Meal prepping – it’s the latest hype to hit the fitness world, especially on Instagram where capturing aesthetically pleasing photos of the colorful fruits, veggies, grains and meats have taken the social media mobile apps by storm and inspired many with similar goals toward a healthier, more productive diet. Meal prepping involves preparing your meals for the week ahead of time in order to control what you eat and avoid last-minute fast food binges.
Pros and Cons of Meal Prepping
According to Zoe Tattersall in “The Complete Detox Cleanse Nourish,” there are many pros and cons of meal prepping. In a nutshell, some of the pros include:
- It can be much more healthier than fast food.
- Meal prepping pushes you to make better eating habits instead of impulsive ones.
- It saves you a ton of money.
- It also helps if you are dieting and want to control your portions.
Some of the cons include:
- You have to choose meals that last an entire week.
- You can experience boredom (of course!).
- You may overeat during the weekends or “rest” weeks.
Meal Prepping Tips and Tricks
“Meal Prepping 101 for Beginners” breaks down how to even begin meal prepping. It talks about how to get started by picking a day, picking out meals, using proper containers, and even some kitchen help for meal prepping as well. Three students from Mount Mary’s Writing for Print & Web class interviewed Dr. Linda Gleason, who is a professor in the dietetics program at Mount Mary University, who gave us great tips and tricks to meal prepping for beginners.
According to Gleason, meal prepping can be very beneficial in various ways. To save time, meal preppers buy their groceries, prep and cook, and store their meals for the following week. There’s a variety of ways that meal preppers go about planning their meals for the entire week. They either buy their food in bulk and cook it all in one day or they buy a few days worth of food and cook on two different days (or whatever works for them). Gleason further talks about some negatives about meal prepping and gives some good tips for beginners.
Gleason mentioned that through the process of meal prep, you learn what foods that are prepped can be frozen or left in the fridge for the week.
“Some things hold up better than others,” Gleason said.
Portions that are meant to be eaten later in the week might be better off stored in the freezer. Gleason also talked about portion sizes and how she believes in a philosophy of eating, meaning enjoying the food you eat. One should eat until they are full, but not to the point where they overeat.
“Diets depend on the person, and sometimes people don’t make enough food because the meal preps are healthier,” Gleason said.
Meal prepping reaps many benefits including eating healthier foods and portions, time management, and spending less money eating out. However, meal prepping isn’t widely accepted by college students.
See Yang, fellow Mount Mary University full-time student, part-time retail worker, and soon-to-be-mother, does not meal prep. “I don’t see the point of meal prep when I can cook and eat whatever I want … It can be beneficial if you are consistent but my schedule is very hectic,” See said.
The Meal Prepping Challenge: Three Students Try Meal Prepping for a Week
But it isn’t that students do not see the benefits of meal prepping. In fact, they do but the stigma behind meal prepping is that it requires time and research and consistency – and worst of all (according to students), it’s boring! So as fellow college students with drastically different but busy school and work schedules, we decided to take up the challenge of meal prepping for an entire week to potentially defy the stigmas.
A typical week for me consist of working 40 hours per week and going to class. And because working takes up majority of my time, I rarely have time to cook at home. I am always on the go, and so much of the food I eat is fast food. Don’t get me wrong, I do know how to cook, and I love a great home-cooked meal, but most times, there just isn’t enough hours in the day to stop and cook.
Although I don’t cook everyday, my diet contains mostly chicken meals. I don’t eat a lot of red meat. At my job, I mainly work 9-10 hour shifts and we usually have an hour for lunch. And although I eat out almost everyday, I try not to eat unhealthy, so I stick to something that I would make at home if I have the time to. So, my planned meal for the week contained chicken rice and vegetables for lunch and dinner and for breakfast it consisted of boiled eggs, oatmeal, yogurt and/or applesauce.
There were definitely some strengths and weakness when it came time to meal prep for this assignment. With such a busy schedule, I didn’t know how I would even be able to fit in a time to cook, let alone for the entire week. One of the hardest things was just simply planning out what I would have for the entire week and to shop from the grocery list of ingredients.
Another thing that I had a hard time with was consistency. Consistency was definitely a challenge because I normally don’t eat breakfast, lunch and dinner around the normal times when you are suppose to eat. Because my schedule is so off, I usually skip breakfast, indulge in a nice lunch either before work or during work, and have something light for dinner, if I even have dinner at all. So, being able to meal prep for the entire week without skipping meals was a challenge.
Some of my strengths throughout this meal prep process was cooking. I love cooking, and making the food came natural to me. Cooking can be therapeutic to some, so I enjoyed that time to myself. Another pro about meal prep is that once you prep for the whole week, you don’t have to worry about your meals for the rest of the week. You already know what you will take to work and what you will have for dinner. Even though all three meals were the same meal for the entire week, it was very fulfilling.
From my personal experience, skipping meals makes me more tired and drained by the end of the day.
Melissa Vernon, a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College, said that although she meal preps, it isn’t always healthy, as she settles for sandwiches some weeks, or even eat hot dogs for other weeks. The fact that it saves her money is what she loves most about meal prepping.
“I always skip breakfast, however, I still meal prep for lunch and dinner when I can,” Vernon said.
The benefits that I got out of meal prepping were that it saved me a bunch of time during the day by not having to decide what to eat or to cook each day, and it really saved me money as well. Money management was the biggest thing that I learned personally on meal prepping because during an average week I spend about $10-15 on lunch and dinner each day, compared to spending $15 for the whole week on meat and sides, and breakfast food for a complete meal. Overall, the meal prep experience was a great one for me and I would definitely be doing it again, especially with the hectic schedule I have on a daily basis.
