After being away from home for 10 days and the craziness of the holidays, I’m longing for some sense of normalcy, some routine. I think this is one of the reasons why so many of us find comfort in New Year’s resolutions; the busyness of the holiday season leaves us craving a little more control over our lives (and for my fellow introverts, some much needed alone time). While the idea that we have complete control over our lives is pretty naïve and often self-sabotaging, the desire for routine is normal, helpful even.
Routines, habits, boundaries, whatever you want to call them, they keep us grounded, relieve stress and help us act in accordance with our priorities and our values. People often think that intuitive eating means eating whatever, whenever, flying by the seat of your pants. If this were true, meal planning and intuitive eating would be mutually exclusive, but this isn't the case. In fact, cultivating a healthy relationship with food involves a balance between being flexible with food choices and forming lasting routines / habits.
Meal planning is one of those habits that can be extremely helpful for keeping yourself and your family well nourished in the midst of the busy. However, the key is to do it in a way that allows for flexibility. I refuse to become that crazy meal planning lady who has breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks planned for every day of the week—we all know that’s never going to work out and, hello, how would I get anything accomplished in my life? No, that’s not the kind of meal planning habit we need.
Meal planning that results in a weekly grocery list and a rough dinner game plan—with ample room for you to change your mind—that’s the kind of meal planning that’s helpful. When I’m home and in my element I try to incorporate this sort of planning—try being the key word here; it definitely doesn’t always happen, but when it does I love the peace of mind that comes with knowing there are food choices available and at the very least a few dinner plans to pull out of my back pocket.
Here’s how I make my meal plan, but still keep from becoming the crazy rigid, meal planning lady:
First, I write down a few breakfast options I want for the week, check my pantry for ingredients, and then add what’s missing to the grocery list (if there are more people in the household make sure to add breakfast foods they eat & adjust quantity of food needed).
Plan 4 or 5 dinners for the week. I plan at least half of the meals based on quick easy family favorites and maybe the other half based on recipes I want to try or more elaborate meals. Once again I take stock of my pantry/fridge and add the ingredients I need to the list (this is also when I might decide to make recipe substitutions for things I already have on hand to save money).
When planning meals, think balance. I aim to have some protein, carbs, fat and fiber at meals. For example, sweet and sour chicken stir-fry has protein (chicken), carbs (rice), fat (oil) and fiber (veggies). A vegetarian example would be white bean soup, it has protein, fiber and carbs in the beans, oil/butter in the soup would be your fat, and if you wanted to add in more veggies that'd be a little more fiber.
Next, I consider common snack items and quick easy lunch ingredients (sandwiches, tacos, salads, etc.) and add them to the list. You can also add dessert foods; drinks and other things you’d like to have on hand so you feel that you have choices (important!!).
For the sake of my grocery list, I include staple items to restock the pantry with, like tomato sauce, beans, chicken stock, nuts, etc.. Again, the more ingredients you have on hand, the more choices you will have come meal time and the less likely you are to go out to eat (if your goal is to eat at home) or go too long without eating (avoid the hanger monster).
When it comes to planning dinner meals, I don’t usually plan what meal we’ll have on what night, because odds are I won’t feel like having whatever prescribed meal is in the “Tuesday” slot when the time comes. Instead, it’s a good idea to just choose one meal among the meals that you bought groceries for on a day-by-day basis.
Finally, if I decide last minute to go out to eat because someone invited us or just because I want to, I save the unused (perishable) ingredients in the freezer or incorporate them into a recipe in the next day or two--boom flexibility!
Meal planning can be a positive routine that allows you to focus more of your attention on things other than food, but it can quickly become another set of rules to live or die by. Make the process your own, choosing foods that you enjoy and that make your body feel good. Meal planning is a tool that allows you to spend more time and energy on the things that matter most not a strict set of guidelines for measuring your level of discipline or self-worth. If you treat it like this, it IS possible to meal plan without being crazy.
Need help getting in the habit of non-diet meal planning? Fill out the form below for a copy of my cheat sheet for easy peasy meal planning and get started today!