Health Matters: How meal prepping can kick start your health goals

Dr. David Krainacker

Dr. David Krainacker is an obesity medicine specialist at St. Peter’s Health, board certified in Family Medicine, Obesity Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine. A firm believer in food as medicine, he has taken over 50 hours of training in the field of culinary medicine (treating by eating!) and has been providing care to the Helena community since 1998.

January 12, 2023

Are you interested in meal prepping but don’t know where to start? For many families, planning what’s for dinner each evening or what lunch to send with kids to school that day are heavy tasks. How can planning ahead for a few days or a whole week be any easier? As a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, I’m here to share how and why meal prepping can help you reach your health goals.

Meal prepping puts the knowledge of your meal ingredients in your hands. You are less likely to reach for highly processed or fast-food items last minute when you have prepped a meal right from your kitchen. Prepping also helps with portion control, giving you the ability to determine a well-rounded, nourishing meal that will satisfy you until your next one.

Still not convinced that meal prepping is right for you? Here are a few other tips I encourage folks to try:

  • Start small - You don’t have to jump into meal prepping with two feet to get started. You can just dip your toes in first. Instead of taking an entire day to prep breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next the week for your entire family, start small by simply prepping ahead a healthy snack for yourself each day of the week. When you feel like you have that figured out and a few favorite snacks on rotation, try adding in a lunch or breakfast. Making small changes to form a habit can go a long way when starting something new.
  • Choose whole foods as much as you can - Whole foods are foods with minimal processing and natural ingredients.  While on your meal prepping journey, focusing on more natural, healthy whole foods instead of highly processed “food product” can help improve overall health, and studies have shown it can also help lower the risks of chronic illness like high blood pressure and diabetes. In relation to meal prepping, the beauty of whole foods is that in many instances you can quite literally grab-and-go with food items. For example, as you plan your afternoon snack for the week, stock up on a large bag of apples and natural peanut butter. Each morning, toss both in your bag before you head out the door and voila! you have just meal prepped your afternoon snack for the week.
  • Start with your favorite meals and recipes that you already know - Meal prepping and grocery shopping is less intimidating when you start with making recipes you already know and love to eat. Not to mention doubling a recipe is easier when you already know the ingredients and measurements like the back of your hand. A great way to make meal preparation more efficient is to make larger quantities at a time. I will typically make enough food for several meals.  I use an Instant Pot, which involves minimal effort on my part, yet it gives me several meals for the week.  I like to store them in travel containers and heat as needed. After you feel confident meal prepping with your tried-and-true recipes, then maybe you can branch out to new recipes and add them into your rotation.

There is no "one-size-fits-all" method to meal prepping, and you don’t have to get it right all the time to make progress toward your health goals. But if there’s any advice I hope you take away from this column, it would be to keep it simple. Choose simple, whole ingredients and I hope you’ll find that preparing your meals for the week is less intimating than you think!