There I was, surrounded by dirty pans, utensils and food scraps, almost an hour after I stepped foot in my kitchen.
And what did I have to show for it? One measly dinner meal. ONE! Almost an hour of time, struggle and burnt fingers, all for a single meal.
The best part? My diet called for three full meals a day. There was no way I was going to spend over three hours, EVERY DAY, cooking and cleaning. That’s just ridiculous.
“The kitchen is where you make your abs!” Maybe, but I was not spending three hours a day on meal prep. Plus cleaning? Honestly, fuck that. I could be sleeping or playing video games or LITERALLY anything but that.
If you’re just getting into the whole “fitness” and “eating right” thing, you’ll find yourself in the same spot. You want to make your meals because it’s cheaper, healthier, and easier to control the macros. But it takes forever.
Oh, you’re bulking? Those three hours will quickly turn into five.
You have just a few precious hours in each day, so do you want to spend them cooking your meals? I know I don’t.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to hack your meal prep time considerably. Instead of spending three hours a day slaving over the stove, you’ll be done in just 2 hours a week.
Just like you need to know how to do a proper squat, you need to learn how to cook a lot of meals efficiently. Below I’ll show you how I make 20-25 meals for the whole week in less time than it takes for you to avoid leg day 🙂
It’s All About Cooking in Bulk
Bulk cooking is the key to keeping your sanity and staying on a macro friendly diet. You can drastically reduce your meal prep time if you cook all of your meals in big batches, 1-2 times a week.
Why? Because cooking in bulk reduces the prep time, total cooking time and clean up time SIGNIFICANTLY.
Think about this. It takes 10-15 minutes to cook two scrambled eggs. Not a huge time commitment, right? Compound that over a week and that’s over an hour spent cooking eggs. But if you make seven breakfasts all at once, you can knock it out in less than 30 minutes. And that’s just eggs.
I make all of my next week’s meals each Sunday evening. I set aside about two hours, put on some house music, maybe pour some bourbon, and go to town. It goes by quick, and I don’t have to do anything else in the kitchen for the entire week unless I want to make myself a different meal on occasion.
Even if you’re not going to make ALL of your meals at once, at least try preparing your lunches and breakfasts ahead of time, since that’s when most of us have the least time to cook.
The Gear You’ll Need
There are two essential things that you’ll need to do meal prep right, which you may not already have in your kitchen:
- Tupperware: You need enough to last you the whole week, so do the math. I eat breakfast, two lunches, and dinner, so I need at least 4 x 7 = 28 containers. They sell all kinds of different ones, from big to small, even little cups for dressing and snacks. My favorite is this long one that’s perfect for almost any meal.
- Cooler Pack: Whether you need this one will depend on your schedule. If you work at home or at an office that has a fridge, you don’t need one. If you drive around all day or don’t have access to a fridge, get one so you can bring your meals with you.
Other than that, you probably already have everything else in your kitchen. Depending on what you’re going to cook, you may want to get some larger pans, pots, cooking sheets and a rice maker. They’re optional, but make things easier.
Kicking Off The Grind
Figure out which meals and how many you’re going to make. You always want to start with things that take the longest to cook, like rice, sweet potatoes or boiled eggs. While they are going, you can work on the rest.
Take all of your meal containers and lay them out on your counter if you have space. This will give you a visual guide on how much progress you’re making. Here is how I make the actual meals.
Eggs and egg whites are your best friend. Your actual best friend, not the one that keeps borrowing money from you. I do one of the following for all of my breakfast meals, depending on how I’m feeling or how much protein I need that day:
- Hard Boiled Eggs: Super easy, you can boil as many as you can fit in your largest pan. I put them in cold water, add a little salt, bring to a boil, then cover and set aside for 20 min. Run them under cold water for 2 minutes afterward, so they are easier to peel. This is the easiest breakfast you will ever make.
- Scrambled Eggs with Egg Whites: I make these in batches of 1-2 in a large pan. Keep the burner going and just dump the cooked batches in the patiently waiting containers. I usually mix two whole eggs with 1-2 cups of egg whites that come in a carton for some extra protein.
