Your fitness goals need fuel, and the fuel most likely to help you keep your fitness goals on track is the one you make yourself. Research from Johns Hopkins University found that people who cooked their own dinner 6 to 7 times a week consumed fewer calories, fat and sugar on an average day compared to those who only cooked dinner once a week. Regularly preparing a meal after a jam-packed day can feel daunting, but meal planning can eliminate a lot of that hassle and keep you away from convenience foods that could compromise the gains you’ve been making at the gym.
Here are 10 tips to make cooking your meals part of your fitness routine so that you know exactly what’s in the dish that’ll help you recover after leg day:
If planning out every breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole week feels overwhelming, start by consistently planning out one of them. In this case, we suggest dinner as it’s usually the biggest meal of the day and tends to be the most intricate.
MAKE A MENU
Decide what you’re going to make for dinner every night and make a list of the ingredients you’ll need from the grocery store to execute each recipe. By having a list, you’re more likely to avoid buying items you don’t need.
GO TO YOUR GO-TO MEALS
You don’t have to spend hours poring over a cookbook. In fact, we recommend easing into meal planning with go-to meals that you can repeat every week or two. From there, you can toss in a new recipe once in a while to expand your arsenal of go-to meals. Don't forget to save the new recipes you really enjoyed so you don't have to spend time looking for them later.
TAKE STOCK OF WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
Before you head to the grocery store, look in your pantry, fridge and freezer. If you have items that need to be used up, think of meals that incorporate those foods, then add any missing ingredients to your shopping list. Odds are, you're already stocked up on what you need to make at least one meal for that week.
DON’T SHY AWAY FROM THE FREEZER SECTION
Frozen vegetables have nearly the same nutritional value as their fresh counterparts, with the added bonus of not going bad after a few days. Having some veggies in your freezer also means you can buy the fresh stuff in smaller quantities to use earlier in the week and still have vegetables on hand to add to your meals later.
FREEZE AFTER COOKING
Soups, stews, casseroles and lasagna can all be made in large batches that you can freeze and then defrost for a quick dinner. Remember to separate your batch into smaller portions before freezing to make defrosting easy. Cooking in batches also means you’ll use up all the ingredients you purchased for the meal, so nothing goes to waste.
GO WITH A THEME
Not every night has to have a theme, but it might help you plan recipes for the week if a few of them do. Pasta night. Taco Tuesday. Soup night. Keeping the focus narrow can help you make quick recipe decisions without getting overwhelmed.
PREP FOOD AFTER SHOPPING
Chop those onions you just bought. Wash and dry the lettuce. Cube the zucchini. Slice up the peppers. Then put them away in containers in the fridge so they’re ready to go the day you need them. While it takes some energy on the front end, your future self will thank you for the effort when all you have to do is put the ingredients together without breaking out the knife and cutting board.
KEEP YOUR PANTRY STOCKED
Maintaining staple foods in your pantry can streamline your meal-prepping process and simplify your trip to the grocery store. A few examples of pantry staples include rice, pasta, canned or dried legumes, tomato sauce, olive oil and basic spices. By having these essentials on hand, all you have to worry about is picking up fresh items to use up throughout the week.
SCHEDULE A LAZY NIGHT
We know this article is about encouraging you to make your meals at home, but that’s just not going to happen every night. There will be days when you just don’t have the energy for it, so go ahead and order takeout or go out to dinner with friends.
NOW LET'S GET DOWN TO SPECIFICS
Our Guide to Customized Meal Planning is filled with everything you need to know about your body and what you need to eat in order to reach your fitness goals. Whether you’re looking to maintain, slim down or bulk up, this guide will help you figure out exactly how to plan your work and work your plan!
With this free download, you’ll get tips including:
- Pinpointing your body type
- Planning by goal and body type
- Using tracking tools
- And a custom meal plan worksheet