“So many aisles! So many signs! Where do I begin?!! Ohhh…samples? Yes, please!” Hold on, girl!! Pause. Before you get too excited, let’s rewind! Read this post first, because I’m going to be giving you my TOP tips to help you meal prep for success and shop smart!
First things first, go with plan. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. It’s cliché, but very true. If you walk into the store aimlessly, you may waste your hard-earned coins buying food you don’t need. So make a list first by deciding what you plan to eat the following week for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. When I am using a recipe, I make sure it serves between 4-6 people; that way I know I have dinner covered for the whole week. I typically eat the same foods for all my meals throughout the week. This may be boring for some, but this works for me. An alternative could be to prepare two different dinners so you have a couple of options during the week. Or you could prepare a few different veggies, lean proteins, and healthy complex carbs. From there you could “mix n match” your meals throughout the week. For instance, lunch on day 1 could be brown rice, baked salmon, and asparagus. Dinner on day 1 could be turkey meatloaf, mashed sweet potato, and broccoli. Day 2 lunch could be turkey meatloaf, brown rice, and asparagus. Followed by dinner that’s baked salmon, mashed sweet potato, and broccoli. Whichever method you choose, make sure it’s the right one for you. Consider which option will be sustainable for YOU over time.
Typically on Thursday evenings, I plan my meals for the coming week in a chart that has a space for me to write out what I plan to have for each of those meals. I then use that chart as my guide to help me create my grocery list. If I am following a recipe, I check my pantry and fridge first to see if I already have the ingredients. If not, I add them to my list. I usually go to the store Friday after work or on Saturday morning. I then set aside 2-3 hours Sunday afternoon to actually prepare my meals. That amount of time also includes me cleaning up the kitchen – washing dishes, taking out the garbage and sweeping the kitchen floor.
Before you even head to the store, ask yourself, “am I hungry”? If so, have a healthy snack BEFORE you go, such as a piece of fruit, protein bar, veggies dipped in hummus, a handful of almonds, or string cheese so you can stay focused on your list and you’re not tempted to buy un-healthy foods. Trust me! When you’re hungry, things you wouldn’t normally consider will start looking good. Like that cheap, greasy pizza. Fix it, Jesus!!
When I get to the store, I start with the perimeter and then work my way down the aisles. The perimeter is where I get a majority of my food, including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, almond milk, gluten free bread, gallon of water jug, cheese, and eggs. Down the aisles is where you will find many of the processed foods and refined carbohydrates, such as white pasta, cookies, and chips.
When I plan my fruits and veggies, I consider what’s in season. Purchasing seasonal fruit is more cost effective and it also means the fruit will be at its peak freshness. Depending on the store layout, the bulk food section may also be located along the perimeter. Since I am cooking for one person, buying in bulk is cheaper and allows me to get just the amount I need. In this section I get my quick oats, seasonings, gluten free flours, quinoa, brown rice, nuts and seeds.
My last stop around the perimeter is the frozen food section. I always grab some frozen fruit and vegetables for breakfast or my green smoothies. Frozen fruit is packaged at its peak freshness, so you can be sure the food will still have its flavor and nutritional benefits. You can also get a better deal buying frozen when you’re purchasing fruits that can still be pricy even in season such as raspberries, blueberries, cherries, mangos, and blackberries.
Down the aisles, I like to purchase condiments, such as balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, salsa, stevia, maple syrup, and reduced sugar ketchup. The aisles can also be a way to get low priced fruits and vegetables, such as canned pineapples, green beans or corn. If purchasing fresh produce is not in your budget, then canned is also a great option. When it comes to canned fruit, I typically stick with pineapple since that’s the one fruit I found where there is no syrup added. I would definitely try to avoid fruit that’s canned in syrup, even if the can says light syrup. Fruit is nature’s candy. It’s sweet enough on its own!
Even though most of the snacks down the aisles aren’t the healthiest options, there are still some good choices. Some of my favorites are rice cakes or popcorn. The Smart Food brand is my go-to, because it just contains corn, salt, and oil. Tortilla chips, portioned out, are a good option as well as protein/snack bars like Quest Nutrition Bars, Kind Bars, Think Thin, or Lara Bars, unsweetened applesauce, peanut butter with no added sugar or oil, and even crackers. The Mary’s Gone Crackers are the ones I really like!
When I can, I purchase the store brand since the quality is still there, but you’re not paying the extra markup for the fancy brand name. If there is no store brand option, I look at all the options and go with the cheapest one. I always make sure I keep freezer bags on hand. If I buy a package of meat and I don’t plan to use it all for the coming week, I will separate out what I need for my recipe, portion out the rest and stick that in the freezer. I also use freezer bags for my green smoothie ingredients. When I meal prep, I grab a handful of collards (or whatever green veggie I am using for the week, usually 1 cup), chop up a banana, and then whatever other fruit I am adding, and then freeze the bag. The evening before, I dump the smoothie ingredients in the blender along with my unsweetened vanilla almond milk, vanilla vegan protein powder, Greens, ground flax seeds and blend away!! Oh, and don’t worry. I plan to discuss green smoothies in more detail in a future post. So stay tuned!!
During the hectic work week is really when you will see the benefits of meal prepping! The small sacrifice you make to take a few hours one day a week is definitely well worth it. Having healthy meals prepared means I can avoid the vending machine and office treats. I don’t need to waste money buying lunch every day. Plus when I get home, all I have to do is pop dinner in the microwave, relax, and enjoy! Since my meals are prepared, I can’t justify picking up fast food on the way home just because I don’t have anything to eat at home and I don’t feel like cooking. When we’re tired, the last thing we want to do is think about what to eat and then stand over a hot stove to prepare it; especially during these warm summer months. If you decided not to cook and instead opted for your favorite fast food restaurant, you may tell yourself on the way there that you’ll get a salad. You start off with the right intentions. But…..once you get there, that one meal you told yourself you would stay away from, your trigger meal, is now staring you right in your face. Yep! That double bacon cheese burger, deluxe curly fries with some ranch on the side for dipping, and the soda to wash it all down! You devour it and then reality sets in that you’ve just pushed yourself further away from your goal for the week. You vow to get back on the wagon tomorrow. But the same thing happens the next day. You’re too exhausted to cook so you go for comfort. You go for what you know; what you’re familiar with and what will satisfy you in that moment. See where I’m going with this? Meal prepping leaves you with ZERO excuses to make food choices that are not in line with your goals. Meal prepping also means you’re consuming enough calories and nutrients throughout the day to sustain yourself. Some people still think eating 1-2 times a day will help them lose weight. The truth is that over time, your metabolism will slow down and your body will go into starvation mode and store fat because it doesn’t know when it will get more food. So it’s not about eating less; it’s about eating better quality food.
Weight loss and weight maintenance are 80% diet and 20% exercise. Your food choices play a huge role in either helping you reach your goals or pushing you further away from those goals. Don’t allow all of your hard work in the gym to be in vain due to consuming too many calories and by making poor food choices. Working out for an hour a day is the easy part. It’s what we do the other 23 hours of the day that can either really help us or hinder us. I hope these tips were helpful to you for the next time you make a trip to the store! I really hope you see the benefits of meal prepping and will give it a try!
Now, I want to hear from you! What are some of your top tips for shopping smart?