How to Not Lose Your Mind Completely While Meal Planning
Coming from someone whose idea of meal planning originally was to use up the leftover panzerotto and ¼ of a jar of Nutella for dinner at some point in my life (a panzerotto for those who need to know is a deep-fried pizza pocket…no, I didn’t even get the baked version!), I can officially say that meal planning was a challenging thing for me at one point in my life. Forget meal planning, eating healthy was a challenging thing for me! I thought I was really thinking ahead when I would quickly dump my instant oatmeal in a plastic container, dump an equal amount of brown sugar (Brown sugar is healthier right?! Oh wait, it is only brown because it is white sugar coated in molasses….!) and spoon it quickly into my mouth as I watched my students file into the classroom back in the day.
Fast forward to another lifetime, another reality….
Now, after years of practice and coordinating with my family and taking into consideration a slew of different kinds of healing diets, food allergies and just general preferences and changing schedules, I think I might have graduated a bit from the “meal planning” of my 20’s. It has been gradual and like any change in habit, it took time and LOTS of mistakes and learning.
Meal planning is one of the top items that comes up in my lifestyle session with our patients at The Living Proof Institute. We can have the best of intentions with changing our food to try and support our health, whether in the healing phase or the maintenance phase to keep that great health around, but unless we put a bit of effort into planning, those intentions might not become realized and we can get stuck. I say this because I have been there many times!! 😊
So, that being said, here are some meal planning tips that can be used no matter what sort of “diet” you are following. And when in doubt, until you have the time and energy and focus to put everything into place, there are some great meal delivery services out there that are popping up because people are realizing they want to eat better but aren’t quite at the stage of cooking themselves (ZERO judgements by way, I support eating to support our bodies in whichever way possible!). 😊 Around the Greater Toronto Area where I work, some of our patients have been loving Goodfood Market: http://www.makegoodfood.ca/ where you can order “meal kits” that come complete with the recipes and the fresh ingredients. Or you can try J. W. Foods: https://www.jwfoods.com/ where you can order items for your meal (e.g. protein, carb, veggie) and they put it together and either deliver it or you can pick it up.
I won’t be able to fit in ALL my meal planning tips in one blog, I have no interest in making people’s heads explode with too much info. 😉 But here is a primer to get you going:
Tip #1: Think about the food you already like. For example, if you like macaroni and cheese, you can centre a meal around that (maybe using brown rice pasta if you are gluten-free, and nutritional yeast if you are dairy free) and figure out how to add in the other two components that round out each meal: a protein and a veggie or several veggies, like nitrate free bacon and some broccoli. These components don’t have to go INTO the main dish, they can be on the side, depending on your preference and your family’s preferences. Either way, for at least lunch and dinner, there should be 3 main items (“macros”) in your meal if you can swing it: your carb, your protein and your vegetable. Sometimes things overlap, like avocadoes, (they are protein, good fat and a veggie…actually botanically they are a fruit, but that is for another blog!). Sweet potatoes fall into the combo category too, they are a carb and a veggie. So, if I have sweet potatoes in my meal, I make sure I also have another veggie that is a different colour preferably, trying to eat a “rainbow” so I get a variety of nutrients. Sometimes I have fruit instead with my meal, especially breakfast, so I don’t worry about getting a veggie in then. Either way, each meal has some sort of colour and isn’t just a carb and protein.
Tip #2: Do a “brain dump” or a brainstorming session, with yourself or with your family, roommates, etc.; whatever your cooking situation is. 😊Sit down and devote 20-30 minutes or even less to writing down all the foods that you all like to eat. Our family made categories, like breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks/general veggies/general fruits, etc. Obviously, some things will cross over into several categories, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to get the ideas down and the use either a large piece of scrap paper or a basic calendar and write things in each meal area. If you want a template, comment below and I will send it to you. 😊 These things can be flexible, if you want burgers for Monday night dinner and then shepherd’s pie on Tuesday for one week but want to switch it up the next week, you do it! It is for you and life changes. We all need to start somewhere.
