This week we're talking about meal planning, and it is going to be a really strategic episode for our Eat Right series.
It is also one of those things … Let me put it this way, you love the idea of meal planning on one hand, but the actual execution of it is probably less exciting. Everyone that I've worked with, whether it's in a group, whether it's one-on-one, everyone eventually brings up meal planning.
I completely understand why, because this idea that having a plan in place that helps you stick to what your goals are is really enticing, but the actual doing of the plan isn't as fun in real life for a number of reasons, and we're going to talk about those today.
It also feels really overwhelming. You picture the end result when you have all of these recipes, and all this organization, and you've done all this work, but when you actually sit down to do it, all you can picture is the work that is ahead of you.
What we’re going to talk about today
Today we are going to hopefully make that easier for you, we are going to talk about the number one step that everyone always leaves out that is going to make a huge difference. The three-step system, which will help you to stay in-line with what you want to do. We're going to talk about 15 tips for strategizing, how to make this work better.
We're going to look at the 11 mistakes people make, and then we're going to look at four no-recipe meal formulas that you can use and throw in with your meal plan, just to make meals easier on the fly. Lastly, we are going to look at the Eat Right meal planner that I made for you and we're going to talk about how you can utilize that to help you on your way.
Maximizing your brain function around food
Again, when we're talking about meal planning, obviously, we all know healthy food is going to make us feel healthy. We're going to be a healthy weight, our skin's going to look good, we're going to sleep well, our moods will be good. Everything's great when we are nourishing our body the way that it needs to be nourished. Our hormones feel balanced, everything is good.
If we look at the brain as two different floors in a condo. The top part of your brain is like the penthouse, and the bottom part of your brain is like the basement, it's not even on the first level, it's in the basement.
When you're making a plan you're really using this top part of your brain, that's the executive-level functioning. This is staying conscious with what you want to achieve, what your goals are, this is higher-level thinking. This is what develops as we become adults, and then that base below-ground level, basement part of our brain, is kind of like that angry toddler.
The angry toddler that wants what it wants now, doesn't have any impulse control, and it will throw a huge fit if it doesn't get what it wants. What a meal plan does is it allows us to be planning with that penthouse, the executive function of our brain so that we can stay on track, instead of listening to this angry toddler that's down below.
This is the real basis behind planning. You make a plan, you set it and forget it, and you know that it's in line with your values and where you want to end up.
The ONE thing everyone forgets to do
The number one step that people leave out, that I think is critical to you making this a success and sticking with it, is knowing why. Why are you creating this meal plan?
It might be different reasons for different people, right? Some people get into food ruts, and maybe you want to have more variety in what you're eating. That could be your why. Some people want to save money, some people want to eat more greens, some people want to lose weight, some people want more energy. It matters only to you what your reason why is.
I've worked with lots of people who have purchased a 27-day meal plan, or a two-week meal plan, or they participated in some sort of course or program that gives you a pre-made meal plan, which is fantastic. Don't get me wrong, this is all good stuff. It's good information for you, because it allows you to see the recipes that work for you. But it’s not YOUR plan.
Remember, this is all about you. What we need to do is put the power in your hands so that you know how to make a plan that suits your life, your body, your needs, and your goals. When you're just following someone else's plan, this is the step that's missing. This is the number one thing I want you to start with is why?
Really think about this? What's your point? Do you want to not waste as much food? There's all sorts of different reasons for having a meal plan. In fact, you can have a different reason every week. Stress reduction is a good reason for making a meal plan, too. I just want you to picture that penthouse brain versus that toddler brain when you sit down to actually do your planning.Number one, you're going to have your why.
The 3-step system
The three-step system, this is going to be no surprise to any of you. First, you have to select your recipes, second, you have to shop for your recipes, and, third, you have to prep the food for the following week. No surprises there, but when we think about strategy this is what I want you to think about.
