The How and Why of Meal Prepping

Meal prepping—long thought of as something only hardcore fitness fanatics like bodybuilders did—has gained a lot of attention and popularity in mainstream culture. It’s a smart choice for many different kinds of people and when done right can help add health and time to your day.

I started doing meal prep last fall when I realized that my poor eating choices were the biggest thing standing in the way of me and my goals. I was working very hard in the gym, but often got busy at work and just grabbed the easiest choice (read: mostly junky protein bars) or skipped meals entirely. Meal prepping helped change that because it was easy to grab something that was already prepared.

meal prep 1

Why meal prep?

Meal prepping can work great for a lot of different people and situations.

  • Those who hate to cook
  • The busy person who ‘doesn’t have time to eat healthy’ or cook
  • Someone who has a hard time making healthy food choices in the moment
  • Parents
  • People who want to lose weight
  • Those on a budget or wanting to save money on food

Personally, I find it hard to make smart food choices when I am really hungry, stressed, or tired. When I meal prep, the thought is already put into my meals and I just need to eat them. I hate wasting food, so 95% of the time, I will eat what I prepped.

I also hate cooking. “But wait… don’t you still need to cook?” Probably, but that will depend on the meals you choose. I still cook, but I do so once a week, rather than every day. Which is a great trade off, if you ask me.

Things to consider

meal prep

The first, and most important, step is to sit down and decide what you will be eating and how many days you will be prepping for. I typically prep on Sundays and prepare enough meals and snacks to last the entire week.

Think about the foods you like, but also think about the foods you don’t like. It doesn’t make any sense to bake fish for lunches if the smell of fish makes your stomach turn. I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t matter how badly you want to eat something. (It’s good for you… you should like it , right?) If you don’t like it, you won’t eat it. Or, maybe you will eat it, but you will hate it and that defeats the purpose.

After you’ve planned your menu, you will need to grocery shop and buy all the ingredients. Take the time to read the labels on everything you are putting into your cart. One of the best things you can do for your health is learn to read food labels and learn what the claims (like ‘all natural’ or ‘trans fat free’) mean. Labels make your head spin? Check out this article on how to read food labels to get started.

Another item you might consider purchasing is some good quality food storage containers. If you’re taking the time to prepare food for the week, you want it to still be fresh and delicious when you are ready to eat it. The key to that will be your storage containers. I don’t advocate a certain brand and it’s an individual choice whether you will choose plastic or glass containers. Think about the meals you will normally be prepping and buy containers that make sense size-wise. Consider how easily the containers will stack to save room in your refrigerator.

how to meal prep

You’ve made it home with your groceries and your food storage containers. Now what?

Sit aside all ingredients you will be using for your meal prep. Choose one meal to start with and move on from there. Start cooking the ingredients (if necessary) or emptying them into the food storage containers. Think of ways you can save time and energy. For example, when making frittata muffins for breakfast, I’ll go ahead and get the eggs in the oven before setting out the containers they will be going in. While they are baking I will start chopping vegetables for another meal.

magus supervising
Magus tries to supervise and watches carefully for dropped food.

Think about all the things you can do ahead of time to make your week run more smoothly and make meals as easy and hands-off, during the week, as possible. Sometimes I will feel lazy and not prep some meat that I’m using for dinner, telling myself it won’t take much time or effort the night I’m making it to prep the meat then. Inevitably I regret my decision and wish I’d went ahead and taken care of the prep.

If you are having yogurt mixed with fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, go ahead and portion out the yogurt, oatmeal, and fruit into your containers. If you’re worried about food getting soggy (like the oatmeal), you can always portion it into a small, separate container.

