Eating in college is hard, I won’t pretend it’s not. For about 20 years, we are not taught how to eat. Growing up, we had classes over nutrition, but that never taught us how to buy groceries, cook foods or even eat as adults.
I learned almost all my nutrition from the internet. I spent so much time calorie counting, obsessed with getting the most nutrients out of the least amount of food possible. Cooking and eating was no longer an experience but just a string of numbers that dictated what I could and could not eat.
For the busy college lifestyle, meal prepping is incredibly common and promoted over social media. Meal prepping comes in many forms and can range from marinating chicken overnight to creating a salad for later.
I find fault with the type of meal prep where people portion out food for an entire week. I know many people will cook large portions of the same meal and store it in plastic containers to have throughout the week. While this practice may work for many people, it is by no means the only way to have controlled and nutritious meals.
Something that is often overlooked is simple meals. There are many recipes with very few ingredients that only take about ten minutes or less to make. By having simple recipes on hand, this allows for a variety of dishes that could be made, depending on what you want specifically for that day.
There are a myriad of different recipes of quick, low-ingredient meals from different blogs online. Some of my favorite quick meals include pasta dishes, salads and even just a well-made sandwich.
When doing weekly meal prep, you could get stuck eating something you may not want to eat depending on the day. Simple meals allow for flexibility, so you have the freedom to do whatever you want on a day-by-day basis.
Not every meal has to be elaborate or take a long time to prepare and cook. Ensuring that there is something from each food group is a healthy and stress-free way to approach eating. Focusing on the elements of a meal could be easier than creating a named dish.
Even though meal prepping is widely popular, it can be seriously harmful for a student's mental health. Since there is a lot of misinformation around eating disorders and disordered eating, many students can find this fixation normal or healthy.
Due to the large communities that surround and encourage meal prepping and other similar practices, there has been a large spike in orthorexia in America. Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder in which people fixate on being as healthy as possible with their food, leading to restricting practices. Meal prepping has been contributing to orthorexia because meal prepping directs a significant portion of time to the nutritional breakdown of food.
Orthorexia is not the only condition that could stem from these behaviors. As a student with an eating disorder, meal prepping is dangerous to me due to its controlling and often restrictive attributes.
Even for students that are not predisposed to eating disorders or disordered eating patterns, meal prepping could become a source of stress. Planning so precisely can discourage indulging in treats or even just deviations from the already established meal plan.
At the end of the day, meal prepping is just a tool that can be used constructively and destructively. Meal prepping is not the only tool we as students have to make dietary decisions. Things like simple and quick meals can be just as easy and nutritious as weekly meal prep.
It is so easy to get caught up in diet culture and supposedly healthy habits that bring in hidden stressors. We make plans to guide our actions, not for our actions to be guided by our plans. No one should not feel guilty for eating – for any reason.
Alexia Woodall is a sophomore English and journalism double major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.