With this five-step meal prep guide, you can turn a couple of weekend hours into a week's worth of meals and snacks to fuel your workouts and speed recovery.
Step One: Make a plan!1 of 23
Sitting down to a blank calendar and trying to plan a week's worth of meals and snacks can be daunting, but there are a few tips that can make meal planning a lot easier.
Schedule your workouts.2 of 23
Knowing whether you're going to run in the morning, at lunchtime or after work will help you figure out when and how much you should eat to fuel your runs and your recovery.
Plan your meals and keep it simple.3 of 23
If you're okay eating the same breakfast every day, it will make your life so much easier. Likewise, you can use a "formula" for lunch and dinner that allows for variety while using the same basic ingredients throughout the week.
For example, at lunchtime, you can have a big green salad loaded with veggies and some lean protein. You might then construct your dinners using the "Green, Bean and Grain" template. Whatever your taste preferences, find a formula that works for you, and then use different vegetables, herbs and spices to mix it up.
Plan snack time.4 of 23
When it comes to pre- and post-run snacks, shoot for a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Opt for whole food options or high-quality packaged foods.
Gather your recipes before you shop.5 of 23
Once you've planned your meals and snacks for the week, scour the web for the healthiest versions of those recipes you can find. It might help to use an app like Yummly, AnyList or Mealboard to add the ingredients you'll need to a shopping list and save them later.
Step Two: Research What's in Your Kitchen6 of 23
Once you've planned your meals and found your recipes, look through your refrigerator, pantry and cabinets and note what you already have.
Remove any ingredients you already have from your shopping list. Then, to save time, organize the items on your list according to where they are in the store. Group all fresh produce at the top of your list, canned goods next, refrigerated and frozen items after that and, hopefully, not too many boxed or packaged items at the very end.
Invest in Good Containers.7 of 23
Ensuring you have the right vessels to store and carry your food is necessary to champion your food prep mission. Take stock of what you already have, then supplement to create a selection of sizes. Make sure you have enough containers in total to potentially package food for an entire week. And, if you can splurge on high-quality glass containers, do it. You'll be able reheat your food in its case, and it's the healthier option.
Step Three: Shop and Prep8 of 23
You might argue that these are really two separate steps, but putting them back-to-back on the same day can revolutionize your food prep game. Here are a few tips for making both shopping and prepping faster.
Clean before you leave.9 of 23
Clear your kitchen counters and your sink before you shop. Next, set out the cutting boards and knives you'll need in the prep stage. Finally, line up your storage containers. This gets you organized, so when you get home, you can get right into prepping.
Shop early.10 of 23
If you can get to the grocery store within an hour of opening, you'll likely find more employees than shoppers in the store.
Stick to the list!11 of 23
Nothing will slow you down (and derail your nutrition plan) more than browsing the "deals" or falling prey to the bakery section.
Start prepping as soon as you're home.12 of 23
As you take each item out of the bag, ask, "What am I using this in?" If it's a dish you'll be making within the next three days, prep it now.
Step Four: Cook and Package13 of 23
If at all possible, cook and package as many of your weekly meals and snacks as you can, right along with the prepping stage. This isn't always an option, either because of time constraints or because the food won't keep that long. If that's the case, then plan one or two more cook-and-package days later in the week, and follow these tips each time:
Cook in bulk.14 of 23
If the same ingredient will be used in multiple dishes (a particular whole grain, legumes, sautéed vegetables, etc.), cook it all at once. This saves you both cooking and clean-up time.
Label, label, label!15 of 23
I know you think there's no way you're going to mistake that black bean soup for your blueberry power bowl, but in the early-morning rush, it could happen. Taking a few moments to write out a label on a piece of masking tape with a marker will save you much angst later on.
Step Five: Eat and Enjoy!16 of 23
You may not consider this a step, but in fact, it's the most important one of all! The only way to be sure you reap the benefits of all your careful planning and prep work is to actually eat the meals and snacks you've prepared. Forgetting them at home, or eschewing them in favor of the pizza and donuts your well-meaning coworkers brought into work, will leave your workout performance flat and your belly otherwise. Here are a couple of tips to be sure you eat the wonderful foods you've prepared:
Pack your work bag the night before.17 of 23
Take a couple of minutes before bed to place the next day's meals and snacks into a bag, then store that bag in plain view at the front of the fridge. Write your name on it in big letters to be sure none of the other darlings in your household swipe it by mistake.
Stash your snacks at your desk or with your workout gear.18 of 23
In case your workday schedule goes awry (when doesn't it?!), having some healthy snacks at your desk is a good idea. Likewise, storing your pre- or post-workout snack (assuming it can be out of the fridge for a bit) in your gym bag will ensure that you have it exactly when and where you need it.
Just say no!19 of 23
This might be the hardest step. When the inevitable office temptations come your way, politely but firmly turn them down. Let your coworkers know that you appreciate the generous offer, but you're on a health kick right now, so you'd actually prefer not to be tempted. Hopefully, this will keep—and their donuts, pizza, cookies and brownies—out of your cubicle in the future.
Sample Three-Day Meal Plan for Runners20 of 23
To get you started with your meal plan, here's a three-day sample. Notice how the same ingredients (kale, bananas, red lentils, brown rice, quinoa) are incorporated into different recipes throughout the week.
Breakfast: Steel cut oats with dried cherries, chia, hemp hearts and flax meal (Soaking the oats with the cherries in your milk of choice overnight requires that you only heat this up in the morning! Add the seeds after heating if you want a little crunch.)
Mid-morning Snack: 1/4 cup almonds, 1/2 cup fresh berries
Lunch-time Workout: 30-minute run with intervals
Post-Workout Meal (Lunch): Large Mediterranean salad with garbanzo beans and quinoa
Afternoon Snack: 1 cup raw veggies, 2 tbsp. hummus
Dinner: Red lentil, kale and sweet potato stew over brown rice
Dessert: Banana slices browned in a little coconut oil and drizzled with 1/2 tsp. pure maple syrup
Tuesday21 of 23
Pre-Workout Snack: Kale and mixed berry smoothie
Morning Run: 30-minute easy run
Post-Workout Meal (Breakfast): Oatmeal with 1/2 banana and 1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
Lunch: Southwestern bowl with mixed greens, brown rice, red lentils, avocado and salsa
Afternoon Snack: Fresh or dried fruit, 1/4 cup nuts
Dinner: Veggie and lean protein stir-fry over brown rice
Dessert: Banana "nice" cream
Wednesday22 of 23
Breakfast: Steel cut oats with dried cherries, chia, hemp hearts and flax meal
Morning Snack: 1/2 cup fresh fruit
Lunch: Leftover red lentil, kale and sweet potato stew from Monday's dinner
Pre-workout Snack: No-bake almond and date bar
Run: 45-minute Tempo Run after work
Post-Workout Meal (Dinner): 4-6 ounces baked salmon or tofu, 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, 2 cups sautéed vegetables.
Dessert: A few squares of dark chocolate