Here’s a favorite quote of mine, literally by me: “You cannot outrun what you stuff in your face.” It’s right up there with Michael Pollan’s famous food quote: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Both are short, sweet and taste just a little like poetic justice.
No matter how much you exercise, the food you eat still matters. What? A Certified Personal Trainer is telling me exercise is less important that food? You read that right. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Losing weight is much more complicated than calories in and calories out, and not all calories are equal. Even the skinniest of skinny people (that hummingbird metabolism!) can be “skinny fat.” For all appearances, they are normal weight, but can actually be internally overfat and unhealthy because of the poor choices they make.
When talking with friends, family and clients, I am often asked about food. What do I eat? How do I make it? Where do I find time? Do I cheat? Curiosity plays a leading role in all of those answers. I get the feeling that my readers are also curious cats, which leads me to write on this particular subject.
Let’s get some facts straight: As a Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach, I am able to deliver basic nutrition education, but this is the extent. Please do not mistake me for a Registered Dietitian, because that I am not. I do not make meal plans nor do I manage medical conditions through food, because that is outside my scope of practice. Any foods mentioned here are foods I personally eat and are not specific recommendations for anyone else. Got it? Good.
I recently saw the new Marvel movie, “Dr. Strange.” I couldn’t help identifying with the movie’s story-line. To become a master of meal prep in the Fit Life, you must first put aside your barriers to achieve success. Explaining meal prep to other people seems to illicit the same mystifying expressions on people’s faces as if I was The Ancient One explaining the possibility of the metaphysical and existence alternate dimensions. People just don’t get it. They struggle to wrap their minds around the idea of it until they’re all tied up in knots.
Before we dive into the magic that is meal prep, let us focus first on breaking down those barriers!
Time is what people complain of lacking the most. If I only had a few extra hours a day I swear I’d rule the world. But, alas, only 24 hours are allotted to us mere mortals, and I guard my sleep with ferocity. People are very busy these days, but there is hidden pockets of time to be had. How much time do you spend daily mindlessly scrolling through social media or Netlixing it up? In an effort to create a Fit Life, we must be creative with our downtime. Look for those days that are not as busy as usual. For example, I typically meal prep on Sundays and Wednesdays. Sundays I cook larger meals to eat up until Wednesday. When I don’t teach or train on Wednesdays, I create a smaller meal that will last until the weekend. Anything that doesn’t get eaten is frozen for later.
Meal planning is essential. Not only does it save time, it also saves dollars. It’s as easy as writing down what you are going to make in between shopping trips. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy! Post it somewhere visible, like the refrigerator door. I grocery shop every two weeks, so mine would look something like this:
Chicken with brown rice and vegetables
Five Bean Soup
Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers
Vegetarian Taco Soup
Weekends are reserved for creativity! I scour Pinterest for fun new recipes. If they’re the right combination of delicious and simple, I add them into my weekly repertoire.
Grocery shopping on a regular basis is a must. I get paid every two weeks on Friday, so that’s my designated shopping day. It’s the perfect shopping day for me because my refrigerator and pantry are bare, just waiting to be stocked for the weekend. Since I’ve already meal planned, it’s nothing to whip up a grocery list. I write down the ingredients for the dishes I make, and I don’t buy anything that is not on the list. This means that I don’t waste anything. It all gets used up, and I don’t have any unhealthy (unplanned) foods making their way into my cart. It’s saves money, too. I just hate it when fresh vegetables ruin before they’re used! Something to remember when you’re jotting down your grocery list that when it rains it pours. Be sure to add in emergency foods to your list for those days when things don’t go as planned.
Containers are something most people wouldn’t even think to consider. If you are preparing several days of food at once, you need something to put it in! And it needs to be clean! And you need to have lids for it, which always seems to be the tricky part! Check that off your grocery list as well.
Now that barriers have been identified, we’ve planned ahead and went shopping, let’s get cooking!
Clean your cooking surfaces. No food poisoning for us here smart folks!
Whip out your recipe(s). I’m a huge Pinterest fan, so I pull most of my recipes up from a saved “Recipes” board on my tablet. My tablet is bigger and easier to read off of than my phone, but I also own cookbooks. I’m attracted to simple recipes with delicious, often plant-based, ingredients. I make a point to create meals that are a balanced source of lean protein, complex carbohydrate and healthy fats.
Practice mise en place, a French term that means “everything in its place.” Read over your recipe(s) and know what ingredients you need. Gather them all up and put them on your countertop for easy access. Taking this extra time to organize let’s you be more confident in your kitchen. Scrabbling to find that one elusive ingredient is a waste of time when your mission is efficiency.
Here’s the ingredients of an easy meal I prepped on Wednesday: a quinoa power bowl by greensnchocolate.com. It’s a plant-based dish with tons of vegetarian protein in the form of quinoa and chickpeas, complex carbohydrates broccoli and sweet potato and healthy fat from avocado.
Timing is everything in meal prep. Take a look at what you are creating. What takes the longest to cook? What can you prepare while other parts of your meal are cooking? Start with your longest cook time and work your way down to the shortest. I find that meats and grains take the longest to cook. If I were to cook chicken and brown rice, I would preheat my oven to the desired temp and then put water on to boil for the rice. While those are cooking, I prep vegetables for my meal and then snacks, such as walnuts or sliced apples, which only require washing or portioning out. In my quinoa power bowl, roasting the sweet potatoes and broccoli took the most time, so I started with them. Chickpeas only had to be rinsed and seasoned, while the avocado needed to be sliced.
Use all available elements of your kitchen. You don’t have to have a super-impressive commercial kitchen to get stuff done. Using every bit of what you have available will naturally follow timing. Baked skinless chicken breasts in the oven, brown rice on one stovetop burner, sauteed vegetables in a skillet on another, baked sweet potatoes in the microwave, and an apple being sliced on a cutting board is a busy, beautiful sight. Because you were so thoughtful in your timing, your food will finish cooking in a lovely domino effect of ringing kitchen timers one dish at a time.
Store it. When your food has cooled, portion is out and store it in airtight containers. Stack it in the fridge, pack it for your lunch, and pop it in the microwave. Freeze what you don’t eat for an emergency meal later. Magnifico!
Clean your cooking surfaces…again. All we need is to run our breakfast through some succulent meat juice (yum) hanging out on the kitchen bar all night. Do yourself a favor and put your common sense to good use.
All done! Generally, a meal prep like this would take me about an hour, unless I was feeling particularly ambitious. That’s 60 minutes closer to living the Fit Life.