The reality is that meal kits are designed to make it easier to cook at home, not lose weight. Here are some tips and tricks from a nutritionist on how to use these kits and still slim down.
There are more than 100 meal kit options on the market, including Blue Apron, Green Chef, HelloFresh, and Plated, just to name a few. Some of my clients who are looking to shed pounds have asked a key question—can a meal plan help me lose weight?
The reality is that these kits are generally designed to make it easier to cook at home, not slim down. You order the meals online, and the recipes and the correct amount of each ingredient are delivered to your door.
Meal kits aren't standardized, can vary widely, and do not guarantee weight loss. But they may help. Here’s my take on the trend.
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Ingredients are important
When it comes to losing weight, ingredient quality, macronutrient balance, and portions are all key, and that’s where meal kits may fall short. A lot of kits include recipes calling for refined carbs, like white pasta or noodles, white rice, and white-flour pizza crust, bread, burger buns, and tortillas. And in some recipes, a surplus of refined carbs is combined with a heavy sauce, and scant amount of vegetables and protein—not the ideal meal balance for shrinking your shape.
Portion sizes can be a problem
Another snag I’ve run into with my clients is portion control. Many kits include recipes that serve a minimum of two people. The people I counsel have sometimes made the entire recipe, with the intention of bringing the second portion to work the next day, only to wind up eating both portions in a single sitting.
You need the time to cook
Meal kits also require the time needed for cooking. Yes, the recipe is picked out, and you don’t need to shop for the ingredients, but will you actually make it? I’ve had clients forgo kits in favor of something faster (and less healthy) because they were either too tired or too busy to prepare the meal. If this sounds like you, meal kits probably aren’t your best bet.
You need to choose the right meal plan
But, is there a work-around if you really like the idea of having ingredients delivered to your door and you’re looking to slim down? Sure. First, review all of your options and choose a service with the best selection of recipes for your goal. Aim for dishes that include larger portions of veggies, a lean protein source (seafood, poultry, lentils, or beans), and a smaller portion of healthy carbs, such as a whole grain, like brown rice or quinoa, or a starchy vegetable such as fingerling potatoes.
You can alter the recipe to fit your needs
And remember, there’s no rule that you have to use all of the ingredients. For example, if a salmon burger recipe includes a bun, you can ditch it, wrap your burger in a romaine lettuce leaf, and add a healthier starch instead, like a small baked yam. Or, make half of the rice portion in a kit and mix in a generous portion of shredded zucchini or chopped spinach.
Cooking at home does offer you more control over what you eat and how it’s prepared, and that’s an important strategy for sustainable weight loss. If meal kits offer you a cooking shortcut, just remember that you have the option of tweaking them. And about that second portion. If you have a tough time not dipping in, try this tip. Before you even plate your meal or begin eating, place the second half in a sealable container and stash it inside your lunch sack in the fridge. The more steps you have to go through to get to it the less likely you are to eat it. Bonus: you save money by actually getting two meals out of the deal, and you can put that savings towards a non-food treat, like a massage.
Bottom line: meal kits can be a helpful tool, but they aren’t a complete weight loss solution. To see real and lasting results you have to find ways to make them work for you.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets