Meal Prepping vs Meal Planning: Why I Don't Meal Prep
I'm a huge fan of quality over quantity. When it comes to food I appreciate flavor, authenticity, and the simple act of cooking. The great thing about, well, most things, is there is no one way to do them. Our lives are structured differently and we all have responsibilities that stagger our availability. But no matter what life asks of us, the one thing we all do is eat. And if you’re health conscious and looking to eat smarter in order to feel and look better, how you eat is equally as important as how you exercise. Plenty of people look to meal prepping as the the best method for staying aligned with their goals. But for me, meal prepping is a task I can never enjoy. Here’s why I don’t meal prep.
Meal Prepping Is Just Eating Leftovers
Growing up, my family ate leftovers for three or more days, depending on how much food my mother made and how amazing it was. My mother worked from 10 AM- 7 PM, so there was no way she was going to cook a fresh meal every day. I get it. Even to this day if I go visit my mother I'll eat leftovers and I'm OK with that because her food is nostalgic. Besides my mother’s house, I can't remember the last time I had leftovers that didn’t become an afternoon snack compared to a whole meal. If I ever have left over pasta, rice, or mixed veggies from the previous night, I usually enjoy them as a mid afternoon snack after cooking them on the stove top a bit. But a whole ass meal that’s exactly like I ate yesterday, except it isn’t as flavorful? That’s not going to happen.
Think about the different meals you’ve had in your life and when they’ve tasted their best. On the first day of my mother making rice and beans with chicken, I was like Pepe Le Pew floating in the air towards the aroma of a meal that I knew would taste amazing. I’d make a mountain out of my food and dig in with my fork until my stomach was going to burst. But by day three, I just wanted to get eating over with so she would cook something new. That initial joy and flavor was gone.
As an adult, eating leftovers is not fun after the second day. Maybe when you’ve been drinking all night and you head home starving and desperate. But regularly? It can’t be and shouldn’t be introduced as an amazing option to eating.
Food-E (E is for Enjoyable)
I'm neurotic about food. It's one of many things, I'll admit. A lot of people I know and follow on social media who are part of the health and fitness lifestyle make a huge portion of food at a certain point during the week (usually Sunday), divide portions into five plastic containers, and those become their guide to eating for the entire work week. They take these containers to work and microwave their food (ruining the nutrients) and eat their meals. By the time Wednesday hits, their faces lose the excitement. This is meal prepping.
When I think of what prepping a meal actually means, I think back to when I lived in Miami and worked in the receiving department for a restaurant. Whenever I spoke to the cooks in the kitchen or went into the fridges I saw meals being prepped. Usually when you bite into a delicious steak, rib, or lamb in a restaurant, chances are the staff marinated and seasoned it yesterday or a few days before — this allows flavor to seep in. So once it goes from plate to fork to mouth, you get a full experience of flavor. Food is prepped in order to be cooked on a specific day, not prepped to be served over the course of five days. This is the only version of prepping I can ever commit to, whether I go out to eat or just do it myself at home.
Eating should always be an experience, not just a a task to check off from your list. Modern western society de-evolved when it comes to certain necessities — eating is one of them. In the past, but yet even in current European countries, eating was/is a reward to yourself and, most importantly, an experience. Americans tend to get to work and mentally zero in on their break as soon as their workday starts. Breaks that are usually rushed, spent looking for food, on a line buying food, or conversing with coworkers — never truly taking a “break” from it all. And even when the average American sits to eat, they’re going through processed, pre-packaged, microwaved, or quick meals — nothing that came from the heart but food that may negatively impact the heart. Eating, at all points of the day, should be an enjoyable experience that allows you to sit, relax, unwind, and enjoy an amazing meal for as long as you can. Meal prepping rarely offers anything amazing.
