Meal Prep For Parents: Part 1

I’m a parent, and you might be too. 

At the time of writing, my wife and I have a 14 month old daughter and another baby on the way – needless to say, our cooking priorities changed pretty drastically 14 months ago, and will probably do so again in a few months!

Even if you’re not a parent, you may be able to relate to the big obstacles that we parents have to navigate when it comes to eating well and appropriately for your goals.

For example, I’m sure that no one would say that cooking healthy meals “doesn’t take long enough.” Haha what a crazy world that would be! No, instead experience tells us that cooking is often a long drawn out process, from turning the stove on to scrubbing and drying of the pots and pans.

For parents especially, it’s a bit more complicated than that – it’s not just about the total time it takes. 

It’s also about the inconsistency of our schedules, meaning that some days we have an hour to cook dinner, and others we have a screaming toddler in the background who needs food ASAP. Again, this inability to plan for all potential circumstances can make things difficult nutrition-wise.

But it’s not just about total time, or the surprise lack thereof.

It’s also about the physical energy and effort that it takes to make all that healthy yet delicious food. You already know how that goes – how tempting it is to order out again because you “don’t feel like cooking and cleaning for the seventh day this week.” I get it, I’ve been there too.

But… it’s not just about any of that stuff either!

In addition to the time and energy that all this demands, it also takes a great deal of mental capacity.

This is really the culmination and the crux of all the aforementioned obstacles, and expanding our capacity to handle even one more semi-complex task in our day feels virtually impossible. Can you relate?

The point of this elaborate introduction is simply to give an illustration of what we parents are collectively going through on a daily basis. 

(One last thought: cooking great, healthy meals for one can be tough enough, much less for a whole family. Yet another layer to this “meal prep onion!”)

Anyway, it sure feels great to know that none of us are alone in this situation, but mutual empathy can only take us so far: we must meet the strong emotions with stronger actions!

Specifically, this action revolves around education and strategy.

This post is Part 1 of a mini-series on meal prep for parents. To be honest, I’m not really sure in which direction this series will head, but that’s sort of the idea here: I want to hear from you, parent friends! What struggles can you identify in your own life that might be separating you from reaching your health and fitness goals? Leave a comment below, send me an email or DM, whatever works best for you. I want to make this series relevant to you!

To kick things off, we need to make sure that we’re all on the same page to begin with.

Including this post, the first 3 posts of this series will cover these three topics:

  • The 1 & Only Rule Of Weight Loss
  • 10 Helpful Principles To Make Weight Loss Easier
  • 7 Practical Meal Prep Tips To Try Out 

The 1 & Only Rule of Weight Loss

This will be the shortest lesson of the three, but it will also be the absolute biggest frustration in your fitness journey if you chose to ignore it.

If you’re already familiar with the single mechanism by which weight loss (as fat loss) occurs, then this will confirm what you already know and believe about nutrition, and will be most helpful to you as an encouraging reminder to stick to the path. If you really don’t know much about weight loss or why you’ve been struggling with it for so long, then you are definitely in the right place as well!

In an effort to stay honest and focused, here’s the simple but sometimes hard to swallow truth:

The only rule behind losing weight is that you must be eating fewer calories than you are burning on a daily basis over time. This is called a calorie deficit.

That’s it.

Everything else you’ve ever heard about this or that diet (including all the information you’ll read about in the next few articles) is simply a recommendation based on science and/or experience of how to make achieving a calorie deficit easier and more practical. 

That’s it.

So when some stranger online or some know-it-all family member speaks dogmatically about what worked for them or what would definitely work for you, tread those nutritional waters with some discernment. 

Back on the subject, this calorie deficit is the one and only rule of fat loss. Why is that?

In simple terms to keep us all on the same page, your body acts like a machine that needs fuel to provide enough energy to perform all of it’s functions. This energy is measured in units called calories, which comes from the foods and drinks we consume.

Your body can do 2 things with this energy that you consume: this energy can be used, or it can be stored for later use. 

Your body can only use (or burn) so much fuel at one time, so it’s necessary to carry some extra fuel to use throughout the day. A certain amount of extra fuel is a good, healthy idea, but beyond a certain point extra fuel simply means extra weight – it becomes a burden that hinders performance of many other bodily functions.

If you chronically consume more energy (calories) than your body needs, you will store all of this extra energy in the form of extra body fat. If you chronically consume less energy (calories) than your body needs, your body will use the stored energy (body fat) that you carry in order to make up the difference.

This is how weight loss occurs.

That’s it.

“But if that’s it, why does it feel so difficult? Why is it still so hard to lose weight and keep it off?”

This is a logical next series of questions, and it’s often overlooked by fitness professionals. 

(To be clear, our “calories in, calories out” (CICO) holds true in all circumstances, but there are various factors that can affect how your body uses calories that may skew calculated numbers. People often cite their “hormones” as the reason they can’t lose weight, when in reality those hormones are actually affecting things like hunger signals and calorie expenditure, neither of which bypass the laws of thermodynamics behind CICO. Energy in will always equal energy out in some form or another.)  

You can image how tempting it might be for a fitness coach or nutrition counselor to say “All you need is to eat less and move more. That’s it.” While technically true at it’s roots, statements like this are entirely unhelpful for 2 primary reasons.

First, the adaptations your body makes to eating in a calorie deficit are not isolated to using stored body fat as a fuel source. There are many changes, costs, and sacrifices involved in this process that include mental, hormonal, and mechanical bodily functions slowing down or stopping altogether. Chronically under-fueling can lead to a host of short and long-term issues. Eating in a deficit literally means eating fewer calories than your body needs to survive – this will no pan out well if used for years on end.

Second, the trade off with simplicity is often adherence, which is certainly the case with fat loss. We can be easily overwhelmed in the presence of too much information, but the same also goes for feeling like you don’t have enough helpful information to work off of. Such a minimalistic approach can turn boring and uninspiring quite quickly, which is part of why a more moderate approach often leads to better adherence (and therefore better results) overall. 

Speaking of that second point, our next lesson, Meal Prep For Parents: Part 2 will feature the bridge behind a simple theory and practical application. We’ll be talking about a handful of general principles that can carry you through the most difficult and boring phases of fat loss in order to keep you going long enough to start seeing results. For now, make sure you have a firm understanding of CICO at this basic level, and explore how this new knowledge/good reminder affects your day-to-day nutrition decisions.

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