If you need carbs with your breakfast, use instant oatmeal packets and/or fruit. You don’t have to make these ahead of time, just grab them along with your eggs when you head for the door in the morning. I mix my oatmeal in the same container I use for the eggs.
Lunch and Dinner
Most of my lunch and dinner meals consist of a protein source, a carb source, and veggies. Sometimes I skip the carbs and just eat protein and veggies. All depends on the macros for that day. Here is how I do it:
- Protein: I almost always eat chicken breast. I buy big packs of boneless, skinless breasts, wash them, add a little seasoning (try olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chipotle) and either bake them in the oven or grill them outside. Grilling is self-explanatory. If you’re going to bake them, lay the breasts out on baking sheets wrapped with tin foil and bake at around 350° for 45-60 min, flipping midway. Cut it up with scissors after it’s ready so it’s easier to eat.
- Carbs: I stick with brown rice cooked in a rice cooker because it’s the fastest. Throw in some rice and water and leave it alone for an hour. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Sweet potatoes are an excellent alternative. Wash them, rub with a little olive oil, wrap them in foil and stick in the oven at 400° on a baking sheet for 1 – 1.5 hours. Cut them up and throw them in your containers. Done.
- Veggies: I buy frozen, pre-sliced veggies in plastic bags. You can just throw the whole bag in the microwave for about 5 – 6 minutes, and that’s it. No peeling, no cutting, super simple. If you want fresh ones, steaming them is the easiest.
Add all three of the above in one of those longer Tupperware and you’ve got yourself a healthy, balanced lunch or dinner.
Snacks and Smaller Meals
When I need snacks or lighter meals, I keep it super simple – something that doesn’t require me to cook at all. Here are some ideas:
- Protein Shakes: Here is the powder I usually use.
- Fat-Free Greek Yogurt: Mix in 1-2 scoops of chocolate protein with this, it tastes great.
- Fruits: If you need extra carbs. I prefer bananas and green apples.
- Nuts: No “trail mix”, just plain unsalted nuts, usually almonds. Also, don’t overdo on these, as they have a lot of fat and can mess up your diet.
Adding Variety to Your Meals
As you can see, I keep my food intake pretty boring, which can be a problem for some people who can’t eat the same stuff every single day. I like it this way, because the above is the easiest and fastest to make, tastes alright and makes hitting my macros super easy.
If you want to spice things up, there are plenty of alternatives. For breakfast, you can add a little steak to your eggs or make omelets. Instead of making hot lunch meals, try salads, which are easy to put together and can still go great with grilled chicken. If you’re looking for other sources of protein, here are my top 10 favorites.
When you’re just sick of looking at your meals (happens to me sometimes), splurge on a nice dinner out or make a night of cooking one of your favorite meals.
Enjoying yourself IS allowed.
Storing Your Food
To keep my meals from spoiling, I freeze most of them, especially the ones that have chicken, meat or fish. You can usually get away with keeping hard boiled or even scrambled eggs in the fridge, but chicken starts to taste a little weird after a few days.
If you’re making the food on Sunday, keep Monday’s and Tuesday’s meals in the fridge and throw everything else in the freezer. Take it out the night before you’re going to eat it, then take it with you to work or whatever you do during the day. Throw it in the microwave and it’ll be ready to eat in just a couple of minutes.
“Not Having Enough Time to Cook” Is Not a Good Excuse
Listen, I enjoy cooking.
GASP! Crazy, I know, but I really do enjoy the process. Especially when it’s for my friends and family.
After long deployments out to sea, I would host barbecues, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinners at my house in Japan. I did all of the prepping, cooking and even the dreaded cleaning. It was my treat to my friends. I like to take my time in the kitchen because making food can be just as much fun as eating it.
But when it comes to making my daily meals, it just doesn’t make sense to make them one at a time or spend a lot of effort making something “unique”. When I’m in the “meal prep” mode, I’m all about making healthy, nutritional meals that are fast and easy to put together.
It might be time for you to reconsider how you’re cooking your food and how much time you’re spending doing it. Try this bulk method, find the meal combinations that work for you and stop spending half of your day in the kitchen.
Dieting is hard already. Stop making it harder. Start meal prepping the right way.