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Meal Prep – Control or Convenience?

Does #mealprepmonday make you sigh? Do you picture a stereotypical “influencer” in a crop top standing in front of a line of perfectly portioned meals in identical meal prep containers? What if I told you weekly meal prep doesn’t have to be about restriction, portion control, calorie counting or having an Instagram worthy fridge? What if planning your meals for the week was solely about making your life easier?

When I started writing this I asked others for their opinion on meal planning. I wanted to gauge what the struggles were to see if I could offer solutions. To my surprise the general consensus was that setting aside time each week to undertake meal prep is most often viewed as a time saving activity and not for control, as I had previously done. This caused me to hesitate. Why am I writing about a topic that may have only been an issue for me? What if writing about this triggers people to have thoughts they wouldn’t otherwise have?

Then I was reminded that not everyone falls trap to diet culture. This post isn’t for those people. I am writing this for those of you that have. For those that are being or have been pressured to restrict your intake in the name of changing your body. Those that are feeling compelled to plan to avoid “failure”. This is for you, but please be aware there is some potentially triggering language used as I recall my past habits.

Vegetables cooking on gas burner in a silver post with chopped vegetables on bench beside cooker

When Meal Prep Resembles Diet Culture 

When I moved away from diet culture I also moved away from my weekly ritual of meal planning and prepping. In the past I had used it as a form of control. Control of portion sizes and therefore control over kilojoules. I was so meticulous in my weekly meal prep, even going as far as to weigh my meals so I could calculate my intake accurately. Naturally, just the thought of meal prepping was enough to trigger diet mentality.

As a working mum with a husband who is pretty useless in the kitchen (sorry Nath 🙃), weeknight meals can be a bit of a chore. Combating this whilst trying to navigate a new mindset away from restriction meant eating A LOT of take-away. Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with eating take-away. For us, it was starting to put a strain on our wallets and after a while my body just started to crave home-made meals.

When Meal Prep Becomes All About Convenience

Finally, after a lot of conversations around HAES® and the non-diet approach combined with a much more positive influence from anti-diet social media accounts, I realised that it is possible to plan meals and prepare them in advance without jumping back into a dieting mentality. Since getting back into it, I feel far less stressed finishing work knowing I have food pretty much ready to go. I am also getting to spend more time with my daughter after she gets home from daycare.

How You Can Meal Prep Without Falling Into Diet Culture

If you want to start meal planning and prepping but aren’t sure how to go about it yourself, here is how I meal prep for the week:

  • I set aside time every week to figure out what meals I enjoy and what I know my family likes to eat
  • Then I make a schedule – for you this could be just dinners, lunches and dinners or it could be the whole days meals. I personally do Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner but leave snacks up to daily discretion. 
  • I make sure to account for leftovers. This means I usually do a big dinner on Sunday and Monday, because those are the days I have a bit more time. This adds extra meals to the week that I don’t have to prep in advance OR if I don’t need the leftovers that week they get thrown in the freezer for another time.
  • I then check my cupboard and make a shopping list based on what I need. I give myself permission to buy outside of my shopping list, but going to the shop with a prepared list saves decision fatigue at the supermarket. Something I can’t deal with and wrestle a toddler at the same time.
  • The last part of the plan is to pre-prepare certain things when I get home from the farmers market or supermarket. This involves washing greens and fruit, chopping veg for baking or salads, making yoghurt or granola or chia pudding. Sometimes I will do a big batch of soup or curry or chilli or pasta sauce. Sometimes I will just prepare ingredients. I work out what I can do in advance to save time later, rather than make sure I have set meals ready to go.

Everyone is different, has different time restraints, food accessibility and preferences so this strategy may not work for you and that is ok. There are no hard and fast rules. Meal planning is not a magical solution to health and body image issues like it is so often portrayed on social media. It is a tool you can use to save time, energy (physical and emotional) and money. Experiment, change it up, do what works best for you.

I would love to hear if you do it differently. Leave a comment below, hit me up on social media or send me an email. I’m also thinking about doing some Facebook Lives whilst I meal prep. If you would be interested in joining me in the Kitchen for a chat make sure to join our Facebook group Whole Green Health Community.

Melissa Gray

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