Meal planning doesn’t come naturally to everyone. To meal plan and lose weight, you have to come up with three meals a day for an entire week—plus snacks—and monitor your calorie intake. It can be daunting. But the Cooking Light Diet can help. Our site gives you the ability to customize meal plans, edit and receive shopping lists for those plans, and achieve your weight-loss goals.
A Cooking Light Diet member recently asked others in our Facebook Community to share their best meal prepping tips. The responses were equal parts helpful and inspirational.
Here are eight ways that current members successfully prep their week’s worth of meals.
READ THE RECIPE.
It’s always imperative to read a recipe’s instructions all the way through before getting into the kitchen and cooking. Matthew Moore, Community and Content Manager for the Cooking Light Diet, advises you double-check everything is ready to go and you’re not surprised by a recipe step that’s more time-consuming than you’d planned for. “Yes, a recipe may have a beautiful image and tasty name associated with it, but always read the instructions before scheduling a recipe so you’ll know what you’re getting into.”
Since you’re meal prepping, the name of the game is being prepared. That starts with knowing exactly what you’re doing once it’s time to get cooking.
PREPARE TO PLAN.
In order to be successful, you need to be prepared to meal plan. Sara Tane, Associate Editor for MyRecipes.com, said she spent time after subscribing going through recipes via the Search tool to pinpoint recipes she would enjoy, or that incorporated the ingredients she already had on hand. Meanwhile, Debra Sivley Stevens says she sets aside 45 minutes on Friday nights or Saturday mornings to plan the week ahead. She also ensures that she’s scheduled a meal that has leftover servings.
Matthew Moore suggests using the Search tool to find recipes that utilize ingredients you already have. Similarly, Cooking Light Diet Team member Arielle Weg plans her week of meals around one central. dish. She’ll pick a recipe she’s excited about, then search for other recipes that incorporate some of those same ingredients.
SCHEDULE SOME PREP TIME.
It’s important to set aside a specific day and time for prep so you don’t fall off the wagon when you’re too tired to cook. Debra Sivley Stevens likes to prepare crudités on Sundays so she’s set with snacks for the week. Sara Tane said she whips up a make-ahead batch of hummus for the week so she always has a snack on hand, too.
Matthew Moore stresses the importance of planning your prep day ahead.
“Prep what you can on the day you have the most free time to devote to managing mealtime success.” Even if you don’t have time to make an entire meal, bag up smoothie ingredients for a make-ahead breakfast, chop up all the veggies you can in advance (or the ones that won’t go bad quickly), and perform the small or tedious tasks that might keep you from success during the week.
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
You do not have to cook to the point of exhaustion with the Cooking Light Diet, and simplifying your meal plan can go a long way towards keeping you motivated to eat healthier. Member Rebecca Lake streamlines her meal plan so she only cooks two lunches all week and has the leftovers at her other lunchtimes. She also says “simple breakfasts—like Egg on Avocado Toast with Fruit, or oatmeal dishes—are pretty easy to find” using the Search tool.
Jay Shaw focuses on choosing meals that prep quickly. “Once you’ve made a bunch of the recipes, you’ll find there are a few that don’t take much time to make.” Those superfast recipes are the ones he turns to on days when life gets hectic, and he gives himself flexibility to switch meals around to keep things simple and save time.
SIMPLIFY YOUR SIDES, TOO.
Cooking Light Diet meals are always paired with a side(s), but you can easily swap out the suggested side as long as whatever you’re swapping in has around the same caloric value. Kristine Elkins likes to use frozen steamer veggies or a rice cooker for simple weeknight sides. Maggie McGuyvar opts for a slightly different approach, making a variety of sides for a single protein so she’ll have easy throw-together lunches during the week.
And don’t be afraid to repeat sides, either. Matthew Moore suggests “keeping your sides simple. If you’re short on time and energy—and don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen—pick one side you know you love, and repeat that throughout the week.”
You definitely don’t have to cook every day—or every meal—with the Cooking Light Diet. Member Andrea Haight says she cooks about three times a week and utilizes leftovers for the rest of her meals. Similarly, Corrine Johnson cooks Monday and Tuesday, then enjoys leftovers at lunch and dinner for the rest of the week.
If you’re feeding a large family and leftovers are an unknown commodity, Kristine Elkins suggests doubling the recipe and serving the rest at a different meal, freezing the second serving for a different week, or packing up extra servings for lunches. Debra Sivley Stevens suggests freezing leftover protein for another day. “I crock a whole chicken or pork roast every few weeks, shred the meat, and package it for the freezer.”
USE SUPERMARKET SHORTCUTS.
There is nothing wrong with utilizing supermarket shortcuts to get the most from your meal planning. Instead of buying and cooking chicken breasts, member Cheryl Renee uses rotisserie chicken for timesaving in dishes like Grilled Chicken Florentine Pasta and BBQ Chicken Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella and Pickled Jalapeños. Member Jay Shaw suggests buying precut ingredients you tend to use a lot. He buys jars of minced garlic since garlic is a staple in many of his favorite recipes. Matthew Moore also suggests purchasing frozen veggies—like broccoli florets and corn—or bottled lime and lemon juice if the recipe won’t suffer not having the freshly squeezed variety.
PLAN MEALS YOU CAN’T WAIT TO EAT.
The Cooking Light Diet emphasizes not having to put restrictions on what you can eat, so schedules recipes that will get you excited about cooking and eating them. Sara Tane made a batch of Crunchy-Chewy Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies as her snacks for the week because they were so easy to make and only 100 calories per cookie. Arielle Weg references her My Cookbook feature to see if there were any favorite recipes she wants to schedule again for the upcoming week.
If you plan meals you’ll love to eat, it won’t feel like work and you’ll look forward to preparing your favorites.