Meal prepping is a great way to stay on track with healthy eating, but it can be tough to know how to balance your meals around your macro goals. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or maintain your current weight, understanding how to plan your meals around your macronutrient needs is crucial for success. In this post, we’ll discuss the basics of macro tracking and give you some tips and tricks for meal prepping around macros.
Let’s Talk About Meal Prepping
I get it. You are exhausted when you get home from work and the last thing you want to do is cook + clean the mess you made in the kitchen–and do the same thing the next day. So, you end up ordering takeout and are disappointed in yourself that once again you’re not following through with your health and fitness goals.
Introducing meal prepping. Meal prepping is cooking and preparing food ahead of time (typically for 3-7 days) so that you have ready-to-eat food in the fridge. If you have a body composition goal, meal prepping for your macros is crucial to your success, whether you want to lose fat or build muscle.
Before we get too into the weeds talking about meal prep, make sure you first learn how to Set your Macros for your Specific Goals.
Once you’ve done your macro calculations you can then move into details like what days will you plan/prep, how many meals will you eat daily, and what foods will you eat.
What are the Benefits of Meal Prepping for Your Macros?
Whether your goal is fat loss or muscle gain, meal prepping will help you adhere to your macros and healthy eating. I mean, how easy is it to grab healthy cooked food that’s already in the fridge and heat it up in the microwave?
In my experience, if I wasn’t being consistent with tracking my macros, it was because I didn’t have prepped food in the fridge. The saying “failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, is 100% true when you have a body composition goal. You can’t just ‘wing it’ with your nutrition and expect to get six-pack abs or have consistent weight loss if you aren’t planning ahead.
Ask yourself, “What is my biggest hurdle to getting the physique I want and staying consistent?”
I guarantee you answered nutrition.
Even if you have been working out, remember that nutrition is 70-90% of the progress you make. The saying “Abs are made in the kitchen” is very much true!
What if I told you that meal prepping:
- Doesn’t have to take a bunch of time (actually saves you a lot of time–with cooking and cleaning!)
- Doesn’t require ‘fancy’ online recipes (too stressful!)
- Is something you can do consistently each week to accomplish your goals (even when life gets stressful, you’re able to stay on track by having ready-made meals!)
- Can actually save you money! Especially if you commonly eat out at restaurants, or order takeout.
- Reduces waste in the kitchen (we all want to do better for the environment!)
Is Meal Prepping for You?
After working with so many clients over the years I’ve realized that meal prepping is not for everyone. For most, it is crucial for them to achieve their fat loss goals or other composition changes. For others, they’d rather go with the flow and cook their meals the day of–these people usually get bored with food easily, and hate leftovers.
My clients who have been successful with meal prep value time and convenience and eating similar foods day to day doesn’t bother them. Whether you chose to prep your meals or ‘meal plan’, either can be successful as long as you plan ahead and stick to it.
How to Meal Prep Around Macros for the Week
Now that you’ve learned the benefits of meal prepping for your fitness goals, let’s get into the details of how to make it work for your lifestyle in a time-efficient and convenient manner. Meal prepping may seem overwhelming at first, but once you get into a routine, you’ll be able to prep in half the time, and continue making progress with your goals.
Decide What Days to Shop and Prep On
When setting your meal prep for macronutrients schedule, here are some questions to think about:
- When will you be shopping for the food?
- How many times per week will you prep the food? (if you are a beginner, this is trial and error at first)
- When will you be prepping the food?
I recommend setting aside 2-3 hours to both shop and prep your food; and starting out with prepping for 3-4 days in advance (1 week can be way too overwhelming and might cause you to waste food). Personally, I prep on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Choose What Foods to Prep for Your Macros
You will make your meals with foods based on the three macronutrients:
Start by using this meal formula to plan meals based on your macros:
1 Protein + 1 Veggie + 1 Herb/Spice + 1 Carb and/or 1 Fat (add carbs and/or fats based on macros)
From there you will choose 2-4 foods that you like from each column in the meal template (I adapted this from Robb Wolf’s Food Matrix). This template is to ensure you never get tired of eating the same foods, so don’t be afraid to switch it up every once in a while.
The most important thing within this meal template is to choose foods you like. If you don’t like the foods you are eating, you won’t stick to them long-term and that’s what matters most to get the physique you want.
*Remember that veggies will be in the carbohydrates section because they are considered a carbohydrate.
Here is an example of a 3-4 day macro meal planner with my food choices from each category:
Proteins (pick 2-4):
- chicken breast
- whey protein
- lean ground turkey
- salmon or tuna
Veggies (pick 2-3)
- mixed leafy greens (salad mix)
Carbs (pick 2-4)
- sweet potato
- white rice
Fats (pick 2-3)
Now that you’ve picked your food sources from each category, don’t forget to add herbs, spices, and seasonings. Without flavor, you will get burnt out from eating the same bland foods! Believe it or not, healthy food can taste incredibly flavorful with the right amount of salt and spice.
