Alright, guys, we’re moving right along. This is the halfway post — HALFWAY! Are you caught up? If not, read A-Side Meal Prepping pt. 1 about finding an eating philosophy, then go read A-Side Meal Prepping pt. 2 about determining how many calories you should be eating and calculating your macros.
Now that we know how we want to eat and how much we need to be eating, the next step is finding good shit to eat and making a meal plan out of it. That’s what I’m calling this post.
Finding Good Shit to Eat and Making a Meal Plan Out of It
So you know you want to start meal prepping and you’re eager to dig into good recipes and learning about reheating it and storing it and losing that pesky weight that’s been dogging you forever. But before we research anything or even spend a single dime on groceries, we need to ask ourselves a few questions.
What do you know how to cook and what kind of shit do you have in your kitchen?
It’s kind of amazing how many people I help during the week that have little, or sometimes no, experience cooking any kind of food outside of microwave dinners and frozen pizzas. If this sounds like you, then you already know where you’re starting – the absolute most basic of the basic of the basic. And that’s good! I recently heard some of our Food Network talent (I think it was Geoffrey Zakarian) say that a sign of a good chef is when they’re above getting fancy with strange ingredients and methods, preferring to rely on the natural flavors in their main ingredients and the common spices used to make them. Is it fun to experiment? Absolutely yes, but there’s no reason to dive into advanced shit until you’ve gotten comfortable doing basic shit.
A couple of years ago I entered a contest at work where the prize was a cookbook by accomplished chef and Food Network superstar Anne Burrell. I’m a fan of Anne’s and her food so when I won the contest and the cookbook, I was super excited to dig in. When I got the book, however, I quickly learned that most, if not all, of her recipes included ingredients or equipment that not only did I not have, but in some cases had no idea how to even acquire it. I shelved that book and I’ve never made any of the food. Will I eventually? Maybe, but right now, it ain’t happening.
And that’s okay. Same goes for you, new guys.
For my advanced freaks out there, now’s the time to determine what you have in your kitchen. Do you have a rice cooker? A slow cooker? Pressure cooker? Cast iron skillet? Are you comfortable using a grill? Know your oven inside and out? Awesome! Knowing what tools you have will greatly help you out as you make your meal plan.
We’ll cover useful tools to have in your kitchen in the next few weeks, but for now, let’s focus on what you have and what you know and run with it. Are you good? Good. Let’s get on with it.
What meals are you prepping for?
The next thing we’ll need to determine is what meals you’re hoping to prep for. Breakfasts? Lunches? Dinners? How many times are you planning to eat? This may seem obvious and silly, but it’s way important, for real.
I once heard a friend say “If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” and she’s totally right. For this step, you’ll really need to consider what your lifestyle is and what your day looks like. What are your weak points? What times of day are you the most rushed? When do you feel like you’re most pressured to eat poorly? I’ll illustrate with my personal situation.
Breakfast is huge for me. If I don’t eat within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning, I get sick. With that in mind, I keep some protein bars at home that I chow down on before hitting the gym in the morning and hold off on having a proper breakfast until I get to work. Breakfast temptation at work is a real motherfucker because we have the Food Network Kitchen and their amazing bacon, sausage and biscuits (but not their gravy — they suck at southern sausage gravy and it’s the easiest thing to make, I swear to the gods). However, I’m able to avert the temptation most days by keeping oatmeal at my desk. I love oatmeal and don’t mind eating it most days. I buy the big boxes of it at Costco and they last me a very long time — like a couple of months. As a result, my breakfasts are safe, I get a few filling calories in the morning and a shot of fiber to help my coffee give me a good old-fashioned cleanse.</p.
The takeaway here is that I don’t meal prep my breakfast because I feel like I’m sufficiently covered. This may be different for you. Making breakfast sandwiches or boiling eggs ahead of time so they’re ready and packaged up in the fridge for you in the morning may be beneficial as long as it’s something you’ll look forward to eating and it can regularly prevent you from making poor breakfast decisions.
I started meal prepping by working on lunch only. This was a good way for me to get my feet wet because I only had to make one giant batch (read: 10 servings — 5 for me, 5 for Erin) of a single meal and reap the benefits during the week as I kept my weight off, never had to guess what I was eating and saved hella money in the process.
