A Beginner's Guide: Healthy Meal Prep Recipes, Tips & Ideas

Learn to meal prep like a pro! We take it step-by-step to show you how partaking in meal prep each week can limit work throughout the week and prevent resorting to convenience foods.

Beginner weight loss meal prep can seem like quite the challenge. Without easy meal prep ideas to lose weight, creating healthy meals that support your wellness goals can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are a few simple ideas that can help you learn how to meal plan for weight loss in a way that feels supportive and sustainable. 

Read on to learn how to meal prep for the week for weight loss. 

Beginner Weight Loss Meal Prep

There is a dangerous idea in the health and wellness industry that is often called "all-or-nothing" thinking. While it is generally good to commit to something whole-heartedly, making a major change instead of a sustainable one can quickly lead to burnout or a lack of follow-through, no matter how noble your goal is. 

Instead, making minor changes that build on one another can help you sustain weight loss (and other wellness goals, too). The "best" way to meal prep for you will be what works for your schedule and what is most likely to help you be successful in the long term. 

The Benefits of Meal Planning for Weight Loss

The great thing about meal preparation is that planning out your diet in advance can take the guesswork out of eating. It ensures that you get a variety of nutrient-rich foods throughout the day that can encourage weight loss and other health benefits. 

In fact, a recent study concluded that frequent meal planning enhanced weight loss. Interestingly, according to the research, frequent meal planning had a more positive impact than frequent exercise planning. In other words, meal prep had a slow-but-steady effect on weight loss that made more sense for participants in the long term. 

How to Meal Plan for Weight Loss

So, you're ready to start, but what are the steps? Most successful meal preparation programs include these five steps.

1. Research recipes and take requests

If it's just you on this journey, take time to research recipes you like! If weight loss is a family affair or something you are embarking on with friends, be sure to take preferences and requests into account. 

You don't have to abandon family favorites like pizza but may need to get creative with ingredients and methods (i.e. making homemade pizza with a whole-wheat crust and a plethora of veggies).

2. Refine your grocery list

Sometimes the culprit for your growing waistline and dwindling budget are the same. A lack of grocery lists can mean purchasing nutrient-poor, less cost-effective food on a whim. 

Instead, take time to make a list before you go to the store and include nutritious items like produce, lean meat, and whole grains. Weekly deals can help guide wise choices! 

3. Remember the store's perimeter and peruse farmer's markets

Want to know a sneaky tip about stores? Prepackaged, less nutritious foods are often stocked on the shelves of the store (and at eye level) while fresh produce and nutritious options can be found lining the perimeter of the store. 

While pre-sliced or packaged options can be convenient, you can get more bang for your buck when you buy things like a block of cheese instead of something pre-shredded. If the store seems too tempting, hit the farmer's market for excellent deals on fresh produce. 

4. Schedule a regular meal prep time

Having a regular time for meal prep, even when it is minimal, each day can be a big help if you are looking to lose weight. Homemade meals take more time to make but can taste the freshest and appetizing. 

If short on time, meal delivery services like bistroMD can be an option that still helps you to meet your weight loss goals while also requiring minimal meal prep. 

5. Review, store, and repeat

Now is the time to ask yourself, "What worked, and what didn't?" If a certain meal is a hit, consider making it ahead of time and storing it in the freezer. 

Many people find themed days helpful (i.e. Meatless Mondays or Taco Tuesdays) for making a meal planning pattern repeatable without making it monotonous. 

Tips to Meal Prep for the Week for Weight Loss

In addition to following the steps above, keep these three tips in mind as you begin meal planning for weight loss. 

1. Plan small, frequent meals

Instead of eating three larger meals a day, eating four to six smaller meals may be a more effective way to support your metabolism. A practical way to do this is to eat smaller portion sizes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (the major meals) and then have moderately-sized snacks between each meal (i.e. a morning snack, midday snack, and after-dinner snack). 

Another way to do this is just to make sure you fuel your body about every 3-4 hours

2. Focus on fueling rather than restricting

Remembering that your food is a form of fuel can help you eat well to support yourself throughout the day. You are likely doing other things to support your body during weight loss, like exercising more or reducing stress. 

Instead of cycling between restricting and overeating during meals, plan your meals with a mindset of fueling so that you can support your body during your weight loss journey. 

3. Don't count out meal delivery

Meal preparation takes time and effort. If you're in the middle of a busy season of life, there is no shame in outsourcing this task! There are many meal delivery services tailored toward weight loss, including the doctor-designed and dietitian-supported bistroMD

Easy Meal Prep Ideas to Lose Weight

Don't know how to get started? Here are some ideas for each meal (plus, some ideas for snacks). 

Meal Prep Breakfast

If looking for easy weight loss recipes for the morning meal, there's nothing easier than overnight oats. They can be made ahead of time with many staple ingredients you probably already have on hand.

Other quick and delicious options that can help support weight loss include healthy breakfast burritos and homemade muffins. Muffins can be prepared in larger batches and then stored in the freezer for future use. 

Meal Prep Lunch 

Mason jar salads are the overnight oats of midday meal prep (meaning they can be made ahead of time with just a few ingredients). They are easy to make and easy to store until you need them. 

Another excellent option is chicken breast or tuna salad. With just a few simple ingredients, you can throw together a quick lunch that is full of fueling ingredients. Chicken and tuna are also lean meats, which can help you lose weight. 

Meal Prep Dinner 

Need an easy dinner idea? Start with ground turkey, ground beef, or shredded chicken (all of which are also lean meats). Simple seasoning combinations, like taco seasoning or Asian flavors, can elevate this humble meat into so much more. 

Stir-fry, soups, and chili are also excellent ways to use up the random ingredients you have on hand. Bulk up these dishes with extra veggies, and trade cream-based sides like sour cream for Greek yogurt (it will add a tangy twist). 

Meal Prep Snacks & Desserts

Get a taste of salty and sweet by trying these fueling combinations: 

• Homemade trail mix (unsalted nuts + dried fruits)

• Healthy charcuterie board (i.e. vegetables + hummus, fruit + yogurt-based dip, small portions of lean meats like turkey slices + cheese cubes)

• Yogurt parfait (Greek yogurt + fresh fruit + homemade granola) 

Recapping Beginner Meal Plans for Weight Loss

The bottom line is, there's no "right" way to plan meals and recipes for weight loss. There are just the meal preparation methods that work for you and your family. 

If you don't have much time, money, or other resources to devote to meal planning, remember there are still plenty of options that can help you eat nutritiously and lose weight (without making you feel burnt out). 

References:

Hayes JF, Balantekin KN, Fitzsimmons-Craft EE, Jackson JJ, Ridolfi DR, et al. Greater Average Meal Planning Frequency Predicts Greater Weight Loss Outcomes in a Worksite-Based Behavioral Weight Loss Program. Ann Behav Med. 2021;55(1):14-23. 

Healthy Meal Planning: Tips for Older Adults. NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). Published November 2021. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-meal-planning-tips-older-adults

Kaminski J. How To Meal Prep for Weight Loss. NASM. https://blog.nasm.org/how-to-meal-prep-for-weight-loss.

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