says. Work to incorporate a variety of vegetables into each week’s batch of meals. Try mixing starchy vegetables such as potatoes and carrots with more fiber-filled, cruciferous options such as broccoli and Brussel sprouts for a healthy blend.
Your meals aren’t balanced.
Not only are vegetables important, but you also need a good balance of macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Gallo recommends the following ratio as a general guideline to make sure your meal prep is well proportioned: “Half of your container [should be] non-starchy veggies (any veggies that aren’t potato, sweet potato, or corn). Aim for two handfuls as a guide. A quarter of your container [should be] lean protein; aim for a mix of lean beef, chicken, and fish.” Gallo says that a serving of red meat is the size of your palm, chicken is slightly bigger than that, and fish is the size of your whole hand.
Gallo continues: “A quarter of your container [should be] carbs/starchy veggies. These include potato or sweet potato, corn, rice (aim for brown or basmati), quinoa, pasta, or noodles. Aim for low GI when available. Ideally, a serving is the size of your fist.”
Low recommends doing the “plate check.” If you find that your plate is dominated by one ingredient such as the carb source, you may want to balance it out with more vegetables. She adds, “The portions will [also] depend on the type of diet you are following and recent activity (amount and type). If you have a medical condition or are an athlete, you will have specific needs that will affect the construction of your meal.”
You’re either not making enough or making too little.
When you meal prep for the next few days or even a week in advance, it can be hard to make the correct number of servings. If you’re new to this, it’s fairly common to prep either too much food or too little. If you’re throwing away food or trying to stretch the little vegetables you have left at the end of the week, then the key is to get organized.
Gallo advises calculating the number of meals you’re making as well as the serving size of each component of each meal before you start cooking. This way, you actually cut down on meal prep time because you already have everything sorted.
Look back to Gallo’s guide for your protein, carbs, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats so that you can estimate how much you need. “This allows for a much more efficient meal prep … also much more consistent meals and less wastage,” Gallo says.
If you do make too much food, another option is to freeze it until you’re ready to use it.
You eat the same food every week.
All your motivation to stick to your food plan will fall out the window if you’re eating the same boring meals week in and week out. If you like the consistency, that’s great. But most of us don’t, which can cause us to neglect the prepped meals.
Mixing things up doesn’t have to be difficult. Try:
- swapping the protein from chicken to turkey.
- switching up the herbs and spices.
- a new carb source such as quinoa instead of brown rice.
You don’t have to eat the same thing for lunch and dinner. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find new combinations that will keep your meal prep fresh, healthy, and exciting.
You’re not prepping snacks.
Not prepping any snacks can mean that you’re leaving gaps in your day-to-day eating, and you might reach for a bag of chips or cookies to mindlessly munch on. This is one of the main areas where people tend to fall off the wagon. Choose snacks that will leave you full and feeling great. Fruit, veggies and dip, dark chocolate, or a protein bar/shake are good options.
Why Meal Prepping Is Worth It
“Meal prepping helps you to put your overall diet in perspective rather than bouncing from one meal to the next,” Low says. It allows you to take a long look at your diet and see whether you’re missing any core nutrients.
Gallo adds, “Cost, time, and control over your intake are the biggest benefits to meal prep. Buying a meal for lunch each day is expensive, and you’re really paying for the convenience. It is far cheaper to make your own.”
This cost- time-efficient method means that you know exactly what you’re eating and drinking. It also keeps you on track when life gets in the way. Just grab a container out of the fridge for a meal on the go. “Take back that control over your diet with meal prepping,” Gallo says.