I’m hoping by the title of this week’s blog I have caught your attention. With so many meal prep services (MPS) popping up across the region, I wanted to take some time to talk more in depth about the value and benefits a MPS can provide while sharing my personal tips on how to make the best decision when investing into your health and wellness through any one of these businesses.
WHAT IS A MEAL PREP SERVICE?
You have probably heard the saying before, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. This couldn’t be any more true. Meal prep services allow us to step out of the kitchen and focus on exactly that – – – planning. By removing the stress and labor of shopping, cooking, and preparing food for the week, we are able to formulate a nutrition game plan and plug our pre-prepared meals right in with minimal need visit the grocery store. Meal prep services do all the work for us, and a high quality MPS will provide you with even more than just your meal.
WHO SHOULD USE A MEAL PREP SERVICE?
Using a MPS isn’t just for gym-goers and health enthusiasts, I believe it is something that anyone can integrate into their lives regardless of occupation, personal endeavors, travel, or family life. This can be beneficial to any lifestyle.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF INVESTING IN A MEAL PREP SERVICE?
- Save time and money
- Learn the basics of meal prep without the stress of cooking
- Cut down on food wasting
- MPS provides an excellent support for those who are unable to cook on their own
- Have a healthier alternative to fast food and takeout
- Many meal prep services offer options for different dietary needs, allowing you to stick to your dietary goals
- Enjoy meal variety
- Accommodating to any age and lifestyle
HOW DO I KNOW I’M RECEIVING THE BEST OUT OF MY MPS?
I really love this question, no matter how many times I have been asked, it never gets old. When someone reaches out to me or approaches me at a wellness event and asks this, I find my answer to always cover the following five MPS “decision tips” (in no specific order).
#1 Check the Label
How much information is the meal prep service providing to you on the meal label/container?
Check for the following details to ensure quality food sources, production, and attention are being put into your meals:
- Caloric Content
- Macro Nutrient Content
- Expiration Date
#2 Variety of Menu Options
Whether you are a picky eater or a foodie, you will want to make sure that there is a variety of menu options to select from. Don’t forget to check on the menu rotation so you know when things will be changing up!
#3 Caloric/Macro Nutrient Accuracy
THIS DECISION TIP is TOP PRIORITY. Does the MPS provide the caloric and macro nutrient profiles for their meals? If you answer yes, do you know how accurate these calculations are? Do your research! There is no way to get an accurate calorie count or macro breakdown if ingredients and meals are being assembled by the following techniques:
- Hand measurements (i.e. simply grabbing the ingredients and tossing them in)
- Eyeball methods (i.e. visual guesstimations of how much is being added)
- On and off use of semi-accurate methods with hand measurements and eyeballing (i.e. a blend of using cups/spoons without properly leveling or checking on a scale, with some hand measuring and eyeballing)
Bottom line – if your MPS isn’t using a food scale to correctly weigh the ingredients and divide the recipe portions, the caloric and macro profiles will not be accurate! I make this statement for two reasons: (I) as a nutrition professional I have worked with a number of clients who have used MPS that are creating meals with the above mentioned measuring methods and their nutrition goals have been sabotaged. They have experienced weight gain or weight plateau due to a caloric surplus as a result of inaccurate labeling and measuring (leading to inaccurate tracking); (II) if you are eating for anything more than flavor, you should care about what you are consuming and should have confidence that a high standard of time and care has been put into your meal production, regardless of how many other orders need to be met.
#4 Fresh vs. Frozen + Food Quality
There has been an ongoing debate about fresh vs. frozen prepped meals, and whether the quality and nutrient values change. Although I am not a dietary scientists, I have resourced enough supporting evidence to confidently share the following…
When you purchase frozen fruits and veggies from the store, they are generally snap frozen very soon after they are picked. This is done by use of a special machine that gets the produce to -18 degrees Celsius in minutes. This technique locks in nutrients, meaning you can easily have equal or more vitamins in your frozen choices than its fresh counterparts. In addition, fiber content doesn’t deteriorate.
Now, on the flip-side, when you purchase meals that have been cooked and then frozen, you may experience a lack of quality as a result of defrosting or lengthy freezer storage. There is also the consideration of enzyme activity, and the freshness/quality of the food at the time of freezing.
“According to the USDA FSIS, “Enzyme activity can lead to the deterioration of food quality. Enzymes present in animals, vegetables, and fruit promote chemical reactions before and after harvest, such as ripening. Freezing only slows the enzyme activity that takes place in foods. It does not halt them.
Enzyme activity does not harm frozen meats or fish and is neutralized by the acids in frozen fruits. But most vegetables that freeze well are low acid and require brief, partial cooking to prevent deterioration. This is called blanching…”
#5 Value, Value, Value
At the end of the day it all comes down to what YOU see the most value in. Some things may be more or less important to you than to others, and that’s okay. This is where making the decision to work with a MPS becomes dependent on your personal expectations and needs.
Remember this, just like anything in life, you get what you pay for. So if a lack in quality, customer support, or meal production is something you are willing to sacrifice for price or something more, you can certainly expect to receive just that.
Aubree “Aubs” Shofner – Certified Nutrition & Fitness Professional