Think of your body as a car: without the proper fuel, it’s just not going to run properly, no matter how well you maintain it otherwise. Exercise is a crucial part of maintaining your instrument, but no matter how hard you hit the gym, you won’t be able to go far without a healthy meal plan. As a busy singer, a trip to the drive-through may seem like the easiest (or only) option you have between professional and personal obligations, but that’s where you’re wrong. Let me introduce you to your new best friend: meal prep.
What is meal prep? Meal prep is when you devote an hour or two to preparing meals for the entire upcoming week, so you can stay on track with your healthy diet and bypass the drive-through during even the busiest of weeks. Meal prep can actually save you time and money in the long haul, as you can cut out trips to a fast food joint altogether. Many body builders use meal prep to carefully monitor what they put into their bodies, and to help avoid temptation mid-week. Singers and other health-conscious folk can also reap the benefits of meal prep in their busy lives, as it’s a reliable, economical, and efficient way to ensure healthy eating.
Remember: your whole body is your instrument. You may not have to obsess over macronutrients like body builders do, but you should be a bit obsessive over the quality of what you’re putting into your instrument. Singers are so used to taking care of their respiratory system, larynx, and immune system, but total health is of the utmost importance for long-term success.
Without any further ado, here are my top five tips for beginning a meal prep regimen! These tips are great for both those just beginning their meal prep journey and those who are already veterans. Enjoy!
1. START SMALL
Currently, I prep a total of 36 meals each week, which gives me 6 meals per day for 6 days. Obviously, this is a little extreme, and I certainly did not begin preparing 36 meals per week. Start with a small prep, such as preparing 6 meals (1 meal per day for 6 days), and work your way up. Do you often skip breakfast because you’re rushing out of the house? Prep some overnight oats or pre-package the fruits, veggies, and protein you need to whip up a quick breakfast smoothie! Struggling to stay away from the local fast-food joint at lunch? Sit down and cook a healthy (yet delicious) lunch fit for royalty. My personal favorite is lean steak and broccoli over a bed of brown rice!
2. PLAN YOUR MEAL PREP AHEAD OF TIME
Ideally, you should block out a 1-3 hour window of time on the same day every week for your meal prep. The most common day of the week for meal prep is Sunday — it’s so popular that it has its own hashtag, #MealPrepSunday! Make this chunk of time sacred: nobody and nothing should overthrow your meal prep time. I do everything I can to avoid messing with my designated Sunday meal prep time slot, but because the life of a singer can be unpredictable, I always have a backup time in mind for meal prep. If there’s a totally unavoidable obstacle between me and my meal prep (such as a Sunday matinee performance), I have Monday morning as a backup time slot for my meal prep adventures!
3. INVEST IN QUALITY TUPPERWARE
Look for microwave-safe, freezer-safe, BPA-free containers. Good containers don’t have to be expensive–in fact, the other day I spent $1.50 for a container of six small, quality tupperware containers! However, you will likely have to go out of your way to find quality, economically priced containers. Don’t forget to pick up a variety of sizes while you’re at it; although it may seem like larger tupperware containers would be the most valuable for meal prep, you’d be amazed at how often I use my smaller containers.
4. COOK WITH FOODS YOU ENJOY
If you hate bell peppers, then these taco-style turkey-stuffed bell peppers topped with fat-free mozzarella won’t be right for you. Many people struggle–or outright fail–at meal prepping because they try to force themselves to eat something they know they hate. If you prepare a meal you know you aren’t going to enjoy come meal time, you’re likely going to toss it and stop by the drive-through. Start with your favorite lean protein and fruit or veggie, and branch out from there. I always try to cook with one new food item per week to keep variety in my diet, but that said, I always use it in a small way to make sure I’m going to enjoy it before I incorporate it into 6 meals for the week.
5. STRIVE FOR A BALANCE OF PROTEIN, CARBS, AND HEALTHY FAT
A well-balanced meal will include a healthy dose of lean protein, a carbohydrate, and a healthy fat. With this as your guideline, you can make anything from a turkey burger with a side of sautéed broccoli, or pork loin served with an apple and peanut butter, or a small salad topped with grilled chicken, baby tomatoes, and olive oil! As you can see, the possibilities are truly endless. If you want more specific nutritional guidance, definitely contact our amazing expert panelist, Jennifer Fleischer, who is a certified nutritionist.
6. LEARN TO LOVE YOUR FREEZER
You’d be truly amazed at what you can pop in the freezer. Typically, I cook 6 servings of the same meal, and give myself 6 different meals per day. Of the 6 servings of the same meal, I put three in the refrigerator, and pop the remaining three in the freezer. Note: I only do this for meals that are cooked (for uncooked meals, I just prep three at a time, which means that when I run out, I have to spend about 20 minutes or less putting together another three uncooked meals for the next three days). I’ve frozen and reheated everything from rice with beef stir fry, to stuffed bell or pablano peppers, to gluten-free noodles topped with grilled chicken, and more. Just be sure to allow your meals to defrost IN THE REFRIGERATOR 1-2 days before you plan on consuming them. Pre-cooked meals don’t always fair so well when defrosted out in open air or in the microwave.
7. USE YOUR RESOURCES!
The internet is an absolutely invaluable resource for #foodspiration! You can find everything from step-by-step guides on how to meal prep, to fun and creative recipes that will always keep your diet exciting and fresh. My all-time favorite YouTuber for #healthyfoodporn is Fit Men Cook (see video below), because he has some of the most creative, healthy recipes I’ve ever seen, and he covers nearly every topic under the sun regarding meal prep. You can also check out Jen Heward (AKA HunnyBunsFit) and Heidi Somers (AKA Buff Bunny), as both ladies occasionally post their grocery shopping hauls and favorite meal prep recipes. And of course, don’t forget to follow OPERATHLETIC on Instagram for your weekly dose of #fitspiration and #healthyfoodporn!