We've all heard the quote: "By failing to prepare, we are preparing to fail." This especially rings true when it comes to diet. When we don't give thought to what we're going to eat during the day, we're left with what is convenient or close in proximity come mealtime. And the end result? We're likely to overspend and overeat while not getting any quality nutrition. Here are the top weight-loss meal-prep tips and secrets from the pros to help you reach your goals.
1. Put Soup on the Menu
What's an easy meal that stores well and can help with weight loss? One word: soup! Any time of year, soup is a weight-loss winner you'll want to keep on your weekly menu. In fact, eating soup may help you manage your weight and whittle your waistline. Allison Schaaf, M.S., RD, founder of meal-planning site PrepDish.com, offers a time-saving tip: "Make a veggie-filled soup and double the recipe. Then freeze half to have later in the month." In the summer go for cold soups like gazpacho, and in the winter capitalize on filling veggies like turnips, squash and potatoes.
Read more: 12 Slimming Soups
2. Turn Up the Volume
Trick yourself full by bumping up the volume. "We all know that in order to lose weight we need to consume fewer calories than we burn, which could mean being hungry. Instead of eating tiny food portions, think of ways to create volume without adding a ton of extra calories," advises Samantha Shorkey of Jacked on the Beanstalk. "You can do this by making veggies the star of every meal. Not only will eating extra veggies make you feel like you're eating full-size meals, but it'll also up the fiber and nutritional content. And this can make you feel fuller and not so deprived. Grate some zucchini into your morning oatmeal (you won't even taste it), or mix cauliflower pieces into your rice at dinner."
3. Don’t Always Stick to What You Know
While keeping meal prep simple can be crucial to attaining your weight-loss goals, don't sell yourself short. According to Beachbody Super Trainer Autumn Calabrese, creator of the best-selling fitness and nutrition program 21 Day Fix, "Making the same three to four things over and over each week can get boring and make you fall off the healthy-food bandwagon." The key is to add variety without overcomplicating things. "Change up your fruits and veggies with the seasons, and swap out your go-to brown rice for different whole grains, such as amaranth, millet, buckwheat and quinoa. Experiment with different spices; they add flavor without adding calories. The more variety, the happier your taste buds (and you) will be," says Calabrese.
Read more: 10 Herbs and Spices to Help You Lose Weight
4. Shoot for Three
Think meal planning has to mean prepping for a week at a time? Think again. "While it can be a time-saver, you may be better off prepping for three days at a time so your food isn't sitting around waiting to be consumed five days later," says My Nguyen, creator of MyHealthyDish.com. "Not to mention you will get bored and be more likely to cheat. It's best to eat food as fresh as possible; that's when you get the most nutrients. Meal prepping twice a week not only allows you to eat foods when they're fresher, but it also gives you a chance to do a midweek check-in to assess if your meal plan is helping you reach your weight-loss goals. Ask yourself how you felt during the three days, and then you can make adjustments to your next meal prep based on that. Sick of broccoli? Switch to green beans."
5. Save Time by Cutting Corners
When you're just too busy, cut corners to save some time. "For extra-busy people who just don't want to do meal prep, I recommend buying prepackaged salads and always keeping berries, bananas and spinach in the freezer. You can never go wrong with a salad or a smoothie," says Samantha Shorkey of Jacked on the Beanstalk. "I also keep low-carb, sprouted Ezekiel wraps in my freezer because they make awesome (and healthy) pizza crusts, hummus dippers and sandwich wraps on the fly." You can also purchase precut fruits and vegetables for snacking throughout the week.
6. Prep Your Smoothies
Smoothies are an easy way to add nutrients, fiber and protein to your diet as part of your weight-loss journey. "Instead of chopping up fruit each morning, prep your smoothies ahead of time," says My Nguyen, creator of MyHealthyDish.com. "Wash and remove any peels, cores or husks. Chop to your desired size, and store in single-serving-size portions in a freezer bag. When it's time to make a smoothie, just pull a bag out of the freezer, add your liquid and protein powder (if you're going that route) and blend." Using frozen produce gives the smoothie a thick, indulgent consistency, which means you can skip the ice. "To save even more time, store your prepped smoothie ingredients in a mason jar. You can use the same jar to drink your smoothie," adds Nguyen.
