Meal Planning Vs. Meal Prep System

Confession time…I hate meal planning.

How about you?

Just the thought of it stresses me out and I simply don’t do it. However, I created a system for myself that ensures I stay on track with my nutrition so that it’s in line with my health goals and priorities.

Instead of meal planning, I created a food prep system.

What is the difference between food preparation and meal planning?

Meal planning is just what it sounds like. Planning out what your meals are going to be for a designated period of time and then making sure you have the ingredients for those meals.

Food prep is preparing food so that it is ready to go and easy to use.

Like anything, there is a spectrum as to how much preparation you do. Some foods you might pre-cook, other foods you might just cut and prepare. Sometimes all you need to do is weigh or measure portions in advance.

You’ll find you’re constantly refining this system as your lifestyle and needs change.

Meals consisting of vegetables, lean proteins, and starches will be in line with most of your nutritional needs. You can make sure these items are prepped and easy to use for any meal. You can decide on the flavor based on your mood.

For protein I batch chicken by cooking it ahead of time. Having pre-cooked chicken breasts available gives me so many options for meals. I also buy frozen fish (tilapia) fillets that are individually wrapped. I always have a lot in the freezer and several thawed in the refrigerator. Cooking a fillet in the air fryer or in a pan is super easy with no extra prep needed. The same could be done with shrimp and any other seafood or meat.

For veggies I pre-cut broccoli, multi-color peppers, asparagus, and onions. I then create containers or bags containing some of each. That way when it comes to meal time, I just grab my single container of pre-cut fresh mixed veggies and throw it in the pan.

For starchy carbs I always have cooked rice available. I love using rice for many meals – it’s easy to measure and portion out and works well for many meals. Based on what I am doing with my protein and veggies, I might choose a tortilla, bread, quinoa, or noodle. Whatever I use, I make sure I am aware of the calories of a given portion.

There are so many options available if you have an easy-to-use protein, prepped veggies, and rice or other carb ready to go.

My favorite is fish tacos for my go-to Mexican style meal!

You can create a Japanese flavor theme by using a wasabi sauce, Indian with a little curry paste, Greek with balsamic and feta, and classic Italian with marinara sauce.

You can do any of these with the same basic healthy ingredients that you have prepped.

For this meal prep system, washing and cutting the veggies can be the most time consuming. Over time you will find ways to be more efficient at it. I like to meal prep in an area where I can simultaneously watch a show with my family. Eventually, it became a non-negotiable household chore like laundry.

You need to have clean clothes, so you make time for doing laundry, right?

I want to have fresh veggies incorporated into my meals every day, so I make time for prepping them.

Do you have to do what I do? No!

There are infinite ways to make your meals more in line with your health goals. The important thing is to figure out what works for you.

Don’t have time to cut up veggies? Buy them pre-cut or frozen.

Don’t have time to batch and cook chicken? Rotisserie chicken is a cost and time effective alternative.

The point is this – have a system of meal preparation that works for your lifestyle. Your system will continuously evolve. What you did last year will be different today based on needs, schedule, budget, goals, and family dynamic.

If you want to give food prep a try, or create some alternative meal flavors and textures, start with what seems the easiest for you. Once you’ve figured that out, then add or revised a part to your system and continue on.