Healthy Meal Prep Delivery: How to know it's actually “Healthy”

Whether you’re local to St. Louis...or you’re across the globe, there’s one thing most of us struggle with: healthy eating and healthy meal prep take up valuable time.

In fact, it’s an age-old struggle. For thousands of years, people have been trying to save time on food prep. Bread, cheese, cornmeal, and foods preserved with salt were some of the earliest shortcuts people have used when it came to fast and easy convenience foods that shaved time off meal prep. The advent of canned foods came in the 19th century: the popularity of canned foods increased during the first world war. The popularity, and availability, of frozen foods really took off during the second world war. Today, the average American consumes a staggering 71 frozen meals each year. Fast food, meanwhile, has been around since ancient Rome’s street stands -- and its popularity truly took off after the first and second world wars.

Meal prep made easy thanks to canned foods and short order cooks took the nation by storm - women, who had traditionally been tasked with the work of meal prep, had more time on their hands (a significant development as they began to enter the workforce in increasing numbers).

Unfortunately, pre-prepared food has never - until recently - been synonymous with ‘healthy food’.  Frozen tv dinners and canned veggies may have made meal prep easier for us...but do they make society healthier? No, absolutely not (according to the research conducted in the years since). Data shows that canned vegetables are associated with a higher rate of mortality while vitamin content is reduced in frozen meals and foods.

As the world we live in gets increasingly more educated about what’s healthy and what’s not, so-called ‘healthy meal prep delivery services’ are starting to replace the frozen, prepared meals (aka ‘tv dinners’) of yesteryear. Just as the tv dinners of the past promised nutrition without the hassle, do healthy meal prep services actually deliver on their promises?

The answer is: it really depends on which meal prep delivery service you choose.

What is Healthy To You?

Ask 100 different people to define healthy eating, and you’ll get 100 different answers. There is no standard way to define healthy eating. The USDA has guidelines for what is considered healthy today -- and these guidelines are fairly loosely defined (a percentage of protein, fruits, grains, vegetables and dairy). There are thousands and thousands of different diets and products that all claim to be ‘healthy’. With all the conflicting information out there, the million dollar question, then, is this: what does healthy eating mean to you?

Clean Eating is Healthy Eating

Here at Pure Plates in St. Louis, we are passionate about clean eating and creating ‘clean’ meals for our meal delivery service customers. For us, eating healthy means clean eating.

What is clean eating? In a nutshell, clean eating means eating meals prepared with whole and minimally processed foods over heavily processed foods.

The benefits of clean diets have been extensively proven over the years: the earth-shattering China Study definitively ties numerous diseases to the foods we eat, or don’t. Countless other studies and research support the China Study’s findings that the foods we eat matter.

Clean eating can help you:

Decrease inflammation
Support an alkaline diet which lowers acidity in your body
Get your blood sugar levels under control
Prevent major diseases
...and much, much more.

Which Foods are ‘Healthy’ aka Clean?

If clean eating reduces inflammation, prevents diseases, controls your blood sugar, and more….it would make sense that finding clean foods should be as easy as going to your grocery store. Not so fast. While it’s true that grocery stores have evolved in recent years (the cold aisles are brimming with probiotic everything, from sauerkraut, kefir, and to raw hummus; the bread aisle has everything from multi-grain to gluten free), the sheer variety of options claiming to be healthy can be overwhelming.

Not all foods billed as ‘healthy’ are truly clean. What constitutes clean eating is still under debate, so we can only tell you what our passionate team of culinary whizzes/ health fanatics considers to be ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’ ingredients for the meals our service makes (based on the science and research we’ve uncovered).

1. Good Fats
If you’ve already read our blog on why we don’t use canola oil here at Pure Plates (although some meal delivery services in St. Louis do), you may already have an idea of what we’re getting at. Not all fats are created equal -- and many oils are manufactured using solvents (which we avoid).

Fats are an important part of your diet (and a key component to the Keto Diet), so it’s important to make sure you’re eating ‘good’ fats.  Examples of minimally processed, high-quality fat sources include: avocados, olive oil, and nuts.

2. High Quality Protein

Which proteins are considered ‘clean’? Lean meats such as chicken and seafood, beans, and nuts are ‘clean’ sources of protein. Although, for example, protein from animal sources is considered to be the most complete, this kind of protein has the potential to lead to health issues. When done right, plant-based proteins (such as beans) or superfoods like Spirulina can be as complete and in some cases better overall.

If you’re truly concerned with maintaining optimal health, you need to add variety to your protein sources.

3. Good Carbs

Ask anyone who’s been on a diet for any length of time….carbs from fries and carbs from broccoli are two very different things. Although most of us think pizza or potato chips when we think of ‘carbs’, vegetables are considered a carbohydrate as well.

The difference between carbs in vegetables and carbs in white bread is simple: carbs from refined foods such as white bread are metabolized faster (which can lead to fat storage and higher blood sugar).

As a rule of thumb, look for carbohydrates that are ‘whole’ (sorry, donuts).

4.Minimal Processing 

The more processed the meals we eat become, the less healthy they are: preservatives, starches, and sodium all impact nutrient availability while potentially introducing harmful ingredients to your body.

Whole foods (apples, for example) and minimally processed foods (aka aged, dried,  washed, frozen, frozen, canned, pasteurized or cooked) are your best bets when it comes to giving your body a maximum amount of nutrition for your calories.

Who Should Eat Clean Meals?

Everyone...anyone….you. Although ‘clean’ diets have been touted to be used to combat certain diseases, eating meals prepared with clean ingredients benefits anyone who wants to get or stay healthy while being protective against a huge array of different diseases.

Bottom line? The myriad benefits of ‘clean eating’ and healthy meals are all but endless (new research in support of clean eating comes out every single day). Unfortunately, the less processed a food is, the longer it takes to prepare it (numerous studies have proven that the more time we invest in meal prep, the healthier we are).

If time is an issue for you or your family (as it is for most working professionals and families), using a (truly) healthy meal prep delivery service like the one we offer here in St. Louis may be able to help keep your health goals on track. You save time (10 hours a week on average…) and money (no more wasted food you end up having to throw out). It’s a win-win: with those ten extra hours a week, and food that gets eaten (and not thrown out), you have more time to spend in other areas (exercise, relaxation) that boost your health, as well.