Meal prep is a pain.
Cooking takes time and most individuals would rather scroll through Instagram or binge watch an entire season of Game of Thrones.
Not to mention, a lot of guys can barely make grilled cheese or forage through the pantry for a bowl of cereal, good luck making an entire week’s worth of food.
Put down the Subway coupons bro, this is easier than you think.
Let’s Get One Thing Straight…
Some people literally write small novels on this topic, detailing how to create a spread that would rival the assembly line at Chipotle. That's all well and good if you're an aspiring chef or full time stay at home mom (No hate, I love all the moms out there. They do more for us than we’ll ever realize.), but most people in the real world don't have that kind of time.
As a graduate student working two part-time jobs and interning at an Olympic training site, I’ll be the first to tell you that my free time is essentially non-existent. However, it has forced me to become more creative and efficient with my weekly meal prep.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can lock down 5-7 days’ worth of food in less than 2 hours. As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of innovation.”
Before we dive in though, I must make some caveats:
- This is merely my personal system. It is neither right nor wrong. It may work for you or you may hate it. Don’t become married to it. Embrace it as a skill set, not a hard and fast framework.
- This system is designed around 3 main components: efficiency, simplicity, and caloric density – aka how can we cook the most food in the shortest amount of time? This may be a limitation for those seeking a caloric deficit.
- Counting calories is a starting point, not an end goal. My system can be utilized for both tracking and non-tracking parties, just depends on how you apply it.
The System’s Secret Sauce
Use multiple appliances at once and multitask. It’s literally as simple as that. Truth be told, most people probably realize this, they just don’t know how to apply it over a large scale and it’s overwhelming when you don’t know how to start.
So, they end up buying some microwaveable rice and cooking some chicken on the stove. Toss in some frozen green beans and BAM, meal prep in a minute. Boring. Bland. Moving on…
- Step 1: Wash and pierce 5-6 large sweet potatoes. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 400° for 45-60 minutes.
- Step 2: Add 3-4 cups of rice to a large pot or rice cooker. Add chicken stock (for flavor) until it covers the rice. Crank up the heat. Watch for it to boil.
- Step 3: While rice cooks, chop and prep a vegetable of your choice. Season and sautee in a pan over medium heat with coconut oil.
- Step 4: While the veggies cook, open 2 large cans of black beans and rinse well.
- Step 5: Remove veggies from the pan. Add more coconut oil, sautee a meat of your choice (preferably 2-3lbs).
- Step 6: Remove rice from the heat. Sautee another 2-3lbs of meat.
- Step 7: Combine rice with black beans, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. Place in separate Tupperware containers.
- Step 8: Remove sweet potatoes from oven. Place sautéed meat in separate Tupperware containers and allow to cool.
- Step 9: Don’t forget to put it all back in the fridge once it has cooled.
Fun fact, one time I baked chicken on Sunday night and got so busy I forget about it until Tuesday evening when I went to eat it. Don’t forget step #9, it’s costly and frustrating.
Bro, I’m telling you, this is so easy a caveman could do it. Just like that, you managed to cook 5-6lbs of meat, 4-5lbs of potatoes, and 7-9 cups of rice in less than an hour. Box it up, toss it in the fridge, and assemble meals when needed.
Here’s Where People Have Issues…
You don’t have to portion out every meal as you make it. I would argue this may cost you more time in the end. I prefer to cook all my food in bulk and then portion it out per meal. It makes the prep process much easier and I don’t get lost in the minutia of grams and tablespoons.
PSA: Weighing out raw meat is a health concern from a food borne illness perspective. Disease etiology aside, it’s just a hassle and tends to compound the time issue we discussed above. Cook all your meat and then weigh it afterwards if you really feel the need to (hint: you really don’t need to).
Total weight of meat/number of servings X calories per serving = calories per meal
For the hyper neurotic tracker, this may sound like blasphemy but let me be clear – your body is not a bomb calorimeter, there is an incredibly large margin for error when it comes to caloric intake and expenditure. If you examine research on the topic, you’ll find that many calorie labels are an educated guess at best.
It’s more important to be consistent than accurate. Simply measure your meals after cooking and don’t sweat the details. In the end, if you’ve tracked calories in the past, you will be able to manage and adjust intuitively.
Don’t get lost in the numbers.
What About Veggies?
Good question. Your best bet in terms of price and efficiency will always be frozen options. I typically add them to meals the morning of as I make them.
However, this is a large caveat to the process. My system relies on frozen veggies and as such, you can run into issues with nutrient diversity when dealing with folks who want to eat the same thing every day 24/7/365 (I’m looking at you fitness industry).
Nutrition diversity is not only important from a microbiome (gut health) standpoint, we also must consider nutrient deficiencies, especially in populations which fail to vary their diet.
Do your best to cycle through frozen options whenever possible, but if you have extra time during the prep process, this may be one piece of the puzzle you want to enhance. Cooking extra fresh veggies is always a good option considering the lack of variability that is sometimes present with frozen options.
Once you have the food prepped in bulk, the actual meal prep assembly process becomes quite easy. It takes me roughly 5-10 minutes each morning to lay out 2-3 solid meals for the day without much effort. A typical meal looks like this:
- 6-7oz of meat
- 1 Large sweet potato or 2 cups of rice
- 2 Servings of a fat source (avocado, oils, etc.)
- 2 Servings of any frozen veggie
- 1 Serving of fruit on the side
If you prep 2 different kinds of meat along with rice and potatoes, you can simply alternate each per meal to keep things appetizing (rice+beef, turkey+potatoes, salmon+rice, etc.). While prepping these meals, I can have eggs and quick oats cooking on the stove. By the time my meals are prepped, my breakfast is ready and I’m good to go for the day.
If you get bored of rice, you can switch it out for quinoa, pasta, couscous, etc. Similarly, you can alternate between multiple types of potatoes or simply sub another egg and oats meal into the equation. Once you have “go-to” meals that are enjoyable and easy to prep, you can simply cycle through them monthly.
What Does a Full Day Look Like?
- 6 Eggs
- Peppers & Onions
- 3 Packets Apple & Cinnamon Quick Oats
- Handful of Strawberries
- 6-7oz Turkey Tenderloin
- 1 Large Sweet Potato
- 1 Large Avocado
- 2 Cups Frozen Broccoli
- ¼ Pineapple
- 6-7oz Grass Fed Ground Beef
- 2 Cups Cilantro Lime Rice w/Black Beans
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 4 Tbsp Salsa
- 2 Cups Frozen Green Beans
- 2 Kiwis
Meal 4 (Shake)
- 6oz Water
- 1.5 Scoop Chocolate Whey
- 1 Cup Frozen Spinach
- 2 Frozen Bananas
- 2 Packets Brown Sugar Cinnamon Quick Oats
- 2 Tbsp Peanut Butter
- 1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
- 3 Tbsp Hemp Seeds
Simplify to Solve
Meal prep is not a science experiment. It shouldn’t involve a PhD in mathematics and multiple algorithms to solve for your macros.
Prep everything at once and portion it out later.
The system isn’t perfect and some may not like it but, as my man Bruce Lee once said, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” The same can be said here – take what you like, experiment with it, and keep it if it works.