f you have been following me on social media, you would have certainly seen my meal-prep posts. The truth is, I love food. Let’s be clear. I love nutritious food that tastes good. Can you have both? Taste and nutrition? Absolutely. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to food choices. With that in mind, I hope to share with you how meal planning is possible and flexible, and how it will help you succeed.
I started meal-prepping 4 years ago and never looked back. As a full-time physician, I see patients 10 hours a day in clinic and do hospital rounds at multiple hospitals. My days are full and finding time to eat lunch without having to work through that time is challenging; and having the energy to make a fresh meal after work is impossible. Before I started prepping my meals, I would bring leftovers to work, order lunch delivery, or grab food at the hospital cafeteria. My meals were very inconsistent. Most days I felt sluggish and bloated after lunch because the quality of food varied from day to day. One summer, tired of feeling this way, I started setting aside 1 hour to meal-prep for the week. For each meal, I picked out a protein, a vegetable, and a whole grain. I usually prepare two kinds of proteins for variation—like shrimp and ground beef. Vegetables are different from week to week depending on what’s in season and on sale. For whole grains, some weeks I am on a sweet potato kick, some weeks I just want white rice, and some weeks I am into pasta.
Meal Prep samples
Week 1: shrimp/chicken, zucchini and rice
Week 2: ground beef, mushroom and pasta
Week 3: chicken sausage, bell peppers and sweet potatoes
Week 4: homemade tuna salad/chicken salad on whole grain bread, green beans
From my own experience and from working with healthcare professionals, there are some common challenges and solutions.
- I get bored eating the same thing for lunch and for dinner.
Prepare some variations in your meal-prep. Make two kinds of proteins ahead of time. When you are home for dinner, if you don’t feel like having one thing, mix in the other protein you have with your vegetables and grains.
- Will food go bad?
Refrigerate your meals in clean containers when they cool to room temperature on the day of meal-prep. In the fridge they can last for 3-5 days; in the freezer they can last up to 2-3 weeks.
- What if I eat out during the week?
We all have social plans and a life outside of work. I encourage you to engage in activities that make you happy. Pick restaurants that have food options that you will enjoy and will not sidetrack your health journey. Look at the menu prior to going, and pick out a few options that look good and healthy, and stick to those. If you are someone who eats an entire entrée of pasta or prime rib every day you eat out, then I would recommend limiting the number of times you eat out. Or ask for half of the entrée to be boxed before you start you meal.
- How do I know what I want to eat each week?
You don’t! Go grocery shopping every week and look for food that inspire you. Always pick food that you love. If don’t like brussels sprouts, for example, don’t buy them! You are going to be wary of having to eat them multiple times during the week if you don’t enjoy the food you’re preparing.
- Meal-prep is so rigid.
Think of meal prepping as setting yourself up with the best and healthiest options so you are more likely to succeed. There are a lot of variations you can add in your meal-prep. You are more likely to eat healthier when you have food ready at home. You are also less likely to order out or succumb to fast food after work because you feel too tired to cook.
- I don’t know how to cook.
This is totally fine. I understand this isn’t everyone cup of tea. There are many grocery stores that have prepared food—like grilled chicken breasts, baked sweet potatoes, tuna salad that are easy to pick up. You can stock up on ready-made food and pack them into meals for the week so you can grab a meal on-the-go. If and when you do feel more adventurous to give home-cooking a go, learn more about easy cooking and meal-prepping tip. All my meal-prepping are done within 40 mins…for 10 meals, that’s about 4 mins per meal!