Every week I share with you recipes that I am preparing for my weekly meals. Weekly food prep has become a foundational habit for me–providing me with essential structure to enjoy consistent, healthy, balanced meals day after day in my very busy schedule. There’s no magic to food prep, but it has a lot of advantages, and I have found the more I’m able to build it into my schedule, the more consistently I’m able to eat in ways that help me meet my goals.
Food prep reduces emotional, unplanned eating for me. Knowing I have delicious food already prepared, it is the path of least resistance to just eat what I already have on hand. It’s not a rule. I could eat something else, but it makes choosing something else more of a decision and far less likely to happen.
Food prep gives me the consistency to collect data on what actually helps me feel full and satisfied. Combined with listening to my internal hunger and satiety cues, it gives me a powerful tool to learn about my body and needs and to adjust and readjust as those needs change. I can notice that my breakfast isn’t sticking with me until lunch time, or that I don’t need as much of a snack as I did before. These subtle shifts are easier to notice when I’m eating in a mostly consistent way day after day.
I spend about 2 hours on Sundays for my food prep “ritual,” and I recognize there’s a lot of privilege built into that. I have the ability to focus on cooking for that period of time and not on other responsibilities, I can afford to buy large quantities of food, and I have the space to store the food once it’s prepared. I make heavy use of my chest freezer, and I take advantage of sales to keep my cupboards stocked with staples. Folks with less time, less space or less financial flexibility may need other strategies to support food prep. But for me, batch cooking and weekly routines make the most sense.
Food prep begins with meal planning and creating a shopping list. This requires having some idea about how much food you’ll eat in a given time period. Years of preparing and planning meals have taught me to be pretty accurate with my guesses, but early on, I often ran out of food when I discovered a meal wasn’t filling enough, or made too much and then had to hurriedly freeze some portion of it before it spoiled. My general preference is to buy larger quantities of shelf-stable staples when I run low so I don’t need to focus upon those week after week when writing up my grocery list. I can make sure there’s enough flour, canned tomatoes, and dried beans for the next month, then I get several weeks of not having to ensure they’re on the list. It feels more efficient to periodically stock up this way.
Once the groceries are in the house, I save time on my food-prep day by stacking multiple tasks together. When the egg bake is coming out of the oven, oatmeal bars are ready to go in. While I’m waiting for bulgur to cook on the front burner, I have stock simmering on the back. Judicious use of my slow-cooker helps me prep dinner while I’m chopping fruit and salad fixings for breakfast and lunch. It is common for me to have three or four things going at once, and to some extent, I plan my weekly menu based on my ability to do this. It is very common that in the one hour it takes for my weekly eggs to bake, I have simultaneously prepped a week’s worth of oatmeal, lunch soup or boxed lunches, and chopped the vegetables for dinner. Then, when it’s time to finish dinner Sunday night, while that is cooking, I may finish making my afternoon snack of muesli or pop some granola in the oven.
Food prep, like any of our healthful pursuits, need not be all or nothing. Sundays, I make enough food for 3 meals, six days a week, plus half a week or so of dinner. But, I didn’t start that way, and when life is hectic, it doesn’t always stay that way. Sometimes, the best I can do is prep some premade protein bars, bagged salad mixes and a rotisserie chicken. It still counts. It’s still helping me meet my goals and provides me with the reassurance of having nutritious meals that help me feel good and perform well. If you are new to food prep and feel it would be helpful for you, I encourage you to start with what seems easiest or most rewarding and build a routine from there. You will find lots of delicious recipes here and elsewhere on the web to get you started!
Do you have a food prep routine? What helps you maintain your healthy eating habits and how does it fit into the rest of your life? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, or be complicit with and contribute to the slow demise of civil society and find and follow Progressive Strength on Facebook.