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quick and easy meal planning tips for beginners

 

I can’t even count how many of my clients come in asking me how to meal plan. Whether you’re on a tight budget or a tight schedule, making a meal plan can be a great way to simplify a healthy lifestyle. For beginners though, meal planning can feel like a daunting task that takes more time than it saves. It can seem overwhelming at first, but some simple steps can streamline the process and make it much easier. Not to mention that meal planning is like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets! After you have a dozen meal plans under your belt, you’ll be whipping them out in minutes and saving yourself tons of time (not to mention moolah!).

 

1. Decide which meals will be planned

 

Meal planning doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Some people plan three meals a day plus snacks, while others find it works best for them to plan dinners and buy a variety of breakfast/lunch/snack ingredients. Choose what will work best for you. One mistake many newbie meal planners make? Forgetting about leftovers. If you have leftovers from Monday’s dinner but every meal is planned for the week, you’re increasing the likelihood of food waste. One easy solution is to implement a “use it up” day. At my house, we do “Whatever Wednesday” and “Scrounge-it Sunday.” This gives you a day (or two!) off from cooking and a chance to clean out the fridge and prevent food waste (saving time and money)! Planning these days into your meal plan can simplify the process and make it more practical.

 



 

2. Choose a “jumping point” (or three)

 

This is where a lot of folks get stuck – where do I even begin to come up with meal ideas? It’s important to consider what’s going on in your life to make sure that you set yourself up for success. Check out these “jumping points” to help you tailor your meal plan and give you a little inspiration.

  • Your schedule – Look at your week. Got a full Wednesday with a late meeting and your kid’s recital? Make a note on that day on your meal plan and choose a slow cooker meal or something you can prep ahead of time (or better yet, leftovers from Tuesday’s dinner!). Work with your schedule, not against it.
  • Your budget – Sales are a great place to start! Find the weekly ad for your grocery store online and list the deals. Use a search-by-ingredient database to turn these cheap eats into healthful meals. A couple of my favorites are the Food Hub by the American Diabetes Association and Healthy for Good by the American Heart Association. Plug in the ingredients that are on sale that week (Pork loin? Brussels sprouts? Shrimp?) and find healthful recipes to make with them.
  • Vary your proteins – If you eat all things meat, choose one meal each of skinless poultry, lean pork, lean beef, and meatless, two of fish, and one wild card. Vegetarian? Rotate between beans, tofu, meat alternatives, tempeh, and/or seitan.

 

3. Select your meals

 

Select your recipes – family favorites or newbies – and list them out. If you’re more of a Type-A planner, assign them to a day so you’ll know exactly when you’ll make them. If you’re more a flexible, type B, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type (or you just like having the flexibility to choose what you feel like eating each night) choose however many meals you will need for the week and take your pick day by day.

 

Free printable meal plan worksheet with shopping listFree printable meal plan worksheet with shopping list

 

Use this FREE printable meal planning template to help you out.

 

4. Make a shopping list

 

As you go, add any ingredients that you don’t already have to your shopping list. Tack on any staples or household essentials (don’t forget the TP!). Want to save wandering time in the store? Divide your list into 4 sections: fridge/freezer, aisles, produce, and household/other. Pick up items from each section before moving on to the next.

 



5. Shop!

 

Now you have a meal plan for the week and a shopping list to get you there. Planning your meals will help you save time and money not only at the store but throughout the week, since you will already know what you’ll be making and you will have all the ingredients you’ll need (and not ingredients that you won’t)!

 

6. Optional: Consider food prep

 

Less work than meal prep (where you cook and portion all your meals ahead of time), food prep takes only 20-30 minutes per week and makes cooking much quicker and more fun. Ever seen the TV cooking shows where all the hosts have to do is dump in all their prepped ingredients and cook? It’s pretty great and you can cook that way too! Check out this video for a tutorial on food prep. If you choose to incorporate food prep, make a quick list with your meal plan so you remember which food prep steps you plan to do.

