Meal Prep vs. Menu Prep

Let’s talk about meal prepping. Almost everyone talks about it. Many say it’s the best thing for everyone that wants to be healthy, lose weight and not have so much stress surrounding meals. My problem is, there’s a few things they don’t talk about.

The people that promote meal prepping don’t necessarily talk about how long it takes. I used to spend 8 hours (yes, EIGHT HOURS) meal prepping on Sundays. It was dreadful. There was one day when I was meal prepping that my husband came home from golfing and couldn’t see the dining room table because it was covered in greens. Kale, spinach, bok choy, bell peppers…you name a vegetable, it was probably on my table.

Those same people don’t necessarily mention how tedious meal prepping can be too. All the chopping and cutting up of vegetables, cooking rice and beans just to let them cool and be stored…man, it was a lot of work. I even remember weighing the food so I could make sure I had just the right portion. It was painful, but a must at that time since I wanted to be really focused on my nutrition and lose weight.

And the last thing I don’t think meal preppers mention is how boring the food can be. When I meal prepped, I ate chicken and vegetable almost every single day. Yea, it might have been different veggies, but it was still vegetables. Remember that table of greens? I would eat as much as I can of those greens throughout the week. Don’t get me wrong, I like vegetables, but like most people, I need some variety.

Despite all these complaints, meal prepping does have a lot of benefits. It can help you regulate your diet, which is especially good if you live with a chronic condition. It allows you to cook less often, which is great for people that despise cooking. In some cases, it can help you lose weight. Mainly because you’re eating so consistently. It even helps you save money. When you purchase the same thing over and over again, you know exactly what you’re buying so you don’t stray from your grocery list. And the best benefit is that you don’t have to put a ton of thinking into what you’re going to eat. For someone like me, this is great because you don’t necessarily get the hungry horrors since every meal is planned out and timed for you.

Despite all these benefits, meal prepping worked for me for a finite amount of time. It served a purpose for me, but the boredom and the amount of actual prep involved overtook me. It got to be too much. I found I was spending more time preparing food than I was spending it with my friends and family. What fun is that?! Meal prepping works, but it didn’t work longterm for me.

Instead I tried something called menu prepping. Each week, particularly on Sundays, I spend about 45 minutes to an hour planning what we’re going to have for dinner each night. Yup, I only plan dinner. Each day, our breakfast is the same (typically eggs, a carb and some protein) and our lunch is leftovers or something small so I don’t necessarily plan those. Planning dinner has been fun, though. I try recipes from the cookbooks I have, experiment with new dishes and find the ones my husband and I like the best. Anything from homemade hot pockets to turkey, avocado BLTs and even dill pickle chicken with sweet potato fries has been on our weekly menus in the past.

What’s great about menu planning is that you only have to shop once a week for your normal breakfast and lunch items and the ingredients for the meals you’re going to make for dinner. It let’s you cook in smaller batches, but be in the kitchen together without electronics and actually have conversation and work together. Menu planning is perfect for smaller families because you don’t always have to buy a ton of food, nor do you have a bunch of leftovers you won’t eat. And what’s even better is that it only takes about 45 minutes to write out your menu and you only “prep” the day you write that out and the day of or day before your meal.

Listen, meal planning was great and it served its purpose, but it got boring, strenuous and too exhausting. If you’re feeling like that, try menu planning and see if that works better for you and your family. Have more fun and more variety in life without sacrificing your health.

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