When it comes to meal planning or better, healthy menu planning, most people get lost in a sea of websites, recipes, cookbooks and a general sense of being completely overwhelmed trying to figure out how to put it all together.
It can be especially daunting when you’re trying to turn over a new leaf and get your nutritional act together at the dinner table night after night. Making a shift like this isn’t as easy as you think it might be, or should be.
I get it–it’s a lot. And menu planning is exactly what I have based my career on. I’ve been planning menus, writing recipes, cookbooks, and creating healthy meal plans professionally for 19 years!
The All-Important Step One for Successful Menu Planning
To get from the place of being completely overwhelmed to menu planning nirvana when it all comes together for you with a clean eating meal plan you can live with, you have to start with your own definition of what constitutes healthy.
It’s a critical component to menu planning. If you skip that step, you will most certainly be sucked into the menu planning abyss of being lost and confused and totally overwhelmed.
That is a big differentiator that I think gets forgotten about. You have to do your own research to determine the right path for you and your family and not become a lemming of some nutritional guru out there (or well meaning friend) who is promising you the world when you know in your heart of hearts, that your family is going to hate it.
For example, I have a Dinner Answers customer who wrote me about the following scenario–I’m distilling her email to me (probably one of the longest emails I’ve ever received) and rewriting it to capture the essence, not quoting directly and not mentioning the diet she felt pressured to try. See if you can relate–
“I was a Dinner Answers subscriber a few years ago and it was because of Dinner Answers that I learned to cook so I want to thank you for that first and foremost. Second, will you take me back? I’ve strayed from the flock and need you now more than ever.
Let me explain–I had a friend who recently started eating ____________ and told me it would change my life. I checked out the (multitude) of articles she sent me but still didn’t feel like it was for me. Plus I knew my family would hate it and the last thing in the world I wanted to do was cook two different meals night after night.
But she was insistent that I needed to try this. She swore this new way of eating is what she served her family and everyone loooooved it, no complaints, it was a gift from heaven above.
Hesitancy and going all in are not good bedfellows but here I was, saying I was going to do this even though I knew it wouldn’t work. Why do we do that to ourselves?
Still, I did it and I regretted it and here I am asking you to take me back!”
My answer to her was of course was I’ll “take you back” (LOL) and wow, that’s an accurate assessment of what happens in that great big world out there.
There is pressure; this is what so and so is doing and even though you don’t feel that it’s a good fit. All your friends say this is what you should be doing and they’re all getting great results; losing weight, kids think it’s terrific, they all feel GREAT. They pass you articles from the internet touting the guru, the diet, this new way of life.
You feel the pressure to comply. Just like the woman who wrote the email, you make the jump and go all in. You buy the food, spend the time cooking it and feed it to your family who rebel and turn on you; a mutinous bunch of pirates threatening to make you walk the plank.
It’s usually an expensive mistake–food ends up not getting eaten and thrown out. Feelings are hurt, a lot of effort went into a whole lot of nothing.
And I know this happens more than with just my penpal above. She’s not the only one I’ve helped pick up the pieces from an ill advised diet. A lot of these poor people who’ve all but thrown in the towel on menu planning out of sheer frustration, end up going right back to where they were before–feeling like they’re missing out, hating that they’re stuck in a rut and wanting a new way, but one that works for them.
To define your own style of healthy meal planning, it’s a good idea to look at the different styles of eating to see if you can find a fit, one that works for you, not one your neighbor insists is the “right way”.
Paleo vs Auto Immune Meal Planning
For some that might mean paleo meal planning because they’re looking for an anti-inflammatory plan without all the grains and dairy because of known food sensitivities or allergies with a family member. Other folks are looking for more specific plans, like AIP meal planning (Auto Immune Protocol) to help with health issues they’ve had including autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and more. An AIP approach can be a real game changer for people faced with health challenges.
Keto vs Paleo Menu Planning
Keto meal planning is still hot and a huge topic with a variety of ways to reaching keto heaven. As you can imagine, there are experts galore out there that will have you peeing on sticks to see if you’re in ketosis or doing blood sticks on your tender little fingers to test your blood for ketosis, have you mapping out your macros and such on a phone app and essentially, giving yourself a part time job to manage this new state of ketosis.
Besides all the work that goes into achieving ketosis, I’ve got a few reservations on the way the diet itself is approached (too much dairy which can be really inflammatory and slow weight loss). It’s because of that that we created our own clean eating version called the Hot Melt Diet.
Paleo vs keto for example is a huge topic–and there are purists on both sides. I look at it from a different perspective, and ask the question, what feels best to you? For example, you can be paleo and eat keto and you can be keto and eat paleo–it’s simply a matter of adjusting how much protein you eat (you eat a little less with keto) and how much healthy fat you eat (keto will have more fat than paleo) and both ways of eating can merge–simply dump the dairy and the grains and you can play in both “food camps”.
If you’re trying to get into ketosis however, you’re going to want to stay strictly keto and restrict the carbs from all sources (including the healthy sources of carbs like winter squashes, fruits and sweet potatoes, all permissible in a paleo diet).
Just recently, the U.S. News and World Report ranked the tried-and-true Mediterranean Diet as the top diet to pursue for this year.
The Mediterranean Diet Is Popular Again
The Mediterranean Diet comes from native diets in the region (Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain) in the 1940’s and 1950’s before fast food and a lot of other cultures invaded the area. It’s a traditional, old-ways style of eating that according many, defines heart healthy and clean eating.
There’s no distinct plan per se for the Mediterranean Diet–just google it and you’ll find a lot of interpretations.
It’s easy to understand why it’s been given such a high honor–the Mediterranean Diet is based on lots of veggies of all kinds, olive oil, nuts, beans, legumes, avocados, fish and chicken, beef on occasion and yes, a little bit of wine.
The American Heart Association (AHA) talks about the diet on it’s website, acknowledging the Mediterranean Diet’s statistics for lower rates of heart disease and deaths in the region for those following the diet. However, on their website, they’re reluctant to put their seal of approval on it. “We need more studies to find out whether the diet itself or other lifestyle factors account for the lower deaths from heart disease.”
Healthy Eating is Healthy Menu Planning
Most people however, are just looking for for healthy menu planning; food that offers family-friendly recipes and food the whole family will eat. And while that term, family-friendly, is always going to be subjective (I mean, what really constitutes “family-friendly” anyway?), the keyword is always going to be customization.
When you have the ability to customize your meal plan according to what your family will eat AND you are able to put it into a framework of “healthy”, you’re on your way to making it all work.
Meal planning or menu planning as I prefer to call it–meals imply one meal at a time while menus imply a plan, so much different–is a journey in wellness that we all need to pursue on purpose. We cannot menu plan on default, it doesn’t work.
And while there’s a question for everyone on what constitutes a “healthy diet” as we discussed here, there’s a lot of room to find out for yourself.
Remember this, it’s not about what some guru deems as “healthy” that should determine your menu planning path; it’s about deciding for yourself what defines a healthy menu plan for you and your family.
Pumpkins are all over the place right now. Readily available across most of North America, pumpkins have become a symbol of autumn and have a starring role in desserts, soups and loaves this time of year.
But these gorgeous orange orbs are much more than just a pretty face.
Pumpkins, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are chock full of carotenoids. Carotenoids are famous for protecting our eyes, but they can also prevent premature signs of aging, and they help us ward off disease, too.
Pumpkin flesh is rich in vitamin C which can protect against cancer, vitamin A which can boost immunity, magnesium for healthy teeth and bones, zinc which supports bone density and potassium which can prevent cardiovascular diseases.
That pumpkin is going to be an excellent source of dietary fiber which helps keep us regular! This fiber, of course, also leads to healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Pumpkins act as natural diuretics, meaning they flush toxins out of our bodies, and their L-tryptophans help to relieve depression.
