As a dietitian, one question that I get asked the most is: Can you give me a meal plan?
After explaining that I’m a non-diet dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating, the follow-up question I receive is: Can I still meal plan with intuitive eating? Yes- I will teach you how to meal plan with intuitive eating.
People want ALL the meal planning secrets! I get it. Meal planning can be a helpful tool to save time, reduce stress, and have nourishing foods on hand for a busy week.
However, under diet culture, meal plans are often restrictive and don’t take into account one’s taste preferences or lifestyle.
If you want to practice meal planning, without it turning into another diet, I will walk you through the exact steps that I take to practice intuitive eating aligned meal planning.
Meal Planning 101
Note that I use the word meal planning and not plan. This is to emphasize that meal planning is an active practice. Imagine that you just were handed a 7-day meal plan. Maybe you believe that this plan will be the trick or “quick fix” to help you eat better. But what happens after those 7 days are over?
I’d much rather teach you the framework around meal planning so you can practice it for yourself. This way, your practice of meal planning can grow and evolve as you move about various seasons of life. In addition, this enables meal choices to reflect your taste preferences, time availability, and current lifestyle. Meal planning is meant to work for you, not against you.
Meal planning is meant to work for you, not against you.
Intuitive Eating Aligned Vs. Diet-Based Meal Planning
Before we dive into my framework for meal planning intuitively, let’s uncover the key differences between intuitive eating aligned meal planning versus diet-based meal planning.
Characteristics of diet-based meal planning: Restrictive, focused on calories, the goal is to control weight or shrink body size, allows for little to no deviation, generates feelings of shame when deviating from a meal plan, eliminates certain foods or food groups.
Characteristics of intuitive eating aligned meal planning: Flexible, includes a variety of foods among each food group, takes into account lifestyle + taste preference, no feelings of guilt or shame are involved when deviating from the plan, the focus is NOT on weight or calories.
Without a focus on weight or calories, you may be wondering: what are intuitive eating aligned reasons for meal planning? Here are a few examples:
- Reduce stress and save time during a busy week
- Promote variety and abundance in food selection
- Save money and eat more meals from home
- Explore new recipes, cuisines, or cooking techniques
- Reduce single-use plastic if environmental issues are of importance to you
What are your intuitive eating aligned reasons for meal planning? Take a moment to write them down!
How to Meal Plan with Intuitive Eating
Now that you’ve identified your intuitive eating aligned reasons for meal planning, here’s my 5-step framework for meal planning intuitively.
1. Map out your weekly schedule.
Take into account all that you have going on in the upcoming week. Do you have dinner out with friends one night or a lunch meeting? Fill this in on your calendar first. Remember, it’s important that your meal plan works with your lifestyle.
2. See what you already have on hand.
Look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you already have on hand. This can help with saving money and informing recipe selections. For example, maybe you already have rice, eggs, and frozen edamame on hand; A stir fry would be a simple recipe pulling these ingredients all together!
3. Select a few recipes to work from.
Don’t let this step overwhelm you. Start with 2-3 of your go-to recipes. From there, maybe work in 1-2 new recipes to supplement it. For me, I’ll typically pick 2 recipes that I am used to making, like my Mom’s Veggie Chili or Buddha Bowls and a non-recipe meal idea, like eggs for dinner. Because I like to try new foods and recipes, I’ll add one more unfamiliar recipe and save it for a night that I know I’ll have more time to prepare it. You don’t have to select a recipe for every single meal of the week. Remember to utilize leftovers, too!
4. Organize your grocery list by food group.
I do this step for two reasons. First, it helps me breeze through the store and save time. Second, it serves as a visual aid to see that I’m working in foods from the various food groups. For nutrient needs to be met, it’s encouraged to get a variety of foods from the main food groups. This promotes Intuitive Eating principle #10, Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition.
5. Don’t forget fun foods.
Making peace with food and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat are cornerstone principles of Intuitive Eating. As you work to make peace with foods, add 1-2 of your “off-limit” foods onto your grocery list. Give yourself permission to eat these foods as you please throughout the week. Notice the language “fun” foods…this is a reminder that foods are not to be labeled as “good” or “bad”. Foods don’t hold moral value. Use the language “fun” to lighten the mood and rediscover the joy of eating.
When All Else Fails, Shop in 3
Do you find yourself browsing the grocery store aisles with ZERO game-plan?
We all have those weeks! When I find myself in this position, I use my Shop in 3 Method.
I choose 3 options from each food group: 3 fruits, 3 veggies, 3 grains, 3 proteins, 3 dairy, 3 fun foods! From this, I can usually bring together meals and snacks, supplementing with a few pantry staples that I always have on hand. The Shop in 3 Method is effective for crazy Sunday Grocery Store Trips when you have no plan in place but still want to purchase a good amount of food.
I’d love to hear from you! If you use Everglow Nutrition’s Weekly Meal Planner, tag us on Instagram @everglownutrition.
Thoughts, feedback, concerns? Drop a comment below!