Let's start with the first one where you're selecting your recipes. This is technically what should be the most fun, but there's a few key steps that people tend to miss. Before you ever sit down with your recipe books, with your magazines, with your computer open, the very first thing you need to do after you figured out your why, what is your goal this week, is you need to actually look and see what you already have.
What do I mean by that? I mean, is there a head of cauliflower in your fridge that you want to use up? You're going to want to look for recipes that use that up. You're just going to take a quick look. This will take you under a minute, and you're going to see what you already have, and what you need to use up. Keep that in mind as you choose your recipes.
Second, you need to have your calendar in front of you. I know how busy you guys are. Sometimes when I see your schedules I just am blown away by how much you're packing into a week. You need to know, is Tuesday night the night that you go to Yoga, and you don't want to have a big meal? Is Thursday night the night that all the kids have sports, and you need to be in and out of the house in 30 minutes?
You need to look and actually see how many meals do you need to plan for that week, and what are your limitations? Do you only have 30 minutes one night? Do you have an evening where you're not going to be as hungry, because you've had a large lunch? This is what you need to sit down with before you pick any recipes, so that you know that what you're planning is actually going to fit your life.
You now have your why, you have what you already need to use in your kitchen, and now you have your schedule in front of you. You know your limitations, and you also know how many meals you're planning for. Then the next part is the fun part. I highly recommend sitting down with a glass of wine, piece of dark chocolate, hot cup of tea, whatever it is that you like, put on some good music.
I worked with someone who would just put trashy TV on in the background, and that was a real treat for her. Make it fun. If you can stack this habit, and what that means is you are taking this new habit of meal planning, and you're stacking it to something that you already like. You already like sitting down with your glass of wine, or your hot cup of tea, you already like watching your trashy TV. Just tie it to that event, and it's going to make it easier for you to want to follow through.
You're sitting down, you're all set up, and, as I said, this is the fun part. You get to look through your recipes, you get to look on your computer, and your books, and your magazines, wherever it is that you like to get recipes, and you get to choose what is your food going to look like for next week?
Now, when you're done with that, as you're choosing the recipes, you're going to be writing down all the ingredients you need. When you're done you're going to take that ingredient list, and you're just going to quickly check what you have in the kitchen. Honestly, guys, I can do this in probably under 10 minutes, truth be told. I could probably do it in under five minutes if I was being really rushed for time.
You don't want to skip any of those components. Now, when you're looking at this, we call it a three-step process, and I really recommend separating it into three separate steps. First, you're going to be selecting the recipes, second, you're going to be shopping.
Now, people out there, I know you love grocery shopping, I don't understand it. There's virtually no task I like less than grocery shopping. To me it’s the worst. If you are like me, this is what I do. I actually take that list, I've seen what I have, and now I know exactly what I need. I've ruled out everything that already exists in my kitchen, now what do I need to buy.
In that same space of time I order my groceries online, and there is a couple ways you can do this. I have an organic veggie box that comes to my door, and I also will do the click and collect at my local grocery store. What's really nice is there's already a list populated for you, you can subtract and add what you normally buy. We tend to be creatures of habit, and I will click and collect. I'll get all the things into my basket, and then in my household my husband picks them up.
I just get him to pick a time that he wants to go pick them up, and he picks up the groceries. Sometimes people think that this is going to be very expensive, but the truth is it honestly saves you money, because you're not wandering around in the grocery store seeing stuff that your little toddler brain is thinking, "Oh, that looks good. Oh, I haven't tried that. Oh, maybe I could add that to my meal plan."
Instead, you're just sitting down with a list, you get everything that's on your list and nothing more, and I think the click and collect costs three dollars, so I know I save more than three dollars in what I would purchase if I went to the grocery store.
Now, if you're a person that loves grocery shopping, by all means, go to the grocery store. Absolutely, if it's something that you love. If you're like me and you hate it, but you can't do the click and collect, or the delivery for some reason, then this is how I do it. I take all the ingredients that I need to get, and I put them into sections so I'm not running back and forth across the grocery store trying to find stuff.
