Finding quick and healthy meal prep ideas for weight loss simplifies weekdays and takes the guesswork out of what to cook. Meal preparation is a key aspect of weight loss as it allows you to control your intake and make healthier food choices.
Preparing meals in advance also helps to eliminate the temptation of ordering takeout or eating high-calorie convenience foods. For some people, eating the same dish 2-3 times a week can be fulfilling as long as it’s a decent cuisine, flavorful, and simple to prepare.
What Is Meal Prep?
Meal preparation is the practice of planning and preparing some or all of your meals ahead of time to control calories and nutrition and fulfill personal dietary demands.
Making your lunch the night before, cooking in batches, or pre-heating your food and portioning it out for the week are examples. It is also frequently done to increase overall nutrition intake, minimize calories, gain muscle, support workouts, and so forth.
Planning and preparing meals and snacks ahead of time can save you time, reduce mealtime stress, enhance diet quality, and assist you in reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight1.
Meal Prep Benefits
The advantages of meal planning range from decreased costs and time invested to lower stress levels and more successful dieting. Taking charge of your diet and the meals you consume is one of the finest methods to ensure success.
Having a plan and food on hand will save you from making poor, hunger-based decisions and can reduce the amount you eat out, saving you money in the long term. And, with data indicating that meal planning is related to better nutrition and more weight reduction, it is something to think about if you are attempting to lose weight2,3,4.
Meal planning can also assist in alleviating the stress that comes with attempting to eat healthily. Dieting, particularly calorie restriction, can drive you to think about food all day. And knowing what your next meal will be and whether it will help you reach your nutritional objectives can be exhausting day after day.
Not to mention that your willpower is depleted much faster, and you are more likely to deviate from your plan when you are tired or “not in the mood” to make the healthier choice, especially if it is more difficult or time-consuming.
Healthy Meal Prep Ideas For Weight Loss: How To Plan Meals
Understanding how to design whole and nutrient-dense meals while meal planning for weight loss is critical. It can help achieve your dietary goals, save time, and reduce food waste.
You will need to make most meals and snacks balanced, including protein, fat, and fiber.
Protein is the most filling macronutrient and helps keep you feeling satiated between meals, so getting enough at each meal and snack is critical.
An example is eating an apple with natural peanut butter, a plant-based protein and fat source, is more gratifying than eating an apple alone.
Adding additional fat and protein to your meals and snacks adds calories, but it also keeps you satisfied and provides your body with essential nutrients. An apple with natural peanut butter contains a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats as the macro nutrients. The apple contains primarily carbohydrates in the form of sugar and fiber, while the peanut butter provides a mixture of both protein and fat.
Furthermore, a higher protein diet aids in the preservation of lean muscle mass during weight loss meal prep, which is critical for maintaining strength as well as appropriate energy expenditure5,6,7.
While meal planning is straightforward, the practice requires some thought. Once you’ve decided on a diet plan, whether it’s clean eating, paleo, vegan, or something else, you can start planning your strategy. It would be best that you consider the following:
Determine Your Level of Dedication
Be honest with yourself and your degree of cooking expertise – how much and how frequently do you want to cook? If you’re not a chef, stick to quick-cook dishes, pre-chopped veggies, and uncomplicated recipes.
Prioritize Your Weak Points
Start by identifying specific areas where improvement is needed, such as time management, meal planning, ingredient selection, portion control, meal variety, or food storage. Then, develop a plan to address these weaknesses, such as preparing meals in advance, making a grocery list, choosing healthy ingredients, using measuring tools, trying new recipes, or using proper storage methods. Finally, make a habit of regularly evaluating progress and adjusting the plan as needed to continually improve meal preparation skills.
Begin by merely prepping for 2 to 3 days or meals per week. Start with something simple, such as breakfast or snacks.
Choose A Day To Plan and Implement Your Strategy
You can set aside one or more days every week for preparation. Remember to plan out your week for the following week. Sunday is a nice day for many people to plan their weekly menus and cook.
Stock Up On Food Storage Containers and Cooking Tools
Having favorite meal prep containers can help you better portion your food, keep meals tasting fresh, and store them safely. Also, have any necessary travel coolers on hand.
Meal Plan Template
A meal plan template is a tool used to plan and track meals for a specific period of time, such as a week or month. To create a meal plan template, consider the following:
It would be best to decide how much you intend to spend on meals each week, or your menu planning may quickly go out of control.
On average, Americans spend about 10% of their income on food, so figuring 10% of your take-home pay could be a decent place to start. Alternatively, if you track how much you spend on food each month, including take-out and restaurant meals, you can use this figure as a rough starting point.