 

Go forth and plan! And remember, any new change is going to be baby-deer status at the start: wobbly, awkward, and unsure. That’s normal! It will feel awkward and the first few times might take a while. Keep trying! You might find that certain parts of meal planning make sense for your life while others may not. You might find that a different approach or method works better than these or than methods that worked well at other times of your life. My process is constantly evolving as my life changes or as I find bigger and better ideas! Just be sure not to give up on meal planning until you’ve given it the old school try and had a chance to find your rhythm.

 

Good luck and let me know if you have any great meal planning tips to share!

 



 

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Eating Well in Less Time

…and the healthy lifestyle I’m going to feature next is…

 

 

Thank you for voting! It looks like you’re all lookin’ to live healthy lives on tight schedules. I hear ya! Stay tuned, because I’ll be dropping tips for saving time over the next few weeks!

Eating Well in Less Time

It’s time to start another feature, and this time I’m adding a new category of features: healthy lifestyles!

 

 

This category includes tips and advice on living well within different lifestyle factors: kids, tight budgets, tight schedules, picky eaters, you name it! So now is the time to vote. Which factor should I feature to help make your healthy life easier?

 



Eating Well on a Budget

We’ll talk about every trick in the book for making a healthful lifestyle as cheap as possible. It doesn’t have to be crazy expensive and often it’s actually cheaper than buying “cheap” junk food! I’ve been playing around with cutting our food budget while keeping it healthy for years, and I can tell you it’s possible to eat well on a tight budget (and I can show you how)!

 

Eating Well in Less Time

We are all busy! A tight schedule can leave little margin in our day (not to mention our energy) for keeping up healthy habits. Let me help you find healthy habits to streamline your life and make healthy work for your mind as well as your body.

 

 

Eating Well and Reducing Waste

For most American households, the vast majority of our trash bins are full of food waste and plastic food containers. A few easy swaps can significantly reduce the amount of food-related garbage in our landfills and be healthy for the planet as well as for you.

 

Vote in the poll below to let me know which feature is most helpful for you!

 

 

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Healthy Lifestyles

Salmon and red potato hash with dijon aioli

 

This delicious dish is a copycat of a breakfast from a favorite restaurant of ours – the Ironwork Grill at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon. The original is made with a dill sauce but I always swap it for this dijon aioli, and I’ve never been disappointed!

The salmon, veggies, and potatoes make this a complete, protein- and potassium-laden anti-inflammatory power meal. Plus, it is so, so tasty and very easy to make!

 



Salmon and Red Potato Hash with Dijon Aioli

This dish is a complete dinner - it's loaded with omega-3, antioxidants, and other anti-inflammatory power punches. It's also very easy to make!

Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

Salmon and Vegetables

  • 4 fillets salmon
  • 1 diced red bell pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 10 spears asparagus, cut into 2" lengths
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black ground pepper

Dijon Aioli

  • 1/4 cup avocado oil mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

  2. Place fillets skin-side down in a greased 9 x 13" baking pan. Surround with vegetables.

  3. Drizzle with canola oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until thickest part of salmon measures 145 degrees.

  5. While salmon is baking, whisk together mayonnaise and dijon mustard.

  6. Serve salmon with aioli spread on top.

Recipe Notes

Each portion contains 499 calories, 29 g carbohydrate, 32 g protein, 3 g saturated fat, and 458 mg sodium.



Anti-inflammatory Diet Carb Counting Heart Healthy MyPlate Guidelines Recipes

 

So you’ve read about the Trim Healthy Mama Plan, and you’ve decided you’re a good candidate for using Trim Healthy Mama as your structure for moderation. Your next step is to get started! Over the course of my time following the plan, I gathered a list of a few tips to help you make the most out of your THM journey.