There may have been love when you initially cooked your food en masse on Sunday. You were looking forward to the commitment to a balanced diet and excited about the results that will come. But from the people I’ve known, after awhile, even meal prepping becomes another task you look forward to checking off from your weekly list. There no love in eating the same exact food five days straight. There’s no love in eating microwaved food. There’s no flavor. There’s no relaxation. There’s just scarfing the food down to hit your macros and fulfill your eating duty.
Meal Planning Is Gold
Besides not having time, one of the major reasons people tell me they meal prep is to help them avoid cheating on their health goals. I get it. My biggest non-health cravings come from when I’m starving; I imagine eating fried wings, pizza, or anything with bread. But meal planning can help you contain those cravings, just like meal prepping does.
Meal prepping has everything planned out and prepared for you, so you’re eating at the right times and never getting to the point of hangryness, Hunger is the enemy when it comes to proper eating, but as long as you stay ahead and spread your meals throughout the day, drink water regularly, and snack occasionally, you’ll rarely fall into that craving desire.
Eating the same meal every day can lose its lackluster and bring cravings also. Your body was made to utilize its senses — you have to stimulate them regularly. Meal prepping offers no stimulation — it’s like having missionary sex five day a week. But meal planning can offer you the same success in being mindful of your health goals. The only thing you don’t get is advanced preparation.
Meal planning, just like meal prepping, involves being educated on your needs. In both cases you need to eat a certain amount of calories, protein, and other pre-established nutrients. But meal prepping is the get rich quick scheme. Meal planning is the creative’s way of eating — slowly building something from the ground up and nurturing it every step of the way until you find success.
With meal planning you have to research different proteins (meat, proteins, etc), grains, and vegetables. Then you find creative ways to make sauces and any additional add-ons like dessert. And, finally, you get to create what you planned. Not only do you get to enjoy a new meal every day if not every two days, but you also learn more about cooking, enhancing your skills and palate while also becoming more confident and creative in the kitchen, which transitions into other aspects of life. Accomplishments don’t stay in their own realm. (Working toward completing 100 pushups straight showed me that I can physically push my body to the limit and that consistent work will get me the results I want. I carry that success into all things creative.)
All my meals are made daily and as fresh as consumerism allows it to be. I mentally plan everything out when I go grocery shopping — a routine I try to manage every two days. I may enjoy the same meal two days straight, but on both days I went through the process of cooking, and on the second day, I always make it better than the day before.
Where’s The (Food) Culture
My rule on food is simple a question; what is the least amount of time from the source to my plate? The more steps or people involved, the less interested I am in a dish. e.g., In the past when I ate beef at home, my thought process was this: a cow is slaughtered on Monday, processed Tuesday and at the grocery store on Wednesday. I pick up the package and plan to finish everything in that package within two days while keeping it in the refrigerator. Three days was a stretch. Also, I never put food in the freezer. Fresh meat, to frozen meat, to thawed to cooking is too much altering. When it comes to food, less is more.
Even something as simple as rice is cooked and eaten as a per needed basis. I don’t want to make a hug pot of rice that lasts all week. I want to relive the cooking experience as often as I can. Maybe I’ll make a little extra rice today, and tomorrow I’ll crack an egg and make fried rice. Cooking is adventurous, intimate, and relaxing. When I’m in the kitchen I turn on music or a podcast, pull out my ingredients, grab a knife and cutting board, and get ready to do the dance.
Nothing should be massed cook. Nothing should be rushed. Even in the past when I ate two boiled eggs every morning, I cooked this daily and slightly elevated the experience: a slightly runny yolk, dashed with kosher salt, fresh grounded pepper, and cayenne pepper. Why don't I just boil all ten and have them sit in the fridge to save time? It didn’t seem as fresh to me.
Cooking is an act of love. You should always want to always take 15-45 minutes out of your day, play music and sweat over a stove while whipping your wrists to create some delicious concoction. Tasting flavors in a wooden spoon, inhaling aromas that lead to arousal; cooking is sexy. And I just can't see myself denying an every day pleasure so frequently just to save time by meal prepping. Neither should you.