Meal prepping – if I want to manage my weight, it’s what I need to do. My struggle is finding a sustainable way to prep, and I’ve found a few new things to try to see how well they help.
I love food, perhaps too much. I love all the ways you can combine and put it together to make symphonies – or bring comfort. Too often mean prep gets too “clean” and loses fun, flavor, and interest for me. And it can be a big time and effort investment, when I don’t necessarily have the time to do so. Every time I’ve used meal prepping I’ve achieved fair results, because it makes me monitor and constrain my intake. But it winds up being too much trouble or not enough enjoyment, and eventually it wanes and I fall back into old habits.
What’s different this time is trying to not sweat everything as much. I found this article from Joel McCain of Blacksmith Fitness called “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Fat Loss“. It strips things down even more than I’ve done before, and it may be what helps me.
Basically I figure out my target caloric intake per day. Determine protein at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, then the remainder of calories is fat and carbs in whatever ratio – that is it, and that is key.
When I would do other plans such as from Renaissance Periodization, while I would have good success, the hard control and reduction in carbs and fats would not only be a struggle, but let’s be real – very soon I’d wind up rather constipated, having to take a supplement like psyllium husk, just to keep things going. That added a layer of irritation (so to speak) to the mix.
But if I can have more flexibility in my carb and fat intake – especially fat intake – I believe that should help me here. Plus if I can enjoy what I’m doing, that can only help me stick with it. More on this below.
In the end, the single biggest factor that affects your bodyweight is calorie balance. If I can keep my protein where it needs to be and my caloric intake lower than my expenditure, I will lose weight. Every other aspect of food, diet, weight management, macros, blah blah blah is secondary minutia (yes it CAN matter, but if you can’t control caloric intake, all that other stuff doesn’t matter so much – cart before the horse).
What I am doing
I determined my caloric take: presently 2300/day. I determined this through some simple formulas, plus leveraging some apps I have to see where they would put me. Again, I didn’t care what plan they were recommending, just calories. 2300 is a good place for me to start (when I plateau, I’ll drop it 10%, recalculate, and continue).
From there, I figure out protein, and the caloric remainder is fat and carbs.
I then use MyFitnessPal – not as a tracker, but as a calculator. I plug the 2300 calorie goal into it. I adjust the percentage dials for the three macronutrients to get protein right, then fat and carbs just to get the percentage to total 100%. I then enter one diary day of meals based on whatever foods I want to eat, focusing on the big things like meats, carbs, and fat sources (I don’t bother entering veggies). Note that I’m choosing the foods I want – the things I want to eat. For example, on my first week I simply made 1/2 lb hamburger patties from 95/5 ground beef and smoked them on my Traeger smoker/grill. I like beef, I love the flavors that result from the smoking on the Traeger. Pasta is a good carb, some fiber too, so I just got a couple boxes of ziti. Simple and things I like to eat. So I enter all the foods into 1 day on MyFitnessPal and adjust the amounts of the foods until it hits my target protein and total calories for the day. I’m not looking at specific carbs or fat numbers (other than to ensure I’m at least getting some of each), I’m not looking at details like saturated fats or sugars or even if I’m hitting the “ratio” of fats to carbs. It’s simply: am I getting the protein I need, then am I totally up everything else to hit my calorie need. I don’t care if MyFitnessPal complains about my choices – I’m not using the app as it wants to be used, it’s just a database and calculator.
That single thing took a big load off my mind because now I’m not struggling to add or remove or find ways to wedge things in just to hit the right ratios. “Oh, I gotta eat 2 spoons of peanut butter to try to get in enough fat” or “No, must eat that toast dry because this meal said only 10g fat and that’s being incidentally brought in by the fact I’m eating meat; in fact, despite being lean meat I max out my fat allowance before I hit my protein requirement so now I have to find some other protein source like 15g of whey simply to get enough protein, but wait that affects carbs slightly so now I have to readjust THAT…”. And that shit just got really old really fast having to try to cram and finagle ways to hit the macros.
This approach is so much simpler.
