What you need for your meal plan to be successful

The short answer: you need to know what you want it to do for you.

Sound familiar? This is the same way to make snacks work for you

It would be nice if it was just something you could buy, like a neat meal planner, or a cute chalkboard to write your menu on, or even buying a pre-made meal plan from a service or the right meal prep containers. But it’s rarely that easy or one size fits all. That’s why this is key to success – because it’s not trying to make one solution work for everybody. It’s helping YOU know what YOU need.

Now, this isn’t a guaranteed success tool. It’s not like you will automatically succeed just because you know what you want to accomplish.

BUT, if you’re not sure what the point of your meal plan is, how will you know it’s working? How will you make it work?

You need to know what difference you want your meal plan to make so you know when it’s successful.

AND

Knowing how you want your meal plan to serve you will help you decide what it needs to include and what it doesn’t.

(The Lazy Genius talks a lot about this very eloquently, and I promise I didn’t steal this idea from her, it is just true. If you want to read what she has to say, start here: When your meal plan has house hunters syndrome and here: Create a meal plan that will save your life and make you pretty)

Anyway. Enough theory. Let’s talk about some examples – that always helps me.

College Cami

(That’s me)

I did not have a lot of money, but I did have time, and I was willing to eat some weird stuff. I was mainly cooking just for myself and, as I was studying nutrition, trying to follow nutrition guidelines. I also lived in an apartment with 3 roommates and 1 fridge. So what did I want my meal plan to do for me?

  • Be cheap
  • Be efficient with ingredients (not use a lot of variety, both for cost savings and for space savings – 4 roommates one fridge, remember?)
  • Meet certain nutrition goals, like eat fish 2x/wk, have enough calcium, etc.

What did I not need my meal plan to do for me ?

  • Be quick and easy to make – I had plenty of time to cook
  • Please anybody else – I could just make what I wanted and/or was willing to eat
  • Be mentally easy – I had mental space and enthusiasm to try a lot of new recipes, so I could make weird stuff with the ingredients I had because I had time to think about it
Glass bowl with pasta and carrots and peas and broccoli
Roasted veggie pasta

Practically this meant I ate a lot of beans, cheap vegetables like cabbage, some cheap meats like whole chicken and sardines, and I did a lot of cooking from scratch and a lot of new recipes. (Made my own bread, tortillas, broth, etc.).

Purple smoothie in a jar on a windowsill
This is a smoothie with actual red cabbage in it. I have never had a smoothie with cabbage in it after college, but I liked the color so much that I have 3 or 4 pictures of this smoothie.

Let’s move on to Dietetic Internship Cami

Woman stands in front of national nutrition month poster board
I have almost no pictures from this time and certainly no pictures of what we were eating. But here’s a picture of me with a poster I made for my internship haha.

At this point I had a little more money because I had married a rich engineer – haha, just kidding, we weren’t rich, because dietetic internships DON’T PAY YOU, but we had a little more money. We were also very tired. Both of us were working full time and commuting at least an hour each way (usually more). I didn’t need to pack lunch because one of the perks of dietetic internships despite being unpaid is that they sometimes/often feed you. But my husband did, so some leftovers or lunch ingredients he could pack were helpful. So what did I need my meal plan to do for me then?

  • Be convenient! We needed meals that required almost ZERO effort when we got home at night. I seriously still don’t know how we made it though that year; when I think back most of what I remember is exhaustion.
  • Save some sanity. In addition to not having much time, we were both pretty burned out and so didn’t have a lot of motivation or mental energy to cook or plan meals
  • Still save some money (again, we weren’t really rich, just no longer poor college students)
  • Be acceptable for both me and my husband – thankfully he’s not picky so this wasn’t a big deal, and provide some leftovers he could take for lunch.

What did I not have to worry about for this meal plan?

