Meal Prep Sundays are becoming a mainstream weekly sporting event for health-conscious eaters. Okay, maybe not exactly… but meal prep strategies and mindful eating are SO popular right now.
The thing is, I’m not really a “Meal Prep Sunday” kind of girl. But there’s good news! You don’t have to “meal prep” the same way as everyone else. There are 4 awesome meal prep strategies (1 that works for EVERY kind of schedule) so you can find the strategy that helps mindful eating work best for YOU!
WHY IS MEAL PREP IMPORTANT TO MINDFULNESS?
The first, most important questions are: What the heck is mindfulness? What does mindfulness have to do with meal prepping? And isn’t mindful eating about eating without even having to think so much about food?
So wouldn’t that make meal prep and mindful eating opposites? Well, yes and no…
The thing is, no matter how you eat, you have to do some sort of meal prepping. Whether you do the traditional “Meal Prep Sunday” or prep your meals minutes before you eat them, you still “meal prep” to make your meals. The question then becomes, so what does meal prep have to do with mindfulness?
Meal prep actually helps you be more mindful in a lot of ways. It…
- Makes meal times less stressful.
- Empowers you to make healthy choices when you’re hungry.
- Saves time cooking so you can spend more time on other activities.
- Is one less thing you have to worry about every day.
MEAL PREP IS TIME-CONSUMING FOR EVERYONE
Because most of us live in this crazy busy world where we’re running around for work, school, or social events, cooking and “meal prepping” tends to be put on the back burner. It’s exactly why fast food and going out to eat is more popular then cooking at home. So what happens when you want to eat healthy? Well, it becomes a lot of work. You make a good breakfast, bring your own lunch, and cook homemade dinners. But here’s the thing: it takes a lot of time.
From my personal experience with battling an eating disorder and emotional eating, I had to figure out HOW to eat healthy in a way that made sense to me in my own busy schedule. I quickly learned that if I didn’t use a meal prep strategy that made sense for me, I easily fell victim to overeating and emotional sugar binging.
HELP YOURSELF BECOME A MINDFUL EATER
If I wanted to get myself out of my dysfunctional relationship with food and find Food Freedom, I had to set myself up for success. That means I had to change my approach to healthy eating so that it became easier, not harder. I had to make healthy eating less stressful, less time-consuming, and less of a distraction to my everyday life.
So, what’s mindful eating? Mindful eating is all about creating the opportunity for you to eat the way that makes you happy. When you’re eating mindfully, you’re enjoying your meals, eating without rushing, and choosing the foods that work best for your body. Mindful eating is also extremely beneficial because it helps you listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, replaces emotional eating habits, and works to heal eating disorders.
3 HEALTHY MEAL PREP KEYS FOR MINDFUL EATING
Meal prep strategies are incredibly helpful to creating mindful eating habits. Why? Because having food prepared allows you to be more relaxed at meal times. The best part of meal prep is that it eliminates the time pressure of needing to prepare something to eat every time you’re hungry. Having choices laid out avoids the extra work of deciding what to make, gathering all of the ingredients, and finally cooking and plating your meal every time you’re hungry.
1. PREP FOODS YOU ACTUALLY LOVE
We’re not going to prep foods that you don’t love. Healthy eating isn’t about torturing yourself – it’s about fueling your body with delicious foods that support your body’s needs and make you feel amazing. So figure out what works for you and YOUR body. When I started using meal prep, I stopped turning to sugar for comfort. I stopped relying on carrots and peanut butter (don’t judge, it’s so good!) as the only thing I allowed myself to eat between meals. I stopped avoiding pizza night with my friends because I knew I still had the foundation of a diet that made me happy and healthy.
2. DON’T PREP FOR SPECIFIC DIETS
I don’t meal prep food as a way to stick to a specific “diet” or to control every single thing I eat. I absolutely USED to do that, but now I meal prep for very different reasons. Trust me, I’ve fallen down the paleo rabbit hole before and it’s NOT fun living in such a restrictive world. You can read more about how I turned the paleo diet into an eating disorder here. Which is why I advocate for redefining your own food rules by replacing strict beliefs with a new definition of real food that includes ALL whole foods.
3. INDULGING IS STILL IMPORTANT
I don’t want you to think that the goal behind meal prepping is to prep healthy foods to avoid “bad” foods altogether. You have to indulge too! Meal prepping is a tool for you to create a foundation of balanced meals. And that means you can break free from those meal preps and INDULGE when you really want to. My favorite kind of indulging is anything that involves my sweet tooth! I’ve always been a dessert person… and if I know I’m consistently eating well, with the help of meal prep – I have absolutely zero guilt EVER from indulging whenever I want to.
And how do I know how much to indulge? If this food is going to make me happy – and yet, overall, I am still a healthy person – than I eat it! I might have 3 cookies and a scoop of ice cream at a party for dessert. If I do that 5 nights in a row I am not going to feel good, so I find a happy medium between eating healthy and eating what makes me happy. It’s all about doing what works for YOU, and eating within your own unique balance of happiness and healthiness.
