Is meal prepping good for weight loss? Or is it just a part of the fad dieting methods? I’ve been overweight since childhood, and managed to lose a lot of weight (and keep it off) by using meal prep. By discovering how meal prepping works, you can apply the same rules in your life to help you lose weight.
Meal prepping is a popular topic right now but is it actually good for weight loss? In this post I go over the pros, cons and everything you need to know.
How to Meal Prep for Weight Loss: Meal Ideas and Recipes
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s helpful to have the right foods on hand to fuel your body and provide you with the nutrients you need to feel your best.
Meal prepping can be a helpful tool for anyone, regardless of whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight.
Planning and preparing meals and snacks ahead of time can save you time, reduce stress around mealtime, help improve diet quality, and help you reach and maintain a healthy body weight .
This article breaks down meal prepping for weight loss and includes foods to prioritize, how to create healthy and filling meals, sample recipes, and evidence-based, sustainable weight loss tips.
Meal planning for weight loss
Though you may be surprised to hear this, you don’t need to follow any particular diet for weight loss.
Some dietary patterns such as low carb and vegan diets have been shown to promote weight loss, but this doesn’t mean they’re necessary to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way
Meal prepping is a great tool because instead of following a fixed, restrictive plan, you can enjoy a nutrient-dense diet that works for you and your individual preferences. The planning piece helps make healthy meals a reality on days you’re crunched for time.
You’re also more likely to enjoy the meals and snacks that you’re eating, and you have the freedom to choose foods that you like because no foods are completely “off-limits.”
With this in mind, some foods — like fruits and vegetables — are highly nutritious and have been linked to weight loss, while others — like donuts and cookies — can still be enjoyed but should be more limited as part of a healthy diet.
A healthy, weight-loss-friendly diet can simply be a well-rounded, nutrient-dense dietary pattern. The most important factor in weight loss is making sure you’re in a calorie deficit, which promotes fat loss.
However, this does not mean that you have to go on a strict low calorie diet. Instead, try cutting back on certain high calorie, nutrient-poor refined foods, choosing nutrient-dense, filling foods more often, and adding in more activity on a daily basis.
This will help you create a calorie deficit while still feeling nourished and fulfilled.
Even though very low calorie diets that only deliver 1,000 or 1,200 calories per day are likely to result in quick weight loss, studies show that the weight lost on these programs is quickly gained back once a person returns to normal eating habits
Plus, these diets are typically unnecessarily restrictive, take the enjoyment out of eating, and they can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
So, what does a balanced, weight-loss-friendly dietary pattern look like? Honestly, it looks just like any other balanced diet. It should be nutritionally complete, affordable, appropriate, culturally acceptable, enjoyable, and sustainable.
One thing that many health professionals agree on is that a healthy diet should comprise mostly whole, minimally processed foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, nutrient-dense whole foods like whole grains, beans, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, and seeds should make up the majority of your diet — while still leaving some room for treats.
Be wary of generic meal-prep-friendly meal plans available online or handed out by trainers and nutritionists with a set calorie limit, especially if they are rigid and deliver fewer than 1,500 calories per day.
It’s impossible to know how many calories a person needs on a daily basis without information like their height, weight, age, sex, and activity level. Plus, it’s important to remember that calorie calculations are just estimates
If you would like to have a general idea of your calorie needs, work with a registered dietitian or another qualified healthcare professional who specializes in metabolic health to help determine an appropriate and safe calorie range to support weight loss.
Even though it may be helpful for some people to know how many calories they require on a daily basis, it’s not necessary to count calories, track foods, or follow a very low calorie diet for weight loss.
You can still follow a diet that promotes weight loss without counting calories. Choose the right kinds of foods to fuel your body, compose filling meals, eat in accordance with your feelings of hunger and fullness, and prepare healthy meals and snacks.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet for weight loss. A healthy diet, regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight, should be sustainable, nourishing, nutritionally adequate, and most importantly, enjoyable.
How to plan meals for weight loss
When meal prepping for weight loss, it’s important to know how to plan meals that are filling and nutrient-dense.
In general, aim to make most of your meals and snacks balanced, meaning they should contain a source of protein, fat, and fiber.
Getting adequate protein at every meal and snack is essential, as protein is the most filling macronutrient and helps keep you feeling satisfied between meals.
For example, eating an apple paired with natural peanut butter, a source of plant-based protein and fat, will be more satisfying than eating an apple on its own.
Adding more fat and protein to your meals and snacks adds more calories, but it also helps prevent you from being hungry and fuels your body with key nutrients.
Plus, a higher protein diet helps preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss, which is important for maintaining strength, as well as optimal energy expenditure
Adding sources of fiber and healthy fats to meals can also help ensure your meals are filling, tasty, and contain a variety of nutrients.
Here are a few meal and snack upgrades that can help you get an idea of what well-composed, weight-loss-friendly meals and snacks may look like.
|Instead of…||Try this…|
|plain overnight oats made with water and brown sugar||overnight oats made with milk and topped with nut butter, chia seeds, and fresh berries|
|a green salad with cherry tomatoes, croutons, and ranch dressing||a green salad topped with sliced peppers, avocado, pumpkin seeds, canned salmon, feta cheese, and a homemade vinaigrette|
|a fast-food egg sandwich||egg muffins made with broccoli, mushrooms, and goat cheese served with fresh fruit|
|a cheeseburger and french fries from the local diner||a homemade spinach chicken burger served with baked sweet potato fries|
|a chocolate-covered snack bar||a bento box made with sliced apples, natural peanut butter, and a few pieces of dark chocolate|
Although it’s a good idea to prepare many of your meals and snacks from scratch, using some premade foods such as turkey sticks, hummus, whole grain crackers, salad dressings, and more can help make your life much easier and save time when meal prepping.
When prepping weight-loss-friendly meals and snacks, it’s important to design balanced meals that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats to promote satiety and provide the nutrients your body needs.
Foods to eat and a healthy meal prep shopping list
As mentioned above, any healthy diet should comprise mainly whole, nutritious foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and healthy proteins and fats.
When planning meals for the week ahead, it’s helpful to create a shopping list. Grocery lists can help you stay organized while at the store and may even help you make healthier choices while shopping.
Think of your list as the first step in your meal planning. You’ll want to pick up healthy foods but also have a plan to use them so they don’t go to waste. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables last longer and are typically less expensive.
Here’s an example of a meal-prep and weight-loss-friendly shopping list:
- Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, and grapefruits
- Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, peppers, onions, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, lettuce
- Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, potatoes, and butternut squash
- Proteins: canned salmon and tuna, frozen shrimp, chicken breast, lean ground beef and turkey, and eggs
- Beans: chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and lentils
- Grains: oats, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and quinoa
- Frozen foods: frozen mangoes, sprouted-grain bread, frozen cherries, frozen broccoli, and frozen spinach
- Dairy and non-dairy substitutes: milk, unsweetened nondairy milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, and plain yogurt
- Nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, pistachios, almonds, natural peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, and cashews
- Condiments and pantry: salad dressing, salsa, marinara sauce, mustard, spices, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, garlic, etc.
- Oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Other healthy fats: avocado, hummus, and tahini
- Beverages: sparkling water, coffee, and tea
- Snack foods: dark chocolate chips, turkey sticks, nut butter packets, whole grain or seed-based crackers, whole-food-based bars, popcorn, plantain and bean chips, etc.
This is simply a suggested shopping list. Your shopping list will change weekly depending on the meals and snacks you choose to meal prep.
Focus on consuming whole, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and fish. Fill your refrigerator and cabinets with healthy, meal-prep-friendly foods and make a plan to prep them into healthy meals and snacks.
CAN YOU LOSE WEIGHT WITH MEAL PREP?
Meal prep is a simple and easy way to track your food intake. Whether you just want to stay away from over-processed foods and eat healthy to build muscle, lose weight, or simply feel better, meal prep is a great idea. Prepping all, or at least most your meals, ahead of time makes cooking and eating healthy, nutritious food easier and quicker than ordering take out or grabbing some fast food on the go.
