Last year was one of the most challenging years of my life.
I was working and commuting 10 hours a day in a job I hated, working on starting a side business, AND trying to build more muscle that year.
My personal relationships started to suffer, and the worst part was my health did too. I felt like I never had the time to prepare or cook healthy meals.
Cut to getting fast food on the way home one night, which quickly turns into 2 nights, then 3... then landslides into eating out for most of your meals, and then just eating whatever you can get your hands on when you feel hungry.
When I started fixing this, the first realization I had was that the problem wasn’t really how much time I had, it was how I was using it.
For most men, you might feel like you have to choose between spending time with your kids, working full-time, and getting your health in order.
How else can you consistently eat healthy meals when life keeps getting in the way?
Now I have 10 strategies I use to get or stay fit when I’m low on time, and in this post I’ll be going into detail on 1 of the most important: Meal Prepping.
I'll outline an extremely simple method to prepare everything you need for your weekly meals on 1 day of the week, and then spend only 30 minutes or less per day putting meals together.
This requires some front-loading - a chunk of time will be spent on Sundays, but the rest is spent just mixing and matching throughout the week.
(Note: At the bottom of this post I’ve included a link to the other 9 strategies you can use to make this year, and the next, your best one yet.)
Mix-n-Match Meal Prep Ideas
The key idea here is that we’ll be preparing individual ingredients that we can use to build meals later on, instead of building full meals to store. This gives you flexibility and choice when it comes to your daily meals, and that’s crucial for long-term consistency.
Here’s a simple meal template I use that works really well with this strategy. The bonus is that it doesn’t require recipes or learning any new cooking techniques.
With every meal, aim for 2 palms of protein, a cupped handful of starchy carbs, 1-2 fists of vegetables, and a thumb of fat. Pair all your meals with water or green tea.
This template helps with controlling calories, getting a ton of nutrients, and makes it VERY, VERY easy to mix and match ingredients to prepare quick and easy meals.
Here are some general ideas for ingredients to mix and match with:
- Starchy carbs: brown rice, oats, pasta, quinoa, sweet potato, lentils
- Veggies: spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers
- Protein: chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, beans, Greek yogurt
- Fats: unsalted mixed nuts, avocados, olive oil, fish oil, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds
From there you can tweak this to fit your specific goals. You don't have to use this and this template is just one example. Others include chili, soups or wraps.
At the end of this post I’ve added 3 sample meals you can make using that template, including a meal-replacement protein smoothie.
Prep Before The Prep:
Before you start, make sure you have big Ziploc bags and food containers to easily store and retrieve your food. If you don’t have any, set a reminder for yourself to buy some the next time you go grocery shopping.
ALWAYS use a grocery list. You can use an app like ‘Google Keep’ to create a master list and check off items as you buy them (then uncheck them when you need them again), or put a note on your fridge and add items that you need to buy as you run out.
Only buy the things you’ve written on your list when you go shopping, and be sure to spend a little time thinking about what you’d actually like to eat that week so you buy everything you need.
Look at your schedule for a day that you have some free time. You’ll need two hours at most free on one day of the week to do the bulk of your prep work. Generally, Sundays work best for this. From there you’ll be setting yourself up to spend 30 minutes or less a day creating your meals.
What I like to do is do all of my initial prep right after I grocery shop. You can do it all at once, in parts, or split it up throughout the week to spread out the initial prep.
The rest of this post is broken down by food categories. Let’s get right into it.
Pre-cook Your Protein:
When you’re prepping, starting with meats first works best so you can move on to veggies and carbs while they cook.
Once you season your meats, the easiest (and cleanest) way is to use the oven, but you can prepare different meats (like pot of ground beef or cook several filets of fish) on the stove.
Cooked meat won’t last longer than 3-4 days in the fridge (and ground meats will generally last around 1-2 days) so make sure you don’t overdo the amount you prepare. An easy rule of thumb to use is to take the amount of chicken, beef or fish you would normally prepare for 1 day then triple it.
If you do the rest of your prep on Sunday, this will be the only thing you’ll need to re-make but it will take drastically less time when done alone.
For eggs, you can whisk them in advance and store them in the fridge to be poured out when needed.
After you put your meats in the oven (or on the stove), you can move on to carbs. For rice, pasta, or quinoa, boil water in a pot and add your grains to it.
Those take minutes to prep, but be sure to set a timer for when they’ll be done so you can move on to veggies while you wait.
For sweet potatoes, you can cook them in the oven but they require a little bit more prep time to clean, peel and chop. You can do it at the same time as your meats or wait until they’re done, just be aware of temperature and cooking times required.
Vegetables & Fruits:
Get your veggies frozen if you prefer! They hold nutrients as well, or better, than fresh vegetables so this is a great option. If you do choose frozen, be careful to cook them correctly so they don’t turn soggy. This works well for stir-fry, soups, or casseroles.
For fresh vegetables, wash and chop them all after you buy them, then store them in the fridge. Always make sure they’re entirely dry before storage so they last longer.
Prepare them by:
- Chopping, storing raw
- Seasoning and roasting
If you do cook them, you can reheat them in the microwave later. Raw veggies also make a great snack when you already have them prepared.
Pre-chop Dried Ingredients:
This is the easiest because most nuts or other dried ingredients will come chopped or packaged. Simply store them somewhere you can easily access them. If you do need to chop or grind them, do that now. These can be toppers for smoothies or eaten with meals (especially avocado, olive oil as a dressing, or chopped nuts)
With all of that prepared and stored in your kitchen, the bulk of the work is done. During the rest of the week it’ll take you 30 minutes or less to put together a quick meal using the template above, warm it up, and start eating. It also makes it incredibly easy for grabbing a quick snack on the go.
You can also split up the time required on Sunday by having 2 or more shorter sessions throughout the week to re-up your stock.
Another simple way to prep with little time is to prepare larger servings than you need to for the meals you do cook (double servings for leftovers) or cut up extra ingredients (like more eggs, more veggies, more meat) to re-use for different meals later on. This works well for preparing 2 days at a time.
With just the prepped ingredients listed above, here’s an example of what 3 different meals could look like using the template introduced at the start. They all take 15 minutes or less to make.
(5-10 mins to prepare and cook when eggs are cracked in advance)
½ cup red peppers chopped, ¼ cup red onions, ¼ cup mushrooms in vegetable omelette (4 eggs, 2 pieces of whole-grain toast, a glass of water)
(15 mins to put together, even less if vegetables steamed beforehand)
1 fist broccoli and 1 carrots, both steamed, eaten beside 1 cupped handful of pasta with tomato sauce, 2 pieces of chicken breast and a medium sized banana.
If you don’t have a steamer, you can make a salad on the side with 1 cup of baby spinach, ½ cup of tomatoes or peppers, with a homemade dressing (olive oil, vinegar, black pepper).
OR when you know it’ll be a busy day and you won’t get a chance to sit and eat, try a large protein smoothie.
(2-5 minutes to gather ingredients, 3-5 minutes to blend and pour)
1 cup spinach (tasteless in the smoothie) and 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 2 scoops whey protein powder, water, 1 tsp ground almonds.
Don’t let a lack of preparation be the only thing standing between you and the body you want.
If certain parts of this post work for you, but others don’t, take what does and keep tweaking until you get there.
When you have the right plan in place, it becomes much easier to see results long-term. If you found these meal prep ideas helpful, I know you’ll love the other 9 strategies I use to look and feel better when I’m low on time. Check out the link below for the full list.
About the Author
Ridwan Mao shows busy men simple, practical steps for improving for their bodies and lives on his blog. His goal is to inspire men to start taking action TODAY to start seeing results. You can get a jump start now by downloading his Free Mini-Guide on the Top 10 Exercise & Diet Strategies to lose your belly fat, even if you've been struggling with time, energy and motivation.