Why You Should Be Planning Your Meals

Meal portioning

This is a post from Team NF Member Staci.

Think about walking into a gym and randomly doing a few sets here, a few sets there… a wandering sheep without a shepherd. We’ve all been there. Do we REALLY expect to make huge progress without knowing what we’re doing?

No, of course not! It’s why we love having a plan to follow: it eliminates 99% of the decisions that can derail us on our progress: “Should I do 3 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 5? Gah!”

Now, we know we need a workout plan to follow to make progress, but why don’t we think of food the same way?

Today I want to try to convince you that you should.

A few decisions early in the week can eliminate hours of work (or dozens of bad decisions) later on in the week, and be the difference between success and failure (whether you are trying to gain weight or lose weight!).

How is this possible? We say it so often on the blog, and we won’t let up because it’s so damn true: 80-90% of your success or failure, no matter your goals, will come from your diet.

We have a tendency to think we “know” about food and thus planning is unnecessary. “Oh, I don’t know about deadlifts, but I’ve been eating food since I was born! I know, sugar is bad, eat less processed food and more real stuff. I don’t have time to plan, so I’ll just make healthy choices as I go.”

As Morpheus tells Neo, “there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” Whether you’re trying to become the One or trying to get yourself to stop eating like a jackass, I think most of us know how difficult “just doing it” can be.

Making choices based on emotion and convenience are just too easy. We have that part of our brain – the lizard brain – that only thinks in short term: gimme gimme gimme, now now now!

How many times have you gotten out of work after a ruthlessly long and miserable day, skipped lunch, had to pick the kids up from daycare (or insert some errand), and THEN you still need to think about what to make for dinner? Brutal.

Our days can sap our willpower, decision fatigue sets in, and instead of going home to make a healthy decision… you jump on Team Lizard Brain and do the thing to make your stomach happy temporarily:

  • speed dialing your favorite pizza place
  • picking up fast food on the way home
  • eating junk food in your pantry
  • calling that one Chinese food place that gives you extra dumplings
  • eating a healthy dinner but eating too much of it (or grabbing dessert too frequently)

You meant well, you had every intention of eating healthy, you even had the ingredients in your fridge. But f*** it, hit up Domino’s and fire up Daredevil on Netflix. You had a hard day. You “earned it,” right?

Remember, life isn’t a superhero fantasy. It’s more like Deadpool: things get messy. Shit happens. And we KNOW this, which means if we can set ourselves up for success with a good meal prep system amidst this messy reality, it’s a near guaranteed way to level up.

Why Meal Prep?

chicken and potatos in the oven_1024x768

Exhausted-with-life situations aside, there are enormous perks to having your meals planned and prepped.

Even just having a single meal each day partially planned (say, lunch), can set you up for effortless progress for months and months. Why?

  1. It’s easier to not overeat (or undereat!) if you have pre-portioned your meals ahead of time – Making the decision ahead of time removes the emotion out of ‘how much food should I eat’ or ‘should I go back for seconds’. You know you eat what is in that container… no more, or no less.
  2. It has built in accountability (punishment) –  If you pre-cook your meals, what happens if you don’t eat them? You throw them away – which is basically like throwing away the money you spent on the food. This is similar version of the strategy that helped Saint lose weight for his wedding. He bet a friend $500 that he would get in shape by his wedding day; not wanting to lose his money, he was pressured into actually making healthy changes!
  3. Save some money! I’ll let you do the math about your specific situation, but when you do your own meal prep it is nearly always a strategy which saves you a ton of money compared to eating out. You can then spend that extra money on the important stuff (“Treat yo’self!”). And this doesn’t even factor in the costs we refuse to think about for some reason: the money we’ll spend on medication, hospital visits, surgery, and a shortened life span: you know, the REAL cost of living an unhealthy life.
  4. It also saves you precious time! It seems like a large time investment up front, but you can make a week’s worth of meals in nearly the same time as it takes you to make a single meal. For the same reason the assembly line revolutionized mass production, the strategy of cooking everything at once will pay you dividends in extra hours in your week. Still complaining that you don’t have time to work out? Get a few extra hours back by meal prepping! Bazinga!
  5. Avoid willpower demands – spend it elsewhere. If you know that you need to be eating what is in your pre-planned and pre-cooked meals, you just need enough willpower to cook once. Think about how many times you’ve gone into the week with good intentions, but by Tuesday or Wednesday you’ve already switched back to something… erm, other than the healthy option? It’s FAR easier to stay on track if your meals are ready to go. Not only that, but you can use this extra willpower on other habits you are forming… like getting to the gym or to that new martial arts class.

Note: Meal planning DOES NOT consist of making 21 different recipes for 21 different meals each week. Even those of us who have been doing this for years aren’t that crazy… that just sounds exhausting!

Instead, you’ll be picking ONE meal per day (lunch? dinner?), perhaps the one you struggle the most with. You’ll prepare those 5 meals for your workweek.

Are you on board? Great, stay tuned because tomorrow we’re going to guide you through exactly how to plan and prep your meals. Step by step, you’ll have no excuses!

