I got into meal prepping for weight loss by working construction one summer. Yep, imagine me in a hardhat. It was summer after my freshman year of college and I’d definitely gained the freshman 15. I was neither light nor lean.
Since I had to wake up every morning at 4:45 a.m. to be at the job-site by 6 a.m., I didn’t have time to make my lunches. Instead, I would meal prep and pack my lunch the night before. What was I making myself, you ask? Microwaved quesadillas with hot dogs that I would microwave on-site the next day. Not ideal, I know.
Despite working 70 hour weeks full of grueling manual labor, I wasn’t losing weight with this particular version of meal prep. Go figure, huh? Lucky for me, I befriended another guy on the job-site who was a semi-pro bodybuilder. When I told Jeremy (his name) that I liked to workout and that I was doing meal prep too, he took one look at my meals and said,
“Dude, are you serious? We gotta’ fix this!”
So Jeremy taught me the step-by-step method to meal prep for bodybuilding and weight loss. He told me to start cooking healthier and cook for all week long, which saved me time and also helped me melt away that school year flab. This was a serious turning point in my health and sophomore year at University of Colorado was decidedly more healthy than first.
Today I’m sharing with you the 9-step guide I was given for week-long meal prep. This post is your total planning tool for healthy and time-saving eating. When you have a plan in place, you’re more likely to succeed in your goals.
So let’s get cooking and prep for some weight loss in 9 easy steps!
Step #1: Make a Healthy, Macro-Smart Recipe List
If you’ve not calculated your macros, now’s the time to get serious about your healthy eating habits. Macronutrients are the backbone of your meal prep when it comes to losing weight and advancing your goals in the gym.
This means we’ll need to find you 5-10 healthy meals that you really like to eat every week. Now, you’re not wedded to these meals – they’re just things to try. If you want some great meal ideas, download the free resource included in this post to assist! You can also read my guide to calculating your macro diet here.
How many meals you prep is up to you. Just start now by figuring out what you’ll want to eat each week. Avoid deluxe or gourmet-style meals, like duck confít with rosemary mashers blended with cream cheese. That’s gonna’ take heaps of time to cook and prep. Instead, shoot for baked duck. And some rosemary-baked potatoes.
Step #2: Create a Grocery List as You Plan
First, grab yourself a pen and a piece of paper. You’ll want to make your shopping list as you plan meals to keep your weight loss goals on target and save time.
You can use your phone, just don’t walk into the grocery store unprepared. That’s how you get lost – and wind up with cookies in your cart. Remember, if it doesn’t make it home, you can’t eat it!
Step #3: Design Your Lunch Menu
Once you know you macros, you can create a series of lunch meals to hit them. I recommend keeping lunches as simple as possible, shooting for a few basic staples and often going for items that don’t require cooking. Lunch is about getting something in your belly and keeping you moving through the day, not a culinary vacation from your desk job. Simple food will keep you feeling energized and has the added benefit of being cheap and helping you lose weight.
For example, my lunches for weight lifting days are a few baked chicken breasts, two bananas, and an avocado. There’s all my carbs, proteins, and healthy fats in prep for a great post-work gym session! And I can pair the chicken breast with countless other items: brown rice, whole grain wraps, salads, baked sweet potatoes, etc.
“Despite what many people think, you don’t have to cook entire meals ahead of time—that can be overwhelming. Instead, think of what will save you the most time during the week and focus on just making those things.” –Stephanie Brookshier, Registered Dietician
It will be easiest to eat the same meal 3-5 days in a row. It will cut down on prep time, purchasing, and save refrigerator space. If you can’t do one meal for a week solid, prep two different meals on your meal prep day. If you prefer, split your meal prep days in two – one on Sunday and one on Wednesday, say. I like to put all my lunches in separate tupperwares, that way it’s all ready to go in the a.m.
As you figure out the foods you’ll need to create each lunch meal, put the items on the list.
Step #4: Design Your Dinner Menu
I’ve long been a fan of dry erase boards for organizing things. So easy and they can go up anywhere. There’s even a spray you can buy at paint stores to turn any surface into a dry erase board!
Point is, map out your dinner menu for the week on a dry erase board. Or a poster board, sticky notes – whatever works for you. You’ll want to be able to adjust the meal plan as you go, plus keep it visible in the kitchen so you stay on point after a long day at work.
As you plan out your meal prep dinners, map them on your dry erase board. And jot down the necessary ingredients on your shopping list.
