Meal Prep Doesn't Just Make Your Life Easier, It Makes It Healthier—Here's How
Help yourself to simpler, healthier, and more satisfying meals.
Meal prepping is an excellent way to save tons of time in the kitchen—spend a little time in the kitchen on Sunday and you'll save yourself from endless hours of slicing, dicing, sauteing, and searing during the already-exhausting work week ahead. After all, when components of your breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner are already (mostly) made, you have more time with your family—or your Netflix account—when you need it most.
But meal prepping isn't just a genius way to get organized ahead of crunch time. According to Amy Shapiro, RD, it's also a super simple way to help yourself eat healthier, more nourishing, and more satisfying meals. How so, you ask? For starters, meal prep means you're cooking at home, which automatically puts you ahead in the healthy eating department. Planning your meals ahead also helps you set yourself up for success all week long. Here, the five biggest health benefits of meal prepping, according to Shapiro.
You've likely heard that you’re not supposed to grocery shop hungry. (Fast forward to me impulse purchasing an entire cart's worth of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter cups alongside my actual groceries). Apply that theory to a grumbling stomach on a busy workday and the inevitable between-meeting dig into your dangerously convenient junk food drawer. “When you don't know what to eat, or you let yourself get too hungry, you tend to eat foods you didn't plan on,” explains Shapiro. “Meal prep ensures that you have healthy food at the ready and can avoid overeating or making poor choices due to excessive hunger.” Now that we’re all working from home and can access our fridge and snacks all day long, having healthy pre-prepped meals is more important than ever.
When you cook your own food, you know exactly what goes into it. “If you are sodium sensitive or tend to feel bloated and puffy after a night out, you can edit your own recipe to eliminate those symptoms. When you dine out or order in, restaurants have one goal—to make your food taste good—which often means excessive salt and fat in your recipes,” Shapiro says. By making your own food, you can avoid hidden sodium or excess saturated fat and feel great the next day. For instance, you can curtail the sodium content in your minestrone soup by buying low-sodium beans, or swap turkey bacon in for your breakfast burrito.
Similar to Shapiro’s point above, planning meals ahead means you dictate the quality and the source of your meals, including the grade of meat you prefer, the freshness of your produce, and how many processed or packaged ingredients you use. Making your own salad dressing, for instance, takes less than five minutes and will help you avoid excessive chemicals that come in the pre-bottled stuff. Same goes with packaged frozen meals, granola bars, sandwiches, and other convenience foods. “Personally, I am a stickler for grass-fed meat, wild seafood, and non-industrial oils,” she says. “Many takeout and chain restaurant options do not offer this quality. By meal prepping, you can ensure you are eating what you want. I guarantee you'll notice you'll feel better, too.” And if you’re trying to transition to a more plant-based diet, meal prep is an excellent way to start.
These can be sneaky, and many "healthy foods" contain too much sugar. “Meal prepping helps you avoid excess sugar and in turn, the side effects that come with it—from weight gain to chronic inflammation,” says Shapiro. “For instance, making your own yogurt parfait instead of buying one from your deli or Starbucks will save you over 8 teaspoons of sugar!”
When you cook your own meals, you know how many servings you should get out of one recipe. “Chain restaurants like to ‘wow’ you with portion sizes and want you to feel like you have gotten your money's worth. With meal prep, you know exactly how many ounces of protein, vegetables, and carbs you are getting.” You can also always prepare your plate for ultimate wellness—add an extra serving of roasted carrots, black beans, tofu, or cooked quinoa to your grain bowl to make sure you feel super satisfied without adding anything unhealthy. “My recommendation is filling your plate half with veggies, one quarter protein, and the final one quarter complex carbohydrates,” Shapiro says.