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01st May 2024

Experts issue warning over dangers of meal prepping

Ryan Price

It’s a great way to save money and stay healthy during the working week, but nutritionists warn that all isn’t as safe as it seems.

‘Meal prepping’, otherwise known as batch cooking, has grown in popularity in recent years thanks primarily to fitness influencers online and the rising costs of eating out during the working week.

It involves cooking several meals at the beginning of a week, and then portioning the meals into containers and lunchboxes to be stored in the fridge and eaten days later.

Being able to simply get up from your desk and walk to the office kitchen at lunchtime, grab your spaghetti bolognese that you made in your bathrobe on Sunday afternoon from the fridge and then pop it into the microwave for a couple of minutes before sitting down and tucking in makes the time spent over the cooker at the weekend all worthwhile.

However, that little life hack that so many of us avail of might not be as straightforward and innocent as it seems.

Nutritionists are warning of the potential food and safety hazards that come with batch storing different types of food, and the dangers of heating up meals in plastic containers in the microwave.

Isobel Baillie Hamilton, a nutritionist from the Nutritionist Resource Directory, revealed to The Observer that different types of food kept in one container can go off at different times.

For example, pasta and dairy go off much quicker than meat and fish, as bacterial growth happens at a faster rate. So, if you’ve got a chicken pasta bake crammed into a tupperware in your fridge right now, you may want to take it out and separate the meat and carbs.

A big one that many people overlook is that cooked rice should be consumed within 24 hours of being stored in the fridge. Considering rice expands when cooked, curries and chillies are among the most popular dishes to batch cook.

While freezing cooked food is considered a better option, it only proves to be so if the meal is stored directly to the freezer after it has cooled down from cooking. Then, allowing it to defrost overnight the day before you intend to eat it is considered the safest form of consumption.

If you keep a batch of food in the fridge for a couple of days, then transfer it to the freezer in fear of it going off, when you eventually defrost it will still be on its last legs.

You can’t then keep it for another three days without risk.

As if things weren’t complicated enough, you also need to take extreme care with how you reheat food once its out of the fridge or freezer.

When it comes to the final step of the process, one specialist stomach doctor Saurabh Sethi took to TikTok to reveal the problems that the microwave can present when heating your food up in plastic containers.

@doctorsethimd How can I prevent ❌ Cancer 🤔? Harvard Trained Doctor Explains As a Gastroenterologist I see and manage patients with gut cancer every single day, In this video, join me as I share crucial insights on minimizing cancer risk. Discover the 5 things I actively avoid in my own life to promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce the chances of cancer. Always talk to your own doctor before making any lifestyle changes. Share with your loved ones.❤️ #cancersucks #cancerprevention #cancertok ♬ original sound – Doctor Sethi

In a post to his 330,000 followers explained microwaving is good because it keeps nutrients well.

“Studies suggest that microwaving retains the nutrients well, often better than methods like frying,” he said before then going on to reveal the risks of using plastics.

He added: “Now here is the most important tip. Many plastics contain hormone-disrupting compounds like BPA, which can contaminate your food when heated.”

BPA, also known as bisphenol A, contains important hormones, with research suggesting that BPA can increase blood pressure,  cause type two diabetes and heart problems.

Research from Which? also suggested that microwaving food in plastic containers can make bad chemicals go into food.

They also added that even if the plastic container is BPA-free, using it could still present a risk.

“Even if a plastic doesn’t contain BPA, it could still be unsuitable for microwave use. This could be because it isn’t designed to withstand high temperatures, or because it contains phthalates (another type of hormone-disrupting chemical which, like BPA, can be transferred to food during the cooking process),” they explained.

Sethi also advised using glass instead of plastic to microwave ready meals while the Food Packaging Forum advises not to microwave any kind of plastic.

Meal prepping can also negatively impact your mental health. While opening your fridge on a Sunday evening and gazing at all of your brilliant culinary organisation and money-saving will have you feeling chuffed, over time this routine can narrow our range of options, creating some degree of rigidity.

Professor Tim Spector, expert on gut health and the microbiome, advises that eating a wide variety of different plants, ideally 30 (or more) a week, is the key to a healthy gut.

If variety and spontaneity is the key to a healthy diet, then having a strict regime that you are afraid to deviate from is not the way forward.

Simply creating space every week within your routine for meals out or cooking and eating a meal in one process can ensure a good balance between the two.

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