Food Prep: 5 Common Reasons You Fail and How to Fix Them

You’ve been down the old meal prep road already. Been there, done that, ate the boring chicken. Spent the hours putting in work in the kitchen, only to face plant into Chinese takeout in a fit of exhaustion, frustration, and boredom with your prepped food halfway through the week. It’s not that you didn’t have the best intentions, or that you aren’t motivated, but you could probably use a little guidance.There is certainly no shortage of diet plans in this world, so it isn’t an issue of accessibility; more often than not, it’s something else. First, you need to identify the problem. Is it the time to food prep? The cost? The same boring food/lack of variety? Are you trying to eat things you don’t even like? Are you running out of food halfway through the week? If you have a plan, but the plan doesn’t suit your individual needs, then you aren’t going to be successful in the long-term, no matter how motivated you are.

Food prep shouldn’t be that complicated, so let us help you stick to your plan. These are some common pitfalls our readers have reported: you are NOT alone!

eating healthy is too expensive

First, we would like to elaborate on the solid fact that food prep will actually SAVE YOU MONEY! Guaranteed. Eating out and having someone else make your food is ALWAYS more expensive than preparing your own. HOWEVER: when you prepare anywhere from 15- 35 meals for your week, with protein as the centerpiece of each, the cost can still add up, especially if shopping at your typical grocery store. Although said option would certainly still save you more money than if you were eating out for every meal, you will save more money by shopping at a store where you can buy in bulk.

For example, I typically walk out of Sam’s Club spending an average of $60 for 5 lbs. of chicken, 4 lbs. of frozen cod, 2 lbs. of salad greens, which will last about a week, and a large container of mixed nuts that will last about 1 month. You can also buy rice, oats, peanut butter, and many other diet staples at these places. You will be more successful in adhering to your diet plan if you have enough food for your week, and you will enjoy the benefits of watching your grocery bills decrease!

food prep takes forever

This will save you a ton of time and make your food prep mission so much easier, especially if you feel overwhelmed by food prep in general. You could throw 3 ingredients into the crockpot in the morning and come home to a delicious meal at night, which could give you leftovers for days if you prepare enough. Click here for some of our SUPER easy crockpot recipes.

Even so, food prep can seem overwhelming. Before trying to flip your whole lifestyle and take on food prep head-on, try this: just change two of your meals. If you usually eat a blueberry muffin for breakfast, make it a point to spend a few extra minutes making oatmeal with blueberries and cinnamon instead, for instance. If you usually don’t eat all day and then eat your whole kitchen when you get home, instead bring a snack or two and invest your time in an easy crockpot recipe to make chicken for the week. Put it together in the morning and it will be waiting for you when you get home. Small changes= huge benefits!

Start here if you are feeling a little overwhelmed!

buy vegetables

I see you with your little eco-friendly veggie baggy and matching hummus cup. Cutting up bell peppers and cucumbers for snacks is cool, but it doesn’t keep very well when preparing several days in advance, and it requires more time chopping and preparing. We like reeeeeally simple things. Make your life easier and buy veggies you don’t have to chop, like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and snap peas. You can still have your matching hummus cup.

 On page 194 of our free Meal Prep Encyclopedia, we will help you determine how long your food will stay fresh, and the best way to store it.

no recipes

Our salads NEVER LOOK or taste the same way they look in the restaurants, even if we use all of the same ingredients. Much like the hairdresser blow-dry phenomenon (WHY can’t we do that to ourselves?!), our homemade salads look downright depressing in comparison; and of course, that makes us less likely to eat them, or eat them without drowning in a dressing composed mostly of our own tears.

To renew your hope in your homemade salad aesthetics, try the pre-mixed salad greens. Don’t use the dressings they give you in the bags, but do use the salad greens if they make your food LOOK and TASTE more appealing. Top the colorful mix with a protein and a low-maintenance vegetable (see the next tip for more on this) like cherry tomatoes and never drown in salad woes again.

solution2 condiments

Many of you have told us that one of your biggest downfalls to diet adherence is due to boredom with your prepared food selections. Many of you have attempted to prepare your meals for the week, and went into your Monday mornings with head-held-high; your meticulous preparation of broccoli and broiled chicken was sure to put you on the track for success. That’s what you have to eat to get super lean, right?