There’s no way to plan what might pop up during a day, but we can plan our meals and be prepped for whatever comes our way.

other considerations

  • You don’t necessarily have to prep the same meals every single week. Sometimes I will get into a rut of doing this for a while, but as soon as I get sick of a meal or start to dread “having” to eat it, I take that as my sign to switch it up. Most of the time, though, I switch up my meals from week to week depending on the season, my current preferences, or any cravings I am experiencing.
  • If the idea of prepping a lot of food feels overwhelming, start small. Try prepping just your lunches for the week. Once you get the hang of prepping one meal, add in another.
  • Enlist help—my husband helps me with any dinner prep I do. He doesn’t personally meal prep, but as a fellow cooking hater, appreciates anything that makes the chore easier, quicker, and more efficient.
  • Remember what you like and don’t like. I like having a sandwich or lunch most days, but realized that even in decent storage containers, the bread often dried up on me in the fridge. I remembered that and started packing the bread separately and leaving it out of the fridge.
  • Always keep food safety in mind. Not everything is safe to store and eat days later. Here are some basic guidelines for storing meat in the refrigerator.
  • Use your freezer. The freezer can be a great helper and even save you money. Store freezer-safe meals that you’ll be eating later in the week and pop the in the fridge the night before to thaw. Consider whether you will be freezing meals when you are selecting your food storage containers.
  • There’s no wrong way to meal prep—learn and do what works for you and your family. I prep as much as I can, but a lot of my husband’s and my dinners are not prepped. This is what generally works the best for us.




Ripped Recipes

Dashing Dish

If you have any questions or tips on meal prepping, please leave them below. Also, feel free to share any resources you have found helpful.


The challenge is over

My New Year, New You challenge at work ended last weekend with a final weigh-in and a really tough workout. It was awesome! This challenge took place over a period of 8 weeks and required participants to weigh in once a week and join in one of two weekend workouts. The workouts were always difficult, but really pushed me out of my previous comfort zone and showed me what I’m capable of in the gym.

Here are my before and after photos from the challenge.


Quite the difference, right?

I lost 10.5 pounds overall and dropped my body fat by about 5 percent during the 8 weeks.

I averaged 5-6 days of workouts during the challenge, counted my calories 95% of the time, and stuck with about 80% clean eating. This was what worked for me with having my birthday fall right in the middle of the challenge and working 40+ hours a week.

So, how did I do? I won 3rd place in the challenge. I was the only girl to place, too!

What did I take away? The challenge was great for me because it renewed my love for exercise that doesn’t involve running, got me working out consistently again, and made me start thinking about what I was putting in my mouth.

Super Sunday

peace sign glove

This weird glove has been laying in my gym’s parking lot for a week. I love that it’s a peace sign and can’t bring myself to pick it up. I think it’s a sign and would hate to make someone else miss seeing it—it might make a rough day easier for a gym member.

Anyway, speaking of peace—today was really peaceful and fun!

After church, Jeremy and I headed to my first yoga class ever. Yes…ever.

I’ve done tons of yoga in the past, but it’s always been at home, using a DVD or podcast. I’ve learned a lot through those practices and feel comfortable with all the poses, but I knew it would be totally different to take a class. Having an actual instructor in front of me and other students in the class made my yoga practice much more interesting. The class flew by.

And I left glowing:

post-yoga glow

My body seriously needed that yoga practice and felt like a million bucks after. Another really cool part of the class was the yoga instructor used aromatherapy before and after class. At the end of class she came around and gave a quick shoulder/neck massage to each student. Jeremy thought it was weird, but I loved it!

Post-yoga and grocery shopping this afternoon, I took Link on a long walk.

You see, I joined Gym Pact when they (finally!!!) launched on the Android platform this week. However, I totally forgot to check in while at yoga this morning. Translation: If I didn’t get in another 30 minute workout, I’d owe $5 because all workouts need to be logged by Sunday and I needed 1 more to hit my current goal of 3 workouts a week. No way—a 30 minute walk with the dog did the job.

And, then I hit my goal. Technically I even exceeded my goal.

Dinner tonight was total splurge:

cheat night hamburger

Grass-fed beef hamburgers with sharp cheddar cheese and turkey bacon on whole wheat buns; mixed greens salad with Italian dressing

Hamburgers aren’t something I normally like to make at home—I feel like they are so freaking messy. However, I was craving a good burger and wanted to try the beef we bought at Costco last weekend. The verdict? Excellent.

sleepy stink

Link got tired of begging for food—we don’t feed him “people food” so he passed out on the couch.

Church. Yoga. Trader Joe’s. Family walk. Great day!

