Meal Prep Services: What to Know Before Committing to the Trend

Plus, tips from a metro Detroit-based dietitian on getting the most out of your meals


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Trendy. It’s a word my friends and Family  would use to describe not just my sense of style, but my overall personality. At the top of the year, my wardrobe will be stocked with modern fanny packs — because structured handbags are so 2017.

Much like my sartorial preferences, I am admittedly a regular subscriber to the health fads that ebb and flow year after year. There was the GM Diet, the meal plan rumored to help General Motors workers effectively do their jobs (the selling point for me was the claim that dieters could shed up to 17 pounds in just a week), the Mediterranean Diet, The BluePrint Cleanse, and the various cleanses that followed. As a former beauty and health editor, I’ve consulted with celebrity dietitians for of-the-moment superfoods to incorporate into my diet; drank tinctures at the advice of an acupuncturist; and cut red meat out of my diet to help with digestion.

Despite various results, there’s one outcome each diet has had in common: once completed, I slipped back to unhealthy eating habits and regained any pounds shed. About that time I cut red meat out of my diet? The payback for depriving myself of beef stew and lamb chops, showed up in the form of monthly migraines onset by a severe iron deficiency.

In recent months, a wave of meal-prep services has cropped up in metro Detroit, naturally piquing my interest. Companies like Ferndale-based Clean Plates source ingredients from local farms to deliver meals to your door. A byproduct of a more health-conscious era, the meal-prep service is the TV dinner’s ambitious older sister, offering portion-control and convenience, sans harmful preservatives. While some opt for such services, others prefer a DIY approach. Search #mealprep on Instagram, and you’ll likely find a slew of refrigerators stocked with containers of carefully rationed meals and snacks.

Perhaps the combination of unsuccessful weight-loss and debilitating migraines, or even the “New Year, New You” mantra that is prevalent at the top of every year, prompted a new approach to my latest dietary quest. Oh, I was getting in on the trend flooding my social media timelines with neatly stacked Tupperware tubs and the #mealprep captions that followed. But I was determined to join the movement without compromising my health.

My mission led me to Birmingham-based dietitian, Julie Feldman, M.P.H., R.D. who initially shared her skepticism. “My main issue with meal-planning systems is that they often don’t teach you how to eat properly,” Feldman says. “To lose weight and gain it back a month [later], is worse than just staying where you are.”

Feldman names a few exceptions to the rule, like new moms looking to get on a regular eating schedule, adding a caveat: “Consult a dietitian first.”

I’m no new mom, just a girl on the lookout for the latest health tips to help live her best life. However, Feldman admits that getting into a steady regimen is vital for all. “It’s really important that you eat every three to four hours. A lot of overall health comes down to being able to maintain a steady blood sugar all day.” Here at the Hour HQ, I fill up on copious amounts of coffee, then at 4 p.m., find myself questioning whether I’ve had lunch.

Though still leery of meal-prep services, after noting such habits, Feldman approves of my daily meal-planning but recommends the DIY approach. She even helped inform the ingredients to incorporate into my daily Tupperware containers. Turns out, mindful eating is always in style.

To schedule an appointment with Julie Feldman, M.P.H., R.D., call 248-464-0076 or visit dietitianjuliefeldman.com.


Prep School

Feldman’s rules for making my meal-planning personal

Substitute When Necessary
I’m not a picky eater, but if there’s one ingredient I cannot tolerate, it’s a beet, the antioxidant-rich root included in many meal-prep service plans. “Many of us have [a food aversion] to something or another,” Feldman says. “As long as you’re eating a really colorful diet, you’re going to get a variety of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes and other brightly colored produce would be good for you.”
Dish Pictured: Grilled Turkey Burgers with Guacamole and Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Factor in Fiber
“Fiber is your best friend in terms of weight-loss. If you’re going to choose a carbohydrate, it has to have at least three grams of fiber that is clearly identified on the food label. I never expect anyone to count grams, but the goal is to have something with fiber every time you eat.”
Dish Pictured: Black Pepper Popcorn and Sliced Apples with Crunchy Organic Peanut Butter

Curb the Sugar
When asked about beverage options, Feldman quickly advocates for water and sugar-free drinks. “Juice creates a spike in your blood sugar. I don’t care if it’s cold-pressed, organic, or what not. You’re taking fruit without the fiber, and getting a rush of sugar. Instead, drink water, tea, decaffeinated coffee, or club soda with no artificial sweeteners.”
Drink Pictured: La Croix Sparkling Water in Cran-Raspberry

Keep It Balanced
“Everything you eat is made up of three different things: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your body needs all three in order for it to work the right way.” Feldman adds that the goal is to choose the best types of each of these three things, and to eat them together appropriately.
Dish Pictured: Ham and Egg-White Muffins with Sliced Tangerines and Dairy-Free Yogurt with Kind Bar Crumbles

Incorporate Iron
Considering my history with anemia, Feldman recommends an iron-rich diet without going overboard — like anything, too much iron intake can create other issues. “Iron is high in animal-based protein and plant-based sources as well. It’s also best absorbed with vitamin C. Cook your food in a cast-iron skillet. The iron leaches into the food, giving you a little boost.”
Dish Pictured: Beef Stew

 

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