I want to get in and out as fast as humanly possible. I just organize all the things I need to pick up into categories, and this makes it super fast. I also treat myself on the way out from grocery shopping. I always stop and get a coffee at a coffee shop, because it's a treat for me, because I really don't enjoy grocery shopping.
Okay, so now you have your plan, you've done your shopping. The third step is to do the prep. This is a really, really important step. This is where you're going to wash everything, you're going to chop what you can, you're going to cook up some food that you can that's going to make your life easier for the week. The goal of the prep stage is so that on those week nights you are literally just throwing stuff together. You're not having to wash everything and cut it all up, it's just ready to go, boom, boom, boom. You can make your meal.
Again, these are done on three separate occasions, and I've seen it work really well two different ways. The first way that a lot of people like to do, based on the work week, is Friday evening sit down and do the meal planning. Just do your quick meal plan, and then it's done. Saturday go grocery shopping or do your click and collect if that's what you choose to do. Then on Sunday do the prep.
I have also seen it work really well for people who are working during the week to do their meal plan on Thursday night, pick up the groceries on their way home from work on Friday, and this leaves them Saturday and Sunday, they have an option as to when to do prep. Doesn't really matter, it just has to be what works for you.
15 of the best tips & strategies
Okay, now that you have your plan, let's talk about some tips and strategies. For anyone that's watching, if you have any tips or strategies that you want to add to the mix, then I know that people will be so grateful to hear then, because, again, meal planning is one of those things that we know will make our life easier, but it also seems like a huge task that isn't very fun.
Today we're going to try and strategize how to make it more fun, and the pieces that might've been missing that made it harder for you to begin with. Feel free to add your comments in if you have some really great advice for us.
All right. 15 tips and strategies. Are you guys ready? First is plan B. You have got to have a plan B in your back pocket. This is for the evening when you don't feel like cooking, you get stuck at work, you are late getting home, everything just falls apart, this is your plan B. This is your I-can-throw-it-together recipe that is just a backup. It could be breakfast for dinner, that's a really popular one - making pancakes for everyone, that wasn't originally in your meal plan, but it is going to be your plan B for this week. You might not have to use it, but you want to have it, and you want to have the ingredients available.
Number two, this is such an important point. The whole basis of the Eat Right Foundation is you're going to eat food, whole food, not too much, mostly plants. That's it. That's what we decided on in week one. Now on week three I'm here to tell you when you make a meal plan, you have got to choose food you like. You need to look forward to these recipes.
If you hate zucchini noodles, don't eat them. Don't put them in your meal plans. Stop trying to make yourself like foods you don't like. Give it up. You don't like eggplant. Don't put it in your recipes. These recipes need to be something that you look forward to. You want to eat them. This is the number one problem I see for people, is they're eating foods that they "think" should be healthy for them, but they don't like them.
No wonder you're failing at meal planning, because you're not looking forward to a meal you don't like. Number one, choose foods you like. There are so many healthy foods, healthy options that are out there that are definitely options that you are going to like. I promise. Just expand your reach, and eat food that you really, really like.
Okay, number three, you're going to improve in iterations. What does this mean? This means if right now you're eating every meal out, you're a fast food junkie, next week you're not going to be eating greens at every meal. You're just going to do a little bit better than you did this week. That's it. Every week we just aim to do a little bit better, a little bit better. Over time this really adds up, and it's sustainable. When we try and do this wholesale, virtuous change in what we're eating, and it doesn't taste good, and we don't enjoy it, it's not going to happen. Just little iterations and little improvements as you go.
Number four, look for the bumps ahead. Look for those things in your calendar that you know are going to be a little bit bumpy and plan for them, which we already talked about. Number five, an accountability partner is really good. If you have a friend that also wants to be meal planning, check in with each other. "How is it going? How are you sticking to it? Are you having fun?" Make it as fun as you can. An accountability partner always makes everything more fun for sure.