We’ll start with lunch as an example and guide you through the whole process; when you’re done you’ll be ready to go to the grocery store to reclaim your time, money, and willpower throughout your week.

Do you plan/prep any of your meals?

What sorts of questions do you have that I can answer in tomorrow’s article?


PS – The second part of this article has been published. Check it out here: A Step By Step Guide to Meal Planning and Prep.


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    84 thoughts on “Why You Should Be Planning Your Meals

    1. I’m just gonna jump in here, sorry. It sounds like he’s pretty disrespectful, and it sounds like you know what you need to do.
      You don’t owe anyone a relationship, regardless of the things they buy you – you owe yourself a life.

    2. Living alone, when I prep for the week, it mean so eat the same thing every day for the week. It gets a little repetitive, and is very conducive for self-sabotage.
      So laziness be damned, I found a place that meal preps calorie controlled meals and delivers for not that much more than I spend on doing it myself. I’m going to give that a go for a month and see if it works for me.
      I can always go back to my stirfry!

    3. We are privileged with having four eat out options and none of them are all that great. We purchase much of our food at the local grocery store and cook at home. Living in a small town keeps out eating out cravings at bay especially since moving from Oklahoma City the end of December 2015 where the food options were unlimited. Here in the small town of Keyes, OK the options are one country store with a ton of fried foods and 15 minutes away is Boise City, OK where the other three food options are located. Dairy Queen, Subway, and a local diner is all that is in Boise City, OK and this is fine by me because Subway is about the best place to grab a huge salad (and I do mean huge they are very generous). We meal prep the diner meal we are the night before and use that for leftover nights and my wife uses it for her lunches. I have been drinking the Primal Fuel shakes for lunch and they tie me over well. Thanks for the article, it was a great read!

    4. I read all the comments and I think that you don’t have a meal problem at home but rather a big relationship and boundaries issue. It just manifests itself in the eating habits in your home.
      As some others wrote, you should probabely consider counseling for yourself so you can look clearly at your relationship.

    5. I’ve been getting a lot better about cooking and what I eat over the past year and one of the things that has helped me is that I have a mini-fridge, and one shelf to store food in. That’s about 2, 3 weeks top, worth of food that I have on hand and I’m getting better at cooking with what I have instead of rushing out to the grocery store every week. I had chicken dinners last week? Okay, I’ll get fish this time! I have a spare lemon? Let’s cook it with the fish!

      Okay, so I’m not as much planning my meal as I am planning the ingredients (and there a lot of other food-related challenges I have to deal with here). But baby steps!

    6. In our home mealplanning is an old habit. I learned it from my mother and grandmother.

      We plan our meals once a week and everyone contributes his wishes. We have some favourite dishes that we eat every week like chicken curry and chili con carne. The kids love hearty pancakes with cheese and sausage or meatballs with sweet potatoe fries. At least one sort of vegetable/salad
      comes with every meal.

      I don’t limit cooking to a few “acceptable” ingredients or make a fuss about picky eating. If one of us doesn’t like some ingredients he is free to leave them on his plate.
      My daughter doesn’t like cooked peppers, she only eats them raw. That’s perfectly ok with me, but she knows I cook peppers nevertheless.
      And I’m not afraid to let one of the kids leave the table hungry if he decides not to eat at all. No one starves from one skipped meal.

    7. I have a question. How are you getting enough variety in your diet in terms of nutrients and vitamins not to mention taste if you make the same thing for five meals a week?
      I tried meal prepping before but my husband got so sick of that meal that I kept making that he has refused to eat the same thing ever again.

    8. I feel I should also mention that since I don’t live alone, I don’t eat alone. We all eat at the same time so it’s hard to time my meals around everyone elses. The thing is, we don’t eat at the same time every day.

      Plus, I have just been told by my doctor that I’m about to cross the line from pre diabetic to full. And I’ve coined the new word, mankels, male cankels, to describe my now lack of ankles.

      I look forward to your next post on this subject.

    9. Food has always been my largest hurdle. I’m just beginning a re-spawn, and this comes at just the right time. I think meal prep may be just the ticket to get me over the intimidation I feel when considering my meal choices. I consistently feel like I am over-thinking things, so I’m really looking forward to part 2. Thanks Staci!

    10. Thanks for the blog post on mason jars. I was telling Staci about one of my struggles with meal prep being the storage but I’ll read your entry and see if that helps.

    11. I agree with every point of this! I work in an office building at a shopping centre, and it is so easy to fall in to the trap of eating out frequently. I now keep a bag of fresh produce in our fridge, which has taught me to be more mindful of what fuels I choose to put in myself. I also buy a few tubs of yoghurt to cover the mid afternoon slump, and I haven’t visited our office $1 chocolate fridge for months.
      It kind of falls under the 7 P’s of the SAS: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

    12. I have a question for tomorrow. I live on a tight budget and spend £50 per week on food for our family of 4, but I am getting tired of all the cooking every day. I’m wondering if spending say £70 in week one to do batch cooking and then £30 in week two for a fresh food top-up would work and help me spend less time in the kitchen? My only fear though is that we’d eat our way through it all in week one and struggle in week 2. Any ideas?

