Meal prep is supposed to help you eat healthier and lose weight, right? Well, not if you make these mistakes — you could actually gain! Whether you're new to the meal prep life or you've been meal prepping and not seeing results, make sure you avoid these mistakes.
1. Not Following the Correct Formula
Each meal you prep needs to have healthy carbs, fats, and protein. While it may be quick and easy to prep an enormous dish of baked ziti, you don't want to just eat carbs for lunch. Same with mason jar salads. While vegetables are low in calories and high in fibre, you need to include healthy fats and protein to make your salad filling enough so afternoon cravings don't drive you to hit the local bakery. Well-balanced meals are the key to weight loss.
2. Huge Containers
Having the right-size containers will guide your portion sizes, so make sure you have different containers on hand. A 24-ounce mason jar would be great for a salad, but that would be four portions of soup!
3. Prepping Too Much
Slow cookers are a meal prepper's best friend, but you'll want to adjust your recipes to guide how many meals you're planning ahead for. There's no need to make a chilli recipe that serves eight if you only need lunch for five days. If you do, freeze the extras — don't spread out eight servings into five containers! Along the same lines, if you know you're going to eat pretzels and hummus for snack all week, don't just bring one huge bag of pretzels and a container of hummus to work. You'll end up eating half the bag in one day! Divvy up portions in bags or containers so you have one for each day.
4. Not Prepping Enough
While one piece of grilled salmon with a little rice and a few steamed broccoli florets may be enough for one person, it might leave you famished an hour later and reaching for three granola bars from the staff kitchen. Know your body and what fills you up so you can prep an appropriate-size meal that will satisfy your hunger without going overboard on calories.
5. Prepping For Just One Time of Day
High five for prepping a week of salads! OK, now lunch is set, but what about the rest of the day? The more prep you can do for the week, including snacks and other meals, the less room there is to stray from your healthy ways. Set aside enough time on Sunday to plan, shop, and prep for the times you know you need it most.
6. Eating the Same Meal Every Single Day
Simplicity is helpful when meal prepping because it's faster and easier to make the same five lunches over and over. But aside from missing out on a variety of foods and the nutrients they offer, you'll also get incredibly bored. If you're not looking forward to your lunch, you're more likely to feel unsatisfied when you eat and seek out more food or skip it altogether for a trip to the pizzeria down the street. Here are some meal prep ideas for inspiration.
No need to make five dramatically different lunches. Just add a little variation. Mix up the vegetables and the way you cut or cook them. Have a different fruit for snack each day of the week. Cook up different whole grains for dinner. Use different salad toppings and dressings each day. Or whip up two different breakfasts like two smoothie freezer packs and three jars of overnight oats. The more exciting your meals, the more enjoyable and the more likely you'll stick with meal prep.
7. Making It Too Strict or Too Healthy
Prepping meals and snacks that keep your macros and calories in check all week will definitely yield the results you're after, but if you feel depressed about how strict your diet is, it could drive you to break down and give up. When meal prepping, leave a small amount of wiggle room. So say you've planned to have lentil soup on Tuesday, but you don't feel like it; you can just grab Wednesday's prepped ingredients for burritos instead.
It's also important to prep some treats, because indulging a little each day can give you that little taste you're craving so you don't feel like you're missing out. These homemade chocolates (like dark chocolate salted caramels made with dates!) are great to make ahead of time to keep in the fridge or freezer.