Tip #3: Use your meal planner to block out your shopping list. We would plan our meals for the following week on Friday night at dinner and then create our grocery list for the next day from it.
Tip #4: Give other people in your family a chance to decide what the meals are! For example, if you want your kids to be more involved in eating healthy, let them choose at least once meal a week that they like. Obviously from a closed set of options that are relatively healthy…😉 They feel more in control and get excited that it is “their” meal time!
Tip #5: Use up your more perishable food items at the beginning of the week and put them near the top and front of the fridge so they get used first and don’t’ get lost in the shuffle. For example, we use our organic nitrate free deli meat a day or two after we buy it and make it a top priority to be used up for sandwiches for lunches on a Monday usually. We also use our clamshells of fresh greens earlier in the week (like baby kale, baby spinach, baby arugula, etc.) because they go bad faster, and wait on the heads of cauliflower or squashes or frozen green beans until later in the week because they can take the neglect. 😉
Tip #6: Try and rotate what you eat so you don’t get bored or possibly create a food intolerance by eating the same thing over and over again. So, for us one day might be “lamb” day, even though 2 out of 3 of the meals will probably be vegan (we do a wicked vegan gluten-free waffle, for real), and the next day will be “chicken” day, and so on. We don’t stick to this strictly, but we do try to vary things in our household.
Tip #7: Have emergency meals ready to go for those times of desperation. For example, I had a packed day of health coaching calls last week and it being Friday, most of the tasty leftovers and fresh food was gone. I was able to grab a jar of lower mercury tuna (go for “light” tuna, it has lower mercury levels compared to the “white” tuna…Yes, I don’t know who named these things! I just remember “light” starts with “L”, which means “love” 😉). I also grabbed some brown rice crackers and quickly tossed some frozen broccoli in a little pot, which was done in 10 minutes. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, some extra virgin olive oil and my favourite seasoning salt, Herbamare, and I was good to go. 😊 I make sure I have these “emergency” items on hand for a balanced, nourishing meal in a pinch. Canned fish, pepperettes, seeds, nuts, dried chickpeas, etc. are a good go-to for non-perishable protein, that forms the basis of my meals.
Hope the tips have helped reduce the stress that can be involved with meal planning!
Author: Jessica Tucker
Jessica truly understands and empathizes how her patients feel, after experiencing a lifetime of digestive, emotional and immunity issues such as I.B.S., Crohn’s Disease, severe depression, vertigo, arthritis, eczema and migraines. All of these situations are now distant memories, as Jessica is now in the BEST health she has ever been in her life and has more energy and vitality than she ever thought possible, thanks to her journey at Living Proof.
She loves to help people realize their own potential and to feel good using simple and easy techniques, whether it is in the kitchen, practising meditation or making lives less stressful and more fun and enjoyable in everyday life. She fully believes the path to full physical and mental health is through a combination of knowledge of nutrition, digestion, healthy sleep habits, movement, detoxifying the home and personal care products and mindfulness/self-love.
Jessica can be found playing at the park with her family, dancing Lindy Hop with her friends, drawing cartoons, going to hot yoga or practising nature and portrait photography in her spare time. One of her favourite passions is to research the most current information in nutrition, biology, mindfulness and functional medicine coaching in order to help her patients get the lives that they have always wanted.
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Jessica Tucker, Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach, is proud and honoured to be part of the Living Proof Team in Mississauga, Ontario.
Our Mission at The Living Proof Institute is to address the root cause of your health issues and restore your health and vitality. Through partnering and education, you will receive the tools and direction to live an extraordinary life.
Wow Jessica!!! ❤ I’m so glad you came into my life!!! You have no idea how good it feels to be chatting with you and feeling understood. Thank you! I will keep you posted in the next week !!! You are amazing. I’m already meditating but skip days. And i started the journal 3 days ago lol. It took me a while to start but little bit at the time more motivation emerged out of me. Thank you again