7. Prep Your Portions
"Being prepared isn't half the battle, it is the battle," says Beachbody Super Trainer Autumn Calabrese, creator of best-selling fitness and nutrition program 21 Day Fix. And organization is key if you're going to succeed. "If you're busy like me, you don't always have time in the morning to portion everything out for each meal that you will be eating that day. That's why I like to do it ahead of time. Proper portions are a big component of being successful on your health and fitness journey. I like to portion out my meals the night before. That way everything is ready to go in the refrigerator so I can grab it and go."
8. Strategize Storage Location
Once you're done prepping, plan out your storage strategy. Allison Schaaf, M.S., RD, founder of meal-planning site PrepDish.com, recommends keeping healthy grab-and-go options front and center. "Chop veggies like cucumber, cauliflower, bell pepper and celery to have on hand for snacking. Keep them in the front of the fridge, not stuffed behind your prepped lunches and dinners. You'll be more likely to grab the veggies if they aren't hidden behind other foods." Stashing low-calorie, fiber-filled foods like raw veggies within reach can help you attain your weight-loss goals faster.
9. Squelch Meal-Prep Snacking
If you're trying to lose weight, you may need to prep for the meal prep. "It can be tempting to eat while you're in the kitchen prepping for the week. Prep a container of sliced veggies (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc.) to have on hand to munch on while cooking. The crunchy raw veggies are satisfying to snack on but low in calories," says dietitian Lindsay Livingston of Lean Green Bean. Sipping on water or tea may help too.
10. Share With the Masses
Two may be better than one, especially when it comes to weight-loss goals. New research shows that external accountability is crucial for women when trying to lose weight. So if you're meal prepping, share it with your social circle. "There are so many Instagram posts out there with perfectly aligned food containers inside a fridge, and your photo could be next. Not only will your meal-prep posts force you into having accountability for your meals — both from yourself and your social circle — but your family and friends will also understand if you show up to their house for dinner with a Tupperware in hand, suggests My Nguyen, creator of MyHealthyDish.com.
Read more: 7 Friendships You Need in Your Life Now
11. Tackle Your Trouble Meal
When we plan our meal prep, the focus is often on lunch and dinners. "Think beyond dinner and focus on the meals you struggle with, which may include time-crunched breakfasts and midday snacks," says dietitian Lindsay Livingston of Lean Green Bean. "Starting the day with a healthy, protein-packed breakfast can keep from getting too hungry and overeating at lunchtime. Similarly, having healthy snacks on hand can help you avoid reaching for empty calories from the vending machine when the midday slump hits."
12. Infuse Your Water
We know staying hydrated is a weight-loss tool, but sometimes plain water can get a little boring. "Have a couple of pitchers of your favorite water infusions in the fridge to encourage you to stay hydrated throughout the day — especially during the warmer months of the year," says registered dietitian nutritionist McKel Hill, founder of Nutrition Stripped and author of her first cookbook, "Nutrition Stripped." Think of mixed berries and mint or cucumber and honeydew melon. "Many times when you feel hungry your body is actually just thirsty, so stay hydrated to avoid eating more than your body needs," adds Hill.
13. Invest in Kitchen Tools
We know meal prepping sets you up for weight-loss success, but if you don't enjoy the process, or if it becomes too labor intensive, it'll be harder to stick with it. Avoid this by investing in the right tools. One of the most important tools? "Buy a quality chef's knife for chopping fruits and vegetables. You'll save so much time compared to trying to tackle produce with a small paring knife," recommends Allison Schaaf, M.S., RD, founder of meal planning site PrepDish.com.
14. Make a List
The first prep step in meal prepping is making your grocery list. "I plan all of my meals in advance and always grocery shop with a list that I do not allow myself to stray from," shares Samantha Shorkey of Jacked on the Beanstalk. "I like keeping a mini whiteboard in my kitchen to write down any food items I need to pick up. And I sometimes even add motivational quotes to help keep me focused on eating for health." Make note of portions so you don't overdo it — falling short on ingredients can put a real cramp in meal planning. Buying in bulk — whole grains, dried fruit, nuts, lentils, etc. — makes it easy to get just the amount you need.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you currently meal prep? How many days in advance do you plan for? What are some of your best tips? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!