Meal Prep is Overrated
I've previously mentioned to clients and online that I think meal prep is overrated.
I have also shared photos of my occasional meal-prep adventures, and was subsequently asked why I was meal-prepping, as I had previously said it was ‘no good.’
To be clear, I think meal prep is OK and is certainly beneficial for dieting, as it increases the accessibility of good food options. Accessibility/convenience is a vital consideration for what drives food choices, along with guilt, nutritional quality and pleasure.
I do think that meal prep is overrated. Unless you are super busy or find preparing your meals to be beneficial to your week, I don’t think it is always necessary nor as important as social media would have you believe. It certainly does not make you 'hardcore', 'dedicated' or 'shredicated' (if that's original - I trademark that).
A photo of 24 prepared meals with a few select hashtags (#cleaneating #dedication #absaremadeinthekitchen) will get you guaranteed likes, but not necessarily results. People can get hung up on prepping meals and considering it to be part of any weight loss or muscle gain process. It’s almost as if to say ‘if you don’t prepare your meal on Sunday and store them in matching tupperware - you cannot lose weight.'
This means that if you aren't prepared to prepare all your meal, you cannot get results. If someone told me that to burn fat I had to prepare 20+ meals in one go, eat the same things repeatedly and microwave everything I ate, I would probably say 'no thanks!' This can become quickly a barrier to attempting weight loss - which we don't avoid.
The association with ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ doesn’t help much either… sure it's a cool quote and will get more likes online than the boring stuff I post, but it does very little beyond that.
In reality, the primary benefit of meal prep makes it easier to access certain foods, but it doesn’t necessarily make your dietary intake any better or improve the nutrient quality of any foods. It can also cost effective, providing you eat all the food and don’t let the meals go to waste.
So now that I have said meal prep is OK, but overrated, I feel like I should list the pros and cons of meal prep, in my opinion. Here they are, in order of how they came into my head.
Pros of meal prep
Easy access to quality food
- if you have a good meal prepared in advanced, it decreases the likelihood of you going and buying sub-optimal foods.
- if you have lunch already prepared, it's actually more convenient to eat that meal than head to a drive-through.
Usually prepare good options
- you don't see many people preparing chocolate mud cake in bulk and putting into tupperware containers for the week ahead. Although someone should do that.
- actually, people wouldn't post that even if they did...
Control portion sizes and meal composition better
- you know what goes into the meals and how much of each ingredient.
- no need to pull apart your chicken salad and try to estimate the macro while at a cafe.
- it is a pretty good feeling not needing to worry about food intake for six days
The cons of meal prep
Repetitive consumption of meals
- it's common to prep the same meals week after week, month after month, until you can never eat chicken/salmon/tuna ever again.
- the easier meals become to prepare, the more likely you are to avoid changing it.
Lack of nutrient variety
- see above
- the same foods and same nutrients can potentially cause nutrient deficiency, even if the included foods are considered 'healthy'.
Food can become boring or mundane
- see above and above above.
- the only variety becomes how hard the chicken is after sitting in the fridge (three days I can do, four is pushing it).
Feel uncomfortable or anxious eating non-prepared food, due to lack of control
- underrated downside, in some people lose the ability to eat out with comfort.
- this is borderline orthorexia - an unhealthy obsession with healthy foods.
Do it better!
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Meal prep isn’t good or bad, it’s just another tool that you can use to increase the accessibility of healthy food or options that suit your needs.
If meal prep works for you - keep on doing it. Be sure to include a variety of options and don't get stuck in the same routine.
If meal prep isn't your thing, that's OK too. There are still plenty of ways you can start your body recomposition journey without setting out your weekly menu every Sunday!