Here’s the problem: Monday night rolls around and you feel strongly that you would prefer to gaze upon another chicken breast again, much less actually consume it. And there’s NO WAY it’s finding its way into your depressing non-aesthetic homemade salads. You’re hangry and inevitably hitting Burger King in this scenario, hopelessly abandoning your attempt at food prepping. Keep things “spicy” by maintaining a selection of condiments that aren’t going to rocket launch you above and beyond your calorie limit for the day. Everyone has different preferences as far as an ingredient profile goes (artificial sweeteners or not, organic or not, etc…) but here is a list of a few things that can add a LOT of flavor for only a little bit of calories:

adding flavor

walden farmsAnyone who has tried these knows that each serving is less than 5 calories (reported as 0 calories), and that some of the products are just awful. However, there are a few very good ones in there. The syrups and some of their salad dressings are worth trying.

herbsYou can find these handy tubes right next to the fresh herbs in your vegetable aisle. The basil is wonderful, and many of my clients have enjoyed carrying it in their lunch bags and using it to add flavor to their meats and/ or veggies.

low fat salad dressing“Low fat” and “fat free” doesn’t mean I am referring to the products that have replaced fat with more sugar. It can mean naturally lower fat dressings, such as the Newman’s Own brand varieties (love those).

4variety of herbs and seasoningI often play around with finding and using different seasonings on my meats and fish. It keeps things interesting, and occasionally, I find something I really like! More often than not, my foods are seasoned in a random and haphazard fashion prior to being baked. Don’t think too hard, just find something and give it a shot. Some staples in my kitchen include: garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, Ms. Dash seasonings, and Flavor God seasonings.

Page 39 of our free Meal Prep Encyclopedia will teach you how to prepare your own spices! 

mustardHave you ever seriously checked out the mustard selection at your grocery store? There are a TON to choose from, and they add a lot of flavor to anything you’re eating.

dry nutritional yeastSounds super weird, but it adds a cheesy taste to any of your foods, and it is SUPER high protein.

cinnamonNeed I say more?

These are just a few examples of condiments, but there are so many options available to you!

low carb pasta

frozen veggiesThis is important! Say you are attempting to prepare food for 5-7 days, and there is NO WAY you are going to have the time to get to the store and prep again until day 7. What happens at day 4 when your veggies start to look incredibly lackluster (or just less psychologically appetizing in general)? Keep frozen veggies in your freezer, especially the steam bag variety with some fun flavors to keep your interest, and less than about 6 grams of fat. You will be more likely to stay on track if food is both appetizing and available. Oh, and you will save money in this situation as opposed to running out to buy pre-made meals.

This is where buying in bulk comes in handy again; those stores always have big packages of veggie steam bags with some kind of fun sauce. Again, just be wary of the sauces and only eat them in moderation. “Keep it saucy” but, you know, don’t go overboard! The fat and sodium content can add up on these pretty quickly, and for optimal heart-health, the American Heart Association recommends people aim to eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. The other option is to shoot for the plain variety and season it yourself at home.

dry carbs canned proteinThis is a point that really needs to be emphasized as well! Failure with a food plan so often occurs in response to lack of availability (preparation) or lack of variety/ appetizing foods. You should especially take care to do this in the beginning of your food prep journey because learning how much you will need to prepare for your week can be an exercise in trial and error. This way, if you end up without premade single serve meals halfway through your week, or you just get sick of what you are eating, you will be way ahead of the game.

Similarly, get rid of as many “naughty foods” in your house as you can, meaning the foods you consistently overeat and self- sabotage. Purge your cabinets! We know your kid can’t live without those Transformer fruit roll-ups and rocket ship popsicles, but do remove any foods that you know you always overeat or turn to when you are stressed. Over a period of time of abstaining from those foods, you will actually find that your body does not crave them anymore. I swear, it gets better!

food prep mathfood prep

Here is a simple way to think about food prep: About how often do you eat? How many of those meals do you intend to prepare fresh at home? Do you only need enough food prep for the work week, and then you make more meals at home with your family on the weekends?

Let’s say you eat 5 times/day, but you always make breakfast fresh in the morning, and you always mix up a protein shake (with peanut butter because, well, duh) as your last meal. You will need to have 3 meals per day prepared. Let’s say you only need enough food for the work week, and then maybe a few meals to carry around between the kids’ soccer and ballet practices on the weekends; you will need 3 meals per day x about 6 days= 18 meals.

Pretty easy, right?

First, determine about how many meals you’ll want to make. That is how many food prep containers you should put on your counter. Our food prep containers are BPA- free, dishwasher- safe, and microwave- safe. Plus, they now come in some pretty awesome colors.

Again, these are general concepts, but not necessarily specific to your daily needs. To get an estimate of how many calories you need to maintain your weight, and more information about how to separate your calories into protein/ carbs/ fats, check out our article on how to calculate your BMR and how to organize your macronutrients.


Bonus Problem: You read this whole article, but you still haven’t started executing your plan!

The ONLY Solution:

Just do it, like Nike. We’re here for you, to answer any questions you might have!

Betsy Lane, PT, DPT

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