  • Cost (as much)
  • Efficiency (a little more money to spend on a variety of ingredients, and a whole apartment kitchen to store our stuff!)
  • I didn’t worry as much about nutrition, mainly because convenience was a priority

We ate a lot of slow cooker meals that I would prep ahead on the weekends, a lot of quick meals like quesadillas or grilled PBJ. We ate a lot of the same meals on repeat because we didn’t have to think of new ones, and we went out to eat more often* (but still not a lot), because we could afford it, and it was sometimes a bright spot after a long day.

*Remember this: Planning to go to a restaurant or planning to get takeout counts as meal planning. Many times the reasons we meal plan (cost, nutrition, dietary restrictions) limit eating out but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a part of a successful meal plan.

Now a family (based on many real life families I’ve worked with)

They are tired of eating the same 5 meals over and over again and they want to spend less money on going out to eat. They get overwhelmed at dinner time so it would be helpful to have a dinner decision made BEFORE the kids get tired and crazy and they get super hungry and they end up just picking up sandwiches or making chicken nuggets again. They’d like to eat healthy, but don’t have any specific nutrition-related health conditions or dietary restrictions. Their meal plan needs to:

  • reduce decision fatigue by just having the decision made ahead of time
  • be convenient enough that they will follow their plan and not just go out to eat anyway because what they’ve planned has too many steps
  • include enough variety to help them and their kids not be bored and/or learn to eat new foods
  • but also be familiar and appealing enough that they will follow through with the plan

What they don’t need to include:

  • any particular nutrition goals or dietary restrictions (I always think trying to get all the food groups in is good, but this is not their priority right now)
  • cost savings on food because they’ve determined going out to eat less will save them money
  • a lot of new recipes or meals. Too many new things at once is overwhelming even if the actual dish/recipe is easy. They might be adding in 1-2 new things per week. (like a new salad dressing or a new side dish to a favorite main)

Their meal plan would probably include a lot of familiar, easy to make favorites, with small variations each week and maybe as they get in the habit of cooking at home, they start to add in new recipes more frequently. They will probably be most successful if they use convenience products (pre-cut veggies, pre-made sauces, frozen sides or mains) so the effort at dinner time is easy. Shooting for generally balanced meals is good, but if trying to eat lots of vegetables or low salt for example, will make them less likely to eat at home or try new things (their priority), then it does not serve the meal plan and should be set aside to make room for their priority.

My college meal plan would not work for this imaginary family. Probably way too many weird things for their comfort level (molasses on bread for dessert anyone?) and a lot of unnecessary stress about cost savings when paying for some convenience is within their budget and will help them accomplish their goal of being less overwhelmed at dinner time.

You need to decide what success looks and feels like for YOUR meal plan.

Questions? Comments? Tips? Share in the comments. Or talk to me if you need help figuring out what a successful meal plan looks like for you. That’s my specialty. πŸ™‚

15 ways you can eat more at home, starting today

But actually, choose one or two. Do not try to do all at once.

I just put the 15 ways in the title because it’s more clickable. This is the world we live in. You can read this blog post, or watch this video about why it’s so important to start small

  1. Figure out one meal you can easily make at home, that you like. Start making it once a week on a day that you have time
  2. If right now you cook and eat at home 1 day per week, try to add 1 additional day
  3. Categorize your days to cut down on decisions – Taco Tuesday or Pizza Friday or Meatless Monday
  4. Make a Brainless Crowd Pleasers List
  5. Make an “emergency meal” list – this is like brainless crowd pleasers, but eaaaaassy (e.g. hot dogs and mac and cheese, PBJ, scrambled eggs and toast, Chicken Caesar salad from a bag), something you can cook at home when you don’t have time or energy. It’s ok if most of your meals are like this. They don’t have to be fancy.
  6. Consider using a snacky meal on a day when you just can’t even
  7. Have a different family member plan or prepare on different days of the week (Age-appropriately of course – your toddler cannot make dinner by themselves). This can be a great way to get kids involved and more excited about food.
  8. Don’t plan to make involved or new recipes on days you know you will be busy! (These are great days for an “emergency meal”. Or for going out, if that fits with your goals)
  9. Pick one new recipe to try per month
  10. Use convenience items if you can afford it and they are available. What parts of cooking at home do you hate? Can buy a product to eliminate that? I hate washing lettuce – I’m much more likely to eat salad if I have pre-washed greens. We eat a ton of frozen veggies. Hate cooking raw meat? Buy it frozen and pre-cooked, or choose meals that don’t involve meat
  11. Don’t mind leftovers? Making a big pot of soup or chili to eat throughout the week works well
  12. Do mind leftovers? Freeze any leftovers for a few weeks from now (this doesn’t work for things like salad obviously)
  13. Don’t get stuck on needing to cook at dinner – maybe cooking lunch or breakfast is a better fit for you
  14. Do half and half – do a takeout entree and homemade salad or veggie. Or reverse – make some baked fish and get some fries from MacDonalds.
  15. Use a meal service or let me get you started with a meal plan toolkit!

Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Here are some of the foods I’ll be eating this holiday season (or will have eaten) and some good nutrition news about them.

Christmas charcuterie

decorative plate with various foods arranged artfully on it
Our Christmas charcuterie from a few years ago
  • Cheese: good source of calcium, potassium, some satisfying fat and protein
  • Sausage (or sausage cheese puffs): satisfying fat and protein
  • Crackers: fiber, B vitamins
  • Various fruits: fiber, water, hydration, vitamin C, vitamin A, various antioxidants
  • Nuts: satisfying and heart healthy fats, minerals like iron and calcium

Also, no cooking required. This is what we’re having after Christmas Eve service so nobody gets hangry while waiting for a meal to cook

My grandma’s applesauce

Carmelized cooked apples in a jar
Click the image for the recipe. Not the prettiest applesauce, but certainly delicious
  • Because it’s made with the peels, it’s higher in fiber than the applesauce you get in a jar
  • Fun fact, my grandpa says applesauce made without peels is babyfood
  • A delicious way to get a serving of fruit
  • Includes lots of cinnamon, a powerful antioxidant and delicious flavor enhancer

Donuts

A donut with red white and green sprinkles
This one is from last year too – it’s just so festive!
  • This is one of the first Christmas traditions that is just me and my husbands
  • We usually have it the day we leave to visit family, or the first day off.
  • Donuts are energy dense – rich in carbohydrates and fats!
  • I always try and have scrambled eggs with them (protein) so I don’t get a sugar crash later

Tri-tip/Steak

yummy cut steak served on table in light restaurant
Photo by Geraud pfeiffer on Pexels.com
  • This is a new Christmas meal for me this year
  • Steak is high in iron and B vitamins
  • It’s also rich in protein

Salad

mixed vegetable salad on a black plate
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com – mine probably won’t look this fancy
  • A serving of vegetables
  • Depending on the contents, provides water, fiber, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K
  • Will probably use a dressing to add some satisfying healthy fats
  • And some seasonal fruit for color and texture
  • Probably the traditionally healthiest thing on this list, but just one part of my Christmas nutrition

Hope you enjoy some festive foods! Curious about what nutrition they might be providing you? Leave a comment!

What this dietitian eats over the holidays – whatever I want

A donut with white, red, and green sprinkles

While I was in college, a friend said to me, “I know a lot of dietitians/nutrition students, and they all basically eat whatever they want.” This is mostly true for me. With some caveats. Keep reading to learn what they are.

My strategy for holiday is eating is pretty similar to what I eat the rest of the time. Of course regardless of what you celebrate or don’t, eating is often a little different this time of year. There are more treats and sweets and traditional foods to enjoy, not just at home, but at work, school, and gatherings.

This is what I do for “healthy eating” over the holidays. It’s not a prescription – what works for me might not be what works for you – but maybe you might find a few ideas helpful. Or you’re just curious what a dietitian eats for Christmas. Whatever!

If you want to skip the rest of the article, it can be basically be summarized as:

Focus mostly on what I do eat, less on what I don’t

How do I do this?

