All About: Food Prep Vs. Meal Plan - When, How, Pros & Cons
Back in my diet days I used to meticulously plan what I’ll eat, when I’ll eat, where I’ll eat and how much. I was convinced that’s the way to go! I was so afraid that if I won’t plan all my meals upfront I might mess up my calorie intake, macro counting or portion controlling. This is one of those things I wish I could tell my younger self - you don’t need to eat perfect to be healthy, all these rules hinder your ability to recognize your body’s internal cues and diets don’t work on the long run.
Meal planning/food prepping look completely different these days. I don’t plan out the exact meals and snacks I’ll eat in order to meet some arbitrary number of calories, portions or macronutrients for the day. I plan/prep in a way that leaves enough space to play around and allows me to listen to my body (appetite, pleasure, hunger levels, cravings, while taking in consideration things like - How does my day look like? Do I have a meeting during lunchtime? Etc.).
We (hubby & me) play around between food prep and meal planning, depends on how busy our week is.
Food Prep Vs. Meal Plan
What’s the difference?
Food Prep: Prepping food staples (batch cooking) for the week (usually lasts for about 3-4 days).
Meal Plan: Choosing few recipes to cook during the week, making a shopping list and buying - stocking the kitchen before the week starts.
Pros and Cons:
Food Prep Pros: saves so much time during the week! You hardly need to cook anything, just mix and match, heat the food or make a quick dressing.
Makes yum Buddha bowls, stir fries and salads! And - eliminates stress…
Food Prep Cons: it takes few hours of your Sunday.
It can also become quite repetitive - because you are cooking staples and not dishes the variety is relatively limited.
Meal Plan Pros: you don’t have to do groceries during the week - saves time.
You can try at least 1 new recipe every week - getting a wide variety!
Meal Plan Cons: you still have to cook during the week - can be time consuming.
Both: saves money, decreases food waste and helps you get a wide variety of foods.
Food Prep: definitely when you are expecting a busy week and long days.
Meal Plan: good when you know you have time to cook in the evening or when you feel very creative and experimental and want to play around with different recipes.
Food Prep: My food prep is based on the idea of Mix & Match - preparing basic food staples (protein, grains, veggies, greens, dips...), which you can combine in many different ways! Full blog post dedicated to how to food prep HERE.
1. Start by looking at your calendar: figure out how many early evenings can you dedicate to cooking. You don’t have to cook everyday, make larger amounts and use it for the next day or two.
2. Now that you have a rough idea of how many dishes you’re gonna cook, go through your pinterest account, food blogs, cookbooks and choose few recipes. Also choose 1 or 2 recipes for snacks (my favourites: energy balls, roasted chickpeas, banana bread).
3. Make a shopping list with all the recipe ingredients. Also consider stocking up with: snacks - fruits, nuts, nut butters, raw veg, hummus, crackers, yogurts, etc. Think about breakfast: overnight oats, chia pudding, yogurt with fruit and granola, smoothies, porridge, eggs, etc. Always good to have some frozen veg for quick dinners or frozen fruit for smoothies or toppings.
4. Have 3-4 pantry go-to meals on hand - meals you can throw together with staple pantry ingredients and/or frozen veg. For example - pasta with sautéed onions, garlic and frozen spinach, or rice with sautéed onion, frozen peas and scrambled egg.
This is how our last meal plan looked like:
Choosing recipes while drinking red wine and listening to my weekend vibes playlist on Spotify.
We chose 2 main recipes - Vegetable ratatouille and Pad Thai salad.
And we decided to buy few ingredients we can play around with (depends on what we’d feel like) having these options in mind - Veg stir fry with brown rice noodles/rice, big salads bowls and stuffed pumpkin/sweet potato.
Shopping + I soaked 1 cup of brown rice in water before I went to bed.
I baked Minimalist Baker's Banana Bread and Granola (for snacks/breakfasts) and made Overnight Oats while hubby cooked my favourite vegetable ratatouille and brown rice. He also spiralized carrots and zucchini to have for the Pad Thai Salad.
Sunday dinner: vegetable ratatouille with brown rice.
Breakfast: overnight oats
Lunch: vegetable ratatouille + brown rice
Dinner: salad + scrambled eggs + bread/crackers (only takes 10-15 min to make!)
Breakfast: green smoothie
Lunch: vegetable ratatouille + brown rice
Dinner: big salad with boiled eggs (hubby made enough for each of us to have for Wednesday's lunch)
Breakfast: blueberry smoothie
Lunch: salad + boiled egg + banana bread with almond butter
Dinner: Pad Thai salad (only had to make the sauce!)
Breakfast: sweet potato smoothie bowl
Lunch: Pad Thai salad
Dinner: I made a stir fry with mushrooms, bok choy, zucchini and ginger with soy sauce and quickly cooked some rice as well. Unfortunately there were no leftovers for tomorrow so after dinner hubby quickly cooked some potatoes and made a potato salad with red onion, boiled eggs and olives (dressing: olive oil, lemon, salt & pepper) and I made a simple salad (romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, paprika and cucumber) to go along with the potato salad.
Breakfast: yogurt + 1 tbsp chia seeds + ½ apple + cinnamon + homemade granola
Lunch: veg salad + potato salad
Dinner: shakshuka + delicious challah bread our friend Michal made (we had it in our freezer)
On Saturdays we usually go for brunch somewhere and then dinner with friends.
On Sundays we love making pancakes!
This is just to give you a rough idea of how the week looked like with cooking. I didn't describe EVERYTHING I ate... so don't take it literally. Also I didn't mention dessert or snacks...
Here are some of my favourite blogs for recipes:
Would love to hear from you! Do you meal plan? Was this post helpful?
Let me know if you have more questions about it!