When we don’t have enough energy or time to cook healthy, our last resort is to pick up the phone and order food delivery. It may be the quickest and most convenient way to put food on the table, but it is not the only option.
Fortunately, there has been an effective solution for busy people to still provide nutritious food for a week despite having limited time to prepare. It is known as meal prepping or preparing food and snack for the week ahead. Instead of going to groceries and making the meal each day, you’ll be cooking in batches or preparing ingredients in advance.
Is meal prepping healthy?
The premise behind meal prepping is that it is supposed to be a great way to save time, money and energy while keeping the traditional means of meal preparations intact. Meal prepping relies heavily on modern food preservation techniques in order to have nutritious meal ready to eat. It is also a solution to avoid skipping healthy, nutritious meals since the food is planned and prepared to one’s individual diet. Moreover, it avoids the rush of cooking whatever comes to mind, which makes it the best-case scenario in terms of promoting a healthy eating habit. The fact remains however, the health benefits available from meal prepping depends on a person’s food choices.
3 things that makes meal prepping a healthy alternative
Well-prepared meals every day is the best way to ensure a healthy diet. However, it’s a challenging duty for everyone who has other things to attend to.
It requires ample time to plan, go to the grocery, prepare and cook one dish, which is near impossible for busy individuals. So, meal prepping is a good alternative that can help provide healthy meals even with limited time and energy. And here are some of the many reasons why:
- Helps avoid serving junk food
Meal prepping requires us to dedicate enough time to buy the ingredients and prepare the meal, which means that you are less likely to have to rush and resort to foods that provide little in terms of nutrition.
- Removes the reliant on fast food
Most fast food contains high sodium and cholesterol, which can contribute to health issues such as high blood pressure and obesity in the long run.
- Full control over the choice of meal
With meal prepping, you’ll have the freedom to choose the meals that you want to eat. In fact, according to one study, portion control is one effective way to avoid overeating and gaining weight. Moreover, meal prepping allows you to include just the right amount of calories or proteins in meal to ensure that it follows a healthy diet plan.
Types of Meal Prepping
Meal prepping style can varies depending on your needs and preference. The variety of meal prepping includes:
Advanced ingredients prepping: This is the type of meal prepping wherein you slice, cut, or marinate all the needed ingredients in advance to reduce cooking time.
Cooking in batch: In this type, you make various meals that you’ll be portioning the whole week. Freezing is the preferred preservation method for batch cooking. This can be perfect for recipes that can be prepared in large amounts.
Single-serving meal prep: The process for this meal prepping type is preparing an entire meal and portioning it in a single serving, possibly for few days.
Do meal prepping limit a well-balanced diet?
Meal prepping surprisingly allows a large food variety in daily diets. Meal preppers does this by portioning breakfast, fresh fruits and salads to go along with prepped lunches and dinners that may be stored in the freezer. The healthiness of meals depends on how one manages to incorporate the right ingredients to achieve a healthy, nutritious meal. There are challenges to overcome. However, with good planning, meal prepping is believed to promote a well balance diet that would not be available otherwise.
Unhealthy pitfalls to avoid when meal prepping
Meal prepping is cost-effective and a smart solution to provide a nutritious meal despite the hectic schedule. However, since meal prepping requires storing food for an extended period, there are some risks that meal preppers should be aware of.
- Sacrificing nutritional variety
If you’re doing the batch-cooking style of meal prepping, you might be sacrificing the nutritional variety that you can get. Done wrong, or the lazy way, you may end up getting the same nutrients from the same dish the entire week, which is not ideal for promoting a well-balanced diet. Therefore, if you want to get the most out of your meal prepping, it’s essential to creating meal variations.
It will allow you to plan a menu with different meal each day by substituting different protein, vegies that can be stored in a freezer.
- Food spoilage
The number one enemy of meal preppers is food spoilage, especially when preparing meals that require perishable ingredients. Mostly, spoiling of food is due to unhygienic preparation and improper storage.
Typically, when ingredients are exposed to bacteria before you store them, the probability of spoiling is high. It can also result in food poisoning if the spoilage is not identified upon consumption. Cross contamination is a real concern with batch cooking.
In addition, improper storage is also one of the major reasons for food spoilage. That is mostly because of elements such as humidity, temperature, heat, and oxidation. For example, when the food or even the storage is exposed to a higher temperature, it might affect the shelf life of meals.
- Hazards of food containers
In prepping a meal, containers are essential to divide the meal for the week. It’s helpful to keep the freshness of the food. However, its worth noting that some containers can contain harmful chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA).
BPA is a hazardous chemical that is found in plastic containers that can usually ruin your diet. It causes hormonal imbalance and other health issues that you might overlook at first but can be harmful in the long run.
So, if possible, you should avoid using plastic containers when storing food, especially when meal prepping. Also, there are plastic containers with BPA-free labels that can still contain the chemical, so as a meal prepper using glass or ceramics may be a better choice.
How meal preppers overcome negative impacts of shelf life
There plenty of ways to overcome the negative effects of shelf life on food. Here are some of them:
- Use a vacuum sealer
If you have the budget to get a glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic. They are the safest containers that you can use when meal prepping. It’s also essential to pick containers that have airtight lids. A vacuum sealer can be a great way to store foods. It will help avoid outside elements like humidity and oxygen ruining the meal that you’ve made.
- Freeze and thaw method
Most of the time, the safest way to store prepped meals is through the freeze and thaw method since most meals can keep their freshness when frozen. However, you should be aware of the varieties of food that can be frozen and those that are not.
- Avoid storing food in hot places
Heat is one of the elements that can affect the shelf life of food. When storing prepped meal, you should avoid placing it in hot places. The hot temperature can humidify the inside of containers, which can help in the growth of bacteria and mold.
- Plan the recipes wisely
Another way to avoid the negative impacts of shelf life on prepped food is by choosing the right recipes. It’s essential to pick recipes that will stand prolonged storing without being spoiled. There are plenty of ideas that you can check out for inspiration.
- Use the right temperature for re-heating food
Re-heating food can also damage a meal. Especially when you do not follow the right temperature for re-heating. Typically, the average temperature for re-heating food is 75 degrees Celsius. In the case of frozen food, you can re-heat and eat the meal within twenty-four hours of thawing.
- Know the lifespan of stored food
The most crucial part of meal prepping is storing the food. There are a lot of factors to consider, like the life span of the food. You should be able to know when the meal will expire or spoil to avoid any potential risk. Generally, if the meal is refrigerated, it can last for 3 to 4 days, depending on the recipe and ingredients used. In terms of frozen meals, you can expect them to last for 3 to 6 months, depending on the type of meal.