When trying to lose weight, it’s helpful to have the right foods on hand. Meal prepping can be a helpful tool for anyone, regardless of whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain your weight.

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Planning and preparing meals and snacks ahead of time can save you time, reduce stress around mealtime, help improve diet quality, and help you reach and maintain a healthy body weight.

This article breaks down meal prepping for weight loss and includes foods to prioritize, how to create healthy and filling meals, sample recipes, and evidence-based, sustainable weight loss tips.

There’s no need to follow a specific diet for weight loss. Although low carb and vegan diets have been shown to promote weight loss, any nutrient-dense diet that’s right for you will work.

Meal prepping can help you stay consistent with eating nutritious meals on busy days. You’ll also enjoy the food more because nothing is off-limits.

That said, some foods like fruits and vegetables are better choices and should be prioritized over things like donuts and cookies.

What does a weight-loss-friendly diet look like?

A weight-loss-friendly diet should be nutritionally complete, affordable, appropriate, culturally acceptable, enjoyable, and sustainable.

A balanced diet comprises mostly whole, minimally processed foods, especially fruits, and vegetables, as well as nutrient-dense whole foods like whole grains, beans, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, and seeds.

These foods should make up the majority of your diet, while still leaving some room for treats. But it’s important to also make sure you’re in a calorie deficit, which promotes fat loss.

Cutting back on nutrient-poor, high calorie foods and adding in more physical activity can help you create a calorie deficit without needing to be on a strict diet, which is often overly restrictive and can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

In fact, evidence shows that although very low calorie diets only delivering 1,000 or 1,200 calories per day can result in fast weight loss, people tend to quickly regain the weight once they return to their normal eating habits.

Should you track calories when meal prepping?

Be wary of generic meal-prep-friendly meal plans available online or handed out by trainers and nutritionists with set calorie limits, especially if they’re rigid and deliver fewer than 1,500 calories per day.

It’s better to work with a healthcare professional to determine an appropriate calorie range for your weight loss. You don’t need to count calories.

Instead, choose the right foods, compose filling meals and snacks, and try to eat according to your hunger and fullness signals.

If you’re new to meal prep, start by prepping just a few meals a week. Focus on nutritious options for meals when it’s harder for you to eat healthy.

Set aside an hour or two for meal prep day, make a grocery list from recipes found online, and shop the day or two before.

Alternatively, you can set aside a few hours once a week such as on Sunday, during which you grocery shop and meal prep for the whole week. Then, you cook and portion out servings in containers you can either refrigerate or freeze, depending on the food.

Even if it seems overwhelming at first, you’ll get better as you practice. Aim for balanced meals and snacks containing protein, fat, and fiber.

Protein is the most filling macronutrient and helps preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss.

Eating an apple paired with natural peanut butter is an example of how to increase calories with nutritious sources of fats and proteins. Fiber and healthy fats can also help make meals tasty and filling.

Foods to eat and a healthy meal prep shopping list

When planning meals for the week ahead, it’s helpful to create a shopping list. Grocery lists can help you stay organized while at the store and may even help you make healthier choices while shopping.

That said, you’ll want to pick up nutritious foods but also have a plan to use them so they don’t go to waste. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables last longer and are typically less expensive.

Here’s an example of a meal prep and weight-loss-friendly shopping list:

  • Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, and grapefruits
  • Nonstarchy vegetables: spinach, peppers, onions, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, lettuce
  • Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, potatoes, butternut squash
  • Proteins: canned salmon and tuna, frozen shrimp, chicken breast, lean ground beef and turkey, eggs
  • Beans: chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, lentils
  • Grains: oats, brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa
  • Frozen foods: frozen mangoes, sprouted-grain bread, frozen cherries, frozen broccoli, frozen spinach
  • Dairy and nondairy substitutes: milk, unsweetened nondairy milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, plain yogurt
  • Nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, pistachios, almonds, natural peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, cashews
  • Condiments and pantry: salad dressing, salsa, marinara sauce, mustard, spices, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, garlic, etc.
  • Oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil
  • Other healthy fats: avocado, hummus, tahini
  • Beverages: sparkling water, coffee, tea
  • Snack foods: dark chocolate chips, turkey sticks, nut butter packets, whole grain or seed-based crackers, whole-food-based bars, popcorn, plantain, bean chips, etc.

This is simply a suggested shopping list. Your shopping list will change weekly depending on the meals and snacks you choose to meal prep.