 

1. There’s a learning curve

Don’t feel bad if you unintentionally eat something that’s “not on plan.” It’s bound to happen (it happened to me!). Also, figuring out what you’re allowed to eat may feel super overwhelming at first. There is a lot to learn in the beginning! Take it in steps. Read one chapter of the book at a time (or as much as you can without feeling overwhelmed) and sit with the information for a day or more. It will get easier.

 

2. Having certain products on hand makes a world of difference

There were several products that made the THM plan so much simpler for me. Which products help you will vary based on your schedule and preferences. Here were some of my faves:

  • Pressed peanut flour – Basically ground-up peanuts with a good portion of the natural peanut oil removed, pressed peanut flour is great for E meals because it is a low-fat protein source that goes great with sweet flavors. It works well in smoothies or you can reconstitute it with water to use it as you would normal PB. Click here to purchase the one I used.
  • Almond milk (or other milk alternative) – Technically, dairy milk is not “on plan” with THM if you’re aiming for weight loss because, as the authors state, it is a “natural crossover” containing both carbohydrates and fat. That’s true unless your milk is fat free – but if you want to follow the plan to the letter, an alternative like unsweetened almond milk is useful. This one might not be as “essential” for others as for me since my family is comprised of hard-core dairy lovers, but it came in very handy for both S and E meals and as a milk alternative in recipes.
  • Low-carb wraps – These are so convenient for S meals. Sometimes you just want to put all that fatty goodness into some kind of bread-like thing. They were awesome topped with pizza toppings and/or Caesar salad. Click here for the wraps I used (also recommended by the THM authors).
  • Sprouted whole grain or sprouted sourdough bread – Your THM-approved bread option for E meals! I goofed up and used non-sprouted sourdough for my first week and had to course-correct with this tasty sprouted Dave’s Killer bread for the next two weeks. Note: eating only sprouted bread is not necessary for blood sugar management, though the plan requires it
  • Stevia – If you want something sweet, it’s nutritionally your best on-plan option. Choose one that is primarily pure stevia or stevia with erythritol or xylitol. Here’s one option that fits these criteria.
  • Almond flour (or other grain-free flour) – I’m a little torn on this one because almond flour and I didn’t exactly get along. I can’t see how you could get too far cooking without any kind of flour at all, but I didn’t take the time (or money) to explore options besides almond.

 



 

3. Don’t forget the protein

They mention this repeatedly in the book, but I can’t reiterate it enough. You need protein to stay full until your next meal, especially after E meals. The carbohydrate in E meals will go much farther if you put some protein in the tank to slow down digestion.

 

4. Be careful with your saturated fat

My biggest nutritional gripe with THM is the amount of saturated fat that can very easily be consumed within plan guidelines. Eating high amounts of saturated fat is correlated with inflammation and higher levels of harmful cholesterol. I personally ate way more saturated fat than daily recommendations most of the days I was on the plan. Be careful with the animal-based fats they recommend like butter, cream, and fatty red meats. Even the small amounts they encourage can easily push you over the recommendations.

5. Make sure to eat your veggies.

The plan itself is focused on fuels and though encouraging of vegetables, does not have a specific requirement for meeting veggie recommendations, and veggies are a very important part of a healthy lifestyle! It can be easy to skimp in this area, (I found some Youtube THMers who warned against this very issue) so be sure and give these powerful plants plenty of attention.

 



 

6. Ignore some of the verbiage from the authors

One of my pet peeves as a dietitian is seeing foods labeled as “good/clean/guilt-free” or “bad/sinful/naughty” as though each individual food could be placed in a single cut-and-dry category of either good or bad. Years of this kind of mindset can make it difficult for people to enjoy any kind of food without feeling guilty (except for raw, non-starchy, organic vegetables). I’ve had many clients who follow up every statement about what they eat with “and I know that’s bad.” (“My family likes pasta and I know that’s bad…I like to eat a lot of fruit and I know that’s bad…Sometimes I eat a piece of chocolate and I know that’s bad.”) It makes me so sad! While there are clearly foods that are more nutritious and deserve to be chosen more often than others, please ignore anyone who tells you that any food is “naughty” or that you should feel guilty for eating.