As Erin got deeper into her weightloss journey, I decided to go ahead and start meal prepping dinner, too. This was a double-edged sword for me.
I didn’t want to meal prep dinner because I love cooking too much. I don’t like someone (even if it’s me) telling me what I’m having for dinner tonight. I like being able to find a new recipe in the afternoon, stopping by Publix on my way home and making it that night. I learned how to make so many awesome meals this way and I didn’t want to change it.
That’s the shit side of the sword.
Flip the sword over and we’ll find that meal prepping dinner should have been a no-brainer. Erin has been working her butt off running 2-3 days a week and she’s been lifting weights on a program I design for her every week. She’s been doing it for months now and has gotten amazing results. With that said, it’s not impossible but it’s way way way difficult to go run with her or go to the gym with her in the evening and then come home and make dinner from scratch. When you get home at 8pm and you want to be in bed by 10, the idea of starting a healthy dinner from scratch and then clean up is overwhelming.
There’s a second positive side to that sword — nutritionally Erin really needed dinner meal prep. As much as I like to kid myself, when I’d make new recipes at night, even if they were “healthy,” they were likely sabotaging both of us. In the past, I’ve promised to help Erin get healthier and I dropped the ball because not having dinner plans would usually turn into pizza delivery, Chinese takeout or a faux-healthy homemade meal that would crash our caloric intake for the day. My main motivating factor in deciding to meal prep for dinner was her diet and not only has it helped us both in the nutrition department, but it’s also saved us, again, hella money.
Bottom line: currently I meal prep lunch and dinner for us both for Monday through Friday. That’s 10 individual servings for dinner, 10 individual servings for lunch, totalling 20 servings of food.
Don’t run away yet. That sounds like a lot of cooking but it’s not. I promise.
Often there are nights when we have to be places — meetings, pre-arranged dates with friends, appointments or other randomness. With this in mind, I go ahead and cut 2 dinner servings from the meal plan assuming we’ll make a good choice on that wildcard night. We’re now at 18 servings of food.
I also quickly found out that I was being an anti-social dickhead at work and was no longer going to lunch with my friends like I used to. That bothered me and it should bother you, too. Your friends are going to understand that you’re getting your nutrition in order and will respect your decision to cut back, but if you’re any kind of friend, you’ll cut them some slack and go out once a week. You can make good decisions at restaurants and even if you don’t, one bad lunch isn’t going to hurt you. So I cut 1 lunch per week for us. We’re now at 16 servings of food.
Told you it wasn’t a lot of cooking.
So what are we making?
I guess now we get to determine what it is exactly that we’re going to cook. The internet is a huge place, you guys, and there is an endless amount of recipes out there. I can’t tell you how to organize and reference but I can definitely pass you links to the places I frequent for meal prep ideas. You’ll find those below but a few quick things first:
- Find stuff you know how to cook or want to learn how to cook.
- Never force yourself to eat shit you don’t like or don’t want to eat.
- Don’t flip out if the recipe calls for something that doesn’t fit your eating philosophy.
- If a recipe looks good but has questionable ingredients (say, added sugar or something) research a bit online to find what can be used as a substitute. Believe me, speaking as a Paleo believer, someone has tried and damn-near perfected every sloppy nasty junk food recipe and converted it to fit your diet so give it a go!
Places I Get My Recipes
Fit Men Cook
Fit Men Cook is a rad little website that includes recipes intended for meal prepping. Everything is mapped out to make multiple servings and he always includes the macros per serving. He often includes helpful meal prep tips and sometimes does fun challenges where he goes to specific chain groceries with a certain amount of money and preps a week’s worth of food with it.
The name says it all here. Don’t spaz out after seeing so many pasta dishes. The photos are nearly pornographic as far as food goes and there’s lots of gratuitous cheese shots but for real — the food is great and usually isn’t a diet-crasher. She’s recently been including macros, which is a big plus, but be warned that her site has gotten quite ad-heavy. I hope that means she’s making a buck or two off her hard work, though, because she deserves it.
It would be false if I said that Budget Bytes taught me how to cook but it’s not far from the truth. Beth has amazing recipes that are simple and do not require a lot of thinking. There’s a lot of pasta here, too, but don’t let that scare you. Pasta can be your friend. If you’re just getting started cooking, this is a great resource for simple recipes.