Plan your Grocery List
Writing your grocery list and shopping in new areas at the grocery store can be very overwhelming and might be the hardest part of prepping meals. There are so many options at the store, it’s hard to know what’s good for you and what’s bad, especially with sneaky labels on packaged products.
Here are some of my tips for shopping efficiently, so you can get home to start prepping:
- First, clean out your pantry. Throw out any processed foods or “trigger foods” that will throw you off track. This also makes room for new healthy foods. If the food isn’t on the meal template, and it’s packaged, then it is probably processed.
- Don’t buy junk (aka packaged foods/processed foods). Your will power is only so strong and if it’s in the house you will most likely end up eating it. You can say it’s for your kids, or husband, but if you’re trying to be healthier, than the rest of your family should too (some tough love for you). Stay with the foods from the meal template, and you’ll be set up for success. If you are craving a food one day then get in your car and go to the store (this takes a lot more effort than you walking to your pantry and grabbing it).
- Shop the perimeter of the store. This is where you will find all the fresh fruits, veggies, and meats.
- If you can, shop seasonal ingredients at Farmer’s Markets, Co-ops, or small business natural food stores. Google what fruits and vegetables are in season. Seasonal fruits and veggies are fresh, more nutrient-dense, and taste better!
- Order your groceries online and get them delivered to your door to save time! I use Instacart to order from my local grocery store, and Thrive Market to order my packaged goods like white rice, spices, herbs, oils, nuts, seeds, and more! If you want to check it out, right now you can choose a FREE gift, up to $24 value, when you purchase a Thrive Market membership! They have both a 1 year and monthly memberships available.
- Don’t hesitate to buy frozen vegetables or fruits. They are just as nutritious as non-frozen, and more convenient. I would just refrain from steaming them in the plastic packaging in the microwave.
Once you’ve shopped a handful of times, you will realize that you typically get the same foods each time. From there, you probably won’t even need a grocery list and can just stick to the parts of the grocery store that you do the most shopping at.
Cooking quick, tasty meals is the objective when meal prepping. Having a system in place helps eliminate overwhelm on what to cook (aka wasting time browsing Pinterest for recipes), and what method to cook the food with. You will essentially repeat the same meals or similar meals each week to eliminate guesswork, and to save time for other things.
Follow this framework.
- Choose your seasoning from the herbs, spices, and seasonings meal template. Don’t be afraid to switch it up from week to week.
My favorites are:
- Now, choose your cooking method.
Carbs are very easy to prep and typically don’t require a lot of seasonings.
- Choose your carbs from the meal template and your cooking method
My favorites are:
Sweet potatoes, or any other kind of potato: Bake them in the oven (sweet potatoes will caramelize and are delicious when baked), use an air fryer to make healthy fries (make sure to track the oil used), or cube sweet potatoes and roast them in the oven. I also microwave potatoes if I am short on time and don’t have any prepped.
Vegetables: Roast veggies on a sheet pan in the oven (best for veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus), sauté in a skillet with oil (make sure to track oil here, best for veggies like brussels sprouts, zucchini, squash, bell peppers, mushrooms), or throw them on a gas grill/smoke grill.
Other carbs like oatmeal, and fruits don’t require a lot of prep.
- *Remember that fats are naturally higher calorie (9 calories per gram of fat), so it is important to track them appropriately.
Fat’s typically don’t require any prep, so they can easily be added to any meal. My favorites are:
Ghee: I keep it easily accessible in my pantry and typically add it to my potatoes.
Avocado: Add it to any type of meal for healthy fats
I also recommend eggs as a stable healthy fat with protein, however, I don’t tolerate eggs well. If you don’t have time before meals to cook eggs, prep them ahead of time whether hard-boiled, scrambled, or fried eggs.
Cooking Multiple Foods at Once
To cut down on time, make use of all the different cooking equipment and tools you have available.
Oven: I will roast my veggies in the oven and use 2 sheet pans for 2 different vegetables. Once my veggies are done I will bake sweet potatoes. I can also use the top of my stove to make taco meat with ground beef for example.
Air fryer: I will make air fryer salmon here.
The Best Meal Prep Containers
Now that you’ve cooked all your food, buy some high-quality meal prep containers that you can keep for a long time. I recommend glass or metal (not safe to microwave). Stay away from plastic containers (even BPA-free). When placing hot food in plastic containers or microwaving food in the containers, the plastic leaches chemicals into your food.
I personally like to store my proteins, carbs, veggies, and fats in separate containers. This way I can “build” my meals based on what my macros are.
- Glass containers: perfect if you’re wanting to reheat your meal in the microwave or oven.