I make time to feed myself.

I feel best when I eat on a pretty regular schedule.

During holidays, schedules might be a little different due to parties or days off or traveling. I might not have my same schedule of meals and snacks, but I try to avoid both constantly snacking and going long stretches of time without eating.

Constantly eating can make it difficult to distinguish true hunger and lead to overeating – or undereating if I never feel hungry enough for a meal!

Going long stretches without eating makes me either hangry, anxious, sad (which isn’t nice for anyone) or just so hungry that when I am able to eat it’s hard to make a good decision. It’s easier to overeat, or choose a less balanced meal, or just be overwhelmed and not want to eat anything!

I don’t eat at the exact times every day, but I try to avoid both extremes. This might mean having a snack before a late holiday dinner or making sure to eat breakfast even if I wake up late. Or making time to have a snack even if I have a busy day.

Just like I make sure to feed my dog every day, I make sure I feed myself consistently too.

I get most of my food groups at most meals, most days

So we’re on the same page, I’m thinking of the food groups as: fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grain or starchy foods.

Dairy foods/calcium-rich foods or healthy fats could be considered their own groups, but enough of my protein-rich foods are from dairy that I don’t think of it separately and I rarely eat healthy fats on their own – mainly they get cooked with or come with other food groups.

I try to get at least 3 out of 4 food groups at most meals. Normal meals and “holiday meals”. For example at Thanksgiving, we had asparagus and salad (veggies), cranberry sauce and apple crisp (fruits), turkey and meat stuffing (protein), and my favorite: stuffing, bread, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese (grains/starches) – all the food groups.

Getting all the food groups helps provide a variety of nutrients, promote satiety and is a positive way to promote “balance” without prohibiting or restricting foods. (As humans know, if we’re told we can’t have something, we want it more) If most of the time I get most food groups, I will avoid filling up only on sweets, for example because I have to make room for the other food groups.

I also know I feel better energy and digestion wise when I get a mix of foods with protein, healthy fats, fiber, etc.

Of course, I also try and choose options from from each group that I enjoy. So you won’t see me eating beets for my veggie serving or olives for my healthy fats because I don’t like those.

That leads me to…

I enjoy the foods of the season I enjoy

Some of these foods we only eat at certain times of year, so I take this time to enjoy it! For example, my grandma’s applesauce (click for recipe) or my family’s Italian stuffing or Ferrero Rocher. I don’t worry about eating a little more than I normally would. I enjoy these foods as part of the celebration.

The other side of this is that I feel free to leave foods I don’t really enjoy. Ham? Nah. Mashed potatoes? I’d rather have bread. Pecan pie? that’s a pass, I’ll take apple.

Of course if I go to your house and you serve me these foods, I will eat them to enjoy your hospitality, but if they’re on a buffet or at a potluck, I can leave em.

I choose the foods I really want so I can enjoy them without feeling too full.

Food gives us more than nutrients. It is often a way for us to gather together, to celebrate traditions, and to enjoy life! These things are important to our overall health and wellbeing!

Now again, these strategies work for me. They might not work for you. I thankfully don’t have any food allergies or intolerance, I don’t have to manage my blood sugar or blood pressure, so I do have a little more freedom to eat whatever I want.

But even with food restrictions, there is probably some room for at least some of your favorite foods. Talk to your friendly dietitian if you’d like guidance on how that might work for you πŸ™‚

What holiday foods are you looking forward to eating?

Read some Good Nutrition News about some holiday foods here

Q&A: How to make snacks work for you!

This is a Q&A I did with Kaigo to promote a workshop about how to use snacking as a tool for healthy eating.

I’ll also be posting snippets of each question and answer on social media in the next few weeks so follow me on facebook, instagram, or YouTube if you don’t feel like watching the whole video at once.

Some questions asked:

  • How many snacks should I eat per day if I’m trying to lose weight?
  • Is snacking on fruit bad because of too much sugar?
  • Can I eat a snack instead of breakfast?
  • What snacks are good for kids who refuse to eat fruits and vegetables?
  • What are good snacks to eat at night if I’m craving sweets?

