Do you ever see all those perfectly prepped tubberware containers laid out with perfect macros and think “If I could just get my life together and frickin meal prep, hitting my fitness goals would be so much easier.”
Good news. Meal prepping isn't just for buff bros eating chicken, brown rice & broccoli. It can be enjoyable, not require hours in the kitchen and help you hit your weight loss goals.
I’m going to walk you through exactly how to meal prep for weight loss for a normal human who doesn’t want to eat cardboard all week :)
The first step is figuring out how much you should be eating to lose weight.
Find your calorie deficit calories
In order to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit which means your body is eating less calories than you’re burning overall. It’s tough to know exactly how many calories your body burns for the day so I’ve got an equation to make all of this extra simple.
Take your goal body weight and multiply it by 12. So let’s say for example you think you would feel like your best most confident self at 150lbs. To find your calorie deficit:
150lbs x 12 = 1800 calories/day
Using this equation in order to be in a calorie deficit and lose weight you need to eat 1800 calories a day, on average.
Now that you’ve got your calories it’s time to decide which method you’ll use to meal prep for weight loss.
There are 3 big strategies for meal prep:
I call them The Repeater, The Leftover Lover and The Mix and Match.
Let’s start with the most common strategy for meal prepping for weight loss:
With this strategy you are typically making 1 recipe for breakfast, 1 recipe for lunch, and 1-2 recipes for dinner that you’re eating for every meal throughout the week. This is a great option for:
Someone who only wants to cook one day a week
Someone who doesn’t mind eating the same things everyday
Someone who wants to make calorie counting as easy as possible by eating the same things everyday.
This might look like taking Sunday to make a breakfast casserole with 6 servings, prepping burrito bowls for lunches all week, and making a big Turkey & veggie skillet portioned out in tupperware to eat for the next 3 nights.
If you’re someone who gets sick of eating the same thing quickly, this isn't for you. Instead you might want to check out one of the other methods for meal prepping for weight loss.
The Leftover Lover
This method involves making double portions of whatever you’re having for dinner to take for lunch with you the next day. This is a great option for people who:
Don’t mind cooking every night but don’t want to do a big meal prep every week
Want some variety in their meals but are ok eating a few servings of the same things
This might look like making chicken, potatoes & grilled veggies on Monday night & bringing half of it for Tuesday lunch. Then making Italian wedding soup on Tuesday night and bringing the leftovers for lunch Wednesday & Thursday.
If you’re someone who just cannot stand the thought of eating the same thing at all you might be better suited for:
The Mix and Match
This method involves making a big batch of 1-2 protein options, 1-2 carbs, and veggies separately. Then you can make different combinations of each throughout the week by using different sauces and seasonings. This method is great for people who:
Still only want to really cook once/week
Are ok with doing a little bit of prep each night
Get sick of eating the same things everyday and need variety
Don’t mind your meals being fairly simple
Are open to experimenting with sauces and seasonings
This might look like making a big serving of chicken in a crockpot on Sunday. On Monday night you have a serving of it and add buffalo sauce to make buffalo chicken sliders and serve with broccoli. On Tuesday you add the chicken to a big salad with jasmine rice, cucumbers, tomato & your favorite salad dressing. On Wednesday you make a chicken quesadilla with it.
All of these are fantastic ways to meal prep and none is better than the other. It’s all about finding the method that works best for you! You are also not locked into 1 method. If you’re traveling 1 week and don’t have time for a full meal prep on Sunday, The Leftover Lover might be a better option that week for example.
Once you select which meal prep for weight loss method will work best for you it’s time to…
Find recipes and plan days of eating that fit into your calories
You’ve got your calories, you know what kinds of meals you’ll be making based on the prep method you chose, now it’s time to figure out how to make sure you hit your calories everyday.
You can use Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest for recipe inspo. It can be helpful to keep all of the recipes you’ve found and/or actually make in one place so that you have a go to place to go back and reference when you’re meal planning in the future. I keep all of the recipes I try and like on a public Pinterest board here.
If you’re just starting your fitness journey it can be hard to know what makes a recipe “healthy” or not. The good news is that with calorie counting no food or drink is off limits so truly, all foods will fit! But, in order to keep you most full and more easily hit your calorie targets you should search for recipes that are centered around protein and include vegetables(or both can be easily added). Since you’re meal prepping for weight loss it will be important to pay attention to calories per serving too.