4 MEAL PREP STRATEGIES THAT MAKE MINDFUL EATING SUPER EASY
There are 4 meal prep strategies on purpose, so follow closely! Choosing the right meal prep strategy can make ALL the difference in whether or not you decide if meal prepping actually works for you. Every strategy has its own advantages and disadvantages, so I encourage you to experiment with all of them until you find the right one for YOU 🙂
Each meal prep strategy is broken down into 5 major differences:
Works best for: The type of schedule and household that the meal prep best matches (depends on how many people you’re feeding, whether you work from home or not, and how busy you are).
Meal variety: How many different meals you can typically make using this prep schedule, compared to the other meal prep strategies (low, moderate, or high).
Prep time: How long the meal prep takes from start to finish compared to the other meal prep strategies (low, moderate, or high).
Planning: How much planning has to go into the meal prep for it to work (low, moderate, or high).
Flexibility: How easy it is for your meal plan to change as needed (low, moderate, or high).
1. ONCE A WEEK – “MEAL PREP SUNDAY”
The biggest complaint about meal prep: it takes sooooo much time! Well, not really! Think about how much time and stress you save during the week when you have food that’s already made. The best part of Meal Prep Sunday is that it’s one and done. You can essentially do a whole week’s worth of cooking in only one day!
One big meal prep, every week, works best for people who are super busy and don’t have a lot of time to prepare meals during the week. It also works the best for people who are single rather than couples or whole families (simply because of the sheer volume of food you’d have to prep to feed a whole family for a week).
The best part of once a week meal preps is that it eliminates having to make a lot of decisions about food during the week, but it does require lots of planning and gives you little flexibility in food choices.
- Works best for: single people with super busy, hectic schedules
- Meal variety: low to moderate
- Prep time: high
- Planning: high
- Flexibility: low
2. DAILY MEAL PREP
This one is my favorite! Since I only have to cook for myself and I work from home, daily meal prep is a highly flexible way for me to prep meals without having to dedicate a large chunk of my time to “meal prep” once a week. I prepped this delicious taco salad for lunch when I was making coffee. You can see my full Instagram post here.
My meal prep mostly consists of preparing breakfast and lunch at the same time, which allows me to free up any lunch prep I would normally have to do in the middle of my workday.
The biggest advantages of daily meal preps are that they are highly flexible and don’t take a lot of planning. However, you still have to cook daily and it doesn’t work well for people with super busy schedules who don’t have time to prep every day.
- Works best for: single people or couples with home-based, more relaxed schedules
- Meal variety: high
- Prep time: low to moderate
- Planning: low
- Flexibility: high
3. BATCH COOKING
Batch cooking is an amazing meal prep strategy that fits somewhere in between weekly and daily meal prep. It works best for families or couples because you can prepare a bunch of the same foods all at once. For example, instead of cooking rice for 30 minutes every time you want it, you could cook 5 cups of rice at once – which is about 20 servings! Simply save the extra in the fridge or freezer for when you’re ready to use it.
Picking staple ingredients that make for easy meals is the best way to utilize batch cooking, so stick with grains (like quinoa or rice), vegetables (like baked sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts), easy breakfast foods (like hard-boiled eggs or homemade granola for yogurt), and simple proteins (like roasted chicken and baked salmon).
Batch cooking is a great middle ground meal prep because it’s flexible enough where you can choose what you want to eat to fit your day, but it still saves you a bunch of time and energy in the kitchen. If you don’t know where to begin with meal prep, batch cooking is the perfect starting point.
- Works best for: families or couples with busy schedules
- Meal variety: moderate
- Prep time: low to moderate
- Planning: moderate
- Flexibility: moderate
4. GO WITH THE FLOW (NO SPECIFIC MEAL PREP)
While I don’t recommend forgoing meal prep without trying it first, if you hate meal prep, don’t do it! Remove the stress and just roll with it. If planning food stresses you out, then removing that stress around food can be a HUGE step towards mindful eating.
Remember, mindful eating is all about creating the opportunity for you to eat the way that makes you happy. So do what’s right for YOU and don’t worry about picking a meal prepping strategy 🙂 You can always change your mind and you’re not stuck with one thing forever anyway!
- Works best for: people who hate meal prepping
- Meal variety: high
- Prep time: ?
- Planning: ?
- Flexibility: high
BONUS: COMBINE + EXPERIMENT
Don’t forget that you can use more than one strategy at a time, alternate between strategies, or combine them to make your own unique strategy that works for YOU!
TAKEAWAY: MEAL PREP STRATEGIES MAKE MINDFUL EATING EASIER
Meal prep is an insanely valuable tool that makes mindful eating SO MUCH EASIER.
Instead of constantly stressing yourself out with making time to prepare healthy foods exactly when you need them, meal prep allows you to relax around meal time by giving you the upper hand on time and energy.
Mindful eating is all about creating the opportunity for you to eat the way that makes you happy. So do what’s right for YOU and pick the strategy that gives you the upper hand in YOUR life.