Trying to get your diet on track?
From the grocery store to the kitchen, here's your complete guide to food prep.
Dietary success doesn't come from meal plans or willpower, but instead comes about with the right mindset and habits. The key foundational habit is having the right food around and readily available, otherwise known as the process of food prep.
This doesn't mean eating broccoli and chicken every day, but instead means you have a plan and that you prioritize the time to make that plan a reality. You can remember this process as the 4 Ps:
Let's explore the 4 Ps in more detail...
Step 1: Plan
Before heading to the store, make yourself a list. Keys to this process are to list foods that fit the following criteria:
- Foods that you enjoy
- Foods that fit your goals
- Foods that you know how to cook
The key here is to focus on compromise. Whatever you buy, you will eat, so avoid buying high-calorie foods that you can't resist- if these foods are in your home, you will eat them, so buy only what fits your goals. On the flip side, don't buy an entire list of foods that you don't necessarily enjoy, or else you'll just end up ordering take-out. Think about buying foods that serve your goals as well as other foods that you like, but don't love; save those for special occasions.
In terms of how much food you need to buy, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you cooking for yourself? Two people? A full family?
- When will I next be able to get to the grocery store to buy more food?
Most people will want to try to get to the grocery store twice per week.This ensures that you can consume fresh food as often as possible, and perishable foods tend to be more nutrient-rich and should therefore make up a significant portion of your list.
Step 2: Purchase
Once you have your list, you're ready to hit the grocery store. Here are some tips for a quick and efficient trip start to your food prep plan:
1) Shop around the perimeter of the store: The most nutritious foods are typically located around the walls of the store: fresh produce, meat, eggs, etc. Even the frozen food section is usually located near the edges of the store (think: frozen veggies, berries, chicken breasts, etc. not frozen pizza, desserts, etc.). The middle aisles are typically reserved for packaged and processed food, which makes up a small portion of a healthy diet. Limit your time in the aisles, especially if you want to avoid making impulse purchases that are not on your list.
Sidebar: But are frozen vegetables as nutritious as fresh ones?
Pro tip: Fruit and veggies fall into different categories. Although both are full of vitamins and minerals, fruit contains far more sugar and calories. View fruit as carbs and veggies as being more or less calorie-free... with berries as a fiber-rich happy medium.
2) Read the Nutrition Facts Labels: When choosing foods, and especially when comparing similar items, it is always important to check the Nutrition Facts Label and ingredients. Also remember: Low-fat does not equate to healthy. If your goal is be healthier, focus on eating food as close to their natural state as possible, and you can do this by avoiding foods with added sugar and by avoiding those middle aisles and boxed-up frozen food-items.
3) Buy Local (when possible): This is a personal choice, and it is something that is increasingly hard to do, but we should all make an effort to buy local products. When produce has to travel long distances, it gains chemicals and loses nutrition along the way. We are fortunate to live in a country that grows many different kinds of produce and raises high-quality animal products, yet the vast majority of the products in supermarkets have been imported. Check the label and buy local when you can. Please note: This doesn't mean you should buy organic. Do you even know what organic means?
Simple tip for those on a budget: Buy whatever meat and veggies are on sale- eating well can be very affordable, don't be fooled by overpriced organic labels.
Step 3: Prepare
Once you have food in your possession, Step 3 is to dive into the food prep itself, making everything as accessible as possible. It's great to have vegetables in your fridge, but if they aren't chopped and easy to portion out, the likelihood of consuming them goes down. The same goes for meats: If you just stick them in the fridge uncooked, you will default to other options when you're in a rush. With all that said, here's an overview of food prep:
Kitchen items you will need:
Cutting board, sharp knife, Tupperware containers, 1 or 2 baking sheets, 1 pot with a lid, and about 1 hour of time.
- Wash them under cold water, chop them into a size that's easy to eat, and store them in tupperware containers that are in plain sight in the fridge (don't hide them at the back or you can forget about them).
- If you bought frozen vegetables, steam them up in a pan on the stove and then store those in the fridge as well (easy to dish out for future meals)
- Buying things like baby carrots and baby cucumber makes it easy to eat well when you're on the go.
- Take them out of the package, season them however you'd like, and toss them in the over.
- Store cooked meats in the fridge so that you have easy access to quality protein for subsequent meals and snacks.
- If you're on a weight-gain plan, it is recommended that you also mass-bake some potatoes or rice to reuse in the coming days.
- If you're on a weight-loss plan, it is recommended that you focus on veggies at meals instead of adding too many starchy carbs.
You can also use this time to throw meat and veggies in a slow-cooker, make muffin-tin egg/veggie omelettes for breakfast, or any other recipes that work for you.
Most people will use food prep to facilitate breakfast and lunch through the week while cooking fresh meals for dinner each night, but there are no set rules. At the end of the day, food prep is a great habit to set the foundation for success, and you can personalize it in your own way.
Step 4: Prioritize
Step 4 is an ongoing process, a consistent commitment to your goal. We all have many priorities in life, but never forget: Without health, there's nothing else. In order to truly prioritize your food prep, here is a 2-step process to follow:
- Book a recurring appointment in your calendar (with an alert) every weekend to follow-through on your food prep commitment. Book off 3-4 hours for the entire process, the 4 Ps. Any time you're away for the weekend, make sure you bump this appointment to a Friday or Monday, as this is the foundation to your success.
- Book a recurring appointment in your calendar (with an alert) every night of the week (even weekends, because your body doesn't have different nutrient or caloric needs 2 days of the week) to make sure you have a plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner of the following day.
When you have something important in your life, you block off time to get it done. If you want to make your nutrition and health a priority, this is the roadmap for you.
Food prep isn't hard and once the habit is in place, your goals become a lot easier to achieve. Here's what you need to remember:
Plan: Make a list of foods that serve you
Purchase: Go to the grocery store 1-2x per week and buy the foods you need
Prepare: Spend an hour in the kitchen cooking and making foods accessible
Prioritize: Put appointments and alerts in your phone; commit to success
If you need a hand getting your habits in place, let me know how I can help.