Resources mentioned in this video

Like the Alfred to your Batman (that’s Nutrition for Real Humans)

I’ve always liked the behind the scenes butler-type character (you know, when they’re not the murderer at the end). Alfred from Batman, Jeeves from Jeeves and Wooster, Zhu Li from Legend of Korra. The character in the background who just gets stuff done so the main character can save Gotham, or bumble around society, or execute mad scientist schemes. I want to be that background person for my clients.

My clients are the ones who have to choose their goals and do the work to accomplish them. But I can make it way easier by doing the research, making decisions (collaboratively and respectfully obviously), applying my knowledge and experience, and sometimes by actually doing the cooking or shopping work. That’s my goal – just give you the tools and sometimes the plans, so you can just do it.

Also, those characters are supportive. They aren’t promoting their agenda nor are they critical or judgey of the main person (at least not outwardly). I’m not here to be the food police, make you feel guilty for what you’re eating, or not, or shame you into making changes. I might offer some knowledgeable guidance, or an honest assessment, but you get to choose what to work on and how you want to do that.

Anyway. I’m here to be your Alfred. Are you ready to be Batman?

Watch below if you’d rather listen than read πŸ™‚

I talk about how I aim to support my clients by offering guidance, encouragement, and practical help

Why Honesty Matters to me as a Dietitian

You may be thinking honesty matters to me because if my clients don’t tell me what they really eat I can’t help them. This can be somewhat true, but this is actually about why it’s important for ME, the dietitian, to be honest with YOU.

One of the ways I respect my clients is by listening to their goals, values, preferences, what they feel their limitations are, etc. (Read or watch more)

Another way I respect them is by being honest. When I share evidence-based information, recommendations, practical tips, experienced opinions and advice honestly (but kindly), that means clients can make the best informed decision for them. (A realistic one you know)

And this goes for the way I run my business too — If I think working together will serve you well, I’ll tell you! If I think what I offer isn’t a great fit for your needs, I’ll tell you that too and hopefully be able to point you to someone or something that will be helpful.

That being said, I really appreciate when clients are honest with me, because that helps me help them, but this post is about my honesty.

Watch below if you’d rather listen than read πŸ™‚

I talk about why honesty matters for Nutrition for Real Humans

Why Respect and Collaboration are Essential to Nutrition

Respect and collaboration are essential to Nutrition for Real Humans because solutions I create for clients (meal plans, recipe collections, etc.) need to be realistic for THEM.

I bring my knowledge and experience about nutrition and practical food selection and preparation, but my client knows best what is important to them, what their limitations are, what they care about, what they’re willing to do.

If I don’t respectfully listen to what my client needs and wants or take their ideas into consideration (the collaboration part), likely the solution won’t fit them. It won’t solve their problem, or it won’t be realistic for them, or they won’t like the food I chose because I didn’t listen to their preferences so they won’t eat it.

That’s what sets Nutrition for Real Humans apart from a meal kit service or other meal plan service – your meal plan or recipes are not just tailored to your needs, they are tailored for what you want them to do for you!

If you want to reduce your environmental impact and reduce packaging while increasing your protein intake – we can do that!

If you hate garlic, it will be hard for me because I use garlic in everything, but we can avoid it! If you want to reduce your prep time and effort because you are super busy and just need something that will feed your surprisingly picky family – we can do that too!

Watch below if you’d rather listen than read πŸ™‚

Why Realism is Important in Nutrition

Because we live in the real world, not an ideal world.

Bad things happen. Unexpected things happen. We have limitations in our time, motivation, energy, physical strength, knowledge.

Any solutions/goals/steps we plan need to take those very real limitations and roadblocks into account.

If a goal is ideal and perfect but we can’t do it, it won’t help us.

If you want to watch me talk about it, you can watch it here:

I talk about why realism is important in nutrition and how I’m applying realism to running my business.