You are going to, number six, you're going to cheat, okay? 100% compliance is not what we're looking for. Aim for pretty good, 80-90%, that's awesome. You rocked it, you nailed it. When you do cheat and don't eat the food on your meal plan, who cares? No guilt over that, people. You’re are human and life happens. A lot of times when I talk to people, one meal off the meal plan and they just give up the whole thing.
That tends to happen, of course, when you're trying to make it too different from how you already eat, and you're also trying to eat foods that you really don't like. Not doing that will help, but just because you mess up one night, doesn't matter, you're supposed to. That is part of the plan, so make it part of your plan.
Really good tip number seven, double one dinner, and take half of it and throw it in the freezer. I always do this. Any recipe I can double, I double. The reason why is it is not double the work. Because you already have all the stuff out, you're already going to have to wash the dishes, double the recipe, take half of it, throw it in your freezer. That way in a couple weeks when you need to do some shopping at home before you make your list you'll be able to see, "Oh, hey, I still have that soup from three weeks ago." Or, if anything comes up and you need to pull something out of the freezer, it's there, it's ready to go.
Number eight, plan to have nights off. It can be part of your meal plan to plan to order out. There's no reason why it can't, so plan some nights off where you are not making dinners. That's okay, this isn't all about home cooked, from scratch, every single meal. This meal plan is supposed to support you, your goals, and your life.
Number nine, if you have picky eaters at home, this has worked really well for a number of women that I've worked with, that is letting each picky eater choose one meal for the week. This, also, I think helps with ownership, so it helps those picky eaters just feel like they're part of the process and feel more involved. Letting them choose what they would like to have as a meal that week.
Number 10, you never want a meal plan for less than two meals, or more than five meals. Less than two meals is kind of a waste of your time. If you need two or less meals in a week, if you're looking at your schedule, and you’re saying "I'm only going to need two meals," look through your freezer, look at what you already have. You can put together some meals with what you already have.
It's not worth your time to sit down to order, to pick up the groceries, to prep for less than two meals. Anything more than five meals gets to be very overwhelming, and it's very hard to prep for meals that are more than four or five days out of the gate. No less than two, and no more than five when you're planning.
Do not hold onto your plan too tightly. Don't be rigid with it. You're not married to this plan. It can change, and you don't want to feel very rigid with what you're eating. That can also take a lot of the fun out of it. Number 12, you need to have emergency meals. This I why doubling some of those recipes is a really great idea, but, you know what is also a great idea? Frozen pizza, frozen lasagna, having a breakfast-for-dinner night, having a restaurant that you order from. Have emergency meals available, because it's going to come up and you're going to need them.
Number 13, this is a tip that I always do, and this is when I'm serving my dinner from the night before. I have a glass container out, and I always fill it with my lunch for the next day. I don't know about you guys, but the thought of actually cooking a separate lunch, just seems like such a waste of time in the middle of my day. Now, you may not feel the same way, and that's why we each have a meal plan that's different, but what I like to do is while I'm serving my dinner, I package up my lunch for the next day and it is done at the same time. As I'm putting dishes away, I'm putting my lunch away.
Okay. Also, another pro tip, work around common ingredients. If you know you're buying a fresh herb for something, if you're putting cilantro into something, then pick a few meals that have that herb. That way you're using it all up, and usually some common ingredients makes it faster to grocery shop, and to prep.
Lastly, I love this idea of having a meal template or theme nights. You could do it for example, Tuesday nights are taco nights, or every Friday you have pizza. You can put different toppings into your tacos and on top of your pizza, but you have a theme night. This allows you to take one out of the equation and make life easy. Usually those are crowd pleasers, too.
The 11 big mistakes we make meal planning
Here are the 11 mistakes that people make: the first is being too ambitious. You guys, five-course gourmet meals every night, home cooked, from scratch, no. Throw that out the window. Honestly, if you use no-fail recipes for the majority, and maybe, if you have a bit of time, a bit of extra time, maybe try one new recipe a week, but even that would be ambitious. Maybe one every few weeks.