    13. I hope so. Or it could backfire on me and he leaves because it’s too much “drama” for him to handle.

    14. The thing is he doesn’t see the food that I like and want to eat as good. I may think it’s so yummy and tasty and he’ll turn his nose up at it. He hates fruit and won’t eat it. He is super picky on his veggies. He will eat a small salad with only onions on it, but then drown it in dressing. So I really don’t know what to feed him anymore.

    15. I’m all about the meal prep. I have a list of 15 favorite meals/recipes, and on Sunday, I choose two of them and make them. The rule is that one is a crock pot recipe, and one is an actual cook recipe. That way, I can create two meals but it only feels like I’m preparing one, because crock pots are amazing. Sometimes I’ll do the crock pot recipe Saturday night to Sunday, so that Sunday means I’m just portioning it into containers and I’m done.

      I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind eating the same thing for breakfast or lunch every day, but there are ways to change it up. For example, I can have a fruit smoothie for breakfast every day, but by varying the type of fruit I put in it, I’m technically having the same thing every day, but in different flavors.

      Lunch theory is the same: I eat my lunch late in the day, about 90 minutes before I leave for the gym, so I include a protein, a carb, and a veggie. Whatever those may be, I make 5 of them. So I might steam a pile of broccoli and so I’m having broccoli as my veg every day that week for lunch, but the next week it might be another veg.

      For anyone hedging on the meal planning and thinking it could be a huge time suck with the planning and the cooking, etc., well, it did feel like that to me at the start. That’s why I came up with my list of 15 go-to recipes. Rather than choosing from every recipe on the planet, I choose from only 15. That saves a lot of time if you’re like me and overwhelmed by all the meal choices. Once you have your 15 recipes and you keep the staples of those recipes on hand, voila, that’s the worst of it, honestly. Then it just flows.

      Two extra related things that help me to stay on track:

      I use a grocery shopping app (Grocery IQ is my go-to) and add the staples of my 15 recipes to my favorites. In that way, it’s super easy for me to keep up my list, and always have it with me.

      I find that logging my food for the week on Sunday works well for me (usually while I’m by the stove cooking and waiting for something to boil, etc.). This might not work for everyone, but as someone still building healthy eating habits, it helps me because I feel committed to that meal. I took the time to make it and it’s already logged. I tend not to stray from my meal plans this way.

      Love seeing everyone’s ideas. I’m stealing a bunch!

    16. Love my pressure cooker, I work 10 hours days. And since I got an electric pressure cooker I’ve stopped going to fast food to pick up dinner. I can either cook something to last the week, or throw something frozen in, set the time and walk away until it’s done.

    17. what are some of your favorite crock pot recipes? I like the idea of one crock pot and one regular cooked dinner on Sunday.

    18. I have been meal prepping for a long time now. But one of the things that I struggle with is creating a menu each week that has enough variety that I wont get sick of what I am eating. I find that when I get tired of what I am eating I just dont eat, which is never a good thing. Many of the peers in my life partially meal plan and partially rely on protein shakes and bars. I am determined to prove that you can meet your fitness goals by eating real food and GOOD food at that! But as you can imagine, this is a very stressful feat. I am interested in knowing how you guys go about planning a variety of meals so that you dont end up overdone?

    19. Yeah, I started using those black meal prep containers with the 3 compartments in them. The lids where flimsy and you had to make sure your meals were lid-up all the time or they could spill/leak and create a huge mess.

      Mason jars are cheap, durable and you can just throw them in your backpack, briefcase, gym bag or whatever. You can all heat and eat right from the jar.

      Okay, I’m done with my mason jar evangelism now. Hope it helps and Good day!

    20. I’ve been preprepping my breakfast because i know i function better on breakfast, but at the same time i’m an avid snoozer. So i throw in some milk, chia seeds, cinnamon and chocolate protein powder (low carb) and put it in the fridge. Easy to make, tastes alright, and with the extra fibre i function pretty alright until lunchtime. It’s also difficult to overeat on it, because i get so full (from the fibre)

    21. We do that with dinner too. My initial reasoning was to remove some decisions from our day-to-day but it’s had its health and monetary benefits as well!

    22. Perhaps a foolish question, but why don’t you “hide” the vegetables and healthy stuff? It’s what my mum used to do to me when I hated veggies. For example, cook carrots in minimal water until they disintegrate. Yup, disintegrate. Then add that mix (should be about the thickness of hummus without removing water) to some meat like beef. Use that to make spaghetti bolognaise and boom! Extra veggies in there! The meal can be changed for things like shepherds pie (always a good one) and the vegetable can be changed too (swede is amazing with a little butter and mixed into something like tomato sauce). Please keep us all updated.

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    25. Hey, Jenni?

      It’s been two years, so I’m just checkin’ in. How you doin’ lady? What’s changed, what have you done that you’re proud of, what are you still working towards, and what’s making you happy?

    26. How about keeping the ingredients seperately in the fridge? That’s what I do. This way, you can combine them differently each day, with different spices, hot or cold etc.

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