Written by nutritional practitioner Alison Wright
There is an advert on TV that I actually find quite upsetting, and no it isn’t for fast food or soft drinks or yet another supplement that promises weight loss (even though I don’t like those either!!). It’s the ad that advocates us to “save time cooking, by not cooking” – followed by a smiley faced man opening his fridge door to show off his rows and rows of prepacked, pre-prepared food. So healthy because it’s “fresh, not frozen,” and convenient – “lasts up to 9 days in the fridge,” and quick – just zap it in the microwave or throw it in the oven. How careless it all sounds.
Now, I know we are all busy – life is like that. And yes, nobody eats perfectly all the time, there are always compromises, choices and decisions around food and meal planning. The best laid meal plans can get thrown out by illness, hectic schedules or family commitments. According to Cornell University, we make over 200 food decisions EVERY day, so understandably there are times when we just want an easy option! Yet to opt out of cooking and preparing your own food completely, to have a fridge full of packaged meals that someone else has prepared, I feel, as a nutritionist, is fundamentally detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing.
I would like to take a moment to say that I am not making a comment on the quality of these meals, there are many companies out there offering similar services, it’s the concept that I object to and here’s why:-
• Preparing and cooking meals is a vital skill that teaches us the importance of nutrition and how to nourish and look after ourselves. It makes us think about how to balance our protein, fats and carbohydrates – how to put together a nutritious meal that works for us and our lifestyle. What we eat has a direct impact on how we feel – our mood, our immunity, our energy, our overall health and vitality. Surely this is too big a responsibility to outsource to someone we don’t know? Don’t we want to know where our food comes from? How it is prepared? Who is preparing it? How fresh the ingredients are?
• Food and sharing meals is one of life’s big pleasures. Breaking bread with family and friends helps us to stay connected. Preparing a meal for people we love is one of the simplest ways of showing we care. Is it the same as taking packets out of the fridge/freezer and zapping in the microwave? I’m not sure it is. Which would you prefer? A home cooked meal or a mass produced meal that has been prepared with minimal effort or thought?
• For ourselves – we need to place our health and nutrition as the number 1 priority, for if we don’t look after ourselves, nobody else can, and if we aren’t looking after ourselves, how can we be there for our family and friends? Modern life is exhausting, ensuring we eat nutritious foods that support our body’s function and supply what we need to feel well will help us to thrive and improve our resilience and energy.
• The last 40 years has shown us how detrimental to our health the reliance on premade and prepackaged foods can be. In Australia alone, 85% of the burden of disease is from chronic illnesses, caused primarily by poor nutrition and lifestyle choices.
Surely the lesson learned is to take more control over our diets and not less?
I would like to say here that I am not perfect!! I enjoy the odd take away, short cut meal and meal out, and for many years my diet was appalling. I have learned over the last few years that preparing simple, quick, easy nutritious meals is possible when life is hectic and the rewards of paying attention to my food have been huge in terms of energy, mood and health. I have learned a bit of planning can save a lot of time and effort. There are other, less essential things in life to outsource or change, as we all search for those extra hours in the day.