Is It Okay to Eat the Same Thing Every Day?
Meal-prep obsessives, cooking haters, and routine lovers all share one common trait: Having no problem eating the same dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner day after day after day. After all, sticking with just a few meals saves time in the kitchen and provides a sense of stability in this increasingly chaotic world.
But is it really okay to eat the same foods daily? Here, registered dietitians break down the pros and cons of noshing on the same meals on the reg and share tips on how to spice things up.
The Benefits of Eating the Same Thing Every Day
After making dozens of decisions throughout the day — which outfit you're going to wear, which workout you're going to sweat through, which task you're going to complete first at work — the idea of choosing what to make for dinner can feel unbearable, says Molly Kimball, R.D., C.S.S.D., a New Orleans-based dietitian at Ochsner Fitness Center and host of the podcast FUELED Wellness + Nutrition. Having that meal already planned out for the night — and all the nights to come — means there's one less choice you need to make. "Automating yourself can be really good to take the stress out of it, to take the guesswork out, to not feel overwhelmed with so many decisions through the day," she says.
Not to mention, simply winging your meals on the days you're seriously burnt out may not have the best result. "I find that if people just 'manifest' food coming into their day or just imagine, 'Oh, we'll figure it out later,' most of the time, they don't end up eating, they don't end up eating something that they actually want, or it may not be balanced," adds Abby Chan, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist and the co-owner of EVOLVE Flagstaff in Arizona. "[Then] at the end of the day, they just end up feeling under-fed, fatigued, anxious, and totally worn-out."
Even Chan herself isn't immune to this decision fatigue. "I have so many decisions I have to make every single day that if I had to wake up every day and come up with a new meal plan, I probably just wouldn't eat enough because it's too difficult," she admits. "And I'm a dietitian — this is what I do for a living."
For some folks, though, eating the same foods daily isn't a choice but a necessity. Individuals who lack adequate food access, for example, may have to make do with the limited number of ingredients available to them at the small convenience store in their neighborhood or a local food pantry. "They may end up getting 20 cans of beans and they have to figure out what to do with [them]," says Chan. "And so they may end up eating the same thing every day because they don't have the financial privilege to be able to alter that and shift it." The same goes for people who don't have access to the resources (think: cooking equipment) or time needed to concoct new meals each day.
The Pitfalls of Eating the Same Thing Every Day
That said, there are a few potential downsides to eating the same foods daily if you're lucky enough to be able to mix it up. For one, sticking with a pre-determined meal plan each day may not satisfy you emotionally, says Kimball. "I think that one of the drawbacks of automating what we eat is that we aren't really playing to…what we feel like we could really benefit from [in the moment]," she explains. "What am I in the mood for right now? What's going to not only nourish my body but also give me the taste, the textures, the flavors that I'm looking for right now? When we're automating it, we're not really asking ourselves those questions." Force yourself to scarf down the cold, crunchy salad you always prepare for lunch when you have a hankering for a hot, creamy soup, and you're not going to feel as fulfilled once you're done noshing, she adds. (Related: How to Make Mindful Eating a Regular Part of Your Diet)
This lack of emotional satisfaction is also likely if you're following a pre-set meal plan that wasn't created specifically for you and, in turn, doesn't take your cultural needs and dietary preferences into consideration, says Chan. "If it doesn't meet [these] needs, then you're going to get into a scarcity mindset and feel like you're in this deprived state," she explains. "Then when you are exposed to or around new foods, it can start to feel scary, [and] you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I deviated from the 'plan.' That's when you start to see a disordered relationship start to come in — if we don't have that flexibility."
Just as importantly, eating the same foods day after day can limit your exposure to a variety of nutrients, says Kimball. "If you're eating the same things over and over, you're getting the same nutrients over and over," she explains. Say you sip a smoothie featuring mango chunks, spinach leaves, almond milk, protein powder, and Greek yogurt each morning. The beverage will provide you with a handful of beneficial nutrients, but without routinely switching up your ingredients, you won't be able to score the full spectrum of micronutrients out there — even if you're taking a multivitamin, says Kimball. "Foods don't just have vitamins and minerals — they have all these other phytonutrients, all these antioxidants, all these chemical compounds, many of which haven't even been identified yet, that are all going to be playing a role in giving us everything that we need to function optimally," she explains.
FTR, you're probably not going to develop a nutrient deficiency if you drink the same smoothie or eat the same grain bowl for lunch most days, adds Chan. "Sure, if that's over years and you're really only eating the same things and it's not varied — even if it's six months or a year — you can probably run into some deficiencies," she explains. "But even if it's the same structure of a meal, it's probably going to shift and change…there's going to be enough variety that you can get adequate nutrients." For example, you might tweak your go-to sandwich to include ingredients that are in season, such as by swapping romaine with kale or tomatoes with beets, which helps diversify your nutrient intake, she says. If you're truly eating the exact same foods every single day for six-plus months, you may want to chat with a registered dietitian to ensure you're meeting your nutritional needs, says Chan.
How to Mix Up Your Meals If You're Eating the Same Thing
If sticking with a limited number of foods is leaving you emotionally unsatisfied — or you're concerned you're not hitting all of your nutritional goals — know that you don't have to kiss meal prepping goodbye.
To ensure you can give yourself some variety when you're mentally and physically craving it, stock your kitchen with the ingredients needed to make five to 10 of your go-to meals, suggests Chan. By having always these essentials on hand, you'll be able to put together a nutritionally balanced dish that satisfies your cravings without much thought. Then, once or twice a month, test out a brand-new, yet simple recipe featuring a few unfamiliar ingredients. If it hits the spot, make it one of your go-to meals and add it to the rotation, she recommends.
You can also diversify your nutrient consumption without giving up your meal prep routine by changing up some of the ingredients you typically cook with. If you always add broccoli to your stir fry, try replacing it with another seasonal veggie available at the farmers' market that week, suggests Kimball. "At the grocery store, challenge yourself to bring in a different type of produce to put with your cheese or Greek yogurt as your snack, so if you always are doing blueberries with it, rotate that out each week," she recommends. If you're constantly cooking with spiralized zucchini, try spaghetti squash one week, chickpea pasta the next, and continue rotating through all the alternatives on the supermarket shelf. "They're all going to give you nutrients, and they don't take a ton of time to make," she adds.
TL;DR: It's okay to rely on a handful of meals to take some stress out of your day. Just make sure to find a way to spice them up in a way that excites you and, if you need to, chat with a registered dietitian for tips on how to stay on top of your nutrition needs, says Chan. "Everyone is different, so it is important to find something that works well for you, that isn't based on a diet or somebody else," she says. "It's really finding that customization."