As a student and an individual who works two jobs to make ends meet, I have a very busy schedule in which eating comes second, third, and even fourth to the things I have to get done. I don’t follow an eating schedule and of the times that I do eat, I usually opt for unhealthy meals of fast foods and easy store bought junk food for convenience. Often, I find myself fasting for hours on end unintentionally and then binge eating when I do finally get to eat. I rarely have time to cook at home and pack for the week and it isn’t uncommon that I return home only to sleep and repeat my busy schedule. A typical schedule for me goes like this:
Per the advice of Mount Mary dietetics professor, Linda Gleason, I conducted some research to get an idea of what kind of recipes and foods I would make for the entire week. I went on social media sites like Instagram or blog pages with meal prepping themes and became inspired by all the aesthetically pleasing photos of healthy foods. But because I am rather simple person, I decided to stick to an easy menu eating the same meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I called off of work for Sunday and went grocery shopping early in the morning. However, it occurred to me that I had a lot of errands to do and homework that was due so I wasn’t able to actually cook until 9 p.m. at night and didn’t finish cooking until nearly 12:30 a.m.. For breakfast, I prepared hard boiled eggs and a fruit of some sort, for lunch, I had rigatoni pasta with a tomato based sauce loaded with extra vegetables, and for dinner, I opt for a chicken and spinach corn salad with a light Dijon mustard dressing.
For snacks, I packaged a handful of baby carrots and sliced cucumbers or an orange and/or apple. I set some personal goals for the end of the week: (1) to determine if I could focus in class better; (2) to see if I saved any money; (3) to determine if my time was managed successfully by eliminating the need to search for food; and (4) Do I feel emotionally and physically better? I also set a personal goal to not eat past 9 p.m. at night (because we all know these are the times when we’re at home exhausted from the day, laying in the comfort of our own homes, and lazily binging away at junk food!).
My experience? First, let’s start out with the pros. It was an enriching experience – in all honesty, the food that I chose was rather healthier than the alternatives that I would have chosen. Eating these foods provided me with a clarity of mind. In class where I would usually lose interest easily and start doodling on some scratch sheet of paper, I was able to pay attention and retain information for longer periods of time and contribute my own thoughts and opinions to the learning environment.
In addition, I was able to complete the majority of my homework in which I would otherwise procrastinate until the day prior to the deadline. I also found that I saved well over $100 in a week where I otherwise would have been spending $15+ dollars in total in a day’s worth of food. The most important for me however, is that the meal preparation made me feel physically and emotionally better than I would have in any other weeks. My friends actually noticed that I was more upbeat and complained less!
However, this meal preparation week wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Personally, I found meal prepping to be time and energy-consuming. There’s a lot of work into planning your meals and finding out what is healthy for you (if being healthy is your end goal) or the right foods to eat. Ideally, meal prepping would save you time from going out to look for food and although this was true for me, I found my time management to still be the same because of unexpected changes to my schedule.
I was still unable to eat at scheduled times and when I did eat, I found myself hungry just a few hours after eating. And I’ll honestly admit that despite me having boiled eggs ready to eat for breakfast, there was always some unplanned errand I had to do early in the morning where I skipped breakfast all together. I was, however, consistent in eating my lunch and dinner but by the fourth day, I was bored and desperately craved for a dignified, soulful meal. Overall, I would definitely recommend meal prepping but maybe, instead of going in headstrong like I did, start with baby steps and make small changes to your eating habits.
Generally, I have a full week of classes along with a few days of work. My work schedule changes each week, so I have to adjust my day accordingly. I usually have a busy week and this semester I have large gaps between my classes. Since I commute to school every day, I don’t want to constantly drive home to eat my meals. So generally, I pack food for lunch and dinner on my longer days. Even though I pack lunches, they tend to be the same and on the days I don’t pack lunches, I end up getting fast food just because a lot of times it’s just easier.
Personally, when it comes to food, I don’t always eat consistently or even have three meals a day. I tend to be really bad about skipping meals or not eating healthy foods. I am not much of a cook and I don’t really enjoy cooking that much either, so the idea of meal prepping was a bit challenging for me, but I was up for a good challenge.
When I began this meal prep experiment, I planned my meal a few days before I went out to buy the groceries. I planned to get my groceries on Sunday and prepare the food later in the day. For me, I knew that Mondays were my longest days, so I figured that I would get some groceries on Sunday and prepare enough to last me until Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday, I would get any remaining groceries I needed and prepare for the rest of the week. I also had planned ahead that I would not necessarily prepare much for breakfast, since I don’t have much of an appetite in the morning, so I did not spend as much time on preparing for breakfast.
From my experience, it didn’t exactly go accordingly to how I had planned mainly because I ended up making too much food on Sunday night. It ended up lasting me all week for most of my meals. I did have to prep some things again for lunch, but I had enough dinner for every day. Overall, I have to say that meal prep really does help make meal time faster and healthier during the week.
The hardest part was taking the time at the beginning of the week to fully prepare for making the meals. I also struggled a bit from taste fatigue because I had made so much on Sunday, but I think overall, meal prepping is a good way to start eating healthier. The biggest lesson I learned from this was that even though things may seem simple, it can be really difficult, but considering that I am not the best cook, I learned from my under seasoned mistakes.
We are all three individuals with three very different schedules and experiences when it came to meal prepping. All in all, we learn that what may work for you may not work for others and there are definitely great benefits to meal prepping – you just have to put in the work!
After hearing our experiences, would you try meal prepping? Leave a comment below!