Updated: Jun 24, 2021
What does it mean to "prep your meals"?
Clearly envisioning your future healthy meals: from the bigger picture of nutrition categories, to the smaller details of the exact ingredients.
Distilling down to the smallest basic steps of food prep needed to get you to your meal.
Estimating the time and intervals you'll need to complete your food prep.
Fitting those steps into your schedule consistently, to integrate meal prep as a regular routine in your lifestyle.
Why and how to practice
Eating healthy consistently is hard work. Healthy meals usually don't happen by accident. You have to make them happen with a little strategising and meal prep.
Engage yourself as a food artist or engineer. Interacting with food is a creative craft.
The ways to prep food can vary — from very simple and easy, to very sophisticated and complex.
Switching your diet from highly-processed, convenience foods to fresh, minimally-processed whole foods will require that you invest more time and attention into preparation.
However, it doesn't require advanced education, or that you master a new degree from Le Cordon Bleu. (Maybe someday, in culinary artistry dreams.)
If meal prep feels intimidating to you, remember that the nutrition in whole food comes almost entirely done-for-you by Nature. Whole nutritious foods are always only a few steps away from being ready to eat.
It starts with your vision.
When you visualize your future healthy meal, what exactly is in it?
Hand portions are an easy and consistent way to visualize how much of each food you want in your meal.
Most moderately active folks do best with about 1-2 hand portions of each category at each meal, for 3-4 meals per day.
Be specific in your plan. In order to make meal prep the most successful, you'll need to know exactly what you're prepping for. Distil it down to bite-sized steps.
What prep will your ingredients need from you?
As usual, there are some basic underlying fundamentals to food prep. The basic steps are:
1. Soak or thaw
2. Chop 3. Heat 4. Serve or store
Some of those steps need your active attention, while some can be set and happen in the background.
To make it easy, plan ahead and identify the exact steps where your food prep system will need your attention.
Identify where you'll be needed most.
How much time will each step take you?
When it's distilled down, often what starts as a long process actually only requires short intervals of your attention. If you can identify those shorter intervals, you can more easily schedule it into your day.
For example, how do you prep a side of dried black beans? It may be a process spanning a couple of days. When it's broken-down, it's actually a lot less overwhelming.
The smaller active steps it will take you are approximately:
5 minutes to add to water and soak
5 minutes to remove from water and store in the fridge
5 minutes to add to boiling water
5 minutes to strain and set to cool before eating
To make food prep easy, distill it down to the bite-sized steps and plan for those intervals.
Mix and match to build a system
When will you do the small steps?
When you have bite-sized steps to your food prep plan, you can get creative on how those steps fit your schedule. Mix the small steps to match your schedule.
Put the most time-consuming steps in the parts of your day that naturally have more spare time.
For example, do you have a gap of quiet time in the early morning or late evening? You can use that time to chop vegetables and store them for quicker use later.
Fit food prep into your rituals
When you start to find a method that works for you consistently, make it a ritual for yourself.
• A weekly ritual (like a Sunday ritual)
Every Sunday in the late morning you could spend a couple of hours shopping and prepping food for the week ahead.
• A daily ritual
Every day (or every other day) in the early evening you could spend 20–30 minutes prepping food for the next day or couple of days.
Where do you already have routines and structure in your days? How can the small steps of meal prep fit creatively within that existing structure?
Consistently eating healthy takes extra effort
It takes time, attention, knowledge and skills. And, as always, the more you practice, the easier, more effortless, and more seamless it becomes.
More importantly, mastering food prep also means more time spent interacting with, learning about, and enjoying all the steps to making your meals creative, delicious and satisfying.