What’s 1 thing that makes your life easier but you never do?
I’m guessing answers will vary from regular exercise, to waking up before your kids in the AM, to saying no to things you actually don’t want to do, and so on.
Those are all amazing things to prioritize but today I want to focus on one that I see all the time in my work – meal planning.
I won’t bore you with a long post about the benefits, we all know that people who meal plan stress less, spend less money at the store, and eat healthier. Instead I want to focus on why you aren’t doing it and how to make it easier.
The most common pushbacks I hear from clients include:
“I don’t have time”
“I don’t know what to make”
“I don’t do the shopping and cooking in my house”
Well friends, we make room for what we prioritize, which means before we tackle those pushbacks we must first reflect on whether or not cooking and eating healthy is actually a priority.
If your answer is yes, then we can examine those statements in greater detail. Are they true? Are they ACTUALLY true? Or is your brain just trying to push against something new and scary? The way out of those negative emotions is to just take action against your goals. You don’t do the cooking? Then sit your partner down and have a conversation about how you can help. You don’t have time? Let’s pull out the calendar and reflect on where all your extra time goes (a quick glance at your screen time stats can snap you out of this one quick). And what to make? I’ll talk about that in a moment.
With pushbacks out of the way, it’s time to simplify the process. Keeping things as simple and easy as possible is the BEST way to tackle this beast. Most people quit because it gets too complicated – healthy eating doesn’t have to be hard. Keep it simple with my 5 step meal planning process – The Anti-Meal Plan Method – described below:
The first step to a successful meal planning practice is to lay a strong foundation. This means gathering all the recipes, frozen meal items, and pantry staples that you already love to cook and make repeatedly into a reference list. This can absolutely be done on paper but I prefer using an app (I use Paprika Recipe Manager) so that I can categorize and search when I’m planning. The intention here is – you guessed it – to keep the planning process simple by giving you a place to pull ideas from that you’ve already vetted. It helps keep decision fatigue at bay, which means you hate the process less.
Meal planning is self-care. Any amount of prep or planning meals means future you is less stressed out and eating food that actually serves you. This step is all about reframing those negative thoughts into positive ones and treating meal planning as the important self-care ritual it is. When you think “Ugh, I hate meal planning” you probably won’t follow through. When a thought like that pops up, acknowledge it, then become curious. Why are you thinking this way? Does it actually suck or are you feeling stress over something totally unrelated? Then reframe that thought into something positive “This meal plan is going to make my life so much easier”. If it helps, make your weekly planning session a true self-care moment – mix up a fun drink (adrenal cocktail anyone?), put on some music, pull out your cookbooks, then get planning. You got this.
My biggest hack for eating healthy is using my freezer strategically. Stock your freezer with meal components that can be thrown together quickly in a pinch (for example frozen turkey burger patties, frozen veggies, & frozen tator tots). This simplifies the process by reducing the amount of creativity needed, instead of planning a main with 2 sides just plan the main and lean on your freezer for the rest. Of course there are also some great full meal options these days, like Kevins Natural Foods or Primal Kitchen – both are great in a pinch. I always have at least 1 night each week that says “eat from the freezer / wing it”. Bonus, frozen organic veggies are way cheaper than fresh and still maintain all the nutrients. Just slap some salt and butter on top and call it day!
Steps 1 – 3 are meant to prepare you for this moment, the actual planning. Sit down during your designated planning window (maybe one or multiple times per week) and aim to Keep It Simple Sister (hence the KISS part). Start by planning 3-4 dinners per week with built in days for leftovers or eating from the freezer. Always pull a couple of recipes from the foundations list to reduce the complexity. As you get comfortable you can add more meals to your planning session but try to avoid going all in at the beginning – perfection is overrated and may burn you out before you really get going. As you come across new meals and recipes you love, make sure you add them to your foundations list. A tip I give to clients is to think about your protein source first, then build the rest of the meal around that. I could write another blog post on this topic alone, but the key for today is to Keep It Simple and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself. Just take action.
Repeat, repeat, repeat until it becomes second nature. Of course there’s also a step somewhere in between about actually making the food, but I’m trying to write a blog not a book. Keep an open mind and come at it with an experimental mindset. The trick is to not give up, just keep going even when it feels hard. If last week’s plan didn’t pan out, that’s okay, you always have next week to try again. Try out a new routine or lean on your freezer/pantry more. Keep trying until you find a system that works for you.
Need more guidance? Download my free workbook “The Anti-Meal Plan Method” below. It expands on some of these ideas and provides some worksheets to get started. Got questions? Hit me up in my Instagram DMs.
Happy planning y’all!