Here are a few simple purchasing tips to make your planning even more cost-effective:
- Combine ingredients to get the most bang for your cash. Look for components used in several healthy recipes as you create your menu.
- Look for sales and stock up on non-perishables like dried beans, grains, and frozen foods.
- Replace expensive foods with less costly but comparable alternatives, such as cranberries for goji berries or brown rice for quinoa.
- To reduce waste, buy portion sizes that make sense. For example, a 5-pound bag of apples is usually overkill for one person unless you plan on utilizing them in many meals and snacking on them.
- Shop at various locations and online to discover the best bargains. And search for what’s in season—usually, it’s traveled fewer distances to get there, which means it’s fresher and potentially cheaper than when it’s not.
Weekly Meal Prep Menu
Once you’ve established your budget and goal, you may select your meal accordingly. It’s a good idea to plan out a whole week’s worth of meals and snacks, so you know precisely how much food you’ll need.
Consider how leftovers or staples like chicken breast, brown rice, or sweet potatoes can be prepared in various ways.
Once you have your desired menu set, you can create your shopping list and adjust it based on your budget. You could include weights or desired package sizes on your list to make sure you have enough on hand to execute your plan. It is also helpful to bring your full menu to the store in case last-minute substitutions are needed.
Creating a shopping list is helpful when planning meals for the week ahead. Grocery lists can help you stay organized while at the store and may even help you make healthier choices while shopping8,9.
Here’s an example of a weight-loss-friendly meal-prep shopping list:
- Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, and grapefruits
- Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, peppers, onions, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, lettuce
- Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, potatoes, and butternut squash
- Proteins: canned salmon and tuna, frozen shrimp, chicken breast, lean ground beef and turkey, and eggs
- Beans: chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and lentils
- Grains: oats, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and quinoa
- Frozen foods: frozen mangoes, sprouted-grain bread, frozen cherries, frozen broccoli, and frozen spinach
- Dairy and non-dairy substitutes: milk, unsweetened non-dairy milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, and plain yogurt
- Nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, pistachios, almonds, natural peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, and cashews
- Condiments and pantry: salad dressing, salsa, marinara sauce, mustard, spices, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, garlic, etc.
- Oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Other healthy fats: avocado, hummus, and tahini
- Beverages: sparkling water, coffee, and tea
- Snack foods: dark chocolate chips, turkey sticks, nut butter packets, whole grain or seed-based crackers, whole-food-based bars, popcorn, plantain, bean chips, etc.
This is simply a suggested shopping list. Your shopping list will change weekly depending on the meals and snacks you choose to meal prep.
Best Healthy Meal Prep Recipes For Beginners
For beginners, it’s important to increase your servings as needed, or add extra variety with several proteins, vegetables, and grains that you can divide up over the week. Don’t be scared to experiment with new flavors and seasonings – it will help keep your daily meal routine from becoming monotonous and reduce cravings.
Here are some of our favorite quick and easy healthy meal prep recipes:
Breakfasts and Lunches
Breakfast is one of the most simple meals to prepare ahead of time. Various grab-and-go choices, such as Greek yogurt with fruit or a lean and protein-packed frozen burrito, are also available in the supermarket.
The key is to include more protein in your mornings and avoid high-sugar, high-calorie options such as pastries, sugary cereal, syrups, and white pieces of bread, which will deplete your energy and mess with your appetite later in the day.
- Frittata with Egg Whites – veggies for breakfast! For a pre-portioned option, bake these in individual muffin tins. Serve with roasted sweet potatoes or sprouted grain bread and avocado for extra carbs and calories.
- Pumpkin Chia Pudding – do you need something sweeter in the morning? This easy pudding tastes like Thanksgiving and is sure to brighten your day. Add 4 to 6 scoops of vanilla protein powder for a healthy protein boost to this recipe.
- Maple Sweet Potato Waffles – you can make these ahead of time and serve it warm with fruit, yogurt, or sugar-free syrup.
- High Protein Salmon Toast – this simple toast recipe tastes gourmet while providing nourishment in the morning.
- Overnight Oats – mason jars were made for overnight oats. Make your hearty oats ahead of time and flavor them in a variety of ways. For added flavor and nutrients, add a scoop of protein powder.
- Clean Eating Breakfast Casserole – make this once, and you’ll have breakfast or snack options for the rest of the week—and a delicious combination of eggs, sweet potatoes, and vegetables.
- Egg & Pesto Toast – prepare this simple meal in under 15 minutes to fill your belly with a beautiful egg sandwich. It’s high in protein and has a radish kick to it.
