MealEnders Blog

Innovative Meal Prep Solutions [Part 2]

Meal Prep Programs + Home Prep Techniques for Weight Loss

By Tami Lyon, MPH, RD
August 31, 2016

meal prep programs

This article is the follow-up to our last article about modern services that cater to the busy person’s mealtime needs.  Catch up by reading “Innovative Meal Prep Solutions [Part 1]” here.

Already, we are entering September with busy, activity-filled schedules that afford us less time to do the all things we want. Now that we’re back to juggling long days of school, work, and taking care of our families, preparing healthy, calorie-conscious meals might seem like a chore instead of a pleasure at the end of the day.

Previously, we discussed online food delivery services and mobile apps that help you fit delicious and nutritious dinners into your busy schedule. While these easy meal prep technologies can help you maintain a healthy diet, they aren’t really geared toward weight loss. If losing weight is your main goal, other meal prep programs may be better for you. Let’s investigate some options.

Prepackaged Diet Programs

Apart from the modern services like those mentioned above, there are more traditional services that provide food meant to encourage weight loss. For the past few decades, people have been turning to weight loss services that provide all of the food you need in perfectly portioned, nutritionally correct, and calorie counted servings. Weight loss and weight management are the main goals of programs like these.  

Often, people are drawn to these meal prep programs because the guesswork is taken away. There’s no need to research recipes, count calories (by yourself), or actively look for healthy alternatives to calorie-laden foods.

Jenny Craig is one of the most popular programs in the world. Its program runs on two parts: support and meals. The support aspect includes a personal consultant/coach that you meet with in-person. Your coach helps you set your weight loss goals, checks in consistently to keep you on track, and documents your progress. The meals provided are personalized too. You design your own menu, choosing from Jenny Craig’s pre-made foods. Throughout the week you eat these meals, supplemented by some addition foods from home. Their menu includes portion-controlled items that will keep you feeling satisfied. “As You Go” plans start at $20 a month, plus cost of food ($3.27-3.63 per item).

Nutrisystem also provides pre-made and pre-portioned foods to promote weight loss. They offer over 150 meals and snacks to choose from (if you pick the highest cost plan), that are either ready-to-go (refrigerated meals and shelf stable snacks) or frozen. You eat 4-6 small meals a day, which keeps you feeling full, helps you control food cravings, and teaches you food portion control. You also get access to counselors, dietitians, tools, and trackers. Plans range from $9.82-$11.96 per day.

BistroMD is a lesser known meal prep program that was created by doctors to target fat loss. They offer 7-day plans, 5-day plans, and completely custom plans. Depending on whether you want to do your own thing on the weekend or you only want lunches, BistroMD can work with you to meet your needs. None of the meals are shelf stable or freeze dried, so you’ll always be enjoying a fresh meal. Plans start at $89.96 for 5 days of lunch and dinner.

Diet-To-Go is a multifaceted program which provides healthy meals along with personal coaching to help you achieve your health goals. They offer four different meal plans in order to cater to different food preferences and nutritional needs: Balance – developed for general health and weight loss; Balance Diabetes – a carb-controlled meal plan to aid in Type 2 Diabetes prevention and management; Carb30 – an Atkins-style, carb restricted meal plan for those who want to lose weight without giving up meat or dairy; and Vegetarian – a calorie-controlled, nutritionally balanced meal plan similar to Balance. Meal Plans are ordered on a weekly basis with meals prices as low as 8.57 per meal.

So how can these programs help with weight loss?

Without question, weight loss programs based around pre-portioned meals can help people lose weight. They help people learn about food portion control and provide the correct level of calories in their pre-made foods to support weight loss.

But issues still arise around these programs. One is that they can be costly– about $300 per month, which doesn’t include any other groceries for your family, and you are locked into every meal on the plan so you can’t pick how much you want to buy or can afford. Also, these programs aren’t the most family-friendly because they are designed to promote weight loss–calorie restriction is not generally advised for kids (unless directed by a doctor).

Healthy Home Cooked Meals

Preparing your meals at home has a plethora of positive aspects. Financially, cooking at home is the most economical choice. The cost of a meal, based on USDA’s Cost of Food at Home for May 2016, ranged from $1.54 to $3.53 per person when factoring in the cost of four people eating three meals each day of the week. A major health benefit is that you can control the calorie count of your meals, monitor your family’s nutrition intake, and cater to certain dietary needs or restrictions. You can practice food portion control and save some time and money by storing leftovers for lunches and other meals. When trying to lose weight, this is crucial since portion size and calorie intake directly affect weight. But apart from cost and health, does cooking at home have time-saving prospects? If you practice meal prepping, it definitely can.

Meal preparation can be as simple as planning meals in advance and shopping for groceries all at once or as elaborate as making individual meals that are prepared and packaged in advance. Prepared foods can be refrigerated or frozen, making for a quick, nutritious meal after reheating. Mastering meal prep takes a little trial and error, but gets a lot easier with practice. Also, meal prep can mean many different things, so as long as it works for you and you’re happy with the process and outcome of your prep, keep at it! It should make your week easier, not overwhelm you, so adjust as needed to make your plan perfectly personal.

The first crucial step to successful meal prep is to invest in some quality plastic or glass storage containers. If you plan on reheating them multiple times and don’t want them to fall apart during the process, look for glass containers, which are a healthier choice for the fridge compared to plastic containers. Another tip: if you’re going to be prepping multiple meals for the week, look for matching containers that will fit easily together. These are optimal for stacking, grabbing, and throwing in your bag at the beginning of your day.

Do you normally make your favorite sauce a couple of times throughout the week? Instead, try making a big batch of something (sauce, soup, etc), then store it in containers or freeze it for easy eating the rest of the week. Borrowing this logic, you can prepare make-ahead ingredients that can be used for multiple recipes during the week such as chicken breasts, ground turkey, a grain like brown rice or quinoa, or a large basic salad.

Some ingredients, such as fruits or herbs, taste better when they are freshly made. Instead of making them in advance, group them together so you don’t have to look for them when the time comes to eat. Also, store chopped vegetables in the fridge to make easy snacks or cooking ingredients; and marinate meats and then freeze for easy defrosting and cooking.

Prepping your Perfect Plan

Settling on the best way to plan your meals is something that will take some experimentation. Whether you order a meal service, use an app, cook at home, or do a combination thereof, advance planning will ensure a smoother and more thoughtful (and probably, more healthy) meal routine. By finding your perfectly personal plan, you’ll be able to meet your meal time goals and give yourself a little extra time to relax in the process.


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*Individual Results May Vary