Ah, meal prep. Cue in stereotypical images of a body builder in their kitchen for 2+ hours cooking up 2 lbs of tilapia and steamed broccoli (#gainz). Okay, I swear I’m not trying to hate on anyone. I personally DO meal prep most weekends to include meals for about 4 days throughout my week. The reasons I meal prep do NOT have to be the reasons you choose to. Alternatively, you can choose not to meal prep at all.
Time is everything
First and foremost, it saves time for me. Sure, I start work at 11 am every day, but my mornings are filled with my own self-care routine of going to the gym or working out at home. I don’t necessarily want to spend any second of my morning prepping food for the day. The same goes for the time I have at night when I get home; this is the time I get to spend with my boyfriend or with friends, and meal prepping is not about to get in the way of that.
On the other hand, you might argue: why meal prep when you could be doing literally ANYTHING else? And I get that! There are definitely weekends where I’m out of town, and guess what? Meal prep just doesn’t happen. Oh well, I ain’t dead over it. Meal prep isn’t supposed to take away from things that you value. And if you feel it starting to, think about how much time you’re spending in the kitchen. Laboring for over an hour? Trust me, meal prep can definitely be done in HALF that amount of time. Opt for veggies and protein sources you can roast all at once. Buy veggies that come pre-chopped. There are simple ways to cut time down. Or, just don’t prep ahead of time at all!
Money money money
If you’re on the money saving train, meal prepping clearly helps. As much as I want to be buying lunch and/or dinner out daily, I know that my wallet and bank account don’t necessarily agree with that, or allow for it! Yo, I’m a Master’s grad who sure as heck has some school loan debt. The poke bowl doesn’t need to be bought daily at this point in my life. Meal prepping allows me to buy ingredients in bulk that I can use for the current week ahead, and even sometimes the following.
And if you don’t want to meal prep: look for sales! Look for midday lunch deals! Make it a mission to buy lunch as cheap as possible. Or opt for meals that can actually act as two meals versus just one. Jackpot.
Am I eating balanced?
Meal prepping ensures I’m getting a balanced meal during the time of the day I need the most energy and the most focus. I meal prep according to how I’ll want to feel throughout the day: energized, concentrated, and fueled. I know my personality and my habits: if I’m left to buy out lunch, I might choose a meal (AKA just a buttload of snacks) that doesn’t necessarily give me the sustained energy that planning ahead of time does.
On the other hand, meal prepping can take away your ability to intuitively eat! If I had a job that allowed me to work from home, I can’t necessarily say I’d still be meal prepping.
Intuitively eating means listening to what your body wants in the moment, and honoring it. Eating when you are hungry, stopping once you have reached fullness.
Meal prepping sometimes doesn’t allow for us to choose what we really want in the moment (because it’s already cooked and prepared). Relying on making meals the “day of” or buying lunch out forces you to listen to what your body wants and to practice ordering a balanced meal!
Side note: health isn’t defined by eating out of Tupperware’s daily, and likewise it isn’t defined by eating out daily. Opt for a balance between the two.
Getting in touch with your creative side
Meal prep can force you to get creative and to get comfortable in the kitchen. Throughout my own recovery, I began to HATE the kitchen. Everything I ate was either in the form of a snack or a frozen meal because I couldn’t make peace with the kitchen and with “cooking from scratch.”
Meal prepping forces you to step outside of your cooking comfort zone: let’s be real, no one wants the same chicken and asparagus daily for lunch. Meal prepping gives you the chance to try new ingredients and also feel proud of what you’ve cooked for yourself.
In contrast, skipping the prep means either 1) getting adventurous during your lunch break and exploring new restaurants and dishes and/or 2) using cooking in the moment as a therapeutic and relaxing experience. I don’t know about y’all, but cooking my dinner at night, on the spot, without any prep is time that is so well spent and enjoyed. This allows for on-the-spot inventiveness.
Let’s reframe what all of this even means. Change the concept of meal prepping to simply meal planning. Think about what you want your week to look like, and plan for that versus prepping everything down to the specific ingredients.
Also consider prepping or planning for only a few days out of the week, versus all or the majority of them. That way, you still have a few days that are up in the air to allow you to buy out lunch or prep on the spot.
And… things to look out for
If you feel yourself becoming fixated on, obsessed with, or constrained to meal prepping – this is your cue to STOP! Should you choose to meal prep for convenience or money saving reasons, pay attention to when it becomes an obsession versus a personal benefit.
Are you anxious when you don’t have your pre-packed meal? Do you feel food-guilt when you decide to buy lunch out instead? Is their fear behind food that is prepared FOR you?
This is a good clue that meal prepping may not be serving you the positive purpose that it was initially intended to do.