Plus I don’t have to actually track my meals because everything’s already determined and portioned out. Just eat what I made – no more, no less – and I’ll hit things.
Variations and simplifications
I’m trying to keep this simple, but interesting. I think those are key towards long-term success.
I have basically 1 meal, which I vary into 2 meals, tho in a way it’s 4.
The meals are all simple. For example this week it’s all: 1/2 lb lean beef patty, pasta, steamed veggie. That’s the base meal.
The first variation is sauce. Half of the meals get a Prego no-added-sugar sauce. The other half get some beef gravy with mushrooms (salisbury steak!). So now the beef and pasta have some variety in the flavors and mouthfeels, without adding much to the calories.
The second variation is veggies. Half of the meals get green beans, the other half are getting broccolini.
And I can mix and match a little more too: Prego and green beans, Prego and broccolini, gravy and green beans, gravy and broccolini. So now one base meal turns into four different meals. It’s not huge variation, but it’s enough to keep things from being completely repetitive.
A few other things in there to help with prep itself:
- I’m not preparing sauce. I’m using Prego jarred sauce, tho I did pick the no-added-sugar version just to keep the added calories down. The gravy is simply a prepared gravy from the store, and the mushrooms are canned and drained. I know it’s not the most gourmet way of things, but it drastically cuts down on the time and hassle of prep so I’m not spending all day in the kitchen – this is important to me.
- The veggies are steamed in the bag. I used to try to buy fresh and prepare them in some way, like sauté or something more fancy in the prep. Well, sometimes the only way I can find the fresh veggies I want to eat are in those steam-in-bags at the store – I used to just consider that a container, but I opted this go-round to just throw ’em into the microwave and steam-prep them that way. That has turned into a HUGE time-saver and an unexpected win.
- The hard part about working with pasta is there’s the dry weight then the cooked weight: all the nutrition info is by dry, but I need to portion by cooked. I used to weigh all the cooked and portion from there doing all the before vs. after math I could. Ugh. This time I knew how much nutrition I needed from the pasta thus how much I would need. I did the math to portion out how much dry that would require over 14 meals, and cooked that much. Then when it was cooked, I simply eyeballed even distribution into 14 meal containers. I didn’t sweat if today I got exactly 189g of carbs from pasta in this meal: if I consumed all my meals over the week, I’d be getting what I needed over the course of the week. It all works out just fine in the end. Much simpler execution here.
- Breakfast is simple. I like cereal. I picked a cereal I like and eat that using plain whey isolate as “milk”. Simple and works nicely for me.
- I have an afternoon snack, which is some protein powder (trying a combo of whey isolate and egg right now), some fresh fruit (I’m using fresh pineapple, which I love), and then some nuts (cashews are a favorite; but this week I’m going to try these seasoned shelled pistachios I found at the store) because honestly I wanted to up my fat intake in hitting my calorie goals. This sort of snack makes me happy.
- I undercook everything just slightly. It’s all going to get microwave reheated, which will break it down more too… so a slight undercooking now helps it hold up in storage and not become unappetizing upon reheating.
Yes, it’s a little more expensive to buy prepared. For example, when I’ve made the gravy in the past I bought 1 box of stock then added corn starch to thicken. This time I bought the gravy ready to go. The ingredients check wound up resulting in exactly the same gravy but cost twice as much. The couple bucks spent was more than made up for in the time saved. One money-saving trick I like doing is going to the grocery store first thing in the morning. Often you’ll find meat that is good but needs to be sold NOW marked down. That 93/7 or 95/5 beef that people tend to not buy because it’s more expensive? Well now they marked it down 25% to clear it out, so I’m getting extra lean beef at 80/20 chuck prices. You find your ways to trade off.
I’ve only just started on this particular run. It’s been 2 preps and 1 week of eating (just finished prep #2 a few hours before writing this). I don’t know how this will go, but the fact my prep this morning took me 3 hours including hitting the grocery store, the kitchen wasn’t totally wrecked, I don’t have to track every meal and day (since it’s all precalculated by the act of how I assembled each meal), and I am liking what I’m making and eating and actually looking forward to my meals… well, it’s all a good sign.