Learn how to meal prep for weight loss with these easy steps, how meal prepping can help you lose weight, get healthy recipe ideas, and more!
I have lost 100 pounds and have been maintaining that weight loss for years and one of the tools that has helped me get and stay on track with my eating the most.
How Meal Prep Helps With Weight Loss
#1 – It makes eating more intentional.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of following your cravings. You eat the food that sounds good when it sounds good. That can get out of control when you are overweight and are in a pattern of overeating lots of junk food.
Meal prepping encourages you to be intentional about your choices – considering what foods sound good, but also calories, portion sizes, and nutrients.
#2 – It’s so helpful for portion sizes.
Most recipes on the internet (mine included!) will tell you that a serving size is 1/8th of a recipe, which is tough when you are only trying to take 1 serving out of a batch of chili. They may not list a specific amount like 1 cup.
When you are meal prepping and diving your food into portions from the beginning, it’s easy to equally divide your recipes into the proper portion sizes.
#3 – It helps you stick to your calorie goal.
To lose weight, you must be eating fewer calories than your body is burning. To make sure that happens, many people choose to track their food and count calories (click here to read my take on if you have to count calories to lose weight).
When you plan your meals and meal prep, you know (about) how many calories you are eating.
I don’t track or count calories anymore, but I’d made it a general “rule” to mostly look for lunch and dinner meals that are less than 500 calories because then I can easily plan reasonable breakfasts and snacks to fit into my daily goal.
#4 – It teaches you to be more organized.
My weight loss journey taught me so much more than just how to lose weight. Organization is one of those skills that was so important on my weight loss journey.
Things like meal prepping, tracking my food, scheduling my workouts, and even silly things like planning my showers and laundry around my workouts helped me to lose weight and be a more responsible, successful person in general.
Having healthy meals that are ready to heat and eat can save you from so many last-minute junk food snack attacks, checkout aisle candy bars, and drive-thru runs.
#5 – It fits any lifestyle/schedule.
It’s so easy to come up with a long list of excuses for why meal planning could never fit into your life, but I’ve been through so many different seasons in my life where I’ve just found a way to make meal planning fit.
When I was single and working out of the home full-time, I meal prepped three recipes a week every Sunday – one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, and I ate those all week long.
When my husband worked out of town for 22 weeks in a row Monday-Thursday, I meal prepped both of our meals for those days on Sunday. I’d make a breakfast recipe and then three different lunch/dinner recipes.
Most of our married life, I just meal prep our breakfasts because I am not a morning person, but when I eat a healthy, hearty breakfast, it lowers my cravings and makes it easier to eat better the whole rest of the day.
If you have next to no time, then maybe you keep it simple and use a lot of prepared foods. I don’t mean processed foods, necessarily, I just mean you utilize ingredients like pre-cooked, sliced chicken breast pieces that you can combine with frozen zucchini noodles or use to top mixed greens. Pre-chopped vegetables, pre-cooked meats, and other foods that are essentially ready-to-eat make for really fast, easy meal prep!
It takes some creativity and intentionality, but you can always find a way!
Steps To Meal Prep For Weight Loss
#1 – Make your meal plan.
Picking the recipes for your meal plan is the most important part of all of this!
You could easily meal prep junk food (have you seen the meal prep meme going around that shows meal prep containers filled with delivery pizza? Ha!) and not lose weight at all.
When you’re choosing recipes, you’re going to want to choose recipes that include:
- lean protein
- lots of veggies
Keep in mind, every recipe is adaptable. I rarely follow recipes exactly.
- If a recipe is especially carb-heavy (like a pasta dish that is 90% pasta), I will add more lean protein and veggies to make the dish healthier.
- If a recipe uses a meat with higher fat content (pork shoulder, sausage, etc), I’ll replace those with leaner options (pork tenderloin, turkey sausage, etc).
- If a recipe barely has any veggies (this is the most common issues I run into), I add a LOT more. I’ve been known to double, triple, or even quadruple the veggies in recipes. Veggies are a great, nutrient-filled, low-calorie way to add bulk to your meals without adding a ton of calories.
Check out this post for 5 more ways I healthify recipes for weight loss.
For my meal plan, I’ll look on Pinterest, check my favorite sites (because my favorite sites always include calorie counts!), or just google recipes that sound good.
I also try to make sure they include a variety of vegetables (I try to eat the rainbow as much as I can!).
I have a huge post of over 100 of my favorite healthy meal prep recipes here (and I included a ton of easy, one-pot, one-pan meals because I’m all about delicious meals that don’t take a lot of time or effort!).
#2 – Make your meal prep plan.
Your meal prep plan is NOT the same as your meal plan!
This is where you plan out what your meal prep day will need to look like for the exact recipes you chose.
- I figure out what vegetables need to be chopped. I make a list including all of my recipes that might say I need to dice 3 onions, chop 4 potatoes, chop 1 green pepper and 2 red peppers, etc…and I also note which veggies are for which dish. I’ll explain why later in the steps!
- What meat needs to be thawed/marinated.
- What the most logical order to cook the recipes is. I often get the breakfast casserole prepped and cooking first and while it’s baking (around an hour), I can get my Instant Pot going and a skillet recipe cooking, too.
It only takes a few minutes, but it makes things so much easier!
When I don’t have a meal prep plan, I am much more disorganized and it takes me more time and energy to get things done.
#3 – Grocery shop.
