Since I moved out of my parents at 18, I’ve meal prepped most weeks. I find this method of cooking really effective for my lifestyle, minimising my waste and also cutting down the cost of my food shops.
There are however a number of things that need to be addressed about this way of eating. With any craze, it’s not as totally rosy as it’s made to be. Working in a photography studio, I see every day how we can use technology to blur the lines of reality. As a race, we’ve become so accustomed to seeing everything so flawless that it’s hard to separate real life from reality anymore, and no matter what you think or how much you protest, it’s messing with our mental health.
So with that, I reach my first point.
1. Those meal prep pics? They take hours of work, and I’m not talking about the cooking.
Yes, we all know that great looking things sell really well, it’s the world we live in and I don’t see anybody jumping off soon. But please, stop comparing your wholesome, home cooked meal to a photography studio ‘meal’. The only reason your food doesn’t look the same as the Instagram picture you saw is because the extensive use of lighting, angles, suspended camera’s, hundreds of hours of time, mind numbing labour, expensive freelance stylists (yes, those fancy set ups are done by a professional food stylist) and on-set teams aren’t something any regular person has lay around the house. If you manage to scratch through the photography and styling issues, you’re still going to be lacking a Professional Retoucher who can help bring out all the colours that cameras seem to struggle with – I’m talking the reds (hallo, how many incredible foods can you count that are red?) and the greens (all your healthy leafy posts).
As hard as it might be to accept, you’ll probably never achieve the aesthetics that you see on social media platforms, or even from cookbooks. Something that you can achieve though, is making something that tastes amazing and helps to fuel your body.
2. Some of the best looking meal preps logistically don’t work.
Again, this falls loosely around the same grounds as the previous point, if you’re meal prepping, the chances are you’re heading to work; whether it’s by car, public transport, bike or time travel, your food will not reach A-B looking like a Pinterest picture. Everything gets mixed, shaken, smashed, crushed and generally just looks like total sh*t when you pull it out at work.
3. Some of the best looking meal preps just don’t work at all.
I’m looking at you, Buddha bowls, taco bowls, and anything that has a potato product or lots of liquid. They just don’t work. The main problem with some meal prep posts is the fact that they’re literally an evening meal put into a tupperware tub. Anybody who has ate on this planet since, yano, eating was a thing, will know that there are some products that just aren’t good after being left in the fridge for a few days, never mind when you add your work microwave into the mix.
Some of the worst contenders for this are multi-layer meals. For example, taco bowls that have layers of food that need reheating and layers of food that need to stay cool. Yes, there are definitely ways around making this less of an issue, but unless you have a cold planet to store your hundreds of tiny portions of every component in your taco bowl, it’s more hassle than it’s worth.
My next qualm, anything with a saucy topping is going to make all of your delicious food soggy. Even our trusty friend pasta can fall victim to this horrendous crime, but to be honest, there are going to be more cases where your reheated pasta will end up a bit dry. An easy example of a meal prep hack just waiting to go wrong is ‘Shepherds Pie Bowls’, okay, yes, there’s not many people that don’t go bit gooey over a Shepherds pie, but after cooking, cooling, having it sit in the fridge for a few days and then getting it to work, you’ll probably realise that all your gravy has been sucked up by the potatoes, then your whole meal has just been shook up while commuting. What you end up with is nowhere near as tasty as it should be, and you might find yourself heading to the local petrol station to eat £1 jam tarts – I’m talking from personal experience here.
4. Meals that are just too big, or too small.
There’s been many of days I’ve sat scrolling through Pinterest, looking for that perfect meal to prep for a busy week at work. The portion sizes seem a little large, but you are making it for 4 days, so you try not to worry too much and continue to chop a family’s worth of potatoes for your pastry-free quiche. Only to find yourself in a food coma every day after your lunch. Or you might find yourself on the total flip after choosing to make a ‘low carb, high protein’ Bento box that leaves you reaching for the closest bag of crisps.
There seems to be no real consistency on what you find online, or any proper guidance on how to eat for your needs on platforms like Pinterest and Instagram (or it’s very misguided). The best way to tackle this meal prep minefield is to prep something uncomplicated that you enjoy eating. Otherwise, what’s the point?
If on the other hand, you’re struggling to manage your own portions, something I like to do is make my meals a little smaller for breakfast and lunch, but then prep lots of tasty snacks to enjoy throughout the day – we can touch on this properly another time.
5. They cost too much money.
If your meal prep is costing you an arm and a leg, you’re reaching the realms of ‘is this really worth it?’ If once you’ve bought your ingredients and taken the time making the food, it would have been cheaper and easier to grab a meal deal from Tesco, then the nutritional value of what you’ve cooked won’t outweigh your hardships in the long run. You will find yourself binning the burrito bowl and it will have all of been for nothing.
I love living frugally, I’ve become one of those annoying people that lives for spreadsheets and saving money. This practice has made me quite the connoisseur of cheap meal preps and luckily for you, I love sharing what I find works. For me, I don’t necessarily need to eat a full chicken breast at my lunch, so 2 breasts can be cooked for 4 days worth of meals. Or a 500g pack of mince will also last me 4 days with plenty of veggies. It’s all about weighing up your goals and what works best for your body. If you’re on a strict workout regime, finding a good average of what you burn over the week and making your meals around that number works better for me than trying to chop and change my intake daily.
If you’re a meat eater or have special dietary requirements, you might find than in general your prep does cost a little bit more than others. But don’t let this put you off, it is doable and you can make something really nutritious without breaking the bank.
6. It can be time consuming.
This is a point that we touched on slightly in the previous point, but it is one that I really want to explore a bit more. At one point, my meal prepping could take me 2/3/4 hours, it was ridiculous and a massive waste of time. I was cooking too much, making things too complicated and sapping all of the fun and enjoyment out of it.
I’d bought a tonne of different meal prep boxes and I wanted to use them all. The boxes I had bought had 3 different sections that I wanted to fill to the brim, regardless of whether or not i needed that much food or not. The time it was taking me to chop, cook, clean and then portion out the food left me sweaty and exhausted. By the time it came to eat them, I didn’t actually want them anymore because I had over complicated everything.
I did this for a little while and spent a lot of time (and money by the time I had gone to Subway to replace my tragic lunch), before realising that I needed to strip back my routine and simplify everything that I was doing. Part of this came from realising I haven’t got to try and eat like an Instagram star every day and then another part came from deciding that I wanted to eat things I liked, not things people thought I should like.
With all of this being said, I am still an avid meal prepper. I’ve found what works for me, it takes minimal time to make and I enjoy every meal I have.
Do you have any meal prep stories to share or tips for optimising your routine? Let me know in the comments what you think!