Slow Cooker Gourmet
This is a fun website for all things slow cooker. You’ll find out soon that the slow cooker is a beast when it comes to meal prep and you’re going to want to use it as often as possible. This is a great resource for finding good stuff to throw into your new best friend but be warned that not all of these are macro-friendly no matter what your macros are.
Stupid Easy Paleo
This is a fun website for Paleo freaks or those interested in giving it a shot. She doesn’t have the recipe index most of the other websites have but what she does have it quality…and a podcast. A damn good one.
Nom Nom Paleo
When it comes to Paleo, this girl knows her shit. Her website is well-organized and she has some quality cookbooks on the market. Tons of meal prep-ready recipes hanging out in here and you can learn a lot about the lifestyle from her, too. It’s no wonder she’s a beast in the community.
Gimme Some Oven
Veggie city, y’all! And beautiful photos. And treats! Great treats! Lawd. Gimme Some Oven has easy-to-follow recipes that are tasty and manageable macro-wise.
This is a great website if you want to get quality content in email. Their recipes are already top-notch but they send out emails with links to various Paleo recipes around the web that are just as high quality. I’ve tracked down a lot of good eats through this little hub.
The Domestic Man
NOT for the beginner. Let me get that out of the way immediately. This website is wonderful, though, and the author takes you around the world with some of his international dishes. One of my favorite recipes of all time comes from this website but be aware that a lot of recipes are time-consuming and require you to track down oddball ingredients and make friends with your local butcher. Those aren’t bad things.
Finally, this is one of the Paleo sites I’ve followed the longest. The content is a bit scattered because not only does she cover Paleo recipes but she also talks about Crossfit, fashion, Crossfit fashion and just general wellness. She also has a super cute dog so if nothing else it’s worth following her on Instagram.
Other good resources include…
Primarily Meathead but there are other authors on this site that give quality information on how to properly grill and smoke everything you can imagine. From pork, beef, chicken and fish to sauces and even cocktails. It can be grilled and they’ll show you how to do it.
This site is beautiful. It’s kind of like an e-version of your grandmother because the food is always amazing and not only do they show you how to make it but they show you how to make it the right way. The full-fat and sometimes high calorie way. The no-shortcuts way. Paired with Budget Bytes, this is a good site to follow if you really want to learn.
The Protein Chef
I like following this guy because he focuses primarily on sweets. Sweets that are modified to be macro-friendly and protein-heavy. He often spends time trying to sell his special baking whey protein but I’ve never tried it and likely won’t. I’ve found whatever whey I have at home works well for anything I’ve tried of his. Maybe I’m missing out but what I’ve made so far has been quality. Great resource here if, like me, you enjoy cookies more than occasionally.
My Favorite Meal Prep Recipes
- Fit Men Cook’s Turkey Meatballs
- The Recipe Critic’s Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef
- Damn Delicious’ Lasagna
- Tiffani Thiessen’s Honey Ginger Chicken Wings (I use boneless chicken breasts)
- NerdFitness’ Making a Decent Meal (great if you’ve never cooked anything ever)
Making the Meal Plan
So you’ve picked through the above links and you’ve bookmarked several recipes you think may be good. Now’s the fun part. Let me start out by saying that at first I did not like the idea of eating the same thing every single day for lunch and the same thing every night for dinner. YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Just know that if you want variety, that’s even more effort than you’re already putting into this. I’d recommend going with just one thing at a time and slowly building yourself up to multiple meals a day. Once you get to that point and you feel confident in your skills, your planning and your free time, then you can throw in a fourth or fifth meal that you can put in throughout the week so you don’t get sick of stuff.
Honestly, you shouldn’t get sick of it if it’s good food and you’re going to be making good food, right?
With any luck the recipe you pick out will also have the calories and macros attached to it. I know a lot of fitness-minded websites are including that a lot more lately so use it! It won’t be entirely accurate because they likely won’t be using the exact same recipes you’re using, but it will be close enough to ballpark it. Keep that general calorie count in mind.