Here is an example of a 5-day easy and healthy meal plan.

Ideas for weight-loss-friendly meals and snacks

Here are some upgrades to get ideas on what well-composed, weight-loss-friendly meals and snacks could look like for you:

Instead of…Try this…
plain overnight oats made with water and brown sugarovernight oats made with milk and topped with nut butter, chia seeds, and fresh berries
a green salad with cherry tomatoes, croutons, and ranch dressinga green salad topped with sliced peppers, avocado, pumpkin seeds, canned salmon, feta cheese, and a homemade vinaigrette
a fast food egg sandwichhomemade egg muffins made with broccoli, mushrooms, and goat cheese served with fresh fruit
a cheeseburger and french fries from the local dinera homemade spinach chicken burger served with baked sweet potato fries
a chocolate-covered snack bara bento box made with sliced apples, natural peanut butter, and a few pieces of dark chocolate

Although it’s a good idea to prepare many of your meals and snacks from scratch, using some premade foods such as turkey sticks, hummus, whole grain crackers, salad dressings, and more can help make your life much easier and save time when meal prepping.

Check out these additional resources:

Having food storage containers in different shapes and sizes can really help with weekly meal prepping. Look for glass or stainless steel containers.

A well-designed lunch bag or transport tote that’s insulated with a place for ice packs to keep food cool can also be really helpful.

Consider how many meals you’re planning on prepping and taking with you on a daily or nightly basis. If it’s just one meal and a snack per day, a smaller lunch bag will suffice. If you’re prepping multiple meals, consider buying a larger tote.

Here are a few more things you can try:

  • Bento boxes: Fill a multi-compartment container with things like fresh fruit, veggie sticks, hummus, nut butter, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and nuts. Aim for protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
  • Energy balls: Energy balls are a portable snack option that can be prepped in large quantities and frozen ahead of time. Try out this simple lime coconut energy bite recipe.
  • Premade snacks: Keep healthy premade snacks handy to help save time. Think hummus, whole-food-based snack bars, whole grain cereal, whole grain crackers, and mixed nuts alongside fresh ingredients like fruits and veggies.

Here are 23 more helpful meal planning tips.

A nutritious diet is low in ultra-processed foods and foods with added sugar, such as fast food, candy, sugary snacks, deep fried foods, and soda.

Cutting back on these items can help you lose weight and reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, for example.

But you don’t have to ban them from your diet entirely — just leave room for them as occasional treats while focusing on eating nutrient-dense whole foods the majority of the time.

Can you lose weight just by meal prepping?

There’s no doubt that meal prepping can help with weight loss, but it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

Other factors like sleep, hydration, stress relief, and activity levels are also important for healthy weight loss.

It takes time, self-love, and patience — plus support from your loved ones and professionals like doctors, dietitians, or therapists. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

Is rice okay to eat when trying to lose weight?

Eating whole grains, like brown rice, may help with weight loss. White rice doesn’t have as much nutritional value compared to brown rice.

Learn more about rice and weight.

Is Hello Fresh good for weight loss?

Hello Fresh is one of many subscription meal plans on the market. In theory, using such a service can be convenient if you incorporate the meals in your meal prep plan and if you consider the ingredients in the meals you choose.

Not all meal plans and meal types are right for weight loss.

Learn more about the best meal delivery services for weight loss.

Is pasta good to eat to lose weight?

Like with rice, it’s best to choose whole wheat pasta, which is more nutritious than the regular, white variety. Still, there’s no reason to exclude pasta in a balanced diet, as long as you eat it in moderation.

Should men and women meal prep differently?

You can approach meal prep the same way regardless of your sex. That said, there may be some foods that are better for you if you’re female or male.

This can also depend on your body composition and health, so it’s best to speak with your doctor.

Meal prepping for weight loss doesn’t have to involve calorie counting or complicated low calorie recipes.

Instead, a weight-loss-friendly meal plan should be high in nutritious, filling, and delicious foods and involve preparing recipes that appeal to you using foods that you enjoy.

Remember, if you’re new to meal prep, don’t go overboard. Start by preparing a few healthy meals per week to create a sustainable habit that can help you lose weight in a healthy way.

Just one thing

Try this today: Grain bowls, frittatas, and one-pan meals are great choices for new meal preppers because they’re delicious yet don’t require a lot of cooking skills or time. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create your own meal-prep-friendly recipes. Before you know it, you’ll be a meal prep pro!

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