How can I meal prep and still be an intuitive eater?
Intuitive Eating tells us we should pay attention to our hunger and fullness signals, and decide what we want to eat based on what we truly desire at the time. If this is the case, how can we possibly plan ahead and meal prep, and still eat intuitively? How can we do that if we are being encouraged to think at any time what we want to eat?
It is possible.
If you yourself have read the intuitive eating book, the main one by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, you will know that part of intuitive eating is being practical about your hunger. It’s about planning for times where you’re not necessarily going to be able to be as intuitive as you’d like to be.
For me, this is more about taking away some of the challenges that we face around food. There are a lot of challenges that can come with making meals as and when you want them. As busy people we have jobs, we have families, we have other obstacles that get in our way, which means that we can’t always just in that moment decide what we want to eat and go ahead and cook it.
Sometimes we have to be more practical about it. Sometimes we have to plan ahead because nobody really wants to get home at the end of a busy, stressful day at work and be confronted with a blank canvas of what to eat, what to feed the family, what to cook. It’s no fun, and to have a bit of planning in place can help take some of that challenge away.
Meal prep, in an Intuitive Eating sense, means that you’re able to honour your hunger because you know that there’s something prepared already. You don’t have to be at the point of starving hungry before you are able to eat. If some of the meal prep is done you’re in a much more comfortable place because you can mindfully eat until you’re satisfied rather than eating everything in your path because you’re starving.
Meal prepping can also take the hard work out of getting that meal together in the first place. Do you want to come home at the end of your working day and start peeling potatoes, because I do not. I like cooking when I’ve got time to cook. I do not enjoy coming home at the end of the day and then having to peel potatoes and carrots, and chop this, and chop that.
By having some of the prep done, it makes the process more enjoyable. You’re going to be in a position where you’re likely to cook a meal that is nutritious and enjoyable. Something closer to what you would like to eat, rather than throwing something together. So here are a few ideas for you.
meal prep - planning your week
At the weekend, or on your days off, when you are preparing to do the food shopping, maybe pick a few meals for the week that you will enjoy. You can then plan your food shopping around it, you can have an idea of a list of meals that you can cook through the week.
You don’t have to attach these meals to certain days of ther week. That’s an old dieting thing. I’m not talking about going to that extreme. I’m talking about having a list of meals that you can choose from through the week and know you’ve got the ingredients in the house for them. On each day you will choose which of those meals you would fancy the most, and then that is still intuitively eating. It’s like going to a restaurant and choosing off the menu according to what you want.
Don’t overcomplicate that list. When you’re deciding on the meals for the week, choose things that you’re going to find easy to put together. Don’t challenge yourself with loads of new recipes. This is about taking away the challenges. Have things that you know, and are tried and tested.
meal prep but be flexible
If time is an issue for you have flexibility around your meals. You don’t have to have planned out every meal of every day. Maybe you can just plan out your evening meals and see how the rest of the day takes. Know that you can change your plans too. None of this is set in stone. You have the ingredients, you can do what you want to do with them.
Also, I speak from experience when I say this next bit. Have some backup meals in your cupboards. I say this because I plan out this grand list of five or six or seven meals for the rest of the week, and then I can guarantee by the end of the week at least one of those meals have not been made because I didn’t fancy it, couldn’t be bothered, or didn’t have time. Whatever it was was I’ve chosen not to make all of those meals that I’d originally planned.
So have storecupboard ingredients, like pasta, rice, tins of tomatoes, frozen veg, etc, and then if you don’t fancy the things you’ve planned, you can turn to the good old recipes that you’re used to. The family favourites, or the things you can cobble together in five minutes.
By having these ingredients in the cupboard, you have taken away a challenge. You have put things into place that’s helped you be intuitive about your eating. You’ve made plans for days when you don’t feel up to cooking. That is totally intuitive eating.
mix it up
It’s like you just fall back on the same old, same old, don’t you? You did the food shop, pick up the same ingredients, you make the same meals. There’s always things in your house that your family gets on a regular basis.
This part of my toolkit of meal prepping is having things to make mixing it up easy, like Pinterest boards. Pinterest is fantastic. It’s a great ideas centre. I use it boards that are essentially storage folders for different ideas for meals. I have got a beef board and a chicken board, a pies board and a baking board. I’ve got all these different boards where I collect ideas, and so when I’m having trouble putting a list together of meals that I might make Pinterest is a go to.
And if none of that takes my fancy, I can just have a little search and see what new things come about. It is brilliant for food ideas. If you wanted to mix things up if you wanted to put some new life into your dinner table maybe Pinterest is something that you could use too.
