This way, when you’re hungry, you have nourishing meals and snacks ready to grab, which can be a game-changer when it comes to avoiding slipping into your old eating habits.
Even though you’re following a low-cal diet, making sure you’re eating a balanced diet is still critical to fuel your body and support wellness. When you meal prep, it's easy to plan things out to make sure your body's getting all the nutrients it needs. This is important for everyone, but particularly for anyone who is pregnant or pursuing an exercise regimen. To help get you started, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of meal prep and some ideas you can use.
Benefits of Weekly Meal Prep
Think of meal prepping like a secret weapon. By planning your meals out and preparing some or all of them ahead of time, you're more empowered than ever to control your calories and nutrition to meet your personal needs. In some cases, meal prep may look like planning and preparing ingredients to throw together for easy cooking. Or, you could pre-cook everything and portion it out, giving yourself meals for the week ahead. Not only does this help keep your nutrition on-point, but it can also save you time and money. Even better, it takes a lot of the day-to-day guesswork out of the equation and prevents you from making hunger-based decisions.
The Importance of a Balanced Diet
Before getting started, it helps to figure out what your personal needs are. If you’re pregnant, nursing, or following a strenuous exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure you understand exactly what your body needs from your diet. Ideally, you want a mix of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
By eating a selection of nutrient-dense foods, you fuel your body for optimal performance. When you’re on a low-cal diet, choose options that pack a lot of punch for relatively few calories. For example, you could eat 15-18 potato chips for around 160 calories, 2 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, and 10 grams fat. Or you could eat a serving of oatmeal (1/2 cup dry, prepared according to package instructions) for about 148 calories, with 5.5 grams protein and 3.8 grams fiber, which can help you feel full longer and reduce hunger.
Occasional treats are fine, but you want to focus on eating a variety of foods to maintain a balanced diet. What does that look like? Here are some of the main items to include:
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains like quinoa, oats, and whole wheat
- Lean proteins like eggs, fish, and tofu
- Legumes, nuts, and seeds
How to Meal Prep
Hopefully, you’ve already figured out the number of calories you’re shooting to eat every day. Keep in mind that everyone’s needs are slightly different and depend on a variety of factors, including your age, sex, and activity level. Likewise, if you have a health condition or you’re pregnant, your needs will vary.
Sit down and make a plan for the week. Try to make sure your meals and snacks all contain protein, healthy fat, and fiber. This will help keep you feeling full and satisfied while fueling your body with the nutrients it needs. There are also a few approaches to meal prep you can take, including:
- Making meals ahead: Cooking full meals and keeping them in the fridge to reheat over the next few days or throughout the week
- Individually-portioned meals: Similar to make-ahead meals, but individually portioned and stored in the fridge or freezer to grab and reheat when you're ready to eat
- Ingredient prep: When you use this approach, you get all your ingredients for each recipe ready to go, so all you have to do is grab them from the fridge and cook them
- Batch cooking: This involves making big batches of a recipe, portioning them, and freezing the meals to be eaten over the course of a few months
Meal Ideas to Help You Follow a Low-Cal Diet
Another benefit of meal prep is that it allows you to work some variety into your diet, which will keep you from getting bored with what you’re eating. Keep nutrients in mind while planning your meals out. Fruits and vegetables are often relatively low in calories, allowing you to add volume to your meal to help you feel more satisfied. Small amounts of healthy fats and servings of lean proteins have been shown to reduce hunger. A few meal ideas to consider include:
- Breakfast: Overnight oats topped with nut butter and fresh berries, egg muffins made with your favorite veggies, or a serving of Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit
- Lunch: Homemade chicken or turkey and spinach burger in a lettuce wrap; tuna-avocado salad on sprouted grain bread; or a hearty salad made with chopped greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, green onions, and grilled shrimp
- Dinner: Salmon cakes served with steamed green beans and baked sweet potato or sheet pan chicken with veggies and brown rice
To get the most out of your meal prep, make sure you weigh and measure your ingredients. Load up on vegetables, making them at least one-third of each meal to deliver tons of nutrition and fiber to keep you satisfied. Opt for lean protein and watch how much fat you use. A little bit goes a long way. Infuse your meals with lots of flavor, using seasonings and additions like fresh herbs, citrus zest, and juice.