Use a Meal Prep Service or Meal Planning App
With summer coming to a close, many of us are adding more activities to our already busy schedules, which means less time to do all that we want to, including taking care of our health and nutrition needs. After a long day of school, work and taking care of a family, preparing nutritious, calorie-controlled meals can quickly fall from the Top Ten list. So, how do we get a handle on preparing and serving 3 meals a day, every day of each week?
This widespread feeling of being pressed for time and energy in the kitchen has given root to some new healthy eating trends. Specifically, meal prep services and meal planning apps are growing in popularity by assisting those struggling to find time to prepare healthy meals.
Meal prep services deliver recipes with pre-measured ingredients or entire heat-and-serve meals to your front door.
Meal planning apps make grocery lists that organize items by aisle and section for you.
One of the main reasons that meal prep services like these have boomed in popularity is because of their core value proposition: making your life easier. By taking some of the labor out of preparing each of your meals on your own, you bypass grocery shopping, for the most part, and get to cook dynamic, tasty meals in a fraction of the time.
However, food services do come at a cost. When comparing them to doing your own meal prep at home, affordability, time consumption, food variety, dietary restrictions, and waste management are a few of the major areas to consider. Let’s take a closer look at some of these time saving options.
Companies that send a box of healthy recipes and pre-measured ingredients to your front door have popped up like daisies in the past few years. Home Chef, Sun Basket, Marley Spoon, Terra’s Kitchen, Green Chef, Chef’D, and Purple Carrot, are just a few.
The stress of selecting recipes and grocery shopping is replaced by easy online ordering. After you pick your meal kits for the week, an insulated box arrives on your doorstep, filled with ingredients and recipes for a few meals. All that’s left to do is cook. Though there are a multitude of companies to choose from, they all offer the promises of:
Simplicity – all of the ingredients are picked and portioned for you so all you have to do is cook.
Affordability – the plans average $10-$12 a meal.
Efficiency – recipes are all advertised as “quick,” some plans boasting max cook times of 20-30 min, and you don’t have to worry about taking the time to grocery shop.
Deliciousness – photos are posted beforehand as a feast for your eyes, and some services feature recipes by famous chefs.
Variety – you get a choice of recipes and often there are no repeat recipes.
Conscientiousness – various dietary needs are accommodated.
Waste-reduction – you are sent pre-portioned ingredients so no food goes to waste while waiting to be used in your fridge.
The most popular ingredient-box services are Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, and PeachDish. By looking at each service, we can get a better sense of how these companies have unique quirks that make them stand up against each other. However when it comes down to it, these companies have the same basic offerings: a few delicious meals per week with nutrition information beforehand, plus online support and tutorials to help you strengthen your cooking skills. All of the services use regional, seasonal ingredients so you can be sure you’re getting the freshest produce and proteins.
Another type of meal prep service that has gained popularity in the past few years is delivery-only eateries. Companies like Munchery allow users to order chef-prepared meals straight to their door online or via mobile app, either the same day or at a later date. Unlike ingredient boxes, meals are ready to eat once they arrive at your threshold and take even less effort to enjoy. Munchery list the nutrition information for each meal, so you can stay on track with healthy meals. Meals range from $7.95-$11.25.
Calorie-wise, meal prep services could help you be more mindful about how much you are consuming and assist you in food portion control. Most of the services post the nutritional info along with the meals and recipes. There are almost always a variety of meals to choose from (depending on the service), so finding meals that aren’t high in calories is easier than expected. Plus, by having a pre-portioned meal, you can guarantee that you won’t overeat by going for seconds or thirds.
The majority of these services must be ordered in advance, so at the beginning of the week, you already have a few meals planned and ready to go. This takes away the risk of finding a quick, unhealthy meal at least twice a week (the basic option for most meal kit plans is two meals for two people per week). By having a meal that can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, there are fewer reasons to call for take-out, stop for fast food, dine at a restaurant, or whip up a high calorie meal just because it can be on the table in minutes.
Also, last minute take-out orders and restaurant visits could add up in more ways than one at the end of the week. You could dish out (on average) anywhere from $7 to $25 per person and an exorbitant amount of unplanned calories, depending on where you go. The meal prep services mentioned above average around $10-12 per plate and give you all nutritional info in advance, so opting into an ingredient box service could save you a bit of money and save you from eating a surplus of calories.
While these services aren’t geared towards promoting weight loss, they can help people aiming to lose weight stay on track. Having a plan ahead of time helps dieters make better choices when it comes to food and diverts them from choosing less healthy options that could ruin their diets. Knowing that dinner is taken care of two or three times a week can allow people to focus on creating healthy, substantial meals for the other days of the week. And for those who love to dine out, these services can provide restaurant-quality food at a fraction of the cost and calories.
Another way you can get a helping hand in the kitchen is through a meal planning app for your smartphone or computer. Like their name says, meal planning apps can either help you plan your weekly meals or plan them all for you, so there’s no guesswork in what’s going on the table. These sophisticated little apps will create shopping lists out of your saved recipes, plan what meals to eat which day to maximize the freshness of your produce, and help you keep track of what you eat. These apps put the ease of planning out a week of dinnertime in the palm of your hand, while taking out the difficulty of executing it.
Cook Smarts is an app and website combo that provides weekly meal plans complete with grocery lists that keep food perishability in mind to reduce waste. There are gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian options, but best of all, Cook Smarts shows all nutritional info and works with MyFitnessPal to see Weight Watchers points. Not only are the recipes on Cook Smarts perfectly portioned, many of the recipes are waistline-friendly. The app is free to try, then costs $6-8 a month.
The Fresh 20 is a website that offers meal plans that consist of 20 local and organic ingredients per week that takes only take 20 minutes to shop for. Every night that week, dinner will be made from those 20 ingredients, ensuring you healthy, unprocessed meals that are easy and quick to make. The Fresh 20 offers a variety of meal options including gluten free, dairy free, Kosher, for one, and for lunch, and provides nutrition info in their meal plans. Plans start at $18 for three months.
Pepperplate is an app that allows you to plan and organize your meals using recipes from your own recipe box as well as popular websites. You can save recipes, create weekly meal plans, and make shopping lists from selected recipes that automatically delete duplicate ingredients and organize ingredients according to aisle/location in the grocery store. These features make it ideal for meal planning. It’s free to download and use.
So how can these apps help with weight loss?
The major goal of these apps is to help users plan out their meals. Some of them offer meal plans, while others provide the platform to create your own meal plan. Depending on your needs, you can choose an app that will help you meet your mealtime goals whether they be to use only a few ingredients, or to eat healthful meals.
Despite some differences in the apps’ features, all of them put the power of scheduling in the hand of the user. By having a meal plan, dieters are less likely to make impulsive, unhealthy decisions and more likely to follow what is on their food schedule. Also, preparing yourself for the week’s meals will take some stress out of food prep since much of the guesswork of “what’s for dinner?” will be taken care of. Groceries can be purchased at a convenient time, ingredients can be made in advance, and leftovers can be packed for lunches. Most importantly, there’s no 6 o’clock scramble to put something (anything!) onto the table for your hungry family.
When it comes to watching your diet, using a meal planning app, especially one like Cook Smarts that links to a calorie tracker, will help you make smarter meal time decisions that will keep you on track. You can also use meal planning apps to help you prep other meals besides dinner–for instance, planning when you’ll bring a portion of last night’s dinner for lunch. Stretching your meals in this way (leftover enchiladas for lunch anyone?) can spare you a little extra time and take the stress out of figuring out your healthy, diet-friendly meals.