Meal planning is one of several tools I personally use as a dietitian and with my clients to keep them on track with their health and nutrition goals. It’s a simple system, yet it can be overwhelming to start. I get it!
What Is Meal Planning
Meal planning is a system (there are many ways to do it) where you prepare meals in advance for the week ahead. I developed one of the leading and first dietitian-approved and dietitian-created programs called the Master Meal Planning program years ago, and we’ve helped thousands make cooking and healthy eating simple.
I wanted to share some lessons from our program and how you can apply it to your life during a busy holiday season and develop the skills and expertise to successfully meal plan for life!
Cooking for your health
You know all those amazing food blogs out there, the dozen Pinterest boards you have created or recipes bookmarked or stacks of cookbooks in the kitchen? Well, how many of those recipes have you actually made? And on top of that, do you try to make new recipes every day of the week?
I’m guilty of this too. I have so many Pinterest boards and recipes bookmarked, yet never seem to plan ahead to make them.
My guess is most likely you’re not making those recipes every week, and if you did, that would actually be a lot of cooking! A lot of time, energy, and money cooking new recipes each day, all the time. Trust me, that was my first experience with meal planning before I found out that it didn’t work for me, my schedule, or my budget.
It wasn’t just me who found challenges following meal planning frameworks like this — I’ve had clients and friends fail at meal planning before too. What I kept finding, it was because they had a hard time sticking to it, it felt like an all or nothing process, they felt like they did it “wrong” or had the pressure to do it perfectly every time, and it didn’t get the result they wanted — to feel great and support their long-term health habits!
I know, it’s easier said than done. It can be overwhelming too, especially with the world of food and nutrition blogs — most of those stunning recipes you see online or on social media are created by people to get more likes, more pins, more blog traffic and are developed by people who don’t have an education or knowledge in nutrition, health, or science to make those recipes for your long-term health in mind.
Yes, they look stunning. They might make you feel inspired, and that is amazing! But I’ve had so many clients who make recipes only to find they either are loaded with sugar, lacking whole foods, or don’t turn out like the recipe is supposed to leaving them frustrated.
Most of those recipes aren’t designed to be healthy for you long-term. As a Dietitian, all my recipes since 2013 have always been curated and purposefully developed to cultivate a healthier relationship to food while nourishing your body! All our recipes use nutrient-dense ingredients and in ways that make sense for the body to better absorb and utilize the nutrients.
Sometimes we add fancy things in there to switch it up, but at its core, it’s really simple whole food.
Reducing food waste
A staggering statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the amount of waste produced during the holiday is often shared this time of year.
The original 2006 report, though outdated now, warns us that the US usually increases 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to 1 million tons. (1) It’s great to see an increase in awareness over the past decade since the holidays can easily be a time of excess of food preparation, paper, and packaging materials for all of us!
It’s not just around the holidays either. It’s something we can all work to improve year-round. There are many ways we can actively and consciously reduce food waste, but a simple strategy is meal planning.
Reducing food waste could look like purchasing less food each week because you have a pantry stocked with bulk items, making the food you purchase each week more efficient. Efficient in the manner that you’ll consume it all before the end of the week because you have a plan to follow and portions planned ahead of time (i.e. meal planning!).
What Are Rotations?
Onto the meal planning tip that reduces food waste! A rotation is a week’s worth of 3-5 recipes you use for one week, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner then switch it out the following week and repeat.
This concept can not only help you focus on just making a couple key recipes a week, but it will also help to make healthy eating so simple and ensure that you’re nourishing your body with nutrient-dense recipes, especially if those are NS recipes which are all created with your health in mind!
For example, let’s say you have an oatmeal porridge recipe for breakfast and you eat that daily for one week, you’ll have peace of mind knowing breakfast is already taken care of and figured out! The same with your lunch and dinner.
If you think you’ll get bored eating this way, trust me, you won’t! There are so many small tweaks you’ll learn in our next class, that’ll give variety in the simplest of ways to every meal you have. Not only that, remember that you’re switching up the recipes again in a matter of days!
Using rotations not only reduces the stress about thinking of what recipes to make, but it also saves you money because you’re purchasing only the food you need for those recipes.
Rotations also encourage you to add variety to your diet from week to week which increases the nutrient-density and nutrient-variety you’ll eat in the span of a month!
And if you have all those recipes bookmarked, cookbooks and Pinterest boards full of recipes you want to try, using rotations can also be a helpful tool for you to get organized and start chipping away at your recipe bucket list by adding one of those recipes in your rotations a week.
Recipes To Try Using Rotations
Meal Planning Can Be Simple
If you’re interested in learning how to meal plan, in a simple and healthy way, then check out my free 4-class series on meal planning — it’s a free video course with printable materials for you to use in real life! Think of it as a mini-coaching session with me, your personal nutritionist teaching you about meal planning.
And if you want even more articles to read about meal planning, I think you’ll love this one on staying inspired by adding variety to meal planning, why the weekend can be the best time to meal plan, and 5 tips to make meal planning work for you.
A rotation is a week’s worth of 3-5 recipes you use for one week, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner then switch it out the following week and repeat!
