When we hear the words “meal planning” or “meal prep,” it’s not uncommon for things like tiny containers, ziploc bags, tracking macros, or perhaps a famous body builder or “health guru” on Instagram to come to mind. Between the social media “influencers” who post pictures of their seemingly “perfectly portioned” out meals/snacks, and diet culture encouraging us to follow external rules about when, where, and how much to eat, meal planning has unfortunately been presented to us as yet another diet in disguise.
The good news? Meal planning is not (and should not) be a means of controlling your food intake or making you feel more overwhelmed or stressed about food. In fact, meal planning is SO much more than that, and can be a really helpful way to make yourself a priority!
CONSIDER THINKING ABOUT MEAL PLANNING IN THE FOLLOWING WAYS:
1. A way to ensure you’re feeding your body consistently
Between keeping our energy levels steady and our minds focused and keeping our digestive system happy and preventing us from getting “hangry,” consistency with meals and snacks throughout the day is a critical piece of practicing self-care. Though “consistency” looks different for everyone, we generally recommend 3 meals + 3 snacks, every 3 hours to help guide our clients. As far as meal “prepping” goes, simply having some of your meals and snacks pre-prepared and readily available to grab-and-go can be an extremely helpful way to ensure you’re fueling every few hours, especially if you’re always on-the-go!
2. A way to ensure your meals/snacks are satisfying:
When we’re pressed for time (which, let’s face it, is almost always), our food choices are often limited to the quickest, most convenient option available. These rushed decisions unfortunately do not allow us to pick foods that satisfy us and more often than not, leave us “wanting more.” To be satisfying, a meal includes foods that you genuinely enjoy and that “hit the spot.” And for many of our clients, feeling a sense of satisfaction in a meal actually decreases their yearning for foods at a later time. Planning meals/snacks in advance gives you that extra time to pack a variety of foods that will not only nourish you, but especially satisfy you throughout your busy day.
3. A way to ensure our meals/snacks are nourishing:
Along the same lines, it’s equally as important to have quick access to foods that are nourishing. While it’s true that everyone is different and requires a different amount of food day-to-day depending on a number of factors, it’s also true that we all require certain key nutrients in order to stay healthy (think vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, calcium, fiber etc!). Not being prepared with adequate amounts of food each day can get in the way of us meeting our basic nutrient requirements. Simply having a plan for some of the foods you’re going to eat before the start of a busy week can be an easy, yet effective way to ensure that you’re honoring your health with the nutrients that help it function at its best.
4. A way to practice mindful eating:
Mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food--as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. Compared to eating out or always grabbing food on-the-go, planning and preparing your own food requires you to use all your senses in choosing foods that are both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. It also requires you to stop and really think about the steps it took for you to prepare the meal or snack (even if it just means your favorite cracker that you hand-selected at the store and packed into a ziploc bag the night before). Preparing your own foods even may be an effective way to help you reconnect with your body, its satiety/fullness clues, and how it responds to certain foods.
Now that we’ve given you some alternative ways to think about meal planning, what are some ways to make meal / snack preparation a little bit easier for yourself? Consider the following tips:
- Make a list of foods that are both nourishing and satisfying to you; ask yourself “what sounds good to me” and use this as a guide for your meals/snacks each week. Challenge yourself to think beyond what you feel like you have to eat and think more about what you want to eat here.
- Get creative with your meals and snacks but be realistic! Come up with a few meal and snack ideas that you know you can realistically prepare and that won’t add too much extra time to your already busy days.
- Designate a specific day or time to prepare your food for the day or week. Whether it’s Sunday afternoon before the start of the work week, or some weeknight after the kids go to bed, setting aside time specifically for this activity will make it easier to squeeze into your schedule, while also helping you prioritize yourself.
- Try packing your food the night before, and putting your entire lunch bag in your fridge so that you can just grab and go the next morning.
- Put your keys on the handle of the refrigerator to remind you to grab all the delicious food you have packed!
Like we’ve said, meal planning is NOT intended to be another diet. It can be used as a helpful tool to allow you to navigate your Intuitive Eating journey with some structure and options throughout the week. We want to help you make yourself a priority each day, and meal planning, viewed as another form of self-care, can help you do that. Feel like you want a little more support as you try and navigate your relationship with food? Contact our office today to see how we can support you!