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Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Weight Loss

Looking for healthy meal prep ideas for weight loss? Dr. Erica Schulte, a clinical psychologist and weight management researcher, is here to help.

Looking for healthy meal prep ideas for weight loss?

I’ll help you understand the benefits of meal prep for weight loss and provide you with the formula for a perfect meal prep plan!

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What is Meal Prep?

Meal prep is an incredibly handy strategy for weight loss that involves cooking multiple servings of food ahead of time that can be enjoyed for several days. For example, on a Sunday, you could meal prep your lunches for the entire workweek by cooking five portions of chicken, quinoa, and zucchini. Many people choose to put each day’s meal in a Tupperware container (like this beautiful color-coded set) so they can just grab a container from the fridge in the morning before work and not have to worry about what to eat for lunch!

Benefits of Meal Prep for Weight Loss

Remember, one of the most scientifically supported strategies of weight loss is portion control (more on that here). One recent study by Hayes et al. (2021) found a direct relationship between how often people planned and prepared their meals ahead of time and how much weight they lost!

The research and my experiences working with patients highlight many benefits of meal prep for weight loss, including:

  • Reducing time spent planning meals, shopping for groceries, and cooking by doing it just once per week
  • Saving money by buying food in bulk
  • Preparing portion-controlled meals that fit within your calorie goals and nutritional needs
  • Reducing the number of eating decisions you have to make each day

Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Weight Loss

The “formula” for healthy meal prep is:

lean protein + vegetables (+ optional source of complex carbohydrates)

Here are some examples of delicious food options for each category:

Lean protein sources

  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Pork (tenderloin is very lean)
  • Ground beef (93% lean)
  • Steak (sirloin, skirt steak, or filet are leanest cuts)
  • Seafood (shrimp, tilapia, scallops, mahi-mahi, flounder)
  • Vegetarian options: tofu, tempeh, seitan

Vegetables

There are endless possibilities for vegetables, and I encourage my patients to enjoy as many vegetables as they would like! I especially recommend non-starchy (i.e. low carb) vegetables, which contain many healthy micronutrients like vitamins and are also very low calorie, so you can enjoy a large, satisfying portion!

Examples of non-starchy vegetables include: asparagus, green beans, bean sprouts, beets, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, leafy salad greens like kale and spinach, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, radishes, sugar snap peas, swiss chard, tomato, turnips, water chestnuts, and zucchini. There are so many yummy options!

Complex Carbohydrates

I encourage my patients to think of complex carbohydrates as optional in the meal prep formula, but they can help increase the psychological satisfaction and enjoyment you get from the meal. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole foods and are absorbed by your body more slowly, meaning that they do not spike your glucose as significantly as simple carbohydrates like white bread or processed foods. Reducing your glucose spikes is important for weight loss. Examples of foods with healthy complex carbohydrates are:

  • Grains like quinoa, barley, brown rice, and raw oats
  • Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and green peas
  • Starchy vegetables like corn, sweet potatoes, and acorn/butternut squash

Ideas and Tips

The three options I encourage my patients to use when thinking about what meals to prepare are:

  1. Follow the formula of lean protein + vegetables (+complex carbohydrates) to make a simple, balanced meal. Choose low-calorie methods of preparing the foods (e.g., grilling, baking, boiling, sauteeing in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil) and enhance variety by using different seasonings on the food!
  2. Find recipes online or in cookbooks (here are my two favorites: Skinnytaste and Damn Delicious) that can provide inspiration for creating lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods. Make sure that the meal is still based on lean protein and vegetables!
  3. Compromise by assembling meals if you don’t want to cook. There are many pre-cooked options available in grocery stores that are healthy and minimally processed, so you can simply microwave them and “assemble” into your meal prep containers rather than having to cook. Frozen vegetables and lean proteins (like frozen pre-cooked grilled chicken strips) are easy, go-to options for weeks you don’t feel like cooking.

Meal Prep Must-Haves

Here are some of my favorite ways to simplify your meal prep game.

  • Tupperware containers: look for glassware that is dishwasher and microwave safe. Make sure to purchase a set that has enough pieces to store your meals for the whole week! Bayco, Rubbermaid, and this beautiful color-coded set are great options.
  • Cookbooks: in addition to online recipe ideas, a cookbook can provide excellent recipe inspiration to keep your healthy meals feeling fresh and new. Sometimes it is helpful to have a hard copy of a cookbook to work through! My two favorites are Skinnytaste and Damn Delicious.
  • Large cooking appliances: if you want to cook once for the whole week, you’ll need larger cooking appliances that can get the job done. My patients swear by slow-cooking devices like the Crock Pot and Instant Pot. Other helpful tools include a food processor, rice cooker, air fryer (for foods that taste fried without all the oil!).
  • Organizational tools: despite how electronic our world is, I’m still loyal to paper calendars and planners. There are beautiful tools to help keep you organized for grocery shopping and cooking each week, such as this planner with a tear-off grocery list. Make sure to find the format that fits you and your family’s lifestyle!

Dr. Schulte’s Summary

Preparing healthy meals ahead of time can help save you time and money and reduce the amount of effort you put into thinking about healthy eating for your weight loss goals. Remember the simple formula of lean protein + vegetables (+ complex carbohydrates) and have fun introducing variety into your healthy eating plan while the science of portion control gets you closer to the results you want!

Questions? Drop a comment below or send an email to erica@drericaschulte.com!

References

Hayes, J. F., Balantekin, K. N., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., Jackson, J. J., Ridolfi, D. R., Boeger, H. S., … & Wilfley, D. E. (2021). Greater Average Meal Planning Frequency Predicts Greater Weight Loss Outcomes in a Worksite-Based Behavioral Weight Loss Program. Annals of Behavioral Medicine55(1), 14-23.

Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.

2 replies on “Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Weight Loss”

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