Automate Your Meal Planning Strategy

Growing up, I was taught there are good and bad foods. Foods that I should feel guilty eating, and food that I could shameless eat. You may have been taught a similar mindset…but guess what food is simply food. There is not “good food” or “bad food”, there is just food.
A healthy food mindset eats with the intent to get the right amount of nutrition for your body’s needs. This is done through portions and moderation. I’ve recently been working with a registered dietitian. She has been teaching me about how to give my body the nutrients it needs, and how my beliefs around food can effect the way my body processes it. If am stressed about eating a particular food because I feel guilty, or it negatively effected me in the past, that food can effect my body negatively again. This idea does not over ride the fact of an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity to a particular food, but it can contribute to the body’s anxiety when that food is presented.
Rewinding a couple years, I want to give you some background into how the intentionality of my food story came about.  In 2013, I was at one of the lowest points with my health. I was seeing numerous doctors and having all sorts of tests done. They were trying to figure out my chronic pain and rapidly decreasing list of food I was able to eat.
After months of waiting and seeking answers, I was diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome). The doctor didn’t have many solutions after the diagnosis, so I decided to continue my journey by seeking out a natural path doctor.
Coming up on a 1.5 years after my diagnose, I found a doctor to help me continue my journey. The natural path doctor recommended a grain, dairy, soy free challenge diet as a way to narrow down the bothersome foods. It worked! I saw tremendous improvement even within the first week. The food and medical testing continued as other conditions and symptom foods were ruled out. I slowly continued to improve, but the understanding of my situation was still that it “could only be managed and was incurable”. I knew there had to be a better answer.
After tons of my own research along the way, I sought out a registered dietitian. She was the first medical professional in my journey to give me hope about my situation. She was the first to explain my condition in a way that I had never heard before. IBS is a condition where someone has nerves that are hyper-sensitive and reactive faster then average person’s nervous system. There is a main nervous system, the enteric nervous system, that runs from your brain to your gut. The way a person processes stress, views of the world, and handles daily life situations can greatly effect how your digestive system is functioning. For me, this was a huge epiphany in my story! You can reprogram your brain (see research by Dr. Carolyn Leaf) which means that you can do the same for how your brain is talking to your gut. It also means, that your body can slowly begin to heal in every aspect. God created our bodies to heal.
If food has been a stress point in your life, or if you’re running from one thing to the next in your day, below are ideas that I’ve implemented to have a plan around meals. Dietary restrictions may change the type of foods you have on your list, but this process can work if you put the effort in to crafting it to fit your life situations.
Consistency
Create a process for meal prep and for deciding what meals to make. Write out your typical schedule for the week. Then look at the pockets of time you have that are open or times that meals need to happen. When could you plan time for food prep? This usually takes longer then you think. Be sure to add a little extra time, so you don’t have to rush through the preparation. Could you make some of food on the weekends so you can pull it out of the freezer during the week? Be creative with how you batch your cooking. Could you make a little extra spaghetti sauce one night and freeze half of it? Wha-la! You have part of a second meal ready to go with the effort of only one. How does grocery shopping happen in your household? Plan out how/when you plan to pick up fresh foods that get purchased every week.
Automate
Automating is similar to being consistent, however it’s more about having a plan that you can go to so you are not having to reinvent your process every time you need to make a meal. My husband and I do this by having a themed meal each night of the week (example: Wednesday is Taco night). The food could look different depending on the ingredients or how you want to change it up, but it allows you the choice.
Master List
Write out the list of most popular meals that your household enjoys. You’d be surprised how this last can add up pretty quickly. Then also write out the ingredients that are needed to make those meals happen. If you feel stuck one evening, or need some variety in your automated week, you can have this list to refer to. Break the list out by breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, and desserts. If you want to take it another step farther, you could break the list down by meals that can prepared in under 30 minutes and those that need 30+ minutes to make.
Staple Foods
Your staple foods are those items that you use on a weekly basis. Write out a list of these items that you need to keep stocked in your cupboards. Depending on the item, you can restock it when there between 1-5 items left on your shelf.
Have fun with it!
Take time to enjoy making meals. For me, I’m not a cooking enthusiast. I have found that I enjoy making food look pretty though – whether it’s by the dish, arrangement, or preparation method. Find out what that “thing” is for you. Allow your self time, maybe it’s once a month, to experiment with new recipes. Or if you have extra time, it may be more often.
Whether you have dietary restrictions or are just trying to create a method for this life necessity of making food, these tips can help bring some structure to your week. Allow yourself the mind space to have fun with food outside of the time constraints of daily life.
I am not a registered dietitian or doctor. The contents of this blog post are from my own experiences and opinion. 
Question: How do you like to have fun with making food? Share your comments below!
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Rachael
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These are some great tips! We need to seriously revamp our dinner menu, and I think that writing down some sure meals that everyone in our house enjoys will make things a lot easier!

Willow | The Gratitude Log
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So fantastically said. The body can and often times does heal itself, sometimes it’s just how we come at it that’s standing in our way. And I love your tips on meal prepping! I have been a long-time foodie and cook from scratch often, but prepping has NEVER been my strongsuit (I’ve only recently begun trying to batch meals on the weekends, and wow… time saver). I love the idea of automating, too, because it takes out the whole, “uh, so we made it through last week, now what are we gonna do this week?” question. Thanks for the advice!