With only 5 ingredients, it’s with cooked sweet potato and cinnamon, with an optional addition of your favorite vanilla protein powder. Despite the uniqueness, the cooked sweet potato is creamy and smooth when blended with almond butter and almond milk!
Sweet potatoes are really the star of this recipe, and here’s why: they’re an incredible source of vitamin A. They’re starchy, sweet and filling. Just 1 cup has 7g fiber, 4g protein, and 40g rich carbohydrates. They’re my favorite root vegetable, hands down.
If you make this smoothie, I want to see how it turns out! Submit your photo directly on this post in the comments section below, and share on Instagram by tagging @nutritionstripped #nutritionstripped. Happy blending!
We go to Asheville, North Carolina at least once a year to go hiking, eat the amazing food, and it’s a quick (and beautiful) drive from Nashville.
When we’re there, we always make a stop at White Duck Taco. I typically order the same thing, including Bahn Mi Tofu Tacos which are so delicious — so much so that I had to attempt to make them at home so we could enjoy them anytime!
Honestly, this slaw is so good you could eat it as a salad. First up, an important part of Bahn Mi is the pickled vegetables (carrots and radishes) — they add a crunch with a slightly tangy and slightly sweet flavor that only pickles can give.
To top it off, pun intended, is the slaw with thinly sliced red cabbage, fresh cilantro, fresh lime juice, a little drizzle of olive oil, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce. Toss to combine and you have a delicious cabbage slaw.
Typically this recipe is served with a toasted baguette, but we’re using corn tortillas with this Bahn Mi Tofu Taco recipe. You could also make this entire recipe, sans tortillas, and put it on a bed of cooked quinoa, rice, or greens if you’re not into the taco.
I know, tofu isn’t sexy to many of you, but give this one a try! These Bahn Mi Tofu Tacos are a great introduction to this top plant-based protein you should try.
If you’re not into tofu, you can make this recipe with any animal protein you enjoy or cooked lentils. The sauce in this recipe is delicious and can easily translate into any other protein you enjoy.
With the holiday season, which can be one of the busiest and the most stressful times of year for most people. Learn the foods for mental health and the nutrients that play a key role in mental health.
What Does Mental Health Mean?
If you ask people what mental health means to them or how they would define it, it’s likely you will get a variety of answers.
According to mentalhealth.gov, mental health is defined as “an emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”
According to WHO, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (1)
Fueling The Brain
If you think of your body like a machine or a car, it’ll run best with premium fuel (i.e. nutrient-dense food). The brain like our other organs, requires enough vitamins, minerals, antioxidants (that protect from oxidative stress).
A diet rich in refined sugars or a general lack of nutrients can create a less favorable environment for stable moods and general mental health, not to mention a diet that lacks proper nutrition can cause inflammation and impair overall brain function.
The ~ Good Mood Food ~ Checklist
Foods for mental health are items you probably already have in your kitchen!
Coffee, the main source of caffeine we consume, has many health benefits. But with people who have anxiety or depression, caffeine in excess may make those symptoms or feelings worse, depending on your unique metabolism of caffeine.
Caffeine from coffee is a stimulant and great for post-workout for some individuals, but on the other hand, if you suffer from anxiety or are living with high stress, coffee isn’t for you.
On the flip side, caffeine has also been shown to help decrease depression and symptoms of anxiety, although those studied were probably “fast metabolizers” and not your average person. If you struggle with depression or tend towards anxiety, try cutting down on coffee and see if you notice a difference in the way you feel. (2)
Whether these are gluten-free grains or whole grains, both are great sources of carbohydrates, which our body breaks down into glucose. Glucose is the primary energy source of the brain — i.e. the brain loves to thrive on glucose and uses it up quickly for all the processes it’s responsible for!
Not all carbohydrates are creating equal, try to consume more whole grains or whole food carbohydrates which are better sources of fiber and nutrients. The fiber in whole grain carbohydrates will reduce the blood sugar spikes in comparison to simple sugars like the ones found in processed sweets, sugary beverages, and candies.
Whole grains are also good sources of a variety of nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, and more.
A study on the Mediterranean diet, which is a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil, with a fish oil supplement, led to a decrease in depression of the study participants which was maintained six months after the study. (3)
This was also the case in the participants in the SMILES trial, which showed after 12 weeks of eating a Mediterranean diet, clinically depressed people had a reduction in depression. (4)
Dark leafy greens
Vegetables including dark leafy greens are great foods for mental health because they’re rich in antioxidants, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Including vitamin K, C, A, beta-carotene, calcium, B vitamins, potassium, and much more.
Gut Health and Mental Health
From the gut-brain connection, vagus nerve, and key hormone production like serotonin that happens in the digestive tract, it’s no wonder paying close attention to gut health is key.
The gut-brain connection
These microbes help direct the traffic flow along the connection between our gut and our brain. This direct connection, known as “the gut-brain connection”, makes up two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract. The cells run all the way from your esophagus to your rectum via the vagus nerve. Emerging research continues to show us how the gut directly influences human physiology, metabolism, and immune function.
Changing the gut flora could directly affect anxiety and cognition. (6) This is just another reason we should be consuming a diet rich in whole foