Optimizing nutrition is the most important step of the weight-loss journey. Eating a healthy diet often seems easier said than done. A busy lifestyle often acts as an obstacle that prevents many people from enjoying a well-balanced meal. Instead, eating fast food seems more practical and convenient. It doesn’t have to be like that. Batch cooking and meal prep emerge as great methods we can use to optimize our nutrition. Many claim these methods can lead to weight loss success. But, can they really? Scroll down to find out.
Do batch cooking and prep work for weight loss?
Batch cooking is a form of meal prep that involves cooking larger quantities of food, less often. This practice allows you to eat a healthy, homemade meal every day of the week even if you’re busy. Some people opt for batch cooking and meal prep in order to control what and how much they eat when they’re trying to slim down. Does it work? Can you achieve weight loss success this way? While this subject requires further research, current evidence says it does.
The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity published an interesting study whose main objective was to investigate the link between diet quality and meal planning including weight status and adherence to the nutritional guidelines. For this purpose, scientists evaluated meal planning in 40,554 subjects.
Results showed 57% of subjects reported occasional meal planning. Those who planned their meals had a better quality of diet and were more likely to eat versatile foods. What’s more, meal planning was also linked to a reduced risk of being overweight or obese (1).
Scientists concluded meal planning is associated with a healthier diet and reduced obesity. But, this is not the only study that looked into the relationship between meal planning and losing weight or maintaining it in a healthy range.
A different study examined whether the frequency of eating home-cooked meals was linked to cardio-metabolic health and diet quality. The study analyzed data from 11,396 UK adults aged 29 to 64 years.
Findings revealed consuming home-cooked meals was strongly linked to better adherence to Mediterranean and DASH diets, improved intake of fruits and vegetables, and normal ranges of BMI and body fat percentage. People who ate home-cooked meals more than five times a week were 24% less likely to have a high percentage of body fat and 28% less likely to be overweight (2).
The June 2020 issue of the Current Developments in Nutrition published a study that focused on meal prep. Subjects in this study were recruited from a fitness center. They followed a weekly meal prep program for six weeks.
Weekly meal prep was strongly associated with decreases in weight, body fat mass, and BMI. Based on these results, scientists concluded meal prep programs and intake of home-cooked meals contribute to body composition improvements. As a result, meal prep is a valuable tool in weight management (3).
How does meal prep work for weight loss?
Even though further studies are necessary, what we can conclude from the evidence above is that meal prepping works for weight loss. It can also prevent weight gain. Below, we’re going to focus on the benefits of meal prepping for weight loss. How does it works exactly?
The benefits of meal prep for weight loss are, truly, numerous. They range from time spent on cooking to reduced costs. Plus, this strategy decreases stress levels and makes diet changes a lot more successful. Basically, meal prepping allows you to take control of your diet and the foods you consume every day.
As you prepare meals for the week and establish a precise meal plan, it becomes easier to avoid making poor, unhealthy, and hunger-based choices. You don’t spend much time eating out, which is equally important. After all, you are more likely to eat an unhealthy meal if you eat out regularly. Plus, this habit also increases costs. With meal prepping, you get to stick to a well-balanced diet that is necessary to lose weight successfully (4).
Probably the biggest advantage of meal prepping for weight loss is that you don’t need to adhere to any specific diet. If you’re not into dieting and still want to lose weight, meal prepping can help you out. You see, you don’t have to follow some specific eating pattern to lose a few pounds, you can just modify your existing diet. It’s all about making healthier choices to achieve a calorie deficit.
A calorie deficit means the number of calories you consume is lower than the number of calories you burn through a diet. That’s how you lose weight. While some dietary patterns like vegan and low-carb diets can support weight loss, they aren’t mandatory for successful and sustainable weight loss (5,6,7).
What makes meal prepping, including batch cooking, beneficial here is that you can enjoy nutritious meals instead of following a restrictive eating plan. The practice of preparing meals allows you to cook and eat healthy meals and have delicious food over the week, even if you’re busy.
Since you have the freedom to prepare foods you like, you’re more likely to enjoy meals. Plus, you prepare foods in specific containers. That way you control portion size and avoid overeating.
Basically, meal prepping improves your relationship with food. Many people consider a healthy diet a punishment and unhealthy foods a reward. They develop an unhealthy relationship with food through constant dieting, avoidance of certain food groups, and other poor choices. With meal prepping you actually get to avoid this problem entirely.
Meal prepping is all about versatility and enables all of us to experiment with food, prepare different things, and introduce a wide range of ingredients into our diet (8).
In addition to weight loss, batch cooking and prep can also help maintain your weight in a healthy range. Evidence confirms people who cook at home eat high-quality food and their calorie intake is reduced. They also spend less money on food and experience less weight gain over time (9). In other words, this approach can help you maintain your weight loss and prevent the yo-yo effect.
Many people succeed on their weight-loss journey, but still, gain weight in a relatively short period of time. Weight gain happens due to several reasons. One of those reasons is being back to old eating habits or failing to keep up with a healthy eating regimen. Having meals cooked and prepared for the entire week helps retain control over the food you eat. That way, it’s easier to stick to a well-balanced diet that will promote weight maintenance.
Plus, this is not a program you follow for a while like those fad diets. These diets are associated with serious calorie restriction and act like programs you need to follow for a few weeks. They promise miraculous results, but even if you do slim down you risk regaining that weight once you stop following the program. In other words, fad diets are not a sustainable weight-loss option, it’s difficult to maintain that weight loss. On the other hand, batch cooking and prep are entirely different, and they could make weight maintenance a lot easier and prevent you from gaining weight.
Other benefits of meal prepping
Weight loss and batch cooking can work for weight loss, but they have other benefits too. Evidence confirms meal prepping can improve glycemic control and blood pressure (10). In addition to inducing weight loss, meal prepping can improve cardiovascular health in high-risk persons (11).
Other useful benefits of meal prepping include (12):
- Eating at regular intervals
- Reduced water retention
- Decreased bloating
- Increased control of what you put in your body
- Limiting consumption of added sugars
- Improved portion control
Batch cooking vs. meal prep
Even though batch cooking and meal prep are discussed in the same context here, they are not exactly the same.
Meal prep is the practice of preparing all your meals for the upcoming week. People usually do this on Sundays, so they have ready meals for workdays. Basically, you determine what meals to make (usually two or three) and prepare them in bulk. Then, you divide your meals into even portions and store them in airtight containers. Place your meals into a fridge or freezer. That way, you have a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready throughout the week and all you need is to heat them.
Batch cooking is similar and we can easily consider it a type of meal prep, but it comes with a few differences. In a nutshell, batch cooking is a way of preparing different types of food in large batches and storing them properly. With batch cooking, you just make large quantities of some foods without necessarily dividing them into smaller portions to eat throughout the week. Essentially, meal prep requires more organization and planning than batch cooking. While you can prepare anything you want, it’s always better to stick to the healthy meal ideas, especially if you want to slim down.
For that reason, batch cooking is primarily suitable for persons who want to have their meals ready, but in a more relaxed manner (13).
How to plan meals for weight loss?
Meal prepping and batch cooking is a great option for effective and sustainable weight loss. But how to make it happen? The most important thing here is to always bear in mind your meals should be nutritious. That is the best way to support your weight-loss endeavor.
Your goal should be to make sure your delicious meals are also balanced and contain lean protein, healthy fats, carbs, and fiber. Protein is of huge importance here because it promotes a feeling of fullness and keeps you satiated between meals (14). Diet high in protein promotes weight loss but also preserves lean muscle mass to maintain strength and support metabolism (15,16). If you are vegan, instead of animal-based protein you can add vegan protein powder to some meals and shakes.
It’s good to have specific ideas regarding the foods you’re going to prepare. Start with healthy recipes or meals you already know and expand your horizons along the way. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different foods and ingredients. If you’re not an experienced or skilled cook, you can always opt to prepare meals that require only a few ingredients.
Once you know what to prepare, you’re ready to create the shopping list and head to the supermarket. Your shopping list should include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil
- Protein sources such as lean ground beef, turkey, eggs, chicken breast, frozen shrimp, canned salmon or tuna
These tips can help you get the most from the meal prepping process too:
- Determine a specific day for weekly meal planning (for most people it’s Sunday)
- If you’re a beginner, you may want to start by prepping a few meals for two days and work your way up
- Invest in a good cookbook for meal prep ideas
- Invest in high-quality meal prep containers to store food
- Create a specific schedule and stick to it every time you prep your meals
- Reduce time spent in the kitchen by carefully arranging the order of meals depending on their cook time
Useful meal prep ideas for weight loss include vegetable-rich instant pot, zucchini noodles, Greek couscous salad, cauliflower rice, among others. If you’re not sure how to make cauliflower rice or other meals, there are tons of healthy meal prep recipes online. The best thing about meal prep recipes is that you can use them as a solid basis to branch out and create your own meals later on.
What is the key to meal prepping?
The key to meal prepping is in creating well-structured meal plans or schedules. The process can be quite hectic for a beginner unless you have specific meal plans to stick to. It’s easier to have a healthy lunch every day when you have a solid plan.
What are the cons of meal prepping?
Some foods may not be able to stay fresh after a couple of days. Also, if you prepare too many meals there is the risk of you not eating all the food, which could be wasteful. To avoid these problems good planning and choice of meals are crucial. After all, meal prepping is not about having a lot of foods for the sake of it. This practice is about eating healthy foods and having them prepared for a few days in advance.
Is meal prepping good for you?
Meal prepping is a good choice for people who want to eat home-cooked meals without spending every day in the kitchen.
Is meal prep worth the money?
When you have a specific plan and execute it properly, yes it is. Meal prepping is a good way to avoid eating in restaurants and thereby helps you save money.
How much weight can you lose by meal prepping?
Actually, the amount of weight you can lose depends on the foods you cook. For that reason, you should opt for nutritious meals.
Batch cooking and meal prep promote weight loss by simplifying the process of controlling your portions, reducing calorie intake, and eating healthy meals. The cornerstone of meal prep likes in meal plans so make sure to stick to the schedule. That way, you’re more likely to get the most from the foods you make.