 

7. The plan is more restrictive than is necessary

In reading the first few chapters of the book, you’ll be preparing for “food freedom”…the authors start the book with that phrase and spend plenty of time discussing the cons of all the diets that are overly restrictive and that eliminate food groups. I was really on board with all of that.

Then for the remainder of the book, you find there is a pretty large list of common foods that are “not on plan” aka “not allowed.” It was a bit of a letdown for me, to be honest. They even cut out healthful options like whole grains based on some overly restrictive and outdated guidelines that I talked about in this post. For the most part, these complete eliminations are unnecessary to meet health goals, so bear in mind that 100% on-plan compliance is not necessary and that you could swap in foods that you know to be healthful.

 

8. Fuel isolation is not necessary for fat loss

I have not seen research to back up the concept of isolating either carbohydrate or fat at a particular meal as a method of weight loss. It can, however, be a structure for moderation that would make sense to some personalities. There’s no magic in the fuel isolation itself, it’s just a way to help some folks balance their overall diet.

 



9. Baked goods are tough

 

 

As I mentioned throughout my time on the plan, baked goods are tough cookies on THM. I know several ladies who follow THM and have found options that they enjoy, and I’ve also tried many plan-approved recipes that just could not cut it for me. If you are a baker (or lover of things baked), be prepared that finding “on-plan” recipes or tweaking your family recipes to your satisfaction may be a long road. You may need several specialty flours, oils, and sweeteners. This was my biggest struggle throughout the plan.

 

10. Do what works for you

Try the plan out – see what you think! If you are one of the people that loves it and finds it freeing, enjoy! Keep your eye on nutritional balance and rock your food freedom. If the plan is a struggle or parts of it don’t make sense, feel free to let them go! Personalize your nutritional plan and only keep the changes that work for your lifestyle and personality.

 



 

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I have no affiliation with the producers or manufacturers of these products. As an Amazon Associate, I receive compensation for  purchases of products through the links on this post.

Diets Trim Healthy Mama

 

My favorite breakfast on the Trim Healthy Mama Plan was this banana split oatmeal recipe from Oil of Joy. I tweaked the recipe a tad from the original, partly for taste and partly to improve the nutrition to better meet the Trim Healthy Mama guidelines.

Here’s what I did: cut the chocolate chips in half, removed the salt, and used fresh mashed strawberries instead of strawberry jam. I also added 2 scoops of plain whey protein to boost satiety and help regulate blood sugar. The vanilla in the oats really helps to make this oatmeal rich and delicious. It definitely feels like a dessert (it doesn’t have to just be for breakfast!) and it is so, so sweet. I have continued to make it even after finishing Trim Healthy Mama!

 

Banana Split Oatmeal (THM E Meal)

This decadent oatmeal is rich, delicious, and filling. It is easy to make and satisfies your sweet tooth in minutes!

Servings 1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup water boiling
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp stevia
  • 2 Tbsp plain whey protein
  • 2 strawberries, mashed
  • 1/2 banana, sliced sliced
  • 1/2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Combine oats, water, vanilla, stevia, and protein.

  2. Top with strawberries, banana, and chocolate chips.

Recipe Notes

Contains 275 calories, 45 grams carbohydrate, 16 grams protein, and 5 grams fat per serving.

Recipe adapted from the blog Oil of Joy.



Recipes Trim Healthy Mama

I’m back with more Trim Healthy Mama posts! I’ve been in blogging limbo for the last couple of weeks because I’m working on moving my practice into a new office! It’s so exciting – check out the new space!

 

New office space for my private practice

 

Anyway, that’s not why you’re here, is it? You’re here to find out whether or not Trim Healthy Mama is a good option for your life! Overall, the premise of the Trim Healthy Mama Plan is sound enough that if you want to lose weight, it will probably work. The benefit of THM is that it does a better job of switching from weight loss to maintenance than many other diets. It takes a unique approach and the authors provide several options for customization.