This is the easiest part for me! I used to shop at King Soopers every week, which was fine.
Then I found Walmart’s free pick-up and I’ve never gone back!
This is not sponsored by Walmart. They have absolutely no idea who I am (aside from Betty, my sweet pick-up associate who always pets Boots and knows I like my eggs and bread in the front with me!). But they have the best prices in my area by far, they have a great selection, and their app is easy to use.
From the time I leave my house to the time I get my groceries unloaded, it usually takes me about 30 minutes. That is a HUGE time savings for me and I’ve also found I’m much less tempted to add those unnecessary splurges to my cart (saving money AND calories!).
I also want to note that I never grocery shop on the same day that I meal prep. It’s not a rule or anything, but I’ve found that it feels less overwhelming when I break those things up on different days.
I make my meal plan and order my groceries on Wednesday. I pick up groceries on Thursday morning.
#4 – Do any pre-preparations before meal prep day.
I consider pre-preparations anything that needs to be done before you start cooking the recipe.
Often times, recipes will include ingredients that are already prepped like grilled corn, prepared mashed potatoes, cooked quinoa, etc.
That might mean:
- thawing meat
- marinating meat
- cooking rice, quinoa, potatoes, etc (like for fried rice when you need day-old rice or for a casserole that uses pre-cooked quinoa)
I do any of these pre-preparations on Saturday.
#5 – Prep your ingredients (on meal prep day).
This is my first step on meal prep day (Sunday for me).
Before I start cooking anything, I:
- wash produce
- chop vegetables
- slice meat
- arrange veggies on plates by meal (I might chop 3 onions, but I will separate each onion on 3 separate plates. So, I might have a plate for a chicken stir fry that has all of the onions, peppers, snow peas, etc all prepped and ready for the pan and then a separate plate for an Instant Pot meal with onions and broccoli)
- pre-heat your oven
- get a pot of water boiling
This is where most of my effort goes on meal prep days. I use a lot of fresh veggies and there is a lot of chopping! I’ll list more of my favorite meal prep tools below, but the biggest time-saver for this portion of meal prep is my veggie chopper!
I just got it recently and I don’t usually use it when I’m making just one meal, but it saves me a ton of time on my meal prep days!
I use it to chop onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, and so much more. It has two different chopping grates, too – a larger chop and a smaller dice.
#6 – Cook your meals.
For meal prep, I am a HUGE fan of one-pot, one-skillet, sheet pan, one-pan meals.
It’s not the only way to do it and sometimes I do piece things together, but only having to worry about cooking 3 things (instead of 3 main dishes plus 3 sides) helps me a lot.
I try to vary my method of cooking for each recipe, just because it makes my meal prep faster! So, I utilize my Instant Pot, oven, stovetop, grill, griddle, and slow cooker.
I often have one Instant Pot recipe, one breakfast casserole, one skillet meal, and one sheet pan meal in a week of meal prep.
It may take some trial and error to find out the most efficient recipe order for you. Meal prep is a lot of work, but it does get easier the more you do it!
#7 – Divide the food into containers.
Divvying up your food into individual meal prep containers that are ready to grab and eat is so helpful in setting yourself up for a successful week of eating.
Some meal prep recipe pictures will show you cold things mixed with warm. I never do that. It’s not practical.
If something needs to stay cold, I either put it in a separate container or bag so that it can be easily removed for microwaving.
I would say the majority of the time, I put everything inside of the glass meal prep containers, but sometimes I send my husband with a bun for a burger, naan for curry, or biscuits with soup and I just send those in a separate baggie.
Let them cool before covering them and putting them in the refrigerator.
These glass 1-compartment meal prep containers are my favorite. I’ve thought about the multiple compartment containers, but I think they’d be a little trickier to wash and I like to have the flexibility to change the size of the main & side dishes.
My Favorite Meal Prep Tools
I’ve already linked my favorite meal prep containers and my food chopper, but these are the other things I use almost every single week for my meal prep.
I use two sheet pans almost every week for my meal prep!
Often, I will use it for a sheet pan dinner and I also LOVE roasted veggies, so I use one for those, as well.
Silicone Baking Sheets
These might be my favorite weight loss cooking accessory.
They are so non-stick that I can use so much less oil (which saves a ton of calories!).
I use these every time I use my sheet pans for sheet pan meals, roasted veggies, baked chicken or fish, etc.
These are great for pre-portioned mini meatloaves and mini breakfast cups!
I use metal tins sometimes, too, but things tend to stick less for me in silicone!
This is my favorite grater. Sometimes I use it for cheese, but more often, I use it for carrots or zucchini.
I add extra shredded veggies into meatloaves, sauces, soups, and casseroles all the time for healthier recipes!
I used to have really terrible knives and I didn’t realize how terrible they were until I used a friend’s santoku knife!
I do a lot of chopping, so a good knife can make a big difference in meal prep (I have two now).
I have a lot of kitchen accessories, so don’t feel like you need all of these things to do meal prep, but they are really nice!
- a food processor (for shredding sweet potatoes for breakfast casseroles or making energy bites as snacks)
- immersion blender (great for making healthier creamy soups and sauces like butternut squash for mac & cheese and cauliflower for creamy cauliflower soup),
- rice cooker (many recipes call for pre-cooked rice and I use brown rice whenever I can)
- electric griddle (my husband loves pancakes and I’ve found a lot of healthy pancake recipes that re-heat so well for meal prep)