- High Protein French Toast – a great way to satisfy your sweet needs without feeling guilty. Toast the bread.
When planning and preparing dinner recipes for meal preparation, consider a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to ensure a nutritious meal. Experiment with different ingredients and cooking methods, such as grilling, roasting, and stir-frying, to keep meal options interesting and diverse.
Take the worry out of deciding what to cook each night by prepping basic options that you can reheat or cook in no time.
- Salmon Cakes – make the salmon cakes ahead of time and reheat them in a skillet or oven. Serve with baked sweet potatoes and a side salad. Alternatively, a salmon burger will not disappoint.
- Crock Pot Pulled Pork – everyone enjoys a good barbecue. Here’s one with no added sugar or muss and trouble. Serve with a low-fat slaw and fresh corn on the cob.
- Sheet Pan Chicken and Veggies – use your favorite vegetables and serve them with potatoes, brown rice, or quinoa.
- Low-Calorie Stir Fry – prepare some of the ingredients ahead of time, such as pre-chopped vegetables and cooked grains. Then combine everything in a skillet with your favorite protein for a quick meal.
- Butternut Squash and Chicken Pad Thai – if you have chicken leftovers from lunch, double the recipe and serve with lots of fresh herbs, scallions, and a drizzle of more sriracha to keep it tasting fresh.
- Healthy Salmon Chowder – impress your dinner guests with this light, smokey, and flavorful chowder, or make it ahead and eat it for lunch during the week.
- Simple Bolognese – pasta can be included in your diet. Choose whole-grain noodles or zoodles for fewer carbs, then pile on the veggies and protein with this easy sauce recipe.
Plant-Based Delicious Recipes
Cooking for high-protein vegan meal prep recipes is still possible. With a few protein changes, almost any traditional meal can be converted to vegan or vegetarian – just add your preferred vegan meat substitute or plant-based protein. Here are a few of our favorite plant-based meals:
- Vegan Tofu Scramble – the vegan morning food champion. This low-carb, high-protein dinner will not disappoint. Serve on its own or in a sprouted grain tortilla for a healthy morning burrito.
- Veggie Burgers with Black Beans and Quinoa – veggies with more veggies. Try this recipe using your favorite grain, vegetable, bean, and herb combinations; it also works with lentils. These are also delicious as vegan meatballs served with roasted vegetables and a splash of tahini sauce.
- Vegan Chili – a mill that is both savory and delicious. Serve over lentils or quinoa for extra protein or on top of a baked sweet potato. Top with plain Greek yogurt for a vegetarian high-protein twist.
- Chana Masala – is the simplest Indian dish you can make that is made with chickpeas. To add nutrients, toss with cauliflower or spinach and serve over brown rice or quinoa.
Healthy Snack Ideas
Remember to plan your snacks as well. Snacking is one of the simplest ways to ruin your diet. And the majority of convenient food options are high in sugar and empty calories.
Instead, choose a simple, nutrient-dense fruit or vegetable with a healthy serving of protein or fat to keep you full. Here are some fast alternatives:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Grass-fed jerky
- A piece of fruit and low-fat string cheese
- A handful of nuts and dried fruit
- Whole-grain crackers or fruit and nut butter
- Tuna or chicken salad with whole-grain crackers
- Hummus with veggies and grilled chicken strips to dip
- Greek yogurt with fruit
Should You Avoid Any Foods While Meal Prepping For Weight Loss?
A healthy diet is low in nutrient-deficient, ultra-processed foods and added sugars. Examples of these are fast food, candy, sugary baked goods, sweetened cereals, deep-fried foods, soda, and other highly refined things.
Reduced consumption of certain items is necessary for everyone, not just those looking to lose weight. Limiting your intake of these items is vital if you want to stimulate fat loss.
This is due to evidence indicating that diets heavy in ultra-processed foods and added sugars are linked to weight gain and obesity, as well as a range of chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart disease10,11,12.
If your current diet is high in ultra-processed foods and added sugar, reducing your intake can help you lose weight and improve your overall health.
That doesn’t mean you should altogether avoid your favorite foods. A well-balanced, sustainable diet should always allow you to indulge in your favorite foods on occasion.
Just remember that most of your diet should consist of nutrient-dense whole foods like the ones listed above.
