It’s something that you know has to be done if you want to stay on track with your diet plan and physique goals.
And, you’ve probably done your fair share of meal planning and prepping in the past with great success. But, the concept of meal planning can become exponentially more difficult if you have to prep meals for specific diets.
Some people eat paleo, others vegan, and still others avoid carbs entirely and go full on the ketogenic diet. Then there’s always the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) crowd who will eat anything and everything just so long as it keeps them within their set macronutrient goals.
So, how can you prep meals for all of these different diets?
That’s where this guide comes in.
Ahead, we’ll discuss how you can get all of your weekly meal prep done as efficiently as possible, even if you have to prep multiple meals for multiple diets.
But first, let’s lay down some “ground rules” regarding meal prep.
Meal Prep 101
Calculate Macros & Calorie Needs
Successful meal prep begins with successful planning, and that all starts with knowing how much food you need to buy. In order to know how much food to buy to meet your performance and physique goals, you need to have a rough idea of your calorie requirements.
If you’re not sure how many calories you need to gain muscle or lose fat, click here. In that article, we’ve provided a quick and easy way for you to estimate your calorie needs as well as the needs for those of you who are meal prepping.
Once you’ve got calories and macros set, it’s time to move on to the next step for successful meal prep – making a grocery list.
Create a Shopping List
The key to spending as little time and money shopping for your weekly food is having an organized and detailed shopping list.
On your list don’t just write -- chicken, oats, bread. Be specific.
Write down “5 pounds of chicken,” “2 loaves of bread,” or “7 bananas.” This ensures that you have just enough food for each meal.
It also helps to organize your shopping list into specific categories, such as produce, dry goods, dairy & eggs, fresh meat & fish, frozen foods.
This strategy saves you time in the store so that you’re not bouncing back and forth from one end to the other because you forgot to grab something that you overlooked on your list.
Some additional grocery shopping tips to save you money:
- Plan meals based on weekly sales and/or items you already have in your cupboard.
- Stock up on low-priced or discounted items (e.g. canned tomatoes, frozen veggies, etc.)
- Do an inventory of current stock of frozen goods and meals (you might have a few meals leftover in your freezer already, thereby enabling you to have to purchase and prep fewer meals for the week).
This tip is more of a time-saver when it comes to preparing food for multiple people following different diets. The last thing you want to have to do is make 3 or 4 completely different meals for different individuals.
Instead, seek commonality -- what kind of dishes can translate across multiple diets and nutrition plans.
Dishes like tacos come to mind. With just a few subtle tweaks, tacos can easily be made to be gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, or paleo.
Another option is to take a cue from southern-style restaurants and do a riff on the classic “meat and three” whereby you prepare the main protein and offer a few different side dishes and/or toppings.
Prep First, Cook Second
Now that it’s time to actually start prepping your weekly meals, the organization plays a hugely important role. From years of experience, we can tell you that if you want to spend as little time as possible, prep your ingredients first, then start cooking.
Prepping the ingredients for one dish and then cooking it, and then prepping the ingredients for another dish and then cooking it, is the perfect recipe to spend all weekend in the kitchen working and not relaxing.
By cutting, chopping, slicing, and dicing all of your fruits, vegetables, and proteins first, you can then have multiple dishes cooking, baking, stewing, and/or roasting at the same time.
Now, that you’ve got the basic gist of meal prep, let’s get into the specifics regarding some of the most popular diets these days.
How to Meal Prep for Your Diet
Ketogenic Meal Prep
Without question, the belle of the diet world ball is the ultra-low carb, ketogenic diet. High in fat and moderate in protein, meal prep is ridiculously easy for acolytes of the keto way of life.
You don’t have to worry about any long prep for grains and legumes (soaking and cooking) or tubers (russet and sweet potatoes).
Your meals consist of fat, fat, and more fat along with a side or protein.
Some quick big-batch foods you can make that require minimal effort but hold well throughout the week include:
- Hard-boiling one or two dozen eggs
- Sautéing a head of cabbage in coconut oil
- Roasting kale “chips” coated in olive oil in the oven
- Bake a sheet tray of bacon wrapped asparagus or Brussels sprouts
- Grilling, smoking or baking a large cut of fatty meat (pork shoulder, rib eye, brisket, ribs)
- Baking a sheet tray or two of meatballs made from a combination of beef, pork, and chicken livers flavored with a mixture of salt, pepper, oregano, dried basil, and crushed red pepper (for a little heat)
- Tossing steak into a goat cheese & spinach salad
Also make sure to keep a few jars of macadamia nuts around, as well as ripe avocados for snacking!
Vegan Meal Prep
When following a vegan diet, you avoid all animal products as well as any product derived from an animal. So, in addition to not eating beef, chicken, pork or fish, you also will not consume eggs, dairy, or things made from animals including gelatin or protein powder (though you can use vegan protein powder if you find one you enjoy).
