I often get the question from my clients – can meal planning and Intuitive Eating co-exist? The answer is yes, absolutely. Planning meals, or meal prepping, is absolutely something you can do in conjunction with Intuitive Eating.
Let’s talk about the difference.
Meal planning is simply choosing a couple of meals you want to have for the week. This involves deciding which recipes to follow and purchasing the necessary ingredients. Then you just follow your plan for the week.
Meal prepping, on the other hand, might involve preparing various foods in bulk, such as rice, pasta, various protein options, snacks, desserts, or even making a few veggie dishes that you can toss together throughout the week. Some people choose to prepare all their meals ahead of time, using this same method. Check out this post by another dietitian duo to learn more about meal prepping.
The goal of both of these is to save time, money, and not be stressed about what to eat.
Let’s talk about logistics. Let’s say you want to try meal planning. First, start by thinking about how many home-cooked meals you’ll want for the week. I usually recommend that clients leave room for going out to eat, nights that you may not feel like cooking, or if you just want to choose something different the day of. Next, find your recipes! Search Pinterest, cookbooks, or your favorite nutrition sites for recipes. Additionally, I recommend keeping a running list of meals that you really enjoyed, so that you don’t always have to think of completely new things every week.
The key in choosing meals is to look for a couple things. In most meals, you want:
- Carbohydrate food (rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, potatoes etc.)
- Protein food (meat, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, dairy foods, etc.)
- Fat source (oils, butter, avocado, nuts, seeds etc.)
- Fiber (fruits, veggies)
Here are a couple examples of meals that fit this rough layout, and some of my current favorite recipes:
- Turkey Chili from Ambitious Kitchen (with lots of cheese)
- Marinated Peanut Tofu from Minimalist Baker (with real rice)
- Blackened Shrimp Pasta from Budget Bytes (with roasted broccoli)
- Honey Spiced Chicken Thighs from Budget Bytes (with rice & green beans)
Once you’ve found several recipes that you like, make a list of ingredients. You could do this on paper, or on the notes app on your phone. Take some time to write down everything you need for the week, search the kitchen for ingredients that you already have, and then it’s off to the store!
Each night, you can decide what sounds good and how much time you have to cook. Some people plan exactly what to have each day of the week, and that might work for you too. If you’re the type of person who likes leftovers, I usually recommend making extra for dinner to have for lunch the next day.
As far as breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, I typically recommend that you have items on hand that you like to eat that fit the same mold. Some staples could include:
- yogurt for smoothies or yogurt bowls
- bread for toast and french toast
- pancake mix
- string cheese for toasted cheese sandwiches and snacks
- canned tuna for sandwiches
- canned beans to put on top of rice
- pre-made soup
- milk for coffee, with cookies, or by itself
- cottage cheese
- frozen veggies (onions, garlic, spinach, kale, medleys)
- pre-made frozen meals or pizza
- canned tomatoes for fast sauce
- fun foods: brownies, cookies, ice cream, chocolate, chips etc.
- mac and cheese
- tortillas for breakfast tacos, or to wrap around melted cheese sticks
- peanut butter
- fresh fruit/veggies (apples, carrots, oranges, whatever is in season)
- frozen fruit for smoothies, or melted on yogurt
- I also like these muffins for breakfasts/snacks
Other aspects to be aware of when meal planning or meal prepping:
- flexibility – can you be flexible within your eating pattern?
- energy levels – do these meals give you the energy to do the things you want and need to do?
- satisfaction – do you enjoy what you are eating?
- stress – does your eating pattern cause you stress?
- variety – does your eating pattern offer a wide variety of food groups?
The point of planning your meals ahead of time is to lessen the stress of having to choose what to cook each night. If this process makes you feel more stressed, you don’t have to do this. It’s all about finding what works best for you.
Please remember, this is all flexible. And what works in one season of your life might not work in another. All we can do is try to roll with it, and take care of ourselves the best we can in the process.
Do you plan meals? What works best for you?