As a therapist, I am trained to not share about myself, however, with my clients, in terms of food prep, I do mention that I hate cooking. I think it's because with people who talk about their enjoyment of the process, it's hard for me to hide a visible cringe coupled with a moment of jealousy, and when people tell me that they just order takeout because they don't like cooking, I feel it's helpful to mention that I really hate cooking as well, and then work together to create a plan for the individuals meal prep style.
I was always the kid, who when the bus was on the block, was still in my underwear and looking for a shoe. For me, having my meals planned ahead and ready is not only a convenience, but a necessity. I highly recommend some sort of structured approach to your food for the week. One method is doing one day of food prep, and planning the use of that food over the next few days. If you're like me, you will make a week of food, others are concerned with things like freshness and ecoli and may opt to do every 4 days. The only thing I would like to do less than meal prep on a Thursday night, is have my kidney removed in a back alley by Ray Charles with a butter knife, and even that sounds like it might be okay, because I would get a few days off work. Now, for those of you who enjoy cooking, this is the perfect time to try out one of those new recipes you saw on Pintrest, really highlight your culinary skills. For the rest of us, here is the time to go on Pintrest and find a recipe that requires the least amount of effort and will create the most amount of meals. 3 Ingredient Chicken, feeds a family of 15. Perfect. Sign me up, there is my lunch and dinner for the week. Stalin Work Camp Chili Recipe, feeds 60,000. Even better, I'm not even going to question how this incredible secret leaked. I'm just going to potion this bad boy out into Tupperware containers and call it a year.
For this style of meal prep, most of the work comes from actually knowing in advance your nutritional requirements, how many meals you will need and when you will need them. Let's say you have a diet of 1600 calories, you eat 3 meals a day and 2 small snacks. You are home for breakfast and dinner, so you just need to plan your lunch and 2 snacks to have with you, but since you don't have the time and or the desire to cook when you get home, you want to have that prepared as well. Start out by writing a sample day. Breakfast, Snack 1, Lunch, Snack 2, Dinner. Write what you would typically be eating, then find the calorie content. Subtract as you go along from 1600. What you will most likely find is that you aren't eating enough. Be sure to add good fats and protein at meals where you are deficient in calories, maybe even add a meal so you can be sure to hit your requirement. Basically, my mom had to have me leave my shoes in the same spot every day or I would lose them within seconds of taking them off. I had an aversion to being in shoes. This aversion as a child is similar to my adult aversion to cooking. If I know what I'm eating and it's ready to go, I'm fine all week, without it, I'm basically standing around in the morning like a helpless underdressed child looking for a shoe.
Planning ahead and making sure you are hitting your daily calories is a tedious process, I know, I get that. After you do this for one week, you will pretty much have a list of the calories in the food you eat most often, and as you go along, you'll just have to look into any new additions you make. I find it helpful, and a little OCD, to have a running excel list, in alphabetical order of foods and their nutritional information. If you don't like tracking your calories as you go through your day, having a base knowledge of the nutritional information of foods common to your diet is extremely beneficial to helping make sure you don't go too far over or under your requirements for the day. If you're not interested in being a nutritional rain man, use an app like MyFitnessPal, or Noom coach to track your meals and calories, and look up calories when you are uncertain.
Now, write out a plan for the whole week, instead of just a day. I like to plan for things I can easily mass produce without paying much attention to: chicken, hard boiled eggs, overnight oats, rice, as well as things I do not personally have to prepare in any way: yogurt, nuts, berries, raw veggies. Another way to do this is to pick recipes you want to try, and then shop for them in addition to the basics on your list. That way as you prepare new recipes you can either portion them out for the week, or freeze some and use it again in the future. Then make your shopping list based on what you are planning. Even if you're not cooking it all on a specific meal prep day, if you've purchased it in advance, say a steak for Wednesday evening, then you are more likely to actually eat that, because its sitting home waiting for you to cook it, then to buy take out or fast food.
A meal prep day usually takes a significant portion of time. However, one of the most common reasons we fail to meet our fitness goals, either losing weight or gaining muscle, is because we fail to eat appropriately. If you know you aren't going to cook your meals during the week, setting aside a few hours to meal prep one day a week is just as important as making it to the gym. Make it an appointment with yourself, plus if you want to cut down on time, order your groceries for delivery from a company like Fresh direct, or buy in bulk from Costco and freeze the food that you can, so that way you only have to shop every other week maybe, and only pick up your produce and dairy weekly. You will also find that you save money, because you always have food on you, so you buy out less. You can save this money to buy yourself new clothes as you lose weight, or hire a personal chef to do this shit for you- that's the real goal here isn't it?
An added benefit to this style of preparation is that, life gets in the way. You may have your Tuesday food all set and in the fridge, but you're running late and leave your food home. By knowing what you were going to eat, you can easily make good choices by ordering similar options through take out, or running to a near-by deli or store and recreating your day. Additionally, if you brought your food but now the whole office is ordering Chinese food for lunch, you can make an order that's close to what you were originally going to eat, either content wise or calorie wise. Like, as much as we enjoy a turkey sandwich on Ezekiel bread with a side salad and a yogurt with pecans, let's be real, if being surrounded by 47 people eating General Tsos chicken isn't enough to make you want to change into sweatpants and put your diet on hold until takeout food is illegal, than I don't know what is. But now you know you have 500 calories to use toward lunch, and you can make a choice based on that. No guilt, no cheating, and you have an extra turkey sandwich for the meal prep vault.
Some people choose to prepare their food fresh, everyday. And to these people I applaud and bow, and extend an offer- if you ever want to come do that for me, I will pay you in love and appreciation of your skills and passions. If you are this person, it is still helpful to have your food planned out, that way if you are cooking your Monday food on Sunday night or Monday morning, you will know that you are hitting your nutritional requirements. So make a list of meals for the week that you are intending to make, then the same concept applies. If you over sleep and can't cook, instead of eating pizza, or just getting a salad and not making your calories for the day, you will have your list and see, "Oh I was supposed to eat Stalin work camp chili, for 2 meals, that's about 400 calories, with 20grams of protein, and then almonds and yogurt as a snack." So when you go to create a Plan B for your meal, you will be able to say, hmm, I will get grilled chicken, and a vegetable, and that's only 220 calories, so I will add some rice, and maybe some peanut butter and carrots. Without the planed meal, you might think, "Eh I messed up, I don't have food, this day is a wash. I'll have pie."
Ideally, you will plan your food, prep it, and then eat it. In a perfect world this may happen. In the real world, by having a plan set, you are prepared for all of the occasional bumps in the road. Over sleeping, not wanting to cook, going out to dinner, being hung-over and not having the mental capacity to brush your teeth let alone plan a day of food. So buy a lunch box, and a ton of Tupperware, in the long run it will pay off. Whether you cook in advance, or day of, having a plan for the week is one of the best ways to stay on track with your eating.
You don't need to love cooking to be successful at healthy eating, but more than likely you do need a plan!
Here are some text messages that I actually sent to my brother, who fears for my health and safety:
My cooking style is basically, minimal effort, maximum hope I don't die.
This one proves I'd rather risk my life than cook a meal on a day that isnt set aside for meal prep:
Hey, we all do what we can in life. Embrace whatever feelings you have towards cooking and meal prep so you can better make a plan that works for you and your realistic abilities to make the food that will help you reach your goals during the week. Or, hire my brother. He seems to enjoy cooking enough to tell me how to live my life!