The history of Meal Prep - who invented meal preparation?

Meal prep is the craze of the moment, or is it? Given the lack of modern refrigeration, did our ancestors prepare any food ahead of time? The roots of food in human history are deeply embedded and still to a great extent, still unknown. For obvious reasons, we have had food from the start of time. Century by century, human creativity changed how food was cooked, prepped, and eaten. 

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The history of Meal Prep - who invented meal preparation?
Huma Khurshid

Huma Khurshid

Consultant Nutritionist And Qualified Health And Fitness Writer

Reading time:

8

min

In this article, we'll take a dive into the history of meal prep and how it evolved through the centuries. Following are the areas of discussion:

What is meal preparation?

Meal prep meals are effectively pre-made meals that are either prepped, semi-cooked or fully cooked. However, if you were to order meal prep online, you would most likely be ordering fully cooked meals.

Meal prep meals need to be stored either in the fridge or in the freezer to allow consumption later in the week.

The requirement of refrigeration might have made you think that meal preparation is a luxury only of the last 60 years or so but that would not be fully correct.

During Ancient Roman times, the idea of a fridge and freezer was not found. [1] Romans often ate freshly cooked meals every day but the idea of storing food was present at that time.

Very much known was the importance of salt and the salt trade in ancient Rome which was considered a white gold. In fact, soldiers were even paid in salt.

Romans used to make the very first picklped, as they preservation methods such as brine, vinegar, grape juice and even honey to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

Soon after, proper kitchens were introduced that had portable stoves and grills.Some of the kitchens had no roof to let the smoke out.

Remains of a thermopolium have been found in Pompeii thus showing a very early example of what we might consider a fast food restaurant.

As Kings enjoyed banquets and feasts, a lot of new recipes have been developed by their chefs and more exotic foods have been started to be enjoyed throughout Europe.

Preserved foods were common for most people, slaughtered animals and vegetables were salted or pickled soon after slaughter or harvest, including foods that are also really common today such as bacon, pickled herring and preserved fruits, for instance.

Many farmers started to keep cows and other animals appreciated for their dairy produce, so their diets consisted largely of milk derivates such as buttermilk, cheese, or curds and whey.

In the late 17th Century, the preparation started days before; cooks used to organise everything like cutting off vegetables, marinating meats, and preparing curry mixtures beforehand to avoid delays on the final day.

This time could be considered as the initial population-wide adoption of getting ahead with prepping meals in advance so that things could run more smoothly and guests could be more easily impressed.

According to research, ready-made meal origins lead from World War I. [2]

Another research points to when Dutch schools of domestic education magazine examined their stance on convenience in meal preparation during the 1910s and 1920s. [3]

At roughly the same time, fridges more similar to modern fridges were invented and this meant that meals could be more easily stored to be consumed later on. This allowed for fresh meals to be prepared in advance and stored in an ice box' and as technology improved, in proper fridges like the ones in your home right now.

The meal prep trend was made possible to grow and become more popularised with the introduction of microwave ovens in 1955, which made reheating quick and easy. This popularisation was also helped by grocery stores and food companies which began selling pre-packaged ingredients for meals.

In the 1980s, the meal prep trend grew in popularity and became even more popular in the 1990s.

In the 1990s, meal preparation was commonly found in fitness magazines as a method to reach a fitness goal, whether that is to support weight loss or the building of muscle. 

Certainly, it was only in the late 90s that bodybuilders started to meal prep regularly and in this decade is when it became an industry standard.

Who invented meal preparation as we know it today?

The inventor of meal prep (short for meal preparation) as we know of it today is unknown. Whereas as we have seen in this article, various versions of meal prep have been adopted through the centuries, the version of meal prep as a tool for managing macronutrients and preparing meals ahead of time does not have a precise known origin.

However, the first formal mention of meal prep was in a 1946 newspaper article about a doctor who was teaching his patients how to prepare meals ahead of time to eat healthier while going through treatment. However, we were not able to fully verify this claim.

This certainly is the century of true popularisation as before this time meal prep eas mainly a method widespread among niche fitness communities.

In the 2000s, meal prepping has become more accessible thanks to the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, which helped to promote this healthy lifestyle among the wider population. 

As people became busier and busier and as people's lives became more sedentary, meal prep's main attraction was to make healthy food accessible to people who were too busy to cook and needed to become fitter.

In recent years, meal kits were introduced as a way for people to take advantage of this trend. Companies worldwide started meal prep services to make life easier and healthier for busy people. 

In 2020 in the UK, the market value of meal kits is estimated at around £1bn. Meal prep has taken over the food industry, and you can find thousands of high-quality meal prep services easily in the UK. 

In 2022, the first ever marketplace for meal prep (Marvin's Den) has been launched. Marvin's Den allows people to order from many different meal prep companies.

Marvin's Den provides an excellent platform where you can find healthy meals from high-quality vendors according to your diet type.

Install the Marvin's Den mobile app on your Android or iOS and get ready to set your life on the road of optimal nutrition, convenience and fitness!


[1] Adamson, M. W. (2004). Food in medieval times. Greenwood Publishing Group. Adamson, M. W.(2004). Food in medieval times. Greenwood Publishing Group.

[2] Feagans, J. M.,Jahann, D. A., & Barkin, J. S. (2010). Meals ready to eat: a brief history and clinical vignette with discussion on civilian applications. Military medicine, 175(3), 194-196.

[3] Verriet, J. (2015). Convenience and the hierarchy of meal preparation. Cooking and domestic education in the Netherlands, 1910–1930. Appetite, 94, 7-12.

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