Meal Prepping Vs. Meal Planning
Wait… aren’t they the same thing? They involve me spending time to make food for the day week or other future meals… right? Yes, but also, no. They are similar and very related, but there are some key differences and each one needs to have its own set of habits and actions to be successful.
This is the time you spend figuring out what you want to eat for a given amount of time. For most people this is the week. For others it’s split into 3-day sections due to shift work, scheduling issues or the food prep they have available to them. This time is very important and requires some serious planning the more people you are preparing.
When we break down planning there are a few key questions to answer:
- Who are you making food for?
- Food preferences & aversions
- Lifestyle choices
- Different goals
- How many days ahead are you making food? / How much & where can I store my prepped food?
- Fridge, freezer, dried goods, canned, etc.
- How long can I store this food before it goes bad
- When are you shopping next?
- What is my budget?
- Can I spend more money to increase convenience?
- Who is in charge of what?
- If involving more than 1 person you need to figure out who has roles & what they are
- Delegation and division of work leads to family success
This is the actual action of making the food and it can be as intricate and in depth as you want, or it can be simple and easy. This will depend on your abilities, equipment available, and eating level. You have a plan now, you know what you are making, you have done your shopping and have all the food in the house, now it is time to prepare the food.
While everyone has their own personal style or system, here are some common meal prep approaches:
Weekend Prepping - This is done with the intent being to prep major meals at one time. This will often be done using equipment that cooks throughout the day, things like crockpots, Insta-pots, rice steamers/cookers, smokers, grills, and the oven.
Short Consecutive Prepping – This is where habit stacking can play a major role, this is the idea of taking small actions and habits to stack them together. This works well for people who enjoy cooking and will eat the leftovers for other meals.
Examples include making a larger dinner during the week and then portioning that meal or others being made concurrently for other meals. Another common one, specifically for those with a slightly later wake up time or breakfast and daily morning ritual fans, is to make breakfast and future meals for the day at the same time.
Planned Pre-Purchased meals – This one has become increasingly more popular as the options have increased and improved drastically. There are now many online and local meal prepping services that can be great fits. This can be an amazing way, if your budget allows, to reduce stress and time commitments from you and your family while improving your eating habits. A few big things to consider when choosing the right purchased meal plan for you are:
- Do they meet our family needs?
- Food allergies – What often happens when feeding a family is having to make small tweaks or changes to recipes due to the needs of certain family members. This can be something as simple as one member not liking onions, or can be as difficult as one being gluten free, lactose intolerant, or allergic to specific foods.
While these are challenges when you are making your own food too, it can be even trickier when ordering food from an outside party. Our recommendation is to speak with the people who work there, go through their recipes and menu items for specific foods that must be avoided and see what the upcharges and issues are with ordering specialty meals, snacks, foods, etc. This will be an important question and topic to discuss before picking a potential store.
- Different goals / needs – If you pick the correct foods for making the “perfect meal” from these places (lean protein, veggies, good carb source and good fat source) then this should be as simple as just adjusting the portion size. That does become another question a lot of these places will ask though, what are your macros? Well, let’s start there, WHAT are macros? You can start by reading this article and it will explain the definition and also how we, the Powell Performance staff, can help you calculate your basic needs. As usual, however, we recommend we start with good habits and intuitive eating. From this, we simply use our serving sizes chart, that varies per person to figure out how much each family member should be eating.
- Is this something I can do consistently?
- Budget – Is this a once in a while thing that you can only afford certain days, weeks, months or is it something you can pay for and use consistently over long periods of time? You can also use this to meet small specific needs. My wife for example hates to meal prep, and I didn’t have time some weeks to make her lunches, so we budgeted for and used a local meal prep place where we knew the owner. We wanted to support this local business while also filling the need of my wife’s lunches being prepped. This was within our budget and filled a need. This is another great option for food prep.
- Time – This option will absolutely be more convenient for most people, but making sure you can do your weekly planning and pick up or have the food delivered on days that work best for you and your family’s schedule is important to consider. Some of these services are less flexible than others and this needs to be considered. What if you need the food for Monday mornings, but they aren’t open or available for pickup until Tuesday? Just another thing to consider while deciding.
- Do you enjoy their food options, flavors, etc?
- Options – some of these food prep places, specifically local ones that are not franchises, will specialize in certain types of food. They are often restaurants that have a set menu and then will mass produce food for customers who want them to meal prep. It may be something with more of a Mexican, vegan, or other theme.
This can greatly reduce the number of options and flavor profiles for the customers. While it may be great to eat a certain style of food for a short period of time, without some food diversity, it can get boring quickly. So ask the people who work at, or own the business, how often their menu rotates and what they typically keep for taste/flavor profiles.
- Taste – This of course will tie back into the above point, but it is important to make sure you actually enjoy some the food. There may be times where you get a little tired of a certain vegetable or protein source, but that’s why it’s so important to ask them how often they rotate out their menu and food choices. Local establishments will often use local farmer markets, or farm source food, so that seasonal choices are more common. This is a huge win as it gets you even fresher and more varied food sources.
I wrote this article to clarify the difference between the prepping and planning and how each of them plays an important role and one will certainly affect the other. This is just a brief introduction and we get more into the nuts and bolts in the following articles about how each one can be maximized and done to optimal levels.
Meal prepping can truly improve your life and allow you to have more freedom if done correctly. Do you want to learn more about how to meal plan, build better daily habits and have a staff of dietitians, coaches and counselors to help be your allies? Click here to speak with our staff and get more help on your journey today!