You’ve had weight loss surgery, you’re on the road to recovery, and you’re ready to start meal prepping to maintain your post-op lifestyle. You buy meal prep containers and start telling everyone you’re going to start meal prepping. You do it for one week and then stop. Does this sound familiar?
When it comes to meal prep, it takes time and practice before it becomes a habit. Be patient with yourself. Here are some common mistakes to avoid as you embark upon this new meal prepping journey.
Common Mistakes of Post-Bariatric Meal Prep
Here are some of the most common mistakes made in the bariatric meal prep process, and how to avoid them.
Assuming that your meal plan can meet all of your vitamin and minerals needs.
One of your main goals right now is undoubtedly to eat a nutrient-dense, healthy diet. However, even if that diet is packed with vitamins and minerals, it’s not going to meet your needs after bariatric surgery.
This is no reflection on your ability to meal prep well or make healthy choices.
The fact is, your body has anatomically changed, and lifetime supplementation is the only way to ensure that you get – and properly absorb – the nutrients you need. It’s absolutely crucial that you adhere to your vitamin and mineral regimen, while pursuing healthy habits like meal prepping. Your meal prep methods may evolve and change, but your multivitamins will have a permanent place on your bariatric shopping list.
Pack your vitamins in your lunch bag ahead of time or fill up your vitamin containers each week to help increase your chance of taking your vitamins.
Incorporating foods that you’re not ready for.
How far into the recovery process you are will decide what types of foods are appropriate for your diet. While some foods may always be off limits moving forward, you will eventually be able to eat a most foods again. Some foods like lettuce or beef may be difficult to tolerate after surgery. It’s important to listen to your body and your surgeon’s guidelines.
Your meal prep will need to adhere to a standard diet progression before being cleared for a regular, solid diet. When it comes to foods like fruits and vegetables, these should be canned or cooked soft, without their skin in the beginning. Caution should also be applied to tough meats, which can be tough to digest early on, and high fat foods, which can lead to dumping syndrome.
Not taking into account your new meal pattern of smaller and more frequent portions.
Remember, following surgery your stomach will be around the size of a walnut, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Smaller portion sizes mean you’ll need to make sure your meals encompass all of the important nutrients you need throughout the day using smaller servings.
If you’re only eating 1-2 cups of food at a time, do the best you can to incorporate a wide variety of nutrients into this small serving. This doesn’t mean you should adopt a grazing habit, as studies show that this can actually increase your risk for post-op weight gain. But rather focus on intentional small meals throughout the day.
Not including enough protein in your meals.
In the early stages after surgery, it’s not uncommon to only be consuming around 500 calories per day while your pouch is swollen and healing. It’s essential to make sure you’re fitting enough protein-rich foods into your day, ideally by including some in every meal.
Your protein needs after surgery vary depending on many factors, but are typically between 60-90 grams per day based on ASMBS guidelines. Make sure you have enough room in your caloric intake to meet those protein requirements. Dense protein foods like chicken take up more room than softer protein sources like yogurt.
If you’re unable to meet your protein needs with real food there is no harm in using an approved protein drink in your meal plan.
Preparing meals too far in advance.
You probably already know, food goes bad. Many people believe they need to prep for every meal on the weekend. But, by Friday the food probably isn’t looking or tasting that great. This may lead to food going bad in the fridge, since food typically stays good for 3-4 days. If you are eating something prepared 5-7 days ago you are putting yourself at risk for food borne illness, the last thing you need! Plus, who wants to taste bad food?
It may be more helpful to separate meal prep days into two days of the week, so your food tastes good and stays fresh.
Choosing recipes that are too complicated.
Even I can be seduced by a beautiful food picture I find online, but when I look at the recipe it is way too complicated! Choosing meals with too many ingredients or that require special cooking methods may take too long and wane your enthusiasm for meal prep. You simply won’t have the time to consistently spend hours in the kitchen every week.
Instead choose simple recipes so that meal prep does not take too long. A simple protein recipe with a side of seasoned veggies is easy to quickly prepare ahead. Some of my favorite recipes are soups and crockpot recipes to help keep things easy.
You’re too ambitious.
It’s easy to get excited about meal prep when you first start. But if you begin meal prepping seven days a week, you’ll likely become overwhelmed.
Start small to build your confidence and stay consistent. Meal prep the meal that is the most challenging for you to make a healthy choice. Frequently, dinner can be hard because many of us are tired at the end of a long day. Once you have mastered that one meal then consider tackling another.
Not having the right kitchen equipment.
Choosing the right kitchen equipment will help make your job easier in the kitchen. This could include an Instant Pot, Spiralizer, or even just sharp knives. Investing in meal prep containers that work well for you can also help speed up the process.
Poor time management in the kitchen.
Developing a fast meal prep routine takes time and practice. When first starting out you may prepare one recipe and then the next. As you practice, you will become better at preparing more than one recipe at a time. My suggestion is to start preparing the food item that takes the longest to cook first, then prepare the other meals while that food item is cooking. Eventually you will be a master meal prep chef!
Like everything it takes time and practice to become proficient at meal prepping. Be patient with yourself and know you are making a good investment in your health.
Incorporating too many simple carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for your body, but unfortunately certain kinds (especially refined grains and pastas) are really good at filling you up quickly, leaving little room for other healthier, more nutrient-dense foods. Breads, rice, and pasta can take up a lot of space, and can even form a paste that’s difficult to digest in the beginning. Instead, focus on complex carbs that come from fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes.
It’s also common to only tolerate simple carbs such as crackers, puddings or cereals in the beginning. If this is you then work with a dietitian to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need and prevent dumping.
Trying to go it alone.
Life isn’t meant to be lived without the support of others, and the days, months, and years following your bariatric surgery aren’t either. One of the best ways to support your meal prep success is to find a friend, or even a community, who have had similar weight loss journeys.
Many of these communities can be found online – like my Bariatric Meal Prep Facebook Community – but you can probably also find supportive new friends in your own community. Together, you can make bariatric meal prep a shared experience, and help each other with shopping lists and meal prep essentials. You could even throw a meal prep party!
If you would like some help with meal plans, please check out my dietitian developed bariatric meal plans that are tailored for those after weight loss surgery.
Not approaching meal planning and prep as a priority.
The best way to make meal prep work for you is to put in the effort required up front. The first few times you meal plan, it will take more time than it eventually will. It takes a few weeks to form a new habit, and meal prep after bariatric surgery is no exception. A great way to get the creative juices flowing for your meal prep is to seek out meal prep ideas for weight loss. There are tons of fantastic meal prep recipes and bariatric meal plans for weight loss out there meant specifically for this purpose.
Set aside at least 10-20 minutes each week towards developing a meal prep plan.
Meal prep is all about saving time and money, while allowing you to focus on what matters the most after bariatric surgery: your health and recovery. When you’re ready to start the meal prep process, keep these common mistakes and tips for success in mind to help you stay on the right track.