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Meal Planning: A Tool for Self-Care, Not Self-Control

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Let's redefine what it means to actually plan meals—to simplify our lives and enhance our relationship with fueling our bodies.




In our fast-paced world, meal planning often gets overshadowed by rigid diets and overwhelming meal prep routines. We often shutter when we hear the term, "meal plan," as it has become synonymous with feelings of restriction and rigidity. But let's redefine what it means to actually plan meals—to simplify our lives and enhance our relationship with fueling our bodies. With intentional organization, intuition, and a little love, meal planning becomes a roadmap for nourishment and enjoyment, not a blueprint for perfection.


“We often shutter when we hear the term, "meal plan," as it has become synonymous with feelings of restriction and rigidity.” But let's redefine what it means to actually plan meals—to simplify our lives and enhance our relationship with fueling our bodies.

Understanding the Pitfalls of Traditional Meal Planning


Traditional meal planning can often lead to feelings of restriction and lack of flexibility. The rigid structure of planning every aspect of our meals for the week fails to account for our changing hunger and cravings. As a result, we set ourselves up for failure and frustration. But it's time to break free from this cycle and embrace a more intuitive approach to meal planning.


Embracing Intuitive Meal Planning


Intuitive meal planning encourages us to tune into our bodies and listen to their cues. By incorporating mindfulness and self-awareness into our meal planning process, we can create a more authentic and enjoyable relationship with food. This approach allows for flexibility and adaptation, as we learn to honor our changing needs and preferences. It's important to note that if you have a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating, intuitive eating may require additional support and guidance from a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders. They can help you navigate the nuances of intuitive eating, provide individualized strategies, and ensure your journey towards a healthy relationship with food is safe and supportive.


Practical Tips for Self-Care Meal Planning


To make meal planning a tool for self-care, we need practical strategies that prioritize our well-being and simplify our lives. Consider theme-based meal ideas, where you choose a culinary theme for each day of the week. This adds variety and excitement to your meals. Another approach is ingredient-focused planning, where you select a few key ingredients and create multiple meals around them. This saves time and reduces waste.


Batch cooking is another valuable technique. By preparing larger quantities of staple dishes and freezing them in individual portions, you always have healthy meals ready to go. Don't forget to include a balance of nutritious foods in your plan, incorporating plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This ensures you're nourishing your body and supporting optimal well-being.


Think about ways you can simplify. Focus on 1-3 days at a time, prepare sides, dressings, or vegetables ahead of time. Shop seasonally or what’s on sale. Store your produce in see through containers for easy visibility. All of these strategies count as meal planning!


Nourishing Your Changing Needs


We are not the same person every day of the week. Our preferences, cravings, and moods can vary. Acknowledging this allows us to honor our changing needs and avoid monotony in our meals. Whether you're a neurospicy individual who craves different flavors each day or someone who prefers a variety of textures, give yourself permission to adapt and experiment. By staying flexible and listening to your body, you can create meals that truly satisfy you and bring joy to your dining experience.


Meal Planning for Self-Care in Practice


Finding balance and staying organized are crucial in meal planning. Use a meal planning app or create a physical meal planner that suits your style. Set aside dedicated time each week for meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep.


I often encourage my clients to create a “Connect 4” style of meal planning where we spend time curating an accessible list of proteins, carbs, fats, and proteins to create balanced meal and snack ideas. The concept of this tool implies that "theoretically" if someone were to draw a line across the list, they would have a "balanced meal." Once they find combos they like, I encourage them to write them down so they can have a sample menu to run with. Some even use this as a grocery list and pick 1-3 options from each category each week from the grocery store. I think it helps to normalize that meals don't always have to be thorough or require a complicated recipe.


The most important thing to remember is that we should be kind to ourselves and embrace imperfection. Meal planning should be a tool for self-care, not self-judgment.



Embracing Meal Planning


Meal planning, when approached with intention and flexibility, becomes a transformative practice of self-care. By releasing the rigidity of traditional meal plans and embracing intuitive choices, we can cultivate a healthier and more enjoyable relationship with food. Let go of the notion that meal planning is about control and perfection, and instead, view it as an opportunity to nourish your body, honor your changing needs, and find joy in the process.


Incorporate the practical tips shared in this article, such as theme-based meal ideas, ingredient-focused planning, and batch cooking, to simplify your life in the kitchen and save valuable time. Remember to include a balance of nutritious foods in your meal plan, focusing on colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These choices provide essential nutrients to support your overall well-being and mental health.


As you embark on your meal planning journey, stay attuned to your body's signals and cravings. Allow yourself the flexibility to adapt and experiment with different flavors, textures, and culinary experiences. Embrace the fact that you are not the same person every day of the week, and honor your changing preferences. By listening to your body and giving yourself permission to indulge in foods that bring you pleasure, you can create meals that truly satisfy and nourish you.


Through the practice of meal planning as self-care, you can reclaim your relationship with food and transform it into a source of nourishment, enjoyment, and well-being. Use meal planning as a tool to simplify your life, honor your body's needs, and explore the endless possibilities of delicious and nutritious meals. Remember, it's not about adhering to strict rules or striving for perfection—it's about embracing the journey of self-discovery and finding balance in nourishing both your body and your soul.


Meal planning should be a tool for self-care, not self-control. By adopting an intuitive approach, incorporating practical strategies, and staying attuned to your body's needs, you can create a meal plan that nourishes and supports your overall well-being. Let go of rigidity and embrace the freedom to adapt, experiment, and find joy in the process. With each meal, you have the opportunity to care for yourself, nourish your body, and cultivate a healthier relationship with food. So, start planning with intention, love, and the belief that mealtime can be a nourishing and pleasurable experience every day.


Note: The information provided in this blog post is for educational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized recommendations and guidance based on your specific needs and medical history.



 

About Your Practitioner: Brittany Adelman is a licensed Registered Dietitian specializing in the profound connection between nutrition and mental health.

If you are interested in learning more or working with a Functional Nutrition provider, please contact functionforwardnutrition@gmail.com to schedule a

15-minute introductory consult or connect with me on Instagram @the.mind.dietitian.



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