For many people, organizing our hours and building days through a routine can help us alleviate stress and manage our time. Surprisingly, not only does routine speak to the actions of our day and time, but it can also describe our mental thought process, the products we buy, and the food we consume. We know the dietary and time-saving benefits of meal prep. It’s much easier to batch cook overnight oats, chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and veggies than it is to prepare a variety of lunch and dinner options each week. Really, who has the time?
Meal prep is also an easy way to stay on track with your diet. Eating the same things every day makes it harder to sub in a less-than-healthy lunch every now and then. But we also know our bodies crave variety—and even we can admit that lean protein and veggies get boring after a while. But, should we prioritize variety or convenience? We spoke to nutritionist Melissa Eboli and psychologist Dr. Bryan Bruno of Mid City TMS about the physical and mental pros and cons that come with repeating meals every day.
Why Eating the Same Meals May Not Be the Healthiest Option
According to Eboli, “Eating the exact same dishes all day every day may not give one’s body an opportunity to benefit from all nutrients that food has to offer. Your body will respond better when it is introduced to new and different foods.” Though not discouraging meal prep and repeating meals for a couple days (who doesn’t love leftovers!), Eboli recommends switching meals every three to four days because not all dishes are created equal.
“To get a full nutrition spectrum and profile through food intake, it is best to introduce your body to new foods. Specific food items have different sources of nutritional benefits,” she says. “For instance, sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash are loaded with vitamin A and beta-carotene. While dark leafy greens are high in iron and vitamin K. Some nuts, such as sunflower seeds and walnuts, are high in vitamin C, whereas others, such as Brazil nuts, are loaded with zinc, and pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts are an excellent source of magnesium. By varying what you eat, you will be increasing your overall nutritional intake.”
Is there such a thing as too much routine?
“Routines can actually kill creativity,” according to Bruno. “The way most of us spend our morning routines is actually the complete opposite of the conditions necessary to improve flexible and open-minded thinking. You get stuck in a mental bubble with inflexible routines that prohibit the creation of new and innovative connections.”
Given the lack of mental mobility that strict routines (such as repeating meals every day) create, it’s important to break from and reform routines every so often. “Even the best routines can become a burden and allow for complacency if we don’t break them and make changes to them every now and then,” Bruno says.
With Aaptiv, gone are the days of becoming bored of your exercise routines. With thousands of classes and more than 30 new classes uploaded each week, there’s something new to try every day.
Giving Yourself Room to Breathe
Eating on a routine can also affect your relationship with food and restrain you from varying your diet and treating yourself every now and then. Bruno says, “The problem with routines is that their strictness and rigidity can create stress and does not allow the brain to naturally unwind. When you focus too much on keeping a strict routine, there is lots of pressure to maintain it. The inevitable slipups can cause you to feel like you’re falling short of your own standards. [This] results in stress that can carry over to the rest of your day.” If you want to eat a cookie every so often, you can without feeling guilty!
If you want to establish a meal prep routine and incorporate the same or similar recipes, Eboli suggests “a good balance of fresh fruit; lots of vegetables; protein, both plant-based and meat-based; light carbs (maybe 20 to 25 percent of the day); and healthy fats from foods such as nuts, avocado, and coconut.”
Another way to incorporate similar meals and implement meal prepping into your routine (verses routinely eating the same meals every day) is to cook foods that can be repurposed for different recipes. Below, Eboli breaks down a sample three-day plan.
Sample Daily Meals
Breakfast: overnight oats with walnuts and raspberries
Lunch: arugula salad with beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, pistachios, lemon dressing
Dinner: grilled chicken with quinoa, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts
Snack: rice cake with guacamole
Breakfast: oatmeal with almond butter, pumpkin seeds, and bananas
Lunch: chicken salad (made with previous night’s grilled chicken leftovers) in a coconut wrap
Dinner: salmon with quinoa, sweet potato, broccoli
Snack: zucchini sticks with hummus
Breakfast: smoothie with chocolate protein powder, coconut milk, avocado, peanut butter, blueberries
Lunch: mixed greens with grilled chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers
Dinner: gluten-free pasta with vegan pesto sauce, chickpeas, broccoli
Snack: dairy-free coconut-milk ice cream
Given the sample menu above, you can repeat some ingredients each day. However, introduce new variations to repurpose them into other dishes. For example, repurpose a staple protein such as grilled chicken into chicken salad for lunch the next day. Repeat a side dish for dinner the following day. Pair it with a new vegetable and protein.
Meal prep is critical for sticking to your healthy diet and also saving time on busy weeknights, but variety is the spice of life—and health it turns out. So, avoid eating the same meals and be creative with your staple ingredients to create a range of dishes that will keep you on track and excited about your meals.
While a healthy diet is critical to your overall well-being, exercise is too. With Aaptiv, you could try yoga one night and an outdoor run the next. The choice is yours!