You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite movies EVER) just came on TV and The Biggest Loser (WITH JILLIAN!!!) returns tonight.

What a way to close out the weekend.

2013 Goals

I thought I’d take the day off from life blogging to spend the last bit of 2012 with my sweet husband. Sometimes we all need to unplug. So while we are squeezing every last bit out of this year and going out to dinner, here are my five goals for 2013:

  • Run a half marathon. With the number of hours I’m currently working, I don’t think a full marathon will be feasible in 2013 without losing my sanity, but a half definitely should! I’m looking at either the DX-A2 Half on June 2 or the Ann Arbor Marathon Half on June 9. It looks like the first one is cheaper, so I may go with that option since they are so close in dates anyway.
  • Hit goal weight (and 18-20% body fat) by April. I’m not comfortable sharing exact numbers on the blog, but I’m about 8-10 pounds above goal weight. I haven’t weighed myself in a while, but I can tell from the way my clothes fit that I’ve meandered a bit off course. Returning to food journaling, regular running, and strength training (the basics for me) are the key. I don’t aspire to be skinny—I aspire to be fit + happy + comfortable in my body.
  • No makeup buying. I must admit that I’m a makeup junkie. Watching You Tube beauty guru videos and buying/playing with new makeup are some of my favorite guilty pleasures. But my makeup collection exploded in 2012 and I need to use up products I already own before they expire. The only exception to this goal is if I 100% run out of ALL of a particular kind of product and have no backups—then I can buy 1 of it. I doubt that happening…
  • Read 15 books. This might be a tiny bit of a stretch, but I think it is mostly do-able. I’ve gotten really out of the habit of reading before bed—something I used to love—and  I want to get back into it. I got an e-reader for Christmas, so that should help a lot.
  • Cook 12 new dishes. Jeremy and I are in a major food funk. We basically rotate through the same 5-10 dinners that we both like (truthfully, it’s probably closer to 5 than 10). I’d like 2013 to become the year that we become more adventurous and willing to experiment in the kitchen. If we never try, we’ll always be stuck on these same handful of dinners. And I’m VERY tired of those handful of dinners!
  • Shop and Read

    We have groceries! More on that in a moment…

    I’d estimate most of our day was spent out and about—we went to church (and got there super early because we didn’t realize there was only 1 service today) and then spent hours walking around Costco and Trader Joe’s stocking our kitchen with delicious and healthy food for the new year.

    Even though we really were gone almost all day, I feel like I did mostly this today:

    reading in bed

    relaxing in bed with the dog, reading (Currently: Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin)

    But clearly we did get some necessary stuff done, as evidenced by this ridiculous photo:

    costco haul

    That was our Trader Joe’s and Costco haul and it took forever to find room for it and put it all away. We did eventually, though.

    We’ve been in Ann Arbor for four months now and this was our first trip to Costco! I’d heard good and bad things (spending too much $$$) about the store, so we’ve mostly avoided it. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that A LOT of the stuff we already buy at the supermarket is available—and cheaper—at our Costco. Annie’s macaroni and cheese, Chobani Greek yogurt, and Odwalla fruit juices were a few of the items we came home with.

    I’m hoping this trip will last us well into February because we spent more than I was expecting.

    Nevertheless, it’s AWESOME to have some fresh food in the house again after all the fun holiday eating.


    We got straight to lunch after putting the groceries away because it was well after 2 p.m. at that point and we’d ate breakfast around 8:30—I was starving.

    Broccoli and cheese soup (1 cup), 1/2 Asiago bagel, and 2 clementines

    This is what really was happening while I ate, though:

    begging link

    Link is a fantastic dog—seriously, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect fit for our family—but he likes to be right next to you as you eat. He doesn’t even try to steal food… he just wants to be as close as possible. Weirdo.

    Post-lunch focused on reading and eventually taking a short nap because I was wiped out from all the shopping.

    quesadillas green beans

    Dinner tonight was something we’ve not made in a while: quesadillas.