Effectively it’s not physically prepping the food, but it is putting things in place to help you to determine what you’re going to eat. If you have trouble getting inspiration together for what to eat in the week, then this can be one of those things that helps you. So although it’s not strictly food prepping, it is preparing yourself. It is a tool to help you prepare for your meals for the week ahead.
tastes and textures
Have a mixture of tastes and textures on your menu for the week. Even if you’re not planning your evening meals as such, you could buy some things and have them in the cupboard that will give you access to a range of textures, a range of tastes.
Maybe you could have some things in the cupboard that will allow you each day to choose between sweet or savoury for breakfast. For example, if you have oats for breakfast most days, maybe you’ll have some fruit on it, and maybe another day you want something a little bit more savoury so maybe one day you could put some peanut butter into it.
When you are thinking about the food that you’re going to keep in your cupboard to help you have a range of textures, tastes, flavours, sweet, savoury, that sort of thing, make sure you’ve got a nice range of those things, so that you’ve got something there that you can pick and choose between.
That is absolutely intuitive eating and meal prepping, all rolled into one. You are making preparations and you’re planning ahead for seeing what you fancy at any given time. And then when the time comes, you have these things available to you and you can honour what you’re hungry for.
even meal prep your snacks
At the beginning of the week you could put some snacks into little bags or little Tupperware containers, and you can have them to hand. When you’re getting ready to leave the house in the morning, you just have to grab one of those bags or one of those boxes and throw them in your bag. There’s no thinking needed.
Even if you don’t know in the morning what you’re going to want to eat at your snack time, if you’ve picked up something sweet and something savoury, something crunchy and something soft, you know, whatever it is that you might want to choose between, you have options. You can still eat intuitively, but you’ve planned ahead and you’ve made it easy to have something to eat.
full on meal prep
If you’re feeling like you want to do this, and you have time, maybe at the beginning of the week, you go one step further and spend a day doing all your meal prep for the week ahead. If you know that through the week you are going to have very limited time to cook your meals then you can do yourself a favour and prepare some stuff at the beginning of the week, ready for when you get home each day.
For a lot of people meal prepping at the weekend, batch cooking, making up lots of types of food ready for the weekend, that is dieting. So let’s reframe that. If batch cooking is going to bring up those feelings for you, you don’t have to do that, you can simply prep some of the ingredients. You could pre chop veg and put it into bags in the freezer.
Maybe you could chop up the meat that you’re going to put in a pie or a curry. Chopping up the meat and bagging that up into the right size portions ready for the meals, can help save yourself some time on the day.
Maybe you could get together a stew, or casserole. You could put all the ingredients in a bag and then all you have to do is get that bag out the freezer in the morning, throw it in slow cooker, leave it there for when you get home.
It’s all still meal prepping. It’s all still planning ahead. It’s just taking away those challenges that stop us eating the way we want to eat. That meal prep at the weekend doesn’t have to be making six trays of rice and chicken and broccoli. It doesn’t have to be batch cooking one meal, and having 12 of them in new freezer. If you want it to be that it can be, but I find it more helpful to prepare the bases of my meals.
It’s all about what your schedule allows for really.
Things like a theme nights can be brilliant for meal planning too. A very old traditional thing is fish Friday. Also, so many households religiously have a roast dinner on a Sunday. You could do this for yourself. What about tacos Tuesday? Make your days whatever you want them to be.
You could still have variations on that theme each week. So if you had fish Friday, then maybe one week you’ll have salmon maybe the next week you’ll have cod. On a roast, maybe one week you’ll have chicken and another week you’ll have beef. You can still mix it up, you can still have variety, and you can still eat intuitively, but you have some kind of plan ahead of what you’re going to eat on a given day.
Don’t be afraid to outsource meals. Buying in meals is great, it can really help you to get some variety in your diet, and it’s a nice way to have things already prepared, weighed measured for you. So maybe that is something you could try too.
So you see, there are lots of ways that you can do meal prep and still be an intuitive eater. You can still honour your hunger, you can still eat what satisfies you, you’re just taking away some of those challenges that you face when you’re trying to decide what to cook and trying to cut down on the time you spend cooking.
I hope that’s helped throw some ideas your way. This is one of the things we talked about in the group coaching sessions. The beauty of the group coaching sessions is that we get to talk about it, throw ideas in the pot, and have other contributions to the topic. If you would like to get involved, and you would like to have conversation with me and with other people about these sort of things, then the group coaching sessions are fantastic. You can find out more here, on the Group Coaching page.
If you want to know more if you’ve got questions, just drop me a message, and I will be happy to answer whatever you have to ask.