Meal Planning Basics: How to Start and Stick to Your Plan
Meal Planning Basics: How to Start and Stick to Your Plan
As a dietitian, I love food. I love chatting about food, I love eating food, I love exploring food. The thing I don’t love (and I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone in this) is preparing the food. If my kitchen was a restaurant and all I had to do was pick an entrée off the menu I would be over the moon. But sadly, this is not the case. As a mom, and the primary caregiver in my house, I’m in charge of planning the menu, purchasing the food, and preparing everything. And I gotta say – it gets tiring. I’ve heard from multiple clients this week that if they could consume their food in a futuristic way, ie. one pill gives them all they nutritionally need to survive – they would take it. THAT is a deep food rut.
As a registered dietitian I have a natural love of food. I have a higher education in nutrition and multiple years working in the field. But for many individuals, food may be scary. They may have a difficult relationship with food, or not have culinary skills or resources to spend thinking about and making meals. So, although I am not immune to the food slump, I am here to help provide some guidance on how to get back the excitement of cooking (and eating) food.
It's ok (and normal) to go through a food slump
First and foremost, I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel deflated and bored with your food. As humans we need to eat! Our eating relationship is our longest relationship we’ll have, so it’s only natural to feel drained and bored on occasion. Especially when times get busy. Take these breaks and keep it simple. I’m talking breakfast for supper, freezer meals, or ordering in. Go for it. The key here is listening to your body. I often talk about the different value that food brings to the table. Yes, it brings vitamins and minerals, but it can also bring joy and comfort. I also firmly believe that health is multi-faceted. It’s not just nutrition and exercise. In our home, we don’t attach moral value to food by labeling it “healthy”, “unhealthy”, “good” or “bad”. It’s just food! And nutrients are just one of the many values that it can bring. What doesn’t bring value? Stressing about calories, carbs, macros, and which diet you’ll try next (only then to feel defeated…again). And sometimes it’s “healthier” to stick a frozen pizza in the oven vs. make a gourmet meal from scratch, because it will save your sanity on a busy weeknight. See what I mean?
Find the time to plan and batch-cook the protein portion
Second thing to acknowledge is that if we eat the same thing over and over and over again, or aren’t getting the right amount of nutrients, then we will start to feel pretty crappy. This is typically a sign that you are in a food rut. The first thing I say to myself and clients when this happens, is to find the time AND find the flavour. Block off a weekend afternoon for some batch cooking, start writing down menus and grocery lists that can be reused instead of on scrap pieces of paper that get thrown away. Heck – you’ve already done the work, why not repeat that menu in the future?!
Also, when you go to the work of making a nice meal, cook double or triple the amount of protein (Chicken, beef, pork, tofu etc.) and repurpose it for another meal. The protein part of the meal often takes the longest and gives the most anxiety (“ugh, I forgot to defrost the meat!”). For example, if you’re making baked chicken, roasted veggies and rice, bake double the amount of chicken and use it for chicken quesadillas, chicken noodle soup, or a chicken curry dish. This step really cuts down on time throughout the week (it also helps to narrow decision-making
Discover your flavor of choice
This is about trying to find that satisfaction aspect of food; the desire to consume one food over another. Examine the flavours that you typically enjoy. For example, if taco Tuesday is usually in your menu rotation, try flipping those flavors into something new (and easy). For example, tacos can become taco salad, loaded nachos, baked burritos, etc. Or if you prefer Asian flavors, experiment with Asian-inspired pasta recipes, soups or bowls.
Another way to find the flavours you enjoy is by using your five senses. I often recommend this practice for picky eaters, but it works for adults who are bored of their food as well. Food has so many flavours and can be experienced using all of our senses. Personally, I love the auditory aspect of foods. If a meal has some crunch, it provides a satisfying mouth feel. For example – green apples on a salad, or sliced almonds on green beans, or granola on yogurt. These are foods I will often gravitate towards. As I say to kids, “put your food exploration hat on”, what flavours, textures, colours to you prefer? When in doubt, browse your cookbooks or check out some food blogs. Simple ingredients and beautiful pictures can be great motivators.
And last but not least, keep things simple and S.M.A.R.T. This acronym is for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Having SMART goals means making them achievable. A large and lofty goal is saying “I’m going to meal plan 5 out of 7 days of the week”. Well, at least that would be too lofty for me! Instead, focus on a specific task… what aspect of meal planning would you like to tackle? Measurable: how often would you like to do this task? Are you able to attain this goal in a realistic and timely fashion? An example of a S.M.A.R.T goal as it pertains to meal planning would be: every Sunday I am going to write down to plan out 3 dinners for the week ahead, or, this week I am going to find two recipes I would like to make. These goals are easier to digest than a big one, which helps with motivation. Often with goals, if we don’t achieve them, it can further perpetuate the food rut or the feeling of deflation. There’s a quote from a former US President Harry Truman that often comes to mind, which I find especially rings true with health goals – “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction”.