Preparing food in advance is a tool used by pro athletes and bodybuilders to stay lean, strong and aesthetic all year round. Avoid these meal planning mistakes and sail to single-digit body fat in no time at all.
Dieting is tough at the best of times.
Constant temptation, hunger and cravings make it hard to stay on point. But with meal planning the diet life is far easier. No matter where you are, your food is right there for you – not only is it accessible, it’s portioned out to suit your exact goals.
When done right, ‘prep’ is a strategy that leads to great results. But meal planning mistakes can make the process a real slog.
For this article we pulled together our top nutritionists to discuss the common barriers some of their clients have come up against relating to meal planning mistakes… and how to fix them.
Whether you’re a complete newbie when it comes to meal planning, or you just want to up your game; take these points on board and get in the best shape ever.
What is meal planning?
Diet is what makes or breaks a successful fat loss plan. Meal planning helps to keep you on point by providing tracked, measured and macro-friendly meals exactly when you need them.
There’s nothing worse than failing on your diet due to bad planning.
No matter how steely your resolve is, a lack of preparation will lead to failure.
If you don’t prepare your meals in advance, you’ll eventually find yourself eating high in calories and poor in nutrients. And the more frequently it happens, the harder it is to stay ‘on plan’.
Meal planning is simply preparing days and weeks’ worth of meals in advance. Each meal is usually tracked and measured, meaning they directly support your weight loss goals by helping you maximize nutrient intake within your calorie allowance for the day.
It’s a much more successful way of eating compared to a standard approach. Cooking multiple times each day or relying on take-outs or deli foods to support your goals isn’t sustainable.
Benefits of meal planning
Compared to traditional dieting, ‘meal preppers’ tend to be more successful. They also tend to be more content and happier – simply because they can eat what they want, whenever they want. As long as it doesn’t tip them over their calorie count.
If you make meal planning part of your diet lifestyle, you’ll no doubt experience the following benefits:
- Better adherence – choice, ownership and flexibility helps you stick to your diet
- Reduced food waste – freezing leftovers for future use means no food in the bin
- Increases time-efficiency – less time in the kitchen means more time to enjoy the things you like
- Keeps costs low – bulk buying means lower cost per item
- Less temptation – having your meals right there with you means less opportunity to sneak in extra snacks and treats
Meal planning mistakes: What to avoid and how to do it properly
Meal planning supports your goals… but only when done right. There are still mistakes and barriers you need to get over to help it work for you.
Knowing what obstacles to look out for makes all the difference.
For every benefit of meal planning there’s a potential pitfall ready to swallow you up and spit you out.
With any new approach, learning is inevitable; but if you can avoid the more common meal planning mistakes right from the get-go, you’re already ahead of the curve.
Mistake #1: Being far too ambitious
Meal planning should be an enjoyable experience.
Knowing you’re cooking up a few meals at a time can be stressful. But that’s easily outweighed by the thought of having days and days’ worth of food ready and waiting for you.
If you’re choosing to have a go at challenging dishes such as consommé, shrimp with caper sofrito or a high-protein turducken, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Cooking one challenging dish at a time is enough to drive most of us mad, let alone a bunch of them at the same time.
Keep it simple.
Meal planning is a great opportunity to try new things… but it has to be achievable and fit in with your skill set.
The fix: Don’t aim for a Michelin star – start small and basic and build up your confidence. Meal planning should be fun, quick and simple. There’s a time and a place for detailed, challenging recipes; this isn’t one of them.
Mistake #2: Cooking too often
The best thing about meal prep is knowing you can kick back for a few days afterwards, safe in the knowledge you don’t have to set foot in the kitchen for the rest of the week.
If you find yourself cooking every other day, you’re not really gaining much. You should be aiming to cook up enough food to last a good few days, maybe even a full week dependent on space in your fridge and freezer.
Okay, you might need to draft up a menu for a few days’ worth of food, but it’ll be worth it.
Just think of all the extra gym hours you can rack up when you don’t need to be in your apron.
The fix: Try cooking larger batches of food and freezing them. That way you won’t need to keep firing up the cooker and oiling up your pans every other night. Balance and planning is key.
Mistake #3: Cooking the same things over and over again
Nutrition is key to a healthy diet.
When calories are low, vitamin and mineral intake should be your priority – that way you know you’ll still have the energy to smash your way through your cardio and strength program.
Dishing up the same meals over and over will eventually have you feeling bored and looking for something different.
We need variety in our meals.
And guaranteed – without a change in foods, you’ll soon choose a different path… and no doubt it won’t be on your diet plan!
You don’t need to cook completely new meals to keep things interesting. Try using different combinations, flavorings and spices in every meal to add a different kick and flavor.
The fix: Vary foods as much as you can without giving yourself too much too do in the kitchen. Try different flavor combinations to spice things up a little.
