Food psychology: Spaghetti with meatballs and tomato sauce on pink background

Food psychology: Why some people will eat the same meal over and over again

Meal prepping is all over Pinterest and Instagram, with people obsessing over batch recipes and super-colourful food boxes. And yet, despite this, some will still roll their eyes over those who eat the exact same dinner every day. What gives?  

Early this morning, I toasted two slices of multigrain bread, buttered them right to the edges, and covered them in thick juicy slices of tomato. Then slowly, almost reverently, I salted and peppered the entire thing, before tucking in with relish.

It was delicious. It was almost sinfully wholesome. It was a good way to use up the seemingly never-ending supply of tomatoes in my fridge (my partner’s a gardener and brings home bags of the things on a near-daily basis, despite his hatred of them). And it was pleasing to look at, too: indeed, I even idly toyed with the idea of snapping it for Instagram, before deciding I didn’t want to be that person.

Essentially, I enjoyed my breakfast. A lot. So it may come as a surprise to some foodies to learn that I’ve served myself that exact same meal every morning for the past two weeks. That I intend to do the same tomorrow, the next day, and the next. 

And I very highly doubt I will be getting bored of it anytime soon.

Food psychology: close-up shot of hand slicing tomatoes
Food psychology: I could eat sliced tomatoes on toast until the end of time, quite frankly.

It’s not just breakfast I do this with. I have a set takeaway order for each of the restaurants that deliver in my area (to be fair, my choices are limited as a vegetarian in the ‘burbs, but still), and – back in the heady pre-Covid days of the office, anyway – I frequently bought myself the exact same cheese toastie and the exact same smoothie from the neighbouring coffee shop.

It’s not that I’m unadventurous with food, believe me (I’ve eaten some seriously crazy shit over the years). But, when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed – as I do so frequently feel at the moment – I really don’t want to deal with another series of choices. Who has the time and the energy, quite frankly?

Plus, I’ll hold my hands up and admit that, when I’m tense, all it takes is one food-based disappointment to tip me over the edge. Just ask my little sister and she’ll tell you all about the time I went very quiet, then hid my face behind my hair, then burst into actual noisy tears, over an unsatisfying dinner (seriously, ask her: she loves telling stories like that about me).

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Of course. I’m not alone in my repetitive eating habits. Indeed, a survey has estimated that about 17% of British people had eaten the same lunch every day for two years. Another indicates that a third of Brits will eat the same lunch daily.

And, when I confessed my penchant for a tried-and-tested meal to my friends and colleagues, several stepped forward to confess that they are very much in the same camp.

“I always, always order the same thing from takeaways (different takeaways, different orders mind you) because otherwise I leave myself open for disappointment,” says Felicity Thistlethwaite.

“Case in point? Domino’s. I always opt for a Vega-rama with extra jalapenos because I know I like it. Once I was enticed by a cheeseburger pizza and, three slices in, was hit by a wave of ultimate disappointment.”

She adds breezily: “I live my eating life by the rule, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Food psychology: Meal prepping is trending on Pinterest, so why do people judge others for eating the same dinner over and over again?
Food psychology: Meal prepping is trending on Pinterest, so why do people judge others for eating the same dinner over and over again?

Victoria Sanusi, meanwhile, tells me: “Since lockdown was announced back in March I’ve started cooking more and ordering fewer takeaways, which has been fab for my bank account.

I really miss Vapianos and luckily they’ve put some easy step-by-step tutorials on their Instagram Highlights, so I don’t have to go without my Gamberetti E Spinaci.

“I genuinely could eat Gamberetti for lunch and dinner and, not to be big headed, but I think my cooking is pretty great!”

She adds: “Now, when I’m out of my batch I won’t make it again for a long while as I don’t want to get sick of it and ruin my favourite meal. But I just find meal prepping really easy, especially when I feel tired from my period, it means I have a guaranteed meal waiting for me.”

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I don’t even have to ask Megan Murray if she’s a repeat-eater. Having sat at the desk behind her for years, I’ve watched firsthand as she’s tucked into the same microwaveable prawn tagliatelle bowl day in, day out. Sometimes she’s even had it for breakfast. And, usually, she’s done it because there’s a multi-buy deal in the mix.

On the flipside, though, we have Jazmin Kopotsha. Who, despite merrily admitting that “pasta is my safety net”, says she has a big problem with eating it over and over again.

“If I’m going to cook pasta, call it instinct or call it incident, there’ll always be enough to feed a family of six,” she explains. 

“This is great because it means I can have seconds and I’ve got lunch ready for the next few days. But my downfall lies in my refusal to double dip my lunch and dinner on the same day.”

Food psychology: Some people repeat meals to save time and money, others to ease their stress levels.
Food psychology: Some people repeat meals to save time and money, others to ease their stress levels.

Jazmin adds: “This means that same bolognese will be lingering in my fridge for more than a week, next to accumulating lunchboxes of the other meals I’ve accidentally made in bulk in protest at having to eat the same meal twice in the same day. Something that should be making my life easier often ends up making it (needlessly) complicated.”

Hmm. Perhaps she should come over to the dark side and join us repeat eaters? Because, as you can see, our reasons for dining on the same dish over and over again are numerous and manifold.

Some, like myself, do it to keep themselves calm in an increasingly uncalm world. Some, like Felicity, do it because they know what they like, and they like what they know.

Then there’s those who, like Vic, batch-cook to simplify their lives (and showcase their culinary skills, of course). And let’s not forget the Megan Murrays of the world, who repeat-eat not just because they enjoy what they’re chowing down on, but because it saves them some money in the process, too.

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Whatever your reasons for re-ordering your favourite meal, one thing’s for sure: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Indeed, speaking with The Atlantic, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, says it’s more than fine to eat the same meal over and over again.

“If your daily lunch contains a variety of healthful foods,” she says, “relax and enjoy it.”

Exactly. So the next time someone makes a comment about your repetitive eating habits, look them in the eye and smile. Because they’re clearly struggling with endless lunchboxes filled with mouldering food.

And, let’s face it, they’re probably more than a teeny bit jealous of your deliciously simple life choices, too.

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