To keep it simple, take your total daily calories and divide that by the number of meals you like to eat per day. For example, if you like to eat 3 meals a day and have a calorie goal of 1800, you’d want each meal to be about 600 calories.
1800 calories a day / 3 meals a day = 600 calories per meal.
You’d then want to look for recipes that are 600 calories or less per serving.
If you type in “high protein dinner”, “low calorie chicken”, “low calorie lunch”, etc. into google or Pinterest you’ll be amazed at how many recipes pop up. Find ones that look good to you, see if they fit your calories per meal, and save them for future use!
Pro Tip: If you’re new to the kitchen, pick simple recipes with minimal ingredients. Even picking just a carb, protein & veggie and seasoning them is a great place to start. You don’t need to overcomplicate meal prepping for weight loss right out of the gates. Keep it simple!
Once you have recipes you’re interested in trying, start piecing them together in your tracking app. I like to use MyFitnessPal. All of your meals and snacks for the day should add up to hit your daily calorie target. If they don’t, you know you need to adjust! You can either swap around different recipes/foods or make portion sizes bigger or smaller.
If you’re not sure how to log a recipe into MyFitnessPal I’ve got you covered here.
Now let’s be real. Even with the perfect plan in place and all your meals perfectly prepped for weight loss, there will be days that you do not stick to this plan. What do you do in those moments?
First ask yourself why you’re not sticking to your planned meals. Is it just that you don’t really feel like eating your meal prep and pizza sounds better?
I get it and those days will happen. But if they’re happening often I would assess the recipes you’re making or the type of meal prep you’re doing and make sure it’s things you’re excited about! Even though you’re meal prepping for weight loss you should still be enjoying what you’re eating everyday.
What do you do in the moment when you don’t feel like eating your meal prep: You can be flexible and go off plan but try to pick something that still fits within your calories. For example, let's say your prepped lunch was 500 calories. Can you find something for lunch that is still 500 calories? That way you don’t have to rework your entire day and really only have to re-log 1 meal.
If things completely go off plan and you end up way over your calories…that’s ok! Instead of thinking you messed something up or ruined your progress, just get right back on your meal plan at your next meal :) The sooner you do that, the more success you’re going to have overall.
Along those same lines there is 1 thing I absolutely do not want you doing when meal prepping for weight loss:
Do not under any circumstances bring meal prep containers out to eat, to family gatherings, birthday parties, etc. Your meal plan should allow for flexibility to enjoy meals
that are not a part of your plan. Your weight loss journey will not be sustainable if you don’t allow yourself the flexibility to go out to eat, have some birthday cake, and eat a frickin cheeseburger that you didn’t prepare yourself.
Promise me right now you will never do that. Send me a DM on Insta so I can hold you accountable :)
A few time saving hacks & extra tips when meal prepping for weight loss
Probably the biggest hesitation people have when meal prepping is how much time it takes so here are a few tips to make the process quicker and a little less painful:
1. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel every week. You do not need to make 10 new recipes every single week. Instead, create a few FULL days(or even weeks) of eating you really enjoy. Have those on repeat. That way you’re not going through this entire process every week and can eliminate an entire step in the prep process! Still try to incorporate new recipes once in a while so you don’t get bored but eventually you’ll have so many “blueprint” days of eating that you can just copy and paste.
2.Use grocery pick up or delivery. It’s not lazy and it’s a huge time saver. If it’s available in your area and you’ve been struggling to get to the store, use it! Bonus is that it can save you money because you’re not buying impulse items as you shop.
3.Use pre-cut veggies and quick to make carbs. If the only thing holding you back from meal prepping for weight loss is the thought of cutting up a million little vegetables or cooking rice in a sauce pan, don’t do those things!! You can cut corners and buy the already cut or made options. Prepped veggies and 3 min frozen jasmine rice have saved my life so many times.
4.For most people meal planning, grocery shopping AND meal prepping all on one day is a lot. Instead, break it up into multiple days! You can split it up however you want over however many days. I personally like to plan, shop & prep all on different days. That feels a lot less daunting to me.
You are now officially ready to meal prep for weight loss. Remember, meal prep and planning is never required but my most successful online coaching clients are the ones who have mastered the art of preparing for the week ahead. Start small and don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go perfectly the first few weeks. If you have any remaining questions after reading this article shoot me an email and I’d love to help :)