Last week, I shared tips on how to set up your plate to ensure you’re eating the right portion sizes and not over- or under-eating. Now, for Week 3 of our Healthy Eating Guide, we’re going to talk about how to do that, at scale, across your entire week.

If you ask any nutrition expert or athlete about how they eat healthy, you will almost always hear something about “meal prep.” As the name implies, meal prep is when you prep food in advance to eat throughout the week. Depending on how busy you are, or how much (or how little) you like to cook, you may want to prepare one meal to eat each day, or all your meals in a day (especially if you’re prone to cravings or impulse food-buying).

Based on trial and error (thanks to articles on the internet) and some interviews with my athlete friends and nutrition experts, I’ve learned that there are 4 general approaches to meal-prepping (in order of cost, from low to high… roughly): traditional meal prep, mini meal prep, “just cooking,” and meal delivery services. Each approach has its pro’s and con’s, and some meal-prepping styles are better suited to some folks than others. In this article, I’m going to cover the first two meal prep styles. Stay tuned for Part 4 for the last two options, which I consider the “non-meal prep, meal prep” options 😉

The Formula for All Meal-Prep Styles

No matter what your meal-prep style is, you can can calculate exactly how much you need to meal prep by using the following formula:

Amount to Prep = [# of times per day you want to eat this recipe] x [# days you want to eat the recipe] x [the approximate serving size of the macronutrient or recipe]

For example (and for the sake of simplicity), let’s say you’re willing to eat the same meal at lunchtime and dinnertime respectively. (f this is unequivocally NOT you, don’t worry, there are other meal prep options below, but please keep reading anyway, for sake of understanding the math.)

So, let’s pick a meal prep favorite: baked chicken with rice and broccoli. And again, for sake of simplicity, you’ll eat this 7 days per week, maybe with a change of sauce every now and then. This means you are prepping:

2 meals per day x 7 days of eating the meal = 14 servings for the week

If you’d rather split up your meals across a couple recipes:

2 meals per day x 4 days of eating the meal = 8 servings for the week

Let’s say your typical (palm-sized) serving size for protein is about 5 ounces of protein per meal. Then your formula for amount of protein to prep would be:

14 servings x 5 ounces/serving = 70 ounces of lean protein (~4.5 lbs of chicken)

Do the same for rice, let’s just say you wanted half a cup of rice per serving:

14 servings x 0.5 cup/serving = 7 cups of COOKED rice*
* be warned: 3.5 cups uncooked rice = 7 cups cooked rice

A good serving size for broccoli is about a fist’s worth (1 cup), so this would come out to… yup, you guessed it, 14 cups of broccoli.

And if you’re using cooking oil, you’ve hypothetically multiplied your recipe by the same numbers so it should balance out, and you won’t have to prep anything really special. But if you didn’t use cooking oil or wanted to add more fat, you could add nuts or nut butter on a modular basis.

And that’s it! You buy your ingredients for your recipe(s) and cook until you have enough servings prepared. Now, HOW you buy ingredients and cook (or get) your food can vary. Read on for different styles of meal prep (including a strategy to do as little prep as possible)

Style 1: Traditional Meal Prep (Cook Once, Eat All Week)

The scenario I described above is a traditional meal prep scenario. You cook one recipe for your week, maybe two recipes for some variety, and you cook them all at once on a single day. There’s actually a great cookbook that can help you actually implement this meal prep style, that goes by the very name Cook Once, Eat All Week.

If you do traditional meal prep, there are generally two approaches: 1-recipe prepped at a time or 2-recipes prepped at a time.

Let’s say you cook Sunday, and you’re making chicken and broccoli for one meal, and if you’re making 2 recipes, you’re also making Chicken Pad Thai with Zucchini “Noodles”. Then your week of eating would look like:

1-Recipe Prep2-Recipe Prep
SundayChicken and BroccoliChicken and Broccoli
MondayChicken and BroccoliChicken Pad Thai
TuesdayChicken and BroccoliChicken and Broccoli
WednesdayChicken and BroccoliChicken Pad Thai
ThursdayChicken and BroccoliChicken and Broccoli
FridayChicken and BroccoliChicken Pad Thai
SaturdayChicken and BroccoliChicken and Broccoli

So, for the 1-recipe prep option, you’d just multiply your serving size by 7 servings (for dinner prepped only) or 14 servings (for both dinner and lunch prepped). Maybe stash some different sauces into your food containers so that you can change it up when things get less appetizing.

For the 2-recipe option, you would multiply your Recipe 1 serving size by 4 days (8 if you’re eating it for lunch, too) and Recipe 2 by 3 days (6 if you’re eating it for lunch, too).