Not giving yourself enough time to plan. Remember, this is a three-part process. You're not going to do this all in one sitting. It's going to be way too much. You are going to get sick of the plan before you even start the plan, so give yourself the time.
Picking the wrong recipes: this is a big one. If you're picking recipes that are too hard, that nobody likes, that you don't like, then this is not going to work. This is one thing that came up again and again when I was talking to people. "It's boring, it's complicated," but it doesn't have to be.
Don't pick the wrong recipes. If you pick one that's a stinker, we've all been there, right? We look at a recipe, we think it looks really good, and it really, really stinks. As in, the dog won't even eat it, it stinks. Toss it out, you've got your emergency backup, and don't make that recipe again, obviously. Just have fun with it as much as you can.
Number four mistake is not stocking your pantry. You want to have ingredients and items for those times when you don't have the energy or the will to make your meal that you had planned. A big mistake: not shopping in your kitchen first. See what you already have, see what needs to be used up. Don't skip this step.
Another big mistake is not saving the recipes that you liked. We're going to talk about this in a minute, how to put together kind of a portfolio of recipes, so that you have your go-to, no-fails, all in one place. This makes your meal planning super quick.
Skipping the prep work, a lot of people do this. They'll do the meal plan, they'll go get the groceries, and then they'll let that food die in the fridge.The meal prep really is a key component, because it makes it so easy to throw together. If everything's already chopped, and you just have to throw it together, it makes it a lot easier to follow through. Definitely set aside time for prepping. When I prep I also put on a favorite podcast or a TV episode. Just something light that you can half pay attention to. The thought of meal prepping is always so much worse than actually doing it. Once you get started you get into it, and it makes your life so much easier down the road.
We talked about cooking new recipes every night is a terrible idea, so you're not going to try cooking new recipes every night. You are going to always have a backup plan. Number 10, do not be so hard on yourselves. I talk to so many of you, and if you fall off the plan for a meal you're done with the plan. But it doesn't need to be that way. When you're working the plan to fit your life, and to fit your needs, and you really understand why you're doing it, what your reason is behind it, then you can go easy of yourself. You're just a human being, you are doing the best you can, so don't be so hard on yourself if it doesn't work every single time perfectly. Again, we're aiming for that pretty good 80-90%.
Number 11, we all know this, don't plan and don't shop when you're hungry, because, remember we talked about that executive-level brain function versus that toddler brain function, and we want to work in those higher-consciousness realms when we're planning what we're going to eat. Otherwise, there's no point, you might as well just fly by the seat of your pants. Don't go when you're hungry, and that will help to avoid those impulse buys.
4 no-recipe meal formulas
All right four-meal formulas. This means you wouldn't have to have a recipe. I highly recommend you come up with some for yourselves, because it's so much easier when you know you can just chuck it all in. You just throw everything together. Basically, you pick a starch, you pick your vegetables, and you pick your protein. That's all you have to pick, and then you throw them together.
Here's four different ways you can do that: one, is a Buddha Bowl. This is when ... typically when you have rice or quinoa, and then you have greens and some beans, that kind of thing. Another one is a one-pan bake, so you take all of the vegetables, the starch would be something like a sweet potato, or a potato, parsnips, turnips, whatever you like. Your protein you could do like a marinated tofu, whatever you want it to be, and you throw it all on one roasting tray, and you throw it in the oven, 350 to 400 degrees for a certain length of time, pull it out, it's ready to go. There's no recipe there.
Stir-fry, that's a great one. You have all your vegetables prepped, you just throw them in, and you make sure you have a base. The fourth one is a burrito bowl. This is always a crowd pleaser, so, rice and beans, or quinoa, beans, salsa, guacamole, some vegetables on top. The key to these, and this is where the prep work comes in, and this is where you're going to want to be looking in your recipe books, is to find sauces that make these delicious.