Some meal prep options that store and reheat well for those following a vegan diet include:
- Chickpea curries
- Lentil Dal
- Baked eggplant parmesan (using a vegan-friendly, dairy-free cheese)
- Mushroom and spinach bread pudding
- Marinara with zucchini noodles (or baked spaghetti squash)
- Overnight oats using almond milk or rice milk
- Roasted pumpkin soup (Mmmm!)
Breakfast options include oatmeal with berries and nuts, smoothies, waffles, and scrambled tofu breakfast tacos.
Low-Calorie Meal Prep
When following a low-calorie diet, nutrient density per calorie is key. In other words, focus on foods that pack the most micronutrients with the least number of calories.
That means the brunt of your diet will be on whole foods -- lots of vegetables (preferably, non-starchy types), fruits, and lean proteins.
A few of our favorite low-cal meal prep favorite recipes are:
- Roasted asparagus and cherry tomatoes with grilled chicken breast
- Greek yogurt parfait with sliced berries and walnuts
- Roasted salmon with stir-fried green beans, squash and water chestnuts (look for a bag of Asian stir-fry veggies in the frozen section of the store)
- Baked egg cups made with ham and low-fat cheese
As for snacks, sliced fresh vegetables with a homemade yogurt-based ranch-style dip is always a winner, as are roasted almonds.
Paleo & Whole30 Meal Prep
Paleo and Whole30 are two types of elimination diets that focus on eating real food and eliminating any sort of processed foods from your daily diet. Basically, if your great-great-great grandparents didn’t have a certain type of food around when they were alive, then you won’t either.
It’s as simple as that.
That means anything from a box, can, or bag that contains 46 ingredients you can’t pronounce or has a shelf life longer than a week is gone from your daily diet.
These two nutrition plans eliminate grains, legumes, and dairy as well as alcohol most of the time too.
These diets also make shopping fairly easy as you can pretty much steer clear of the middle aisles of the store and just shop in the periphery where the produce, fresh meats, and fish are located.
Tubers (white and sweet potatoes) are a bit of a “gray” area food on these two diets. However, if you are a high-performing athlete, you can benefit from the carbohydrates in these nutrient-dense foods, as they help with performance in the gym, glycogen replenishment, and recovery.
Foods that you will likely purchase each week include:
- Meats of all kinds
- Fish and shellfish
- Clarified Butter or Ghee
- “Healthy” fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils
- Some fruit, but not all
- Vegetables of all kinds (the more the merrier!)
- Gluten-free mini donuts
Meal prep is much the same for Paleo as with the other diets on this list. Roast big batches of vegetables in the oven so you can mix and match them with your pre-cooked meats throughout the week. Fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and sliced red bell pepper are your go-to snacks!
Bodybuilding Meal Prep
A typical bodybuilding diet is high in protein and carbohydrates with moderate fats, typically in the 20-30% range of daily calories.
The majority of your diet should be made up of whole foods (lean proteins, fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains).
Some easy to prepare meals that reheat well on a bodybuilding diet include:
- Overnight oats (add a scoop of whey protein in the morning!)
- Grilled chicken with roasted diced squash, green beans, and tomatoes
- Broiled meatballs with baked sweet potatoes/yams
- Stir-fry of lean sirloin steak, mixed vegetables (onions, peppers, and mushrooms) and steamed rice
- Ground beef “fajita bowl” including seasoned ground beef (90/10 grind preferably), mashed avocado, rice (or quinoa), and grilled veggies
- Peanut Butter protein energy balls made from protein powder, peanut butter, oats, chia seeds, and honey
What if you’re in college?
When you’re in college, time, space, equipment, and money is in short supply. This can make a successful meal prep a real challenge, but not impossible.
Since money is likely tight, shopping the weekly sales is more important than ever as is stocking up on discounted items.
Frozen fruits and veggies will also be your friend as they are typically a bit cheaper than their fresh counterparts.
Also, remember to keep meals simple, this saves you time and money.
But simple doesn’t have to mean bland. Invest in some good spices and experiment with different combinations to add flavor to your staple foods.
Using a mix of different spices can help breathe new life into the same set of ingredients and create a whole new flavor profile on your palate.
No-heat meals also help save time during the week when you’re on the go and can simply pop open your container of food without having to track down a microwave or oven during the day. Dishes like hard-boiled eggs and grilled veggies work well in this instance as do salads in a mason jar, or even the classic PB&J!
Meal prep isn’t hard, but you should still have a plan in place before setting foot in the kitchen. To summarize, successful meal prep requires:
- Identifying your daily calorie intake and macronutrient breakdown
- A list of foods that are essential and “off limits” to your diet
- Having a weekly meal plan
- Creating an organized and thorough shopping list with specific quantities for each item
- Buying items in bulk and on sale when possible
- Prepping all your ingredients before you start cooking
- Cooking several things at the same time