People choose to meal prep for a whole bunch of different reasons – from weight loss to muscle gain to simply having more time on your hands throughout the week.
One of the biggest benefits of meal prepping is making sure you’re eating healthy and hitting your daily nutrition goals. Life gets busy, and it’s easy to let your diet fall to the wayside (and regularly opening the UberEats app). Always having a healthy meal ready to grab from the freezer or fridge is one of the best ways to get into great physical shape (and it’s good for your mental health, too).
However, just because you’re “meal prepping” doesn’t mean you’re choosing the right foods, or cooking with the healthiest ingredients. In this guide, we’re offering our top tips to choosing healthy ingredients for meal prepping success, from writing an effective grocery shopping list to reading nutrition labels and more.
5 Tips for Choosing Healthy Ingredients for Meal Prepping Success 💡
1. Know Your Macros & Calories
The word “healthy” means different things to different people – and what’s healthy for one person might not necessarily be healthy for you. At the end of the day, everything is healthy in moderation. One piece of chocolate isn’t unhealthy, but a whole block certainly is. To be cooking and meal prepping healthy meals, you first need to know your individual daily macros and calories.
Calories: Calories are a unit of energy released when your body breaks down food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body. When you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the extra calories as body fat.
If you want to lose weight, you need to eat in a calorie deficit. If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat in a calorie surplus. If you want to stay the same weight, you need to eat in calorie maintenance. The best way to know how many calories you need per day is to use a dedicated calorie calculator which takes into account your current weight, age, height and goal weight.
Macros: Macro is short for macronutrient. Macros are the 3 categories of nutrients you eat the most and provide you with most of your energy: protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Your daily macros will depend on your health goals – whether you want to gain, lose or stay the same weight. Is there a difference between using macros and counting calories?
Trick question! By calculating your macros, you are calculating your calories. Calculating macros is just a way to make sure you’re eating the right balance of fats, protein and carbs to achieve your goals. For most people you won’t need to complicate things by calculating macros – just eat at a calorie deficit.
2. Find Healthy Recipes
Once you know your calories and macros, you can start to look for healthy recipes. The internet will be your best friend, and there are plenty of online resources to find healthy recipes for meal prepping that sit within your daily macro/calorie limits. For example, if you type into google ‘1,500 calorie meal plan’ you’ll find a range of free and informative resources and recipes to get you started.
3. Choose Whole Foods
When it comes to healthy ingredients for meal prepping success, the best way to start is by choosing whole foods. Fruit, vegetables, lean meats and the like are all examples of whole foods – basically, anything that’s not processed. Food in their whole form provides a heck of a lot more nutrients than processed food, so by choosing whole foods 80% of the time, you’ll be well on your way to healthy meal prepping.
4. Read Nutrition Labels
If you do need to buy processed foods (and honestly, it’s unavoidable sometimes), it’s important you know how to read nutrition labels. In Australia, all manufactured foods need to have labels containing safety and nutrition information. Nutrition labels are extremely handy pieces of information that can help you have a deeper understanding about what you’re putting into your body. The label will tell you things like:
- The name of the product, describing accurately what it is
- The brand name
- Ingredients (listed in order from largest to smallest by weight)
- Nutritional information (energy, fat, protein, sugars and salt)
Nutrition labels are a useful tool for comparing similar products. You can look at the Nutrition Information Panel that states the quantity of a nutrient per 100g or per 100ml so you know you are comparing the same thing.
Try to choose products that have lower levels of saturated fat, sugar and sodium (salt) per 100g, and higher levels of fibre. It’s also important to look at the food as a whole, rather than focusing on one nutrient, when comparing similar products.
5. Consider Your Eating Style & Diet
Choosing healthy ingredients for your meal prep efforts also comes down to your diet and lifestyle. Are you on a ketogenic diet? Do you like to be intermittent fast? Do you have allergies to gluten or dairy? When choosing healthy ingredients, the most important thing to consider is what your body likes (and tolerators). Some people find they feel and look their best when consuming foods high in healthy fats, while others get the most out of a high protein diet. It all comes down to your individual body and needs, as well as your general activity level.
How to Pick Healthy Meal Prep Recipes
While Google is a great resource for finding healthy meal prep recipes and plans, if you want to put together your own weekly plan, you need to know how to pick healthy meal prep recipes (and how to turn not-so healthy recipes into a healthier version). Here are some of our top tips for finding healthy meal prep recipes.
- Go for balance: Make sure recipes you pick are well-rounded and include vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
- Make substitutions: If any of your recipes contain excessive amounts of fat, sugar and salt, make substitutions or reduce the amount of salt, sugar or oil in the recipe.
- Start simple: Choose meals that are easy to prepare and don’t contain too many ingredients.
- Go for a variety of colours: Different colours and textures will help keep things interesting in terms of taste while also providing your body with all the important micronutrients.
How Meal Prep Helps with Healthy Eating
Meal prepping is one of the most effective ways to improve your overall health and wellbeing. When you plan your meals ahead of time, you can really crunch the numbers and determine what you’re putting into your body.
From calories to macros to the micronutrients, meal prepping helps you stay on target with your health goals. Not to mention having a meal waiting for you in the fridge will make it less tempting to order takeout after a long day at work.
Meal prepping is also a great way to mix things up and try different meals, rather than stick to the same diet which can be boring and also lead you down the path of unhealthy choices.
The Benefits of Choosing Healthy Ingredients
We know eating a healthy diet is good for us, but why exactly is the science behind it? A well-balanced diet provides all of the:
- energy you need to keep active throughout the day
- nutrients you need for growth and repair, helping you to stay strong and healthy and help to prevent diet-related illness, such as some cancers
Eating a healthy and balanced diet can also help you to maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight if that’s your goal. It can also prevent (and sometimes reverse) common health issues like:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Tooth decay
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Keep Reading Meal Prepping Tips:
- How to plan meals in advance
- How to create a grocery list
- How to incorporate variety into your meals