How meal prep mania may be putting a dampener on your food relationship
Health bloggers and coaches regularly state that prepping your meals in advance is one of the best ways of ensuring that you fill yourself up with nutritious foods all through the busy week. And in a lot of ways, this IS true: if you have nutrient dense food in the fridge ready to grab and go you ARE more likely to eat these than get home to an empty fridge and opt for a bowl of cereal or a take away for dinner instead of searching out ingredients to cook something from scratch. If you have the time to set aside half a day each week to prepping some things in advance, this will definitely be a big help to you in terms of taking the pressure off and helping you eat colourful whole foods more easily. But there are a few drawbacks to taking this advice too much to heart:
Whether the issue is available time or confidence, not being able to meal prep so you can eat home cooked meals all the time leads to you feeling guilty
Perhaps you simply can’t manage to dedicate that amount of time, where you are right now, to cooking everything from scratch. Or, in fact, you’re not a confident cook and have some fears around the kitchen. Either way, you need never feel guilty about food.
To the first point, I know how this feels, it’s a really tricky one and the last thing you need when life is this busy is to feel bad about not being organised enough (hello superwoman complex) or not making everything from scratch (hey earth mother fallacy – it’s time for you to kindly bugger off). Look, cooking your own meals from scratch is the ideal, but it’s not the be all and end all. You already know all the benefits of cooking your own meals, there’s nothing to gain from me repeating them here; my point is that those benefits are wonderful but not achieving them all of the time doesn’t make you a “failure” and isn’t another thing you need to be adding to the “things to feel guilty about as a woman” list (the list sucks enough already).
To the second point please, if you take nothing else away from this blog, remember this:
No one is born knowing how to cook. It is not an exclusive club that you can’t join if you don’t have a kitchen full of fancy gadgets and expensive ingredients. Even Nigella couldn’t cook once upon a time!
There are plenty of nutritious meals you can make with little to no cooking experience. In fact, I’m in the process of creating an ebook full of suggestions of nutritious meals you can make without access to a kitchen. Drop me a line if you’d like to go on the list to get a copy when it’s ready. Plus, there is a time and a place for shop bought ready to eat foods: if buying a tub of pre made hummus or pot of soup, instead of making your own, frees up time for during a crazy busy week for you to meditate, read a book or go for a run then it may be that this is a better option for you. Yes, #itstartswithfood, to a degree (although I’m inclined to go more with #itstartswithyou) but let’s take a holistic and realistic approach to our wellbeing shall we?
You end up spending all your available free time stressing about cooking – and washing up
Eating nutrient dense foods should be joyful, delicious and FUN. It is not supposed to be another task to tick off (yes, we all love ticking things off lists or apps but when we think about it, probably not altogether helpful when it comes to our relationship with food, is it?) because it’s difficult to take a really sensory and joyful approach to making your own meals if you are making them as a box ticking exercise…
All those bloggers and foodies don’t show you the big pile of washing up left at the end of a day’s cooking and if you’re already under pressure, and not prepared with a large dishwasher and an extra pair of hands to help clear up this could leave you frazzled. If you want to give meal prepping in advance a go, make sure you give yourself leave to let go of any concerns you have about leaving a bit of washing up on the side: you can’t be all things to all people all of the time and no one is going to judge you for taking a bit longer to work through the washing up.
You get bored of eating the same things over and over
The same overnight oats for brekkie, veg bowl for lunch and soup for dinner will get quite boring quite quickly. See point above about eating wholefoods being JOYFUL. And colourful. It’s also a wonderful way of celebrating abundance and variety. Only being able to choose from a set group of items that you prepped in advance doesn’t leave a lot of room for you to eat intuitively and responding to your body’s needs is a key part of your can eat/can do attitude. I always have a few of the same things prepped at the start of each week to make things easier but leave lots of room to change things up according to where my body is at: soaking seeds and cooking beans, roasting veggies and marinating tofu.
My top tips for avoiding meal prep mania:
- Embed some you time into the process – create a special playlist of music that brings you joy, put on your favourite audiobook or podcast or perhaps make a bit of a ritual of coming to the end of meal prepping with a delicious soak in the bath.
- Make sure you have all the vessels you’re likely to need for decanting stuff into before you start cooking – if you leave it until the end, you may find yourself growling at the cupboards and getting frustrated when you can’t find another blummin pot to put that soup in. Yes, I AM speaking from personal experience and no, I’m NOT proud of it 😉
- Multi purpose pots and trays to minimise the washing up – roasting pumpkin in a tray? Line it with fresh parchment paper afterwards and roast the seeds for snacks. Cooking up quinoa for salads? Rinse out and reuse the same saucepan afterwards to steam greens. Using the food processor to blend up soup? Wash it out quickly and blend up dip in there next. You get the idea.
- Make things that can be mixed and matched – making some bits to speed meals up during the week is always a good idea, but perhaps leave yourself room to enjoy making meals from start to finish on quieter days. Great options for mixing and matching include roasting veggies up for a roast dinner then repurposing extras in veg bowls or blending into dips and soups, cooking up quinoa to go with curry on one day and then having leftovers cold with veggies the next day. Basically, if you can make double or extra when you DO have time to cook, save the extras in the fridge or freezer to mix and match through the week with other bits.
- Keep it simple – there’s no need to get elaborate and complicated if that doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle, keep some basic staples in the house at all times and you’ll be able to whip up meals really easily without needing expensive or difficult to source ingredients. My kitchen cupboard staples list includes things like veg stock, miso paste, soba noodles and tinned beans – my minimal list is also over in this blog post.
Do you meal prep? How do you find the experience and do you have any tips for keeping it fun and stress free? Pop a note in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!