And don’t forget about those pumpkin seeds!
One quarter cup serving of pumpkin seeds gives you just about 75% of the manganese you need in a full day, as well as half your recommended daily intake of magnesium as well as phosphorous, copper, protein, iron and zinc. Pumpkin seeds promote prostate health, ease symptoms of arthritis and can even protect your bone density.
Before you go out and start eating your yard decorations, remember that some pumpkins are meant for eating and some are only grown for ornamental purposes.
If you have a good supply of organic pumpkins, you should buy as much as you can fit in your freezer for the winter. The canned stuff really just doesn’t compare at all to the real thing!
In life, it’s the little things that count. Not the great big momentous occasions, but the daily moments that all strung together, make up your own personal circle of life. We cannot measure the quality of our lives by the big events like birthday celebrations, weddings, baptisms and graduations. It’s the day-to-day stuff that makes up your life.
This is also true with eating. It’s not just the big meal occasions—dinner out, Thanksgiving, birthday cake and such. Becoming a healthy eater has everything to do with daily decision making over what will go in your mouth, rather than worrying about a special occasion (I say, splurge and enjoy it! The next day, do penance and throw in a little extra exercise and pare a few calories off your daily intake for the next few days.)
But it’s those daily decisions that count; to choose not to drive thru and wait an extra 15 minutes to get home to real food. It’s choosing fruit over donuts; water over soda and not to have that bowl of ice cream watching TV. Those are the little decisions that matter much more so than eating an extra piece of pie at Thanksgiving. Yeah, overindulging is hard on your body and we talk about being “Thanksgiving full” as the ultimate test of fullness, but the daily awareness of what you put in your body is what the definitive cause and effect of how your body looks, feels and operates.
Sometimes it’s easy (like the above example of fruit over donuts). Other times, it’s harder to know what to do. Here are some easy swaps to help you to save calories, your health and your sanity, too, so you know that what you’re doing will make a difference!
Instead of a blueberry muffin (which, let’s be honest, is really a cupcake with blueberries in it!) have a cup of Greek yogurt with 1/2 a cup of blueberries stirred in. Save yourself 249 calories (and some considerable carbs!).
Instead of a 2 slices of whole wheat bread, have 1 Orowheat Sandwich Round (whole wheat also), saving yourself 140 calories!
Instead of 1 cup of white rice, have 1/2 cup of brown rice mixed with chopped steamed broccoli. You’ve just saved yourself nearly 100 calories (and ratcheted up the fiber count, too!).
Instead of a pork chop, go for an equal serving of pork tenderloin and save yourself 50 calories (plus a lot of fat grams!).
It’s not that difficult to make a big difference a little bit at a time. Awareness counts as much as calories do. Keep that in mind as you hit the grocery store this week!
Our Dinner Answers menu planner allows you to completely personalize your grocery list and do your grocery shopping from your PHONE! Check it out!
One of my favorite pastimes is cooking with my children. Do you have kids? If you do, I want to heavily recommend that you teach them the joys of the kitchen while they’re still young and look up at you like a superhero that has all the answers. Teaching your children how to cook is more than a rite of passage; it’s just plain fun. To me, the kitchen is like a magical land that can create a special type of community and intimacy with the simple act of making a meal.
There are some little things you should look out for when you start to integrate your children into the cooking world: the basic do’s and don’ts.
DO assign simple tasks. When starting out, show them how to wash veggies, how to stir sauces to not let the sides burn, how to scramble eggs, etc.
DON’T let your child use a knife and cutting board without supervision and being taught proper technique.
DO give them a bit more responsibility as they show they understand. Show them basic vegetable cutting, but once you pass that knife from your hand to theirs, watch them like a hawk. (younger ones can use pumpkin carving knives safely, so save yours!)
DON’T let your child remove anything from the oven. But explain how it’s done as you do it; this way, when it’s time, they’ll be ready.
