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Meal Prep vs. Food Prep (Interesting Differences You Must Know!)

Meal prep and food prep may seem like they are interchangeable – they both have to do with food and the food we eat at mealtimes. So… aren’t they the same thing?

Not exactly. Although meal prep and food prep both concern food and meals, these two methods have different focuses specific to food and mealtimes.

Food prep is preparing the food for your meals this week, not preparing the actual meals. Meal prep is planning and preparing specific meals for the whole week.

We’ll explain the differences in detail below and give you all the information you need to decide which method is best for you.

homemade keto chicken meal prep

What Is Meal Prep?

Meal prep is planning and preparing specific meals for the whole week. Meaning that you know exactly what you and your family will be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the whole week.

For example, you go shopping on Saturday, buying all of the groceries you need for the week. Then, when you get home, you spend the afternoon making the meals and storing them in containers to take out when it’s time to eat that certain meal that week.

This way, you already have meals made, and you don’t need to take any time during the week to cook them.

Meal Prep: Pros

Meal prep is a great method to use for a busy family that only has time to reheat food, grab it, and go as they race out the door.

Or, perhaps you’re single and working a full-time job or going to school. Money is tight, and you barely have enough money to pay for groceries every week and barely have enough time to eat during the week. If this is you, meal prep is your best option.

Why?

Meal prep doesn’t mean you eat a different meal every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can make one big batch of spaghetti or salad for dinner and eat a little every day of the week.

Eating only one meal for breakfast, one for lunch, and one dinner every week will save a lot of money, as the variety in foods you require will go down significantly.

This is also a great method for busy lifestyles because the food is already prepared, and you just need to take it out on your way out the door.

Meal prepping can also involve sectioning out your food into each day’s portion in separate containers.

This way, you don’t even need to worry about getting your daily rations prepared before you leave – you can just grab the container out of the fridge and be on your way! A great method for busy people.

You can also use daily rations if you’re trying to control your appetite and eat only a certain amount of food a day.

By portioning out your food, you know exactly how much you can eat that day, and no more, or else you won’t have enough later in the week.

Portioning your food like this can help you maintain strict diets or prevent you from eating out of boredom instead of actual hunger.

Meal Prep: Cons

However, meal prep may not be for you if you need more variety in your diet. If you cannot stand the idea of eating the same thing every day for a week, then you’ll want to consider other options.

Meal prep also takes a huge chunk of time out of one day in your week, so you’ll need to be willing to commit multiple hours of one day a week to straight cooking, making all of your meals at once.

Meal prepping is a great method for people who are free to cook on weekends, but if your whole week is equally busy, then it may not work out.

washing celery in the kitchen sink

What Is Food Prep?

Food prep is preparing the food for your meals the week but not preparing the actual meals. With food prep, you plan out which foods you want to be eating that week.

You choose a couple of protein options, usually two to three, then three to five sides you want to have along with the proteins, such as grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. Finally, you choose a few healthy fats or other little touches you’d like to add to your meals.

When you go shopping, you buy each of these items in bulk, and when you get back, you cook the meat and steam the veggies, or whatever preparation process you need for the protein, fats, and sides to be edible with just a little reheating.

Notice how no meals have been planned? You’ve got a week’s worth of food but no actual meals.

Then, you wake up in the morning, open your fridge, pull out a few of these different foods and make a meal.

So there’s the difference: you don’t pull out a ready-made meal for breakfast every morning; you pull out ready-made ingredients and assemble a meal.

Food Prep: Pros

Food prep gives you the freedom to eat whatever seems the most appealing at whatever time of day it is.

If chicken and rice don’t sound good to you today, that’s fine. You can have chicken and potatoes!

Food prepping is great for people who don’t want to be stuck eating the same thing every day of the week and would like a little more freedom to choose what they’re craving at the moment.

Food Prep: Cons

Although this option doesn’t require discipline in eating the same dinner every week, it requires discipline in portioning and balancing your meals every day.

If you eat too much of one thing one day, you’ll run out and pay for it later in the week.

If you eat all your grains the first two days, you’ll have pretty stark meals the rest of the week. So, this method leaves it up to you to make sure each of your meals is balanced and that you ration them out so your food supply will stay abundant throughout the week.

If you don’t see yourself as someone who could restrain yourself in this way when it comes to portions, then perhaps meal prep or a different method would work best for you.

Food prep still requires “making” food throughout the week at mealtimes.

You won’t need time to boil rice or cook your meat, but you’ll need some time to choose what to make and assemble it.

So, if you’re a busy person and don’t have time to stop and meditate in front of the fridge, then food prep probably isn’t the method for you.

However, if you have time during the day and enjoy the freedom and the process of assembling a whole new meal every mealtime, this method will be great for you!

Some people love to create and experiment with food, and if you do too, then food prep is your best friend.

The Main Similarities and Differences in Summary

Meal prep and food prep are both about buying and preparing food to eat at mealtimes in advance. However, the process and level of preparation differ.

With meal prep, precise foods you will eat at each mealtime are chosen, purchased, and prepared so that a meal is ready to be pulled out and reheated at a moment’s notice when it comes to that time of day in your week.

With food prep, foods are chosen, bought for the week, and prepared so that they are edible at mealtimes with only a little reheating. However, the meals are not fully prepared.

With food prep, you have to decide at mealtime which ingredients you’d like to use and assemble them to create a meal. You can base it on whatever sounds good that night or create a new dish you’ve been curious to try.

Both methods are great for planning out food ahead of time, but depending on how much time you have during the week to eat, you’ll want to choose one or the other.

Which Lifestyle Works Best with Which Method?

Meal Prep

Whether you are a student, working full time, busy running errands, or you don’t have much more time than taking a container out of the fridge and hopping into the car, meal prep is best for you.

When it comes to time, meal prep is best for people who have very little time at mealtime.

All meals are made ahead of time and can even be portioned into separate containers so you can grab your lunch for the day and head out – or so your kids can get dinner out of the fridge and eat before you get home from work.

Food Prep

Food prep is best for people who don’t want to be cooking extensively throughout the week but have time to assemble food at mealtimes.

The meat is cooked and side dishes prepared; you just need to choose which food you want to eat at that specific time and put it together.

This method is best for people with stay-at-home jobs, students with free time during the day, or people who have time to make breakfast in the mornings and dinner at night.

We’ll Let You Decide Which Method is Best

There are so many different types of people in the world that there can’t just be one way of doing things all the time!

People can share the approach that works for them, from careers to skincare routines to relationships to planning the week’s meals, but it won’t always work out perfectly for the other person. It may not work at all!

Why?

vegetarian meal prep containers with eggs and brussel

Because we’re all different people with different bodies, living in different places and circumstances. There is no single surefire way to do everything – and almost no single surefire way to do anything!

So when it comes to practices that other people do that we’d like to adopt, we can’t expect to follow their regimen and have it work out exactly as it did for them.

Instead, we can learn from them, try their ways out, and pick out which ones worked best for us, discarding the rest.

Then, cobble together the methods that work best for you, and voila! Your goal is achieved!

You can then pass your method on to those now turning to you asking how you’ve done it, but knowing that your method won’t work perfectly for them either. They’re going to have to research, experiment, and find what works best for them on their own.

What does this have to do with meal prep or food prep? Well, what we’re saying is that in this article we didn’t tell you which one works and which doesn’t because both work—one works for some people and one for others.

It depends on your taste, your lifestyle, and the amount of effort you are willing to put into your food routine every week.

Some people may also have monetary restrictions that will affect which type of prep they use. Others will have time restrictions or dietary goals that will factor into what they ultimately decide.

Whatever your circumstance, we’ve given you as much information as we can regarding food and meal prep, and you can take it, think about your lifestyle, and choose which is best for you and your family – or use a different method entirely!

This is your experimental phase, and you can be free to do whatever you want. You can even try both methods instead of eliminating one right off the bat, then see which is most effective for you!

Final Thoughts

It also comes down to personal preferences.

Food prep is best for people who like the freedom to make what they feel like eating at the moment, while meal prep is for those who don’t care if they eat the same thing every day or need that kind of stability and expectation in their diet.

Whatever your lifestyle, try out whichever method – or both! – and see which one makes life a little bit easier for you and your family.

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