Mistake #4: Not having a plan
A good meal planner has a night set aside to prepare meals.
As you get more experienced, you’ll have specific meals and pre-determined ingredients to work with. You plan your schedule so that cooking multiple meals in one go is a total breeze.
You can’t just rock up to kitchen and hope for the best.
Without a stocked pantry, time to cook and a recipe or two to work from, you’ll struggle to achieve what you need to in the time you have.
If your demanding work schedule or busy lifestyle gets in the way, a lack of planning will leave you stressed and unable to plan effectively.
But a plan is a great way to stay on track.
The fix: Think about when the best day to prep is, what ingredients you need and in what order you should cook to reduce time spent in the kitchen. Use a set day to organize your recipes or go grocery shopping. The rest will be plain sailing.
Mistake #5: Not recording your recipes
Organizing and recording your recipes means you can recreate them repeatedly.
Remember, meal planning isn’t just about the foods, it’s about the calories too. A large part of a successful diet is making it fit your calorie (and macronutrient) needs to accelerate you to your fat loss goals.
Even the healthiest meals will lead to fat gain if calories aren’t controlled.
By recording your recipes you’ll know how to cook the meal again and again. You’ll also know exactly how it fits into your daily energy intake allowance.
The fix: Scribble your recipes into a notepad or use a note taking app on your tablet. It doesn’t need to be overly-detailed or fancy – just enough information on there for you to reference whenever you need to.
Mistake #6: Not having ‘spares’
Modern life is full of surprises.
If it isn’t a late meeting it’s a parent’s evening at school. Your train might turn up late or you might find yourself out with friends for a drink but need to keep the diet on point.
No matter what the situation, having a spare meal on you is never a bad idea. Having the ability to knock up a fast, simple meal for the following day when needed is a good thing.
Rather than settling for a high-calorie burrito from the local deli or a pizza from the nearest take-out, you can always pop the lid on your extra food container.
And still keep on track!
It’s empowering to have so much control over your diet, especially when the old you would have crumbled under the pressure.
The fix: Have a series of quick and simple recipes you can throw together if you need an extra meal making up. Carry a spare, smaller back up meal around with you too – just in case.
Mistake #7: Making too much food
No, we’re not on about making too many meals.
Presuming you can freeze your food and you’ve space to store each container, that’s never a bad thing.
We’re talking more about large portions packed into your food containers – so large that they see your calorie deficit disappear and ruin your diet.
Fat loss only occurs if you’re in a calorie deficit.
Even healthy foods can tip you over the edge and lead to weight gain if you take on more energy than you burn off each day.
The fix: To maximize results, calculate your daily calorie intake and macronutrient recommendations and organize your meals based on optimum nutrition. It leaves nothing to chance.
Check out our review of best fat burner supplements to speed up fat loss results once you’ve nailed your calorie intake.
Mistake #8: Not taking an inventory
Your fridge and freezer are soon going to turn into storage units for fat-shredding foods.
Without the proper logging of meals, you’ll find you quickly lose track of what, when and why each meal is in there.
Taking an inventory of each meal is key. You need to record not just what food’s in there, but also:
- Use by date
- Calorie and macro value
Remember, tracking is key.
But in order to keep safe, healthy and reduce food waste, it’s also important you log everything you’ve made too.
The fix: Get yourself a non-permanent marker pen and write vital information on each container. Either that or devise a numbering system and log everything in your recipe notebook.
Mistake #9: Forgetting how busy you are
Using your calendar to plan cooking time is a good way to get organized.
No matter how much you think you’ve nailed the planning, real life can get in the way.
Maybe you forgot to pick up an ingredient, something in the fridge has gone past its best early or a change in working hours means your diary for the week is now completely different.
Things just don’t always work out how you think they will.
And when something goes wrong, it’s important you don’t panic. Take things in your stride and if you have a bad day or two, get back on it at the earliest opportunity – without panic or guilt.
The fix: When life gets in the way, roll with the punches. Feelings of guilt will only lead to a negative relationship with food. Just get back on the diet as soon as you can… and don’t worry. It happens.
Mistake #10: Not being persistent
Meal planning takes practice.
Like any skill, you can’t expect to nail it first time without a hiccup or two.
At some point along the way, something will go wrong. It’s guaranteed.
But when it does, don’t think you’ve failed. If anything, you’ve learned a lesson that can be implemented into the next attempt – and this time you’ll try even harder.
A real meal planning mistake is to say, “it didn’t work for me”.
Instead, say “what have I learned that will help my meal planning next time round?”.
The fix: Commit yourself to trying meal planning a few times before deciding if it works for you or not. With the right plan you’ll surprise yourself just how easy it is.
The bottom line
Have you ever made any of these common meal planning mistakes before?
If you have, you’re not alone.
But with these easy fixes, you’re now ready to give it your all and get some serious fat-shredding under your belt… with fast, simple and effective meal prep.