DO explain how when you’re using a pot or pan that you need to turn the handle to the side so it’s not sticking out so no one can run into it or accidentally knock it over.
DON’T allow them to handle meat until they’ve had a couple seasoned years under your training, but explain the safety issues and demonstrate thorough hand washing after you touch it.
ALWAYS let them sneak tastes of their labor in the kitchen. One of my favorite things about cooking is that I get to taste along the way, and I can guarantee that it’ll be a favorite among your children as well.
Well folks, there you have it! Show your children what a kitchen is and how to use it. My daughter is a college graduate now and she tells me all the time how surprised she is that hardly anyone her age knows how to cook. Regardless, your children are going to love learning this new skill! For them, it’s like finally getting to know the secret behind a magic trick. Have FUN!!
One of the biggest issues facing anyone who is trying to get their weight under control, is dealing with those endless cravings.
Most of the time, it’s sugar–yes, sugar. EVEN if it’s not a craving for something sweet.
You see, carb cravings and sugar cravings go hand in hand. They are BFFs and are out to destroy any willpower you may have.
And you and I both know, that if you can’t get those cravings handled, well…what’s the point of even trying? It’s brutal!
That’s why it’s so important to understand the underlying hormonal issue–specifically leptin.
Leptin is often called the “obesity hormone” and sometimes, the “starvation hormone.”
Known as the master hormone for regulating body weight, it is produced by the body’s fat cells.
Leptin resistance can occur when your body has too much adipose tissue—a nice way for saying if you’re overweight, there’s a good chance that your leptin levels are out of whack.
And the more overweight you are, the greater the chance. That means your body becomes unresponsive to leptin’s hormonal message of satiety and lessened appetite.
Weight loss becomes nearly impossible with these two factors in play.
Research shows that leptin levels diminish by about 50% when beginning a healthy diet. In some individuals, it can continue to dwindle.
The answer to this is simple: you have to reset your leptin!
To do this, the smart money is on supplementing with Lepti-Fix and CraveCrusher, this combination is a lethal weapon against the war on cravings.
CraveCrusher 2.0 contains key amino acids to support the brain’s biosynthesis of the neurotransmitters involved in appetite control and carbohydrate cravings. As a bonus, it boosts mood as well.
The secret sauce is in that combo: 5-HTP, DL-Phenylalanine, L-Tyrosine, L-Glutamine and Chromium.
When you add in the Lepti-Fix, you’ve got a powerful duo working together synergistically to help regulate blood glucose levels that are responsible for carb cravings.
Together, these two supplements help to bring appetites under control and stimulate satiety; super important.
I’m going to bet you money that you have never binged on broccoli or kale.
And I’m further going to bet that your cravings have little to do with vegetables.
That’s why I’m in LOVE with Just Juiced Vegetables–it’s one of my FAVORITE things!
Being able to get 5-7 servings in a simple scoop of this tasty supplement in your smoothie every morning, helps you become the very best you can be.
Or you can even drink it alone by itself!
That’s right–ONE scoop equals 5-7 servings for fruit and veggies, wow!!
Here’s the thing, 87% of people in the US don’t meet the recommendations for fruit consumption and a whopping 91% don’t meet the recommendations for vegetable consumption!
That’s a serious, health crisis-level issue.
Researchers from UCLA report that people who eat 7 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily were 42% less likely to die from any cause compared to those who ate less than a serving.
Just Juiced Veggies will help you achieve your goal of getting more veggies and fruit into your life—without juicing! And unlike juicing, Just Juiced Veggies has 4 grams of fiber and provides digestive support with probiotic and digestive enzymes.
Add to that the phytochemical sulforaphane derived from broccoli seeds, “the missing link” to good health according to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the long lasting antioxidant power of Just Juiced Veggies is stunning and truly a must-have supplement.
And THAT is why Just Juiced Vegetables is one of my most favorite things!