Planning and Prepping Meals

A Key to WLS Success: the Importance of Planning and Prepping Meals

November 15, 2017

Planning and Prepping Meals:

Do you find yourself skipping meals because you cannot find time to prepare food every morning?
Are you reaching for whatever is in the pantry when you get home from work because you are too tired to fix dinner?
Do you stop at the vending machine regularly because you become hungry in between meals? You are not alone!

There is a secret to fighting this frantic feeling, and that secret is planning and prepping meals and snacks.

Many factors play a role in meal planning, such as time, convenience, and kitchen supplies. Once you get into the rhythm of creating a meal schedule that works for you, you'll be glad you do it. How you combine the elements of planning and prepping meals simplifies meal planning for continued control over what and how you eat.

You will find that the payoff is great; research has shown that meal planning is associated with a greater variety in diet, less hunger between meals, and overall weight loss and weight maintenance (1) (2).

Planning and Prepping Meals: Organization Is Key

Meal planning starts several days before you eat the meal itself. Pick a day that works best for you to sit down and plan your meals or snacks, whether it is Sunday night before bed or Tuesday afternoon during your lunch break.

Allow yourself to be flexible. Cook two to five meals for the week, depending on your family size and what events are on the calendar. If you have events planned where you will be eating out, decide ahead of time to cook fewer meals at home. It may be helpful to tally up your specific meal needs for that particular week, such as “3 quick dinners, 5 mid-day snacks” and use this tally to plan how many recipes you will make. (3)

Knowing when you are going to eat is just as important as knowing what you are going to eat. If your weekday eating schedule is different than your weekend schedule, make two meal plans. Try placing a white board calendar on the front of your fridge so you can write down what you are eating on which days.

Use recipes as a guide. Cooking is a fun way to experiment and to learn—you can follow recipes exactly, and as you get more comfortable in the kitchen, you can mix it up with flavors that you love!

Challenge yourself to try one new recipe a month, and you’ll be surprised at the innovative ideas you try that quickly become your favorites.

Keeping your kitchen in order is just as important as having a structured plan. Buy kitchen products to fit your individual lifestyle and cooking needs. Examples include color-coded storage containers for each day of the week or snack size baggies that you use to portion out larger backs of nuts, seeds etc.

Another great tip is to utilize your freezer. This is a great space to keep leftovers in order to help minimize food waste and to use for easy last-minute meals.

The Importance of a Grocery List

When planning your meals for the week, let your “food mood” lead the way, as this will allow for a more enjoyable experience in the grocery store (3).

If you are yearning for some butternut squash soup by the fireplace as the leaves begin to change, or if it is summer and you can’t wait to make some gazpacho with the tomatoes at your local farmer’s market, listen to your gut and buy what is in season. You will be much more satisfied with your meals if you are looking forward to eating them!

It is best to create a shopping list with your meals already planned. Take into account what ingredients you need, as well as how much you need of each. Utilize the same foods in multiple recipes each week; this will allow you to buy ingredients in bulk and save money, as well as to cook enough to have leftovers.

Never go to the grocery store hungry, as this allows your cravings to dictate what you buy. Carry a basket instead of using a shopping cart to curb the ability to grab extra snacks. When you do feel cravings coming on, prepare for this by having healthy substitutes on your list (ex. carrot chips and hummus instead of crackers and dip, Greek yogurt that you place in the freezer instead of ice cream).

It is also helpful to have a backup plan (4). If the store does not have the exact ingredients that you need to create your favorite cilantro cauliflower rice, perhaps use broccoli slaw instead, or use an herb you have never tried before for a new twist on the dish. If you forget to defrost the chicken for dinner before you go to the store, no problem—just grab some pre-cooked poultry out of the refrigerated section. Having a backup plan helps eliminate stress both in and out of the store while also allowing you wiggle room when planning your meals.

Keeping your shelves stocked with staples is just as important as keeping a backup plan. These are foods that are versatile and simple to cook with. Some examples of food staples are:

  • Frozen vegetables
  • Canned or dried beans
  • Packets or cans of tuna fish
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Plain low-fat or non-fat Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Dried herbs and spices, vinegars
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Utilize Available Resources

At first, meal planning may be overwhelming. A way to relieve yourself from feeling like you are taking on too much is to make use of apps, websites, and support from others.

Apps such as Baritastic, Lose It, and MyFitnessPal help track protein and fluid, log nutrients, remind you to eat, and so much more. They are great for accountability by showing you exactly what you are putting in your body each day. Grocery store apps from shops such as Kroger, Food Lion, or other stores in your area help you build menus, create grocery lists, and provide you with extra coupons. Websites and food blogs are also a fantastic source.

Social sites like Pinterest give you the ability to share your own recipe ideas while gathering new ideas from people around the world.

Discussing your goals with friends and family can go a long way. Tell them how much their support means to you and include them in the meal planning process. Getting your spouse and kids involved in menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking is a great way to make everyone feel included. Prepping meals seems less like a chore and more like a fun new family activity when you’re all doing it together!

Support outside of your family is always available as well. Visit online forums that post new ideas and recipes daily. Local support groups are valuable for building comradery within your community. Registered Dietitians are a fantastic resource for fresh, fun new ideas to keep your day-to-day food healthy and interesting; make an appointment with one today!

Remember… practice makes perfect. There are so many advantages to preparing meals and snacks in advance, from nutrition to time to convenience. Planning meals gets easier as time goes on, and soon enough it will become a habit, just like the other behavioral changes you had to make after bariatric surgery. Before you know it, you will be planning and prepping meals like a pro!


Planning and Prepping Meals
Rebecca Skotek


Rebecca Skotek, RD, LDN is commissioned as a Registered Dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist within the state of North Carolina. Rebecca is currently a Dietician and Nutritionist for Bariatric Specialists of North Carolina. Rebecca is a graduate of Penn State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition Science and a minor in Business Administration. She completed her dietetic internship through Meredith College in Raleigh, NC.