 



 

Like anything, eating plans are never one-size-fits-all. Some people will love the THM plan and others will struggle to follow it. After researching the plan and following it myself, I’ve put together some tips to help you decide if you are likely to be successful with THM.

 

You are likely to thrive on Trim Healthy Mama if…

 

 You are satisfied after eating low-carb meals (particularly if your goal is weight loss)

For some, grilled chicken on a large salad with dressing is a full meal. Others will still be asking for some fruit or a roll after they’re done. This is partly related to blood sugar regulation, partly to personal preference, and it’s very individual. If a steak and some roasted veggies sounds like all you need to be happy, you’ll do just fine in this area.

You aren’t a “social eater”

Social eaters get a large chunk of their enjoyment from food by sharing it with others (going to others’ houses, going to restaurants/parties, sharing meals, etc). Plans like THM that have a lot of “off limits” foods make this tricky unless you’re socializing with other people who are following the same plan. If you could care less about snacks at parties or don’t mind bringing your own thing, you’re good to go.

 



You like to cook/bake OR you don’t mind eating the same things from day to day

According to the THM authors, you don’t necessarily have to cook to follow the plan. After following it myself, I would say that’s true, but your options will be much more limited if you don’t.

You need a little guidance for moderation

If hearing the word “moderation” makes your eyes glaze, or if moderation just seems to be a nebulus concept, it may help you to have a structure like THM to guide you.

You’re interested in nutrition

This isn’t a must, but having an interest in the way the body works and how it interacts with food is helpful in understanding the plan. I haven’t even mentioned all of the supplementation or “add-in” recommendations the authors give in the book for boosting nutrition, but they are pretty in-depth. Some nutritional background or curiosity would be helpful for working through some of those more scientific chapters.

 



 

You might want to choose a different plan if…

 

You or your family have dietary restrictions different than those on the Trim Healthy Mama Plan

The THM plan is already more restrictive than is necessary to achieve most health goals, so if you’ve got other restrictions going on, this is going to make everything tougher. My philosophy is always to find the least restrictive way to head where you’re trying to go. Don’t make it harder on yourself than is necessary!

Being told you can’t have something makes you want it even more

There are quite a few “normal” foods that are not allowed on the THM plan, so if having those parameters makes you start jonesing for ice cream or a baked potato, this probably isn’t the plan for you.

You love baked goods

I’ve heard (and continue to hear) that there are tasty grain-free, sugar-free baked goods out there. I certainly won’t claim to have tried them all. In fact, I recently heard from a couple of experienced THM followers that the best results come not from any one wheat flour alternative but a blend of several. Regardless, baked goods were my biggest struggle following the plan (and I’m not a bakery junkie). I’m sure continued experimentation would yield better results than I achieved, but I’m pretty certain that even the best grain-free options aren’t going to equal the real deal. If baked goods are something you absolutely love, losing that aspect of your food quality of life would make following THM tough.

You dislike “diet lingo”

If learning a new system of numbers or language to track your health goals is not up your alley, this may or may not be for you. As with some other diets out there, Trim Healthy Mama has a language of its own – S meals, E meals, crossovers, S helpers, and fuel pulls are all part of the lingo in this case. For some people, learning these will be simple, make sense, and not be a problem, others just won’t want to mess with it. You know who you are!

 



 

So there you have it – a few tips to help you know if the Trim Healthy Mama Plan might be a good fit for you. It’s certainly not foolproof, but I want to acknowledge that every single person is different, and every approach to health and wellness is personal – it has to work for you and not against you.

I want to add a caveat here that I do have some concerns about a couple of the nutritional aspects of the Trim Healthy Mama Plan – not the entire framework itself, but some tweaks I would recommend to anyone who chooses to follow it to ensure they are making the most healthful choices for their lives. Those are coming in a future post, so stay tuned!

Trim Healthy Mama