Meal Planning Tips for Intuitive Eating- According to a Holistic Nutritionist

Updated: Aug 27

Meal Planning and Intuitive Eating

Do you ever stare blankly in your refrigerator, with no clue what to cook for dinner? Or come home from a long stressful day at work, the kids are hungry and you're at a complete loss for what to make?

This is the biggest issue I hear as a Holistic Nutritionist! Add on top of that, moving away from the rigid rules of dieting ,and some days you may feel you have no idea WHAT to eat. Well, here is the good news- meal planning CAN be a helpful tool on your Intuitive Eating journey. The key is to do it in a way that promotes more flexibility while still listening to your body.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, based on 10 principles. It was created in 1995 by two dieticians, Evelyn Tribbole and Elyse Resch as a weight inclusive, evidence based model that incorporates a more holistic approach to health and eating. The practice of intuitive eating is letting your body guide you in choosing what, when, and how much to eat. Eating intuitively means sensing the signals from your body to tell you what you need, and trusting yourself to make decisions that will nourish your unique body. Unlike dieting where one relies on external messages or rigid rules to tell you what foods are “good” or “bad,” you take time to become mindful about what foods your body wants, and what feels good to you.

Because a large part of Intuitive Eating is learning to trust your body to make decisions about how to nourish yourself based on what sounds and feels good in the moment, it may seem like intuitive eating and meal planning conflict, but in actuality, they can absolutely compliment one another.

The Difference between Meal Planning and a Meal Plan

When I first began my practice as a holistic nutritionist, one of the biggest requests I received was for a meal plan. A meal plan is something that you can print out and it outlines what, when and how much to eat for each and every day. It's rigid, inflexible, and takes no consideration for what a person actually enjoys eating. And the reality is, no one follows them for very long. Life gets busy, you get bored with the meals, and the fantasy of perfectly following a meal plan every single day, is simply not realistic.

Meal Planning, on the other hand, is more about being prepared. It's flexible planning ahead of time, that takes into consideration foods and recipes you already enjoy, and having them on hand throughout the week. Other benefits of Meal Planning Include:

  • Saving Time: If you already have an idea of what your having for dinner, you'll likely already have the items on hand. No more endlessly scrolling through recipes to find something to make.

  • Saving Money: Remember that all too common scenario of coming home from a long and stressful day with hungry kids? If you already know what your having for dinner, you may be less inclined for last minute take out. Eating out is so much more expensive than preparing meals at home. It also means less food waste because you’ve only bought the items you need to prepare your meals.

  • Reducing Stress: I can't tell you how the question, "what's for dinner?" triggers my anxiety! A little planning ahead can go a long way- and at the end of the day, it's one less decision you have to make.

Meal Planning Tips for Intuitive Eating

Meal planning is an art form. It takes some practice to figure out how to make it work best for you and your unique situation, and reap its benefits.

The first step is to 'Gather & Plan'. This is where it all begins - think of it as building a strong foundation for you to move forward into a week full of delicious, nourishing meals. Once a week, I like to pour myself a cup of tea or coffee and sit down to take a look at the upcoming week. Will there be any late nights where I'll need a quick meal or something planned ahead for the crockpot? Or special occasions, where I would prefer to order out or go out? Then, I search out new recipes or look back at previous favorites I have made before.

Next, I use a few simple tricks to make it easier to come up with meal ideas. For example, I like to go with theme nights. This isn't a hard and fast rule, so I switch it up sometimes if someone's craving something specific, or we're traveling throughout the week. This gives me a great base to build on and helps me look up specific recipe ideas to add to the mix. For example, theme nights might be 'Meatless Monday', 'Taco Tuesday' or 'Fish Friday'. Another helpful reminder, is to avoid making it a meal plan by scheduling out every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. Instead, come up with just 3 or 4 dinners (with the options to leverage leftovers for lunches the next day) and 1 or 2 breakfast options. This provides a general idea of planning for the week, with lots of flexibility. My meal planning platform has this awesome scheduling tool to drag and drop recipes to designated days. It then automatically generates my grocery list- saving me even MORE time!

Meal Plan Like a Pro

Every few weeks, I'll do a quick inventory of my pantry. Having a well-stocked pantry will ensure you have many ingredients you may need and can cross off the grocery list. A little organization goes a long way as well. Take a look in your pantry and take stock of what you already have. I can't tell you how many times I've done this and noticed I had three bottles of stir-fry sauce and about eight shakers of peppercorns. You probably have more than you think, so take a good look in your pantry and see what you already have so you don't buy duplicates.

Planning and Intuitive Eating

Consider a simple 'prep'. If you choose your grocery shopping day on a day you have an hour or two to spare once you get home, you can use this time to wash your produce, chop your veggies, and get ready for the week. If you prefer, you can roast a few pans of veggies to heat up during the week. This helps save so much time if you don't mind warming them up when its dinner time each day. If you prefer freshly cooked foods, you can chop up and keep your veggies in separate containers, so you just need to dump it on your baking sheet and toss them in the oven each night.

Simple Meal Prep

Bonus Meal Prep Tips:

  • Cook once, eat twice. Plan to make double what you would normally make for dinner so you have leftovers for lunches (for adults as well as kids) and/or another dinner. You also have the option to freeze some of the leftovers to use the following week if you prefer.

  • Cook grains, like rice, ahead of time for the week, then refrigerate and use them later in the week (add a little water when reheating). Most grains will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge.

  • Have Freezer Meals on Hand. If you've looked up some freezer meals to prepare, go ahead and portion those out into your freezer bags and freeze them. On the day you're ready to cook it, all you need to do is toss it in the slow cooker and enjoy the aroma until dinner.

  • Be sure to have food defrosted if you’re using any frozen items like meat, chicken, fish, etc. Check what you need for the next day, the night before.

  • Chop your veggies on the weekend or the night before to prep ahead of time and place in storage containers in the fridge. Also, decide which frozen veggies you can use instead of fresh (especially for stews, soups and some crock pot meals).

  • Make any marinades, dressings, spice mixes or sauces in advance to save time on those busier nights.

When it comes to Meal Planning on your intuitive eating journey, simply remember that intention is everything. If you are looking for a way to control your food intake and make sure every meal is 100% planned to a T, then this rigid way of thinking is still diet mentality. But if instead your intention with meal planning is to have simple structure that makes it easy to honor your hunger (because food is always available), and to save time, money and stress, than there is no reason it cannot be a part of your intuitive lifestyle.


Intuitive Eating Nutritionist

Katie Valley is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor whose goal is to dispel the myths of diet culture and reinforce a holistic, health-focused approach to wellness. After her own experience with disordered eating and poor body image, Katie found true healing by practicing Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance.

Now she has her own practice, Katie Valley Wellness, where she helps women who feel out of control around food learn to eat intuitively, pursue TRUE health, & feel confident in their own body.

She is now booking new clients of 2022. Apply here.