This meal prep style is ideal for you if:

  • You never get bored of leftovers, and have a few consistent favorites you’ll eat any day/time.
    (If you get bored even a little bit, this is not the meal prep you’re looking for.)
  • You would rather not cook during the week: whether you work unusual shifts, are too tired to cook during the week, or you simply couldn’t be bothered with cooking.
  • You don’t like looking up a lot of recipes and would rather just cook one and keep it simple.
  • Budget is REALLY important to you, and you’d be willing to cook to save some money.

Pro’s of this meal-prep style:

  • You only cook on one day! If you don’t like cooking, this is the meal prep plan for you.
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of your time coming up with multiple recipes, because you simply make a lot of the same recipe (or two).
  • You don’t have to think about cooking during the week. or your meal choices you just grab what’s in the fridge! This can be very useful if you’re prone to cravings or impulsive eating habits.
  • Hello wholesale club savings! I’m talking about BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. Even if you’re a single person household, by shopping in bulk (and actually EATING it) you are more likely to save money in the long run by not buying fancy ingredients that take up space in your home and rot.
  • Bonus: it’s more eco-friendly/sustainable (less plastic and packaging waste) to buy in bulk when you know you’re actually eating it all.

Con’s of this meal-prep style:

  • As you saw above, buying and cooking 4.5lbs of chicken, 7 cups of rice, and 14 cups of broccoli at all once can be a bit overwhelming. Not everyone has an industrial sized kitchen (especially if you don’t like cooking)
  • The kicker: the meals can get boring very quickly if you eat the same thing every day (or 2x per day).
  • Your food on day 5-7 will have been sitting in the fridge for… 5-7 days, which can make it taste less than fresh and unappetizing.
  • You can certainly try to freeze the food to keep it fresher (stews and soups are freezer friendly!) but for non-freezable recipes with lots of fresh veggies, you’re out of luck.
  • If you do freeze, you have to remember to take a meal out of the freezer every day to ensure it defrosts in time.

Style 2: Mini Meal Prep (Cook 2 Times, Eat All Week)

The idea behind mini meal-preps is that you’re not cooking as much in one fell swoop. However, much like traditional meal-prep, you are prepping enough for a few days straight. You can also incorporate a hybrid of 1-meal and 2-meal prep into your mini-prep schedule:

1-Meal Prep1- and 2-Meal Prep Hybrid
Sunday(PREP DAY)
Chicken and Broccoli
(PREP DAY, 2-meal)
Chicken and Broccoli
MondayChicken and BroccoliChicken Pad Thai
TuesdayChicken and BroccoliChicken and Broccoli
Wednesday(PREP DAY)
Chicken Pad Thai
Chicken Pad Thai
ThursdayChicken Pad Thai(PREP DAY, 1-meal)
Salmon, Potatoes, Green Beans
FridayChicken Pad ThaiSalmon, Potatoes, Green Beans
SaturdayChicken Pad ThaiSalmon, Potatoes, Green Beans*
(*or scheduled takeout to
support your local restaurants)

This meal prep style is ideal for you if:

  • You get a little bored of leftovers, but you don’t mind eating them for a couple days.
  • You don’t mind cooking more than once, if it means your food tastes fresher.
  • You don’t have a ton of space in your fridge for food storage for a whole week.
  • You want a little variety in what you eat every day (for gut reasons or personal preferences).
  • Budget is REALLY important to you, and you’d be willing to cook to save some money.

Pro’s of this meal-prep style:

  • You cook 2 days per week. This could be a good thing if you actually kind of like cooking.
  • Your food will be fresher, because it won’t hang out in fridge too long.
  • Food doesn’t get boring as quickly! You can get creative with 3 different recipes in a week, or you can keep it simple with 2 recipes only. Choose your own adventure y’all.
  • Much like traditional meal prep, it’ll allow you to reap the benefits of not thinking about picking your meal and grabbing whatever is in the fridge.
  • You may be able to buy some ingredients from your wholesale club, and save some money.
  • Bonus: it’s more eco-friendly/sustainable (less plastic and packaging waste) to buy in bulk when you know you’re actually eating it all.

Con’s of this meal-prep style:

  • You cook 2 days per week. If you’d rather just get it all done at once and not have to cook for a while, traditional meal prep is a better option.
  • You still have to buy a lot of ingredients. Again, not everyone has an industrial sized kitchen.
  • Since you’re cooking fewer servings at a time, there is a greater risk of food waste if you have high variety in your recipes AND still shop wholesale. Food waste is both bad for your wallet and bad for the environment.
  • If you don’t like cooking, you might be more prone to getting tired of cooking halfway through the week, opting for takeout instead, which can also lead to food waste (and plastic waste), make a dent in your wallet, and mean not adhering to your nutritional requirements.

Assignment: Find a 2 macro-friendly recipes to try next week! If you’re feeling really adventurous, try 3 recipes. Multiply it by however much you need to eat (and how much your family members eat) and see how it goes.

Next week, we’ll round out this month of healthy eating tips with two more options 🙂 But in the meantime, let me know if you have any great meal-prep hacks in the comments!

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