As I am writing this, I just finished up making my plan for my meals for the spring semester. Well, I finished making my first draft at least, cause you can be sure there will be a lot of tweaking and editing along the way as I find out that I can’t afford a certain food or I simply can’t eat it 7-days a week.
If you’ve made it this far in my blog and you haven’t figured out that meals and eating is a huge part of fitness and health than I've messed up pretty badly. But if this is your first time on the blog and you want to learn more about calorie counting and macronutrients and all that fun stuff, make sure you check out my other blog posts on topics like The IIFYM Diet, Cutting, and Bulking. This blog post is going to assume that you already know how much food you want to eat and what macro split you want to use and then go from there.
Okay, so this is where we are: you realized how important nutrition is to changing your weight or simply just being healthy, you decided on what type of diet will work best for you, you figured out how many calories you want to eat and the macro splits that work best for you, and lastly, you have access to a kitchen of some sorts. It can be the communal kitchen in the basement of your building, your own kitchen in your apartment or dorm room, or your parent’s kitchen. (If you don’t have access to a kitchen, you can still meal prep but it's gonna look slightly different, so I’d check out my blog post on The IIFYM Diet to learn how to eat how you want on a college meal plan.) Okay okay, now on to meal prepping…
In my eyes, there are three main steps to meal prepping: planning, cooking, and of course eating! I would say the planning part is the most difficult but if you do that correctly it makes all the other parts so easy.
You know how you put “Highly Skilled at Microsoft Excel” on your resume? Well now it's time to prove that that’s true and not just a space filler. I create an Excel sheet to map out exactly what’s in each meal (including condiments and cooking ingredients like oils and seasonings), servings sizes, and number of calories, carbs, proteins, and fats. I then have a “total” section so I can keep track and make sure that I’m hitting all my goals.
This excel sheet will also include a grocery shopping list, an expenses sheet (if you need that) and a page explaining exactly what needs to be cooked in advance. I have a sample of the Excel sheet I use at the bottom of this blog.
This is my favorite part! Following your own diet’s rules and your macro splits, start planning out exactly what you will be eating for each meal and inputting these along with the calories and macro counts. I personally don’t mind eating the same thing every day, so I make it simple and only plan one day (except I switch up the dinners), but you can do whatever you want and plan out multiple days or whatever.
Make sure you keep in mind getting enough micronutrients as well, and that you’re eating leafy vegetables, fruits, and all the necessary vitamins. Also keep in mind timing of meals and things like if you want high-carb meals after you workout or a good source of casein protein before you go to bed. However, don’t over complicate things and if the idea of meal timing stresses you out, don’t worry about it! It’s more important that you eat healthy and meal prep than fine tuning every little detail! Don't obsess over it like me (unless you want to)!
Thanks to COVID, many people grocery shop online now, and I use this to my advantage. If you go to your supermarket’s online website and start “shopping” for things, you can get the nutrient facts on all your favorite foods in order to help you plan. I use stopandshop.com for example. The app, “My Fitness Pal” is another great resource to use to find out the nutrition facts of your foods.
Keep in mind this step may take some time and expect to need to change your meals as you start realizing you need to be eating more protein or less carbs or whatever it may be. Plan to set aside a good amount of time to research and discover new foods to fit your goals.
Oh, and don’t forget to include a cheat meal in there to help keep you motivated!
Once you got everything outlined and planned out, it's time to actually buy the foods. I simply copy and paste just the foods section of my meal plan into a new page and then calculate how much of that food I will need per week along with what section of the grocery store it's found in. If you don’t know how grocery stores work because your parents always shopped for you and you’ve never been inside one, that’s okay, you’ll learn.
This makes it easy for me to sit down each week, look at how much food I have left over from the previous week, and make a list of the foods I need to get for the next week. Then I spend time at the grocery store looking for the best deals and editing my meal plan based on what is cheapest or even simply what’s available.
Okay I guess this step would still kinda be under planning but it's about cooking so give me a break. I recommend looking over your meal plan and figuring out what can be cooked in advance to save time and what you’ll have time during the week to prepare.
There are people out there who like preparing every single meal they’re going to eat into a Tupperware and then have nothing to do but eat during the week. I, personally, just like prepping the things that take a lot of time like cooking meats or pastas or steaming veggies. Then I actually take the time to combine my ingredients and set up my meals during the week. You can do whatever you want and whatever works with your schedule.
The first step of cooking is making sure you have enough Tupperware to put everything in once it's all cooked. But if you planned everything correctly, this step should be fairly easy…just get to it.
Set aside some time at the beginning of the week to cook all the foods you planned for the coming week. Throw on some music, or a podcast, or maybe call your mother (you haven’t talked to her in a while, you really should) and just get to mindlessly cooking.
Don’t forget that freezing meats is an option to help them last longer! This will save you time in the kitchen and money since you can buy in bulk and save. Also, keep in mind that meat shrinks about 25% when you cook it, so if you plan on eating 4oz of raw chicken, it will be equal to 3oz cooked chicken, or 8oz of raw beef will be equal to 6oz cooked beef and so on (Fink, 2020).
The last step is just eating! Try to follow your plan as best you can and eat the foods you planned on and prepared for, but also don’t forget that life is not perfect.
Don’t freak out if you don’t follow the plan exactly and have a donut as part of your friends’ club’s fundraiser or you go and get Chipotle after an exam instead of having your chicken and broccoli. While nutrition is important to stay healthy, food is also about celebration and enjoyment. That’s not an excuse to disregard your plan completely, but if every now and then you want to go off your plan and have an extra cheat meal to help better your mental health, it’s okay, as long as you’re still moving in the direction of your goals overall.
Finally, remember that you won’t design everything right the first time. Be prepared to edit and tweak your plan as you go. You gotta learn how to adapt, change, and roll with the punches.
Below is a template of the Excel sheet I explained in this blog. I just inputted a couple of random foods per meal. Please use the outline of the sheet as a template and do not follow the actual meal plan as it is in no way healthy! Enjoy! I had also previously posted the exact blueprints of what I ate during my cut this past summer, where I created a similar Excel sheet as explained in this blog so feel free to check that out as well!
Fink, Leslie. “Food Q&A: Meat Shrinkage.” Weight Watchers, Weight Watchers, 15 July 2020, www.weightwatchers.com/us/blog/
A special thank you to all my friends and family who have not only supported me on my journey but have helped along the way. None of this would be possible without them. Remember to take time to appreciate those in your lives!
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