For portioning out your food in each container:
- [10 Pack] Glass Meal Prep Containers
- Glass Meal Prep Containers 3 Compartment 5 Pack
- 24-Piece Superior Glass Food Storage Containers Set
For storing proteins, fats, and carbs separately (larger glass containers):
- Pyrex Rectangular Food Storage, Red, (6 Pack)
- Pyrex Simply Store 11-Cup Rectangular Glass Food Storage Dish
- 14 Cup/ 112 oz LARGE Glass Food Storage Container with Locking Lid
Meal Prep FAQ
If you are going to freeze meals, make sure your glass containers are air-tight to prevent freezer burn. Not all foods are good once put in the freezer and thawed. Proteins (like chicken, beef, and turkey), rice, and potatoes do okay in the freezer. However, vegetables (or those with a high water content like mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, etc.) will turn to mush once thawed. The best vegetables to freeze are broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, spinach, kale, chard, onions, peppers, and celery.
To defrost your meals, place them in the fridge to defrost the night before you plan to eat them.
I recommend keeping only 3-4 days’ worth of food in the fridge at a time. Any longer you risk the food to spoil. If you end up prepping more than 4 days’ worth, store the rest in the freezer and thaw it out the night before you plan to eat it.
Meal prepping to lose weight all comes down to eating in a calorie deficit (eating less than your body burns daily). Unfortunately, no matter how many healthy foods you eat, if you’re not eating in a calorie deficit you will remain the same body weight, or might even gain weight.
Knowing how many calories to eat is highly individual. I recommend reading How to Count Macros (Beginner’s Guide) first to learn how many calories you should be eating to lose weight. Once you’ve calculated your macros, follow the steps I listed above to prep easy proteins, carbs, and fats.
Macros Meal Prep Tips for Beginners
- Plan your meals ahead of time: If you’re new to counting macros, planning ahead of time is a must. If you are tracking as you eat, you will most likely end up with impossible numbers at the end of the day. 70g Protein, 5g Fat, and 15g Carbs left for your last meal. Ouch. You won’t have to plan ahead forever, but just until you gain experience with tracking your macros. Using a calculator when starting out makes planning easier.
- Practice makes perfect: If you are new to counting macros and meal prepping around macros, know that it will be a little tricky at first to plan each meal based on your macros. Be patient and be willing to continue learning until you have mastered the skill and can plan your meals and prep quickly!
- Start small: If you feel overwhelmed by this post, I’m sure you’re not the only one. Don’t try to tackle planning every meal at once. Start with Breakfast first. Learn about what foods fit in your macros for breakfast, and learn what foods make your body feel good. Prep 2-3 different breakfast meals, and once you feel confident with prepping breakfast, move on to lunch. Remember, doing something (even if it’s small), is better than doing nothing.
- Make time in your calendar: If you don’t block off time in your calendar, you most likely won’t get it done. Plan a 2-3 hour block of time, and commit to meal prepping.
- Make it enjoyable: For most people meal prepping can be a daunting task, so changing your mindset around the activity will make it a lot more enjoyable. Use the time to listen to a podcast or audiobook you’ve been wanting to, or jam out to some music.
- Have a backup plan: Things don’t always go as planned, so you need some backup foods in case you aren’t able to eat your meal prepped meal. Here are some portable and convenient snacks that can be stored anywhere.
- Grass-fed beef jerky, Whey protein powder, Oatmeal, Banana, Apple, Grass-fed beef sticks, and Protein Bars.
Meal Prep Recipes for Beginners
- Sheet Pan Breakfast Bake (Paleo, Whole30)
- Easy Whole30 Egg Breakfast Muffins (Paleo)
- Paleo Breakfast Casserole with Sweet Potatoes, Bacon, Eggs, and Veggies
- Loaded Sweet Potato Sausage Hash
- Banana Protein Muffins (Paleo)
- Brussels Sprouts Breakfast Hash with Bacon
- Paleo Chicken Tenders (Whole30, Keto)
- Whole30 Sloppy Joes with Sweet Potatoes (Paleo, Dairy Free)
- Instant Pot White Chicken Chili (Paleo, Whole30)
- Loaded Burger Bowls (Paleo, Whole30)
- Ground Beef Taco Bowls with Cauliflower Rice (Whole30, Paleo, Keto)
- Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork) Paleo, Whole30
- Slow Cooker Chipotle Beef Barbacoa (Paleo, Whole30, Keto)
- Stir Fry Ground Beef and Broccoli (Keto, Paleo, Whole30)
- Mexican Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (Paleo, Whole30)
- Whole30 Italian Stuffed Peppers (Paleo, Dairy free, Keto)
- Instant Pot Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs
- Easy Slow Cooker Pot Roast (Whole30, Paleo)
- Slow Cooker Shredded Mexican Chicken (Whole30, Paleo)
- Slow Cooker Paleo Chicken Teriyaki