I have a stir-fry sauce that is ... literally, I think the name of it is The Best Stir-Fry Sauce Ever. On a burrito bowl, use salsa, guacamole. One-pan bake I make a miso gravy that is just delicious on top. The real key to these is the sauces. I highly encourage you to make your own sauces. It sounds like it's a lot of work, but the difference in taste is unbelievable when you're using fresh garlic, fresh ginger. Usually there's only four or five ingredients, and the sauce will last quite a long time.
When you're buying store-bought it's very hard to find stuff that doesn't have sugar added, doesn't have preservatives, and just crap in there that you don't want. The sauces are key when you're doing these throw-it-all-together no-recipe recipes. I really encourage you to have these in your back pocket, because they're going to make planning so much easier when you can just pull some of these out.
The Eat Right Meal Planner
I put together an Eat Right meal planner for you. You can just click the link above and you'll instantly get it. There's a few, there's a meal planning, and a grocery list, and all the stuff that you think that you'd want in here.
The reason that I want to bring this up right now is this: your best no-fail meals. I highly recommend, this is what I do, is every season ... Right now we're in a colder season, the snow is starting to fall, the things that are in season are like root vegetables, that kind of thing. I'm going to eat differently in the winter, the spring, summer, and the fall, but I have my no-fail recipes for each season.
I like to have 10 no-fail recipes for each season. How I came to have this list is, when I was meal planning I would choose my favorites and I would add them to this list. Then I would make sure I had a photocopy of the recipe so I just have it all together. There's always 10 no-fail recipes in one place. This will speed up your meal planning enormously. If you know you're having a crazy, hectic week, pick all of your recipes from here. You know they work, you know how to make them, they are no-fail.
If you have a bit more time one week then add a new recipe in and try it, but this is key. I think of it ... I don't know if you guys have heard of a capsule wardrobe, where you change your wardrobe out every season, and you just have a few quality pieces. I think of this as your capsule menu. This is a few quality recipes that you're going to go to time and time again and pull out.
You can constantly be adding, subtracting, and changing these recipes, but I highly recommend every week you're pulling from this list. I have even sometimes used those 10 on repeat for weeks at a time. They're my favorite recipes, I know they always work, I know they're nourishing, I know they're balanced, and I know I like them, so, I'll just repeat them.
That's basically what we're going to talk about today when it comes to meal planning. We looked at that number one step that you do not want to skip. We looked at the three-step system, we looked at 15 tips and strategies to make meal planning better for you, we looked at the 11 big mistakes that people tend to make, we looked at having those no-recipe meal formulas, as I call them, and we also looked at the Eat Right meal planner that has that capsule menu on it.
If, as I said, you have anything you want to add to this, I'm sure everyone would be welcome what you have to add, because we're all in the same boat. We all want to eat well, and we don't want it to be completely unfun. Now, next week, what are we ... Oh, next week is actually the goal-setting challenge.
I hope you guys have signed up for that. I'm just putting the finishing touches on a few pieces of it. You guys, it's really good, I'm really excited. I'm going to be doing it with you. I like to set my goals in quarters, so, for January, February, March, that's what we're going to work on next week. It's a totally different way to plan your goals than you've ever seen before.
If you're watching this in the future I plan to redo the challenge every quarter, so that we can start fresh every quarter with three new goals. I think it's a really great way of doing it, so I hope you've signed up. You can click in the links above or go to drkristinenewman.com/goals and get added to the next challenge.
I hope to see you in the challenge. Then we're coming back the next week with the fourth of our five-part series, and we'll be looking at mistakes. The mistakes we make when we're trying to eat right.
I hope you are having an awesome Tuesday. I hope this has made meal planning more interesting for you. It's a tricky topic, but it's definitely worth doing.
All right. I will see you later in the goals challenge, I hope.