Article By: Rachel Ignomirello, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LDN
Rachel Ignomirello is a Bariatric Dietitian and Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management.
Many people started 2022 with a resolution involving healthy eating or weight loss. It is easy to start January strong, only to find that efforts diminish as time goes on. If limited time or energy has kept you from adhering to your healthy eating resolution, meal planning and prepping can help.
Meal planning is simply planning and writing down the meals you intend on eating for the week. Meal prepping is preparing the food you are going to eat for the week. Both can end up saving you time, money, and even calories. They also support your bariatric lifestyle and can prevent another fast-food stop. Meal planning and prepping may seem overwhelming at first, but they do not have to be time-consuming or expensive. With a little organization, you can find meal planning and prepping to be productive and enjoyable. To help start 2022 on the right foot, here are some effortless tips to meal prep and plan.
1) Pick the right meals
Start small with planning a few meals per week or for the busiest days of the week. Once it becomes easier, you can increase to a weekly meal plan. When looking for recipes, search based on the protein source since it is the most important nutrient after bariatric surgery. Keep the focus on protein, but do not forget to pair it with sides like non-starchy vegetables. There are plenty of bariatric recipe sites, but you can always swap ingredients to make other recipes bariatric-friendly.
When picking recipes, try searching for batch meals or freezer meals. There are plenty of healthy “cook once, eat twice” recipes out there or even meal planning websites to get you started. To prevent boredom and keep things fun, you can add themes throughout the week such as slow cooker, seafood, grill, breakfast for dinner, and even leftovers. When practicing meal planning, it is also important to plan for your “worst days.” It is okay to explore deliverable meal kits or local heat-and-eat meal prep companies. Just make sure to choose the low calorie and/or low carb choices.
2) Organize your recipes
Once you have picked your meals, put them on a calendar, whiteboard, or phone app to stay organized. There are many free weekly templates online. Figure out what ingredients you need for each recipe and highlight what you need to purchase. If you keep some pantry staples, it will help reduce the weekly shopping list. Examples of staples include broth, canned tomatoes, beans, whole grains, cooking oils, and frozen vegetables. Write down your grocery list, check sales ads, and get to your local grocery store on your days off (usually the weekend). When shopping, always stick to the list and make sure to avoid going when hungry.
3) Set aside time to meal prep
When it comes time to meal prep, find the right time for you. It may take an hour or so each week, but it will gradually get faster the more you practice. Most people like to prep at the beginning of the week so that their food is ready for the work week ahead. Another smart time to meal prep is right after you finish grocery shopping. Whenever you decide to prep, prioritize this time in your week to make it part of your healthy lifestyle. When you finish, you will have a fridge full of ready-to-eat meals for the week ahead.
4) Leverage meal prep examples and tips
Some classic meal prep examples include batch cooking chicken breasts, cutting up vegetables and fruit, and preparing eggs (hardboiled or egg muffins). You can prepare regular-sized meals then portion them into bariatric-sized containers. For example, go ahead and cook 1lb of chicken but only add 3-4 ounces (oz) cooked chicken in the container.
Speaking of containers, make sure to invest in some quality containers that are microwave safe. When prepping for a post-op bariatric meal, aim for 3-4oz protein, 1⁄2 cup non-starchy vegetables, and 2 tablespoons healthy carbohydrate. Those portions may be different depending on how far out you are from surgery. Don’t forget about the flavor, too! Trying a variety of different spices, seasonings, marinades, or light sauces will keep your tastebuds interested throughout 2022.
Meal planning and prepping can make healthy eating easier. Try each of the tips above to shape long-lasting eating habits for this year and the many years ahead.