***PRO TIP*** If a recipe seems to be relatively light but their calorie count is super high, take some time to consider why it may be and what you can do to fix it. I recently put together a honey ginger chicken recipe that was super light but was showing 665 calories. I couldn’t understand where they were coming from but then I noticed the recipe called for 2 cups of uncooked white rice for four servings. Rice tends to triple when cooked, so that’s 6 cups of cooked rice broken down into four servings, thus 1.5 cups of rice per serving! Cooked white rice is about 200 calories per cup, so 300 of the 665 calories was from the rice alone. I typically cook 6 cups of white rice and split it into 10 servings — That’s a little more than half a cup, or 120 calories per serving, bringing the honey ginger chicken recipe down from 665 to 485. A bit more manageable, no? **/PRO TIP**
Once you have your meals picked out and a ballpark caloric count in mind, you can now start considering the rest of your day. Most of these recipes won’t go above 500 calories and if you’ve been following along since part one you’ll know that 1,500 calories likely won’t cut it for you and you’ll need snacks. That’s where I like to get recipes from people like the Protein Chef involved because snacks are great when they’re sweet.
You could also eat, you know, fruit.
Or nuts (not deez nutz but LOL if you thought that). Mandy, I can hear you laughing all the way over here.
This is when you get to determine what else you can do with your deficit. What I’m trying to say is…Junk. Never, under any circumstances, refer to it as cheating. It’s not cheating if you’re doing nothing wrong. If you’ve set your calories at a deficit and you still haven’t met your caloric goal for the day, by all means, have a treat. My personal favorites at present are oatmeal Little Debbie cakes and caramel apple pie gelato from Talenti.
This shit will change your life, y’all, for real.
If your recipes don’t include a calorie count and you’re not sure how well it will fare based on ingredients alone, don’t stress. We’ll calculate all that soon enough. It’s early on in the process and you’re allowed to fuck up. You’re only going to learn if you dive in and get your feet wet.
And fuck up.
Next week we’re going to take our meal plan for the week and break it down into a few lists for efficient grocery shopping. It may be overkill and it may be “duh” for some of y’all, but it’s going to help someone out there. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go ahead and get going on your meal prep for this week, though!
For real. Get going.
This is part 3 of a 6 part series on meal prepping. A lot of clients and potential clients ask me about meal prepping and I want to give as thorough of an explanation as I can. Over the next few weeks, I will be covering how to eat, how many calories you need to eat, calculating your macro requirements, finding good recipes to use, making your grocery list and shopping it, smart ways to prep a week’s worth of food and other shit I know to be true. I will illustrate as much as I can with my real-life meal planning/prepping processes so hopefully it will make more sense. Along the way you get to enjoy my wit and my foul mouth.
I also want to go ahead and state that while I am a certified personal trainer, I am NOT a certified nutritionist. I can give you tips on eating better and point you to FDA guidelines, but unless I’m married to you I can NOT make custom meal plans for you. Not even if you pay me or send nudes but thanks for the offer.
Again, I find myself really enjoying this series of posts and going “yes!” every paragraph or so. I particularly like that you mentioned eating out with coworkers and friends. This was an area I really struggled with for a long time because inevitably it seemed that these folks always wanted to go somewhere super unhealthy. However dining out with coworkers is often important for office politics and of course it’s important to socialize with your friends as well and not be a shut-in. Social dining is just that, it’s social and by focusing on engaging with others I found myself eating less and making smarter choices on these obligatory outings. Regarding dinner prep, you are right again; it is important to make sure to have something ready to eat so that you can resist the urge to make a poor choice when you get home after work or training. One thing I found that works for me is using a crock-pot. I originally got the inspiration from a Zumba Fitness recipe. (Don’t laugh! Zumba is great cardio if done correctly and their cookbook from back in the day had some awesome recipes.) A lean cut of meat in the crock-pot combined with some veggies has kept me out of the fast-food drive-thru more than once. Great post! Keep ’em coming!
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First of all, thanks for reading/staying caught up! People are responding really well to this. I realize it’s a lot of the same info that a million people have already written but I hope that my voice is able to help someone. For me, the exercise is easy but the nutrition is wacky. It’s been a long road but now that I finally “get it” and am certified to say so, I hope someone that has the same struggles as me can benefit from it.
Good call on the slow cooker. I try to use mine every week for meal prep just because I try to make it as little effort as possible! I’ll be sharing some of the tools I use in the next couple of weeks.
Also, you don’t need to tell me about Zumba! I’ve never done it but I’ve watched it many times and Erin often does it during the semester (they offer it for free on certain days). It’s a killer workout that seems like it’s a lot of fun!
Anyway, thanks for lurking and keep saying hey :-)