    Chicken + pepperjack cheese quesadilla with pico de gallo and green beans

    Our new goal is to have at least one vegetable with every dinner we make at home. I’m NOT a huge veggie lover, but it’s important to try and I’ve totally fallen out of the habit of eating vegetables on purpose.

    trader joes chai tea lattepeppermint bark

    2 pieces Dove peppermint bark and Trader Joe’s chai tea latte with a splash of coconut milk for dessert

    Now it’s time to dive back into my book. It’s getting good!

    Sunday Setup: Week of Dec. 30, 2012

    My vacation is quickly coming to a close and work begins again on Tuesday. I know that preparation is the key to my success with balancing health+work+home, so here’s my Sunday Setup for the week:

    Chicken quesadillas 
    Red Lobster
    Tuesday: Salmon, honey-roasted sweet corn, & mac ‘n cheese
    Wednesday: Crockpot vegetable soup
    Thursday: Spaghetti with meat (ground turkey) sauce
    Friday: Hamburger with whole wheat bun
    Saturday: Leftover vegetable soup

    walking with the husband
    Monday: Yoga (30-minutes)
    Tuesday: Run 1 mile + GPP
    Wednesday: REST
    Thursday: Spinning *It has been too long!*
    Friday: 1.25 mile run + GPP
    Saturday: REST

    I’ll definitely adjust my workouts according to how I feel. If work is as crazy this week as I am expecting, I might need an additional rest day.

    What’s your plan for success this week? 2013 resolutions?

    Catching up on relaxing

    Jeremy and I had a great time being at home with our family for the holidays. But, it was nice to start getting back into the swing of everyday life again. I don’t know about you, but I crave routine.

    Work begins again on New Year’s Day (t-minus 2 days!) so I’m soaking up every moment I have left with Jeremy and Link—January is the busiest time of year for a gym and I know I won’t have a moment to spare. Rumor has it that 60 hour work weeks are the norm. for January at my gym. Yay?


    Today was the perfect lazy day, though—something I’ve needed after months of working my tail off during the week and playing catch-up at home on the weekend. Finally a day was available to just relax and do whatever I pleased.

    I started with a laid-back breakfast:

    oatmeal and tea

    I’ve moved away from eating oatmeal every single morning like I used to in Japan, mostly out of sheer laziness. But I notice my overall food intake for the day takes a sharp turn downhill when I start out with something less filling, like cereal. I have a rice cooker that I bought to program for my morning oats—now I need to use it!

    Breakfast was followed by home yoga with the husband. He’s trying to get back into working out and yoga is one of the only exercises he enjoys—which works for me because I love yoga, too.


    (Check out his ‘stache.)

    We’ve made a pact to start going to weekend yoga together—my gym has a class on Saturday and Sunday, so we should be able to make it to one of those. If we can’t make it some weeks due to our schedules conflicting it’s not a big deal.

    After getting myself ready for the day, I fell asleep on the sofa watching You Tube videos. Link was cuddled up with me and apparently I needed the extra rest because I felt like a million bucks when I woke up two hours later.

    Shortly after, cabin fever set in. I’m not the type of person who can stay holed up in the house all day. I crave getting out and interacting with the world. Link was starting to get antsy from being inside and I knew we both would benefit from a short run.

    Dec 2012

    I bundled up (because it’s SNOWING!) in some of my new Christmas running gear and headed out with the pup for a mile of running—with occasional pee-on-tree breaks for one of us. It was a nice change to get out in the middle of the day. And once I got started it wasn’t even that cold. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy winter running… maybe without the snow, though. Snow is messy!

    The pink Under Armor fleece hat from my sister-in-law was the perfect head covering—light, but warm.

    Dinner had only one requirement: it had to be easy.

    unbaked pizza

    Solution? Homemade pizza made with pre-bought dough from Trader Joe’s. Easy enough.


    Unfortunately these were the only two pieces that came out as… pieces. Something was off with the pizza stone and the dough stuck right to it. I’ve never had that happen before and I’m not sure what I did wrong. Any suggestions?

    Never mind the pizza stone blunder, though, because the final product tasted amazing. I did wish we’d had some greens for salad, but alas the fridge was empty and we need to go grocery shopping badly. That’s on the schedule for tomorrow, along with church and lots of reading.

    I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.