I am a huge fan of making freezer-ready meals that only need a thaw to enjoy. Chilis, soups, stews, meatballs – all these go into freezer Ziplocs and come out easy for a microwave-ready meal. The skillet also works for thawing frozen meals. Heck, the skillet is my best friend. Why? Because it can sauté my veggies, cook burgers, make eggs, you name it!
Step #5: Determine Your Meal Prep Day
Try to meal prep when you’re completely free of other responsibilities. Most people will choose a Sunday because it’s totally open and can relax into the process. When I was working 10 hours days every day for my construction job, I had to squeeze my meal prep in on Sunday evenings. Regardless if it cost me some sleep, the weight loss and convenience were worth it.
Enjoy your meal prep time by putting on some music, pouring a glass of wine, whatever you need. This is cooking, which is fun, so loosen up and get into it on whatever day (or days) you decide to use.
Step #6: Grocery Shop with Your Complete List
The key here is: only buy the items on your list. Compile your ingredients from lunch and dinner meals and then stay on point. I like to buy in bulk as a matter of savings. By purchasing chicken breasts and freezing what I don’t use for the weekly meals, I save gobs of money to spend on other healthy foods.
“Buy your veggies and greens whole, by the pound, and you’ll be able to “splurge” on the organic strawberries, worry free. This rule applies even more with meat and poultry. Buying a whole chicken can save you a ton of money. Even if you’re buying an organic, locally raised, pastured farmed chicken, it’s cheaper than buying that skinless, boneless chicken breast at the store.” – Danielle Omar, Food Confidence
Step #7: Weigh and Measure Food After Shopping
To design meals that align with your macros, be sure do your weighing and measuring once you’re back from the store. All it takes is simple math to calculate how much meat to prep for each meal (and veggies are too healthy to worry about).
A serving of meat is three ounces, but for the sake of ease let’s round it up to four ounces. A serving of meat has between 23-27 grams of protein. And most packages of meat come by the pound – or 16 ounces. So, one pounds of meat is four servings and around 100 grams of protein.
Now, put your meat portions into baggies. Keep some ready for meal prep and put the rest into the freezer. Some people like to cook all their dinner meals as well, but I prefer a fresh meal after my days. before I leave for work in morning, I’ll grab a pork cutlet from the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator so by the time I come home it’s read to cook.
Step #8: Prep/Cook/Chop Foods That Need Kitchen Time
Okay, fast forward to your meal prep day (unless it’s the same day you do your shopping).
For me, most of the food I chop and cook is vegetables, brown rice, baked sweet potatoes, and my lunchtime meats. I recommend to have some vegetables already prepared for dinners, this way they only need to get reheated.
“Cut veggies ahead of time. I love vegetables, but I’m more likely to eat and cook them if they’re cut and ready to go. Store each vegetable in an individual container so when it comes time to cook, all you have to do it grab the ones you want and get to work. They’re also great to have on hand to snack on when you get hungry.” —Ilyse Schapiro, Registered Dietician
But whatever and however choose to eat, have plenty of tupperwares ready to stash items separately, or together into lunch containers. You want to be able to open the fridge in the morning, grab your lunch, and go. Like I said, dinner can be as fast or slow as you like.
I’m big on multitasking during the cooking stage. I’m baking chicken breasts with potatoes in the oven at the same time, sauteeing veggies, making hard boiled eggs, cooking rice – all at the same time.
Step #9: Track Your Meals
Remember the dry erase board on the fridge? It’s not only for planning but meal modification and tracking. If you make a meal that’s not tasty, wipe that one off and draw up something else. If a meal left you feeling hungry, make a note and adjust the macros for the next day. The point here is to fill gaps in your macros and make sure you’re eating a satisfying, healthy meal prep diet. Since we’re dedicated to long term fitness, it’ll be important to really dial in things that work.
We put the meal organizer on the fridge for two reasons:
- Help you know what you’re eating every day and keep you focused
- Stop you from eating foods not scheduled
Keep conscious of your meals and you will feel more in control of your diet and your overall health.
Over to You
When I worked construction that summer, I built crazy muscle and got way lean. My biceps got huge, which is I guess what happens when you carry bags of concrete all over the place. More importantly, I learned how to structure and control my eating patterns in a way that suited my fitness goals. Jeremy’s instructions became the foundation of future fitness goals, because we all know that fitness doesn’t exist without a consistent, manageable and healthy diet. I hope you go out today and begin planning your own construction project – your best meal prep plan for weight loss or bodybuilding. Having a plan truly is the blueprint for anything you want to make a reality. Once you’ve set up your meal plan, all that’s left is to shop, cook, and eat. Meal prepping is amazing in this way: it saves the best part for last.