Meal prep is one of the best ways to ensure you’re eating healthy all day long and prevent the vicious cycle of skipping meals during the day and binging on unhealthy foods once you’re finally home in the evening, one of the problems many people who are struggling with losing weight are facing with every day. Plus, it’s so much easier to grab and eat food you’ve already prepared than to struggle with also cooking and/or prepping it when you’re hungry.
HOW MANY TIMES A DAY SHOULD YOU EAT TO LOSE WEIGHT
There’s no hard rule on how many times a day you should eat in order to lose weight. But, when it comes to weight loss, the first change you need to be making is your eating habits. They don’t say that abs are made in the kitchen for nothing!
If you want to lose weight and feel better, you need to eat nutritious food that will keep you full for longer. Protein and fiber take longer to digest and therefore keep you feeling full for longer than simple carbohydrates and sugars. Whether you eat three bigger meals or five or six smaller ones throughout the day is entirely up to you, as long as you keep in mind the number of calories you consume. Typically, a woman should eat approximately 1400-1700 calories each day to lose weight, depending on their specific bodies and nutritional needs.
WHAT ARE THE BEST MEAL PREP CONTAINERS?
I heart meal prep containers. <3
If you want my guide to the best meal prep containers you can find it here.
When meal prepping, you definitely want a meal prep container that will keep your food fresh. Whether you’re prepping meals for an entire week or just a few days ahead, the way you store your meals is just as important as cooking the food. You want to make sure you always store your food in airtight containers to prevent spoilage.
Food containers come in all shapes, sizes and equally important – materials. Depending on your lifestyle, you can pick the ones that fit into your lifestyle (and your bag!) best. If you’ll be taking a lot of your meals with you on the go, the slimmer and lighter the container is, the better. Also, make sure the container is suitable for keeping in the freezer and/or microwave use, depending on what you’ll be using it most – that’s why I love these glass meal prep containers. There are plenty of options and after you’ve done your planning, it will be much easier for you to determine what kind of container is the best option.
My Favorite Meal Prep Containers
Personally, I love these glass meal prep containers for all my meals that will be microwaved. Then, I use these 1 quart mason jars for my salads and these 16-oz. mason jars for make-ahead smoothies and overnight oats prep.
HOW LONG CAN YOU KEEP MEAL PREP IN THE FRIDGE
Once you’re done with your meal prep, make sure you let your meals cool down before transferring them to airtight containers and storing them in the fridge, but make sure you don’t keep your food in room temperature for more than two hours. If you are using meal prep containers and have stored your cooked meal prep well, it can last in the fridge for up to 7 days. Some foods will keep longer than others, which is something to consider when prepping 7 days at a time.
To make sure your veggies stay fresh in the fridge up to twice as long, a great tip is to soak them in ice cold water for 15 minutes and them store them in the fridge with a wet cloth or a damp paper towel.
If you prep your meals twice a week, that will help keep your food as fresh as possible.
CAN YOU FREEZE MEAL PREP FOOD
Freezer meals are a great option, especially when you have extra food you know you won’t get to in time before it spoils. Before you freeze any cooked food, make sure to let it cool down completely. You may need to transfer your meal to a larger bowl and place in the refrigerator to cool.
For easy thawing and storage, freeze your meal prep either in airtight freezer-safe containers or freezer bags. If using a freezer bag, make sure to squeeze out as much air as possible before placing your meal prep in the freezer.
When you’re ready to eat it, you can either let your meal prep thaw overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave for around 2 minutes or reheat it in the microwave while frozen for 4-5 minutes. Easy peasy!
Meal Prep for Weight Loss: 8 Ways It Will Make You More Successful
Meal-prepping can help you shop smarter, cook ahead, save time and reach your weight-loss goals. It’s a win-win for healthy eaters.
Featured Recipe: Meal-Prep Curried Chicken Bowls
When it comes to weight loss, most people know the benefits of meal prep: cooking at home helps you control what you eat and manage your portions. Those are two of the best ways to shed pounds.
However, people with the best healthy-eating intentions are frequently tripped up when they try to put those decision-making principles into action without a plan.
“When life does exactly what life does-you know, throws something unexpected in your path, presents tempting treats that aren’t in your plan, dangles a spontaneous workplace happy hour in front of you-it’s easy to stray away from your best intentions,” says Kristen Wilk, M.S., R.D.N. “That is, unless you’ve prepped meals and snacks ahead of time.”
Wilk says meal-prepping for weight loss-that is, making meals ahead in batches for your week-is the key for meeting your goals and healthy-eating aspirations.
“Having a healthy dinner waiting for you in your fridge makes it far easier to pass on the mozzarella sticks and hot wings at happy hour,” she says. “Knowing you spent time prepping nutrient-packed ingredients makes grabbing takeout far less enticing.”
Here, eight ways meal prep helps people eat better for weight loss and other healthy goals.
Meal prep tones down temptations
Featured Recipe: Slow-Cooker Creamy Lentil Soup Freezer Pack
When you’ve had a long day or have been stuck in a lengthy meeting, it’s easy to convince yourself you should just run down the street and pick up a quesadilla or order in a bowl of mac and cheese. But if you have a healthy meal waiting for you in the fridge, you can defeat the temptation. Your ready-made meal is closer and faster.
“Meal prep takes the guesswork and potentially bad decisions out of food,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, M.S., RDN, LDN, founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami. “When you’re hungry at 12:30 p.m., you’ll order or eat the first thing that crosses your plate. Having a prepped meal cuts back on food anxiety and insecurity, and ensures proper food decisions.”
A ready-to-eat meal also makes the wait in a take-out line or at the drive-thru less appealing.
“Choosing your meal ahead of time also removes the element of impulse purchasing,” says Kelsey Peoples, M.S., RDN, owner of The Peoples Plate in New Jersey. “Even if you’re having a particularly stressful day at work, you won’t be tempted to grab a cheeseburger with fries if you already have your meal ready to eat. Research supports this concept that people have overall healthier meals when they preselect their food in advance.”
You can control what you eat
Featured Recipe: Turkey & Ricotta Stuffed Shells
It’s no secret that restaurant food, even healthier options like those from trendy fast-casual restaurants, just isn’t as healthy as cooking at home. Restaurant meals are consistently higher in sodium and calories. If you eat out day after day, the extras can really add up.
With meal prepping, you can weigh and measure your portions. This can help you keep tabs on exactly what you’re eating, and that makes tracking calories or other nutrients easier. Plus, you control the ingredients and can make sure your calories are coming from mostly nutrient-dense whole foods.
“Eating out tends to include higher-sodium, higher-fat and higher-calorie dishes due to the ingredients, recipes and sauces that food-service establishments frequently use,” Wilk says. “It’s also known that oversized portions have become the norm at restaurants. By cooking at home, you can serve yourself more reasonably.”
You can stave off morning hunger
Meal-prepping isn’t just for lunch or dinner. It can make a huge difference for people who have busy mornings, too.
“Overnight oats are an excellent breakfast that can be prepared the night before,” says Kelly Krikhely, M.S., RD, CDN. “You simply mix oats with Greek yogurt and almond milk or any milk of your choice, and store it in the fridge overnight.”
The next morning, you can add nuts, nut butter or fruit to boost the nutrition value and add flavor.
“If you prep overnight oats the night before, you have a filling healthy breakfast you can eat on the run instead of grabbing the croissant with eggs, bacon and cheese, or the sugar-laden muffin you’re used to getting from the corner deli,” Krikhely says.
You can cut out takeout lunch
Meal prep makes taking lunch to work or school easy and appealing. You don’t have to worry about rising early to chop or mix, spread or slice your day’s lunch before you leave. Premade meals can be stored in individual grab-and-go containers and are ready to go when you are.
“Meal-prepping helps you avoid the temptations of takeout foods, ‘ready to eat’ or ‘grab and go’ foods or processed foods,” says Lisa Garcia, M.S., RDN, LD. “All of these can include more calories than you may want to eat and ingredients you may want to limit or avoid.”
Garcia adds, “Instead of spending lunchtime standing in line at a take-out place, you could go for a walk.”