We’ve always relied on a freezer stash of heat-and-eat casseroles to help us get a healthy dinner on the table on busy nights. But a growing chorus of home cooks are taking meal prep a step further by preparing and portioning out meals for the whole week — and seeing incredible slimming results. “Meal prep allows us to cook when we have time so we don’t have to worry about it when we don’t,” explains women’s health expert Tami Prince, MD. “It makes sticking to a healthy diet possible and even easy.”
Here's how the strategy can fast-track your slim down.
Improves Diet Quality
Women who plan and prepare meals ahead of time are twice as likely to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day — and they eat fast food 50 percent less often than those who don’t prep, according to research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
That’s just what Mary Ann Michael, a 32-year-old mom from Gillette, Wyoming, found. “I don’t have the time or energy to chop veggies on a weeknight,” she says. “But since I started chopping on the weekend, I eat significantly more vegetables.” That’s a boon for your waistline because the most veggie-rich diets take off pounds three times faster than those that skimp on the healthy picks. And as a bonus, the prep strategy cut $300 from Mary Ann’s monthly grocery bill!
Keeps Cravings In Check
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland liken willpower to a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse. In their studies, repeatedly resisting temptation weakened willpower by 58 percent. But batch cooks always have a healthy meal to come home to — without taxing their willpower. “This stops you from grabbing a doughnut when you’re tired and hungry,” asserts Mike Israetel, PhD, nutrition consultant for Renaissance Periodization. “It sets you up for success because you don’t have to call on your willpower again and again.”
Makes Portion Control Effortless
“Pre-portioning meals takes the guesswork out of eating,” says Israetel. Why that’s smart: According to researchers at Swansea University in Wales, portion sizes have increased so dramatically over the past decade that our eyes don’t know what “enough” actually looks like. “You might think, That looks like a half cup of rice, when in reality it’s twice that. Those extra calories add up. But if you measure and portion out everything into individual containers, you’re less likely to overeat.” In fact, Johns Hopkins University researchers found that dieters who ate pre-portioned home-cooked meals ate an average of 140 calories less per meal than those who favor restaurant fare. That’s enough to lose 44 pounds a year!
“By planning ahead, you save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress,” explains Dr. Prince. Indeed, eliminating the pressure of cooking on the fly helps reduce the production of the fat-packing stress hormone cortisol — an effect that researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington found helped women who dialed back tension in their life lose 160 percent more weight.
Another happy side effect: Karrie Truman, a 42-year-old mom who blogs at Happy Money Saver, found that preparing meals in advance promoted greater bonding with loved ones around the table. “Cooking ahead means I can enjoy dinnertime — enjoy my food and spend more time with my family,” she shares. “Nothing can replace that quality time.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.