Food Prep Hacks And Tricks
Cooking your meals, especially in large quantities ahead of time, can appear daunting, but it doesn’t have to be undoable. Numerous tips of the trade can help you reduce meal prep time and alleviate the stress that comes with following a healthy eating plan. Consider the following popular meal prep tricks or ideas:
- Make large batches of meals to keep for several days. Make a healthy chili, stew, or curry in a crockpot, and serve over your favorite grains. To ensure that the grains taste as fresh as possible, keep them separate before serving. Enchiladas, lasagna, casseroles, and pilafs are also excellent ways to extend the life of your dishes.
- To save time, buy pre-chopped products such as vegetables, bagged salads, and frozen and canned goods.
- Make nutritious breakfast or lunch burritos, cover them in foil, and freeze them for later. Then bake or microwave them for a quick and balanced meal.
- If you’re tired of eating the same thing every day, experiment with new healthy toppings and add-ons.
Weight reduction meal planning does not have to require calorie counting or sophisticated low-calorie dishes.
On the other hand, you will need to consider that a weight-loss-friendly meal plan should be high in nutritious, complete, and delicious foods and include making recipes that appeal to you using foods that you enjoy.
Remember, if you’re new to meal preparation, do what is necessary and make adjustments that still meet your goals. Begin by making a few healthy meals per week to establish a sustainable habit that will allow you to lose weight healthily.
Losing weight, like anything else, takes time. Learning to meal plan, portion control, and cook nutritious meals for yourself is a crucial skill that will last you a lifetime and will be invaluable to your health.
When planning weight-loss-friendly meals and snacks, make sure to include protein, fiber, and healthy fats to encourage satiety and offer the nutrients your body needs.
1 Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, Ibanez G, Allès B, Kesse-Guyot E, Hercberg S, Péneau S. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Feb 2;14(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7. PMID: 28153017; PMCID: PMC5288891.
2 Ducrot, P., Méjean, C., Aroumougame, V. et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 14, 12 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7
3 Nago ES, Lachat CK, Dossa RA, Kolsteren PW. Association of out-of-home eating with anthropometric changes: a systematic review of prospective studies. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(9):1103-16. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.627095. PMID: 24499144.
4 Monsivais P, Aggarwal A, Drewnowski A. Time spent on home food preparation and indicators of healthy eating. Am J Prev Med. 2014 Dec;47(6):796-802. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.07.033. Epub 2014 Sep 19. PMID: 25245799; PMCID: PMC4254327.
5 Willoughby D, Hewlings S, Kalman D. Body Composition Changes in Weight Loss: Strategies and Supplementation for Maintaining Lean Body Mass, a Brief Review. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 3;10(12):1876. doi: 10.3390/nu10121876. PMID: 30513859; PMCID: PMC6315740.
7 Wycherley TP, Moran LJ, Clifton PM, Noakes M, Brinkworth GD. Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Dec;96(6):1281-98. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.044321. Epub 2012 Oct 24. PMID: 23097268.
8 Dubowitz T, Cohen DA, Huang CY, Beckman RA, Collins RL. Using a Grocery List Is Associated With a Healthier Diet and Lower BMI Among Very High-Risk Adults. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2015 May-Jun;47(3):259-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2015.01.005. PMID: 25959448; PMCID: PMC4430323.
9 Palacios C, Torres M, López D, Trak-Fellermeier MA, Coccia C, Pérez CM. Effectiveness of the Nutritional App “MyNutriCart” on Food Choices Related to Purchase and Dietary Behavior: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 12;10(12):1967. doi: 10.3390/nu10121967. PMID: 30545125; PMCID: PMC6315974.
10 Zhou B, Ichikawa R, Parnell LD, Noel SE, Zhang X, Bhupathiraju SN, Smith CE, Tucker KL, Ordovas JM, Lai CQ. Metabolomic Links between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake and Obesity. J Obes. 2020 Apr 13;2020:7154738. doi: 10.1155/2020/7154738. PMID: 32399287; PMCID: PMC7211252.
11 Wang M, Yu M, Fang L, Hu RY. Association between sugar-sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis. J Diabetes Investig. 2015 May;6(3):360-6. doi: 10.1111/jdi.12309. Epub 2014 Dec 11. PMID: 25969723; PMCID: PMC4420570.
12 Hall KD, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, Cai H, Cassimatis T, Chen KY, Chung ST, Costa E, Courville A, Darcey V, Fletcher LA, Forde CG, Gharib AM, Guo J, Howard R, Joseph PV, McGehee S, Ouwerkerk R, Raisinger K, Rozga I, Stagliano M, Walter M, Walter PJ, Yang S, Zhou M. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):67-77.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008. Epub 2019 May 16. Erratum in: Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):226. Erratum in: Cell Metab. 2020 Oct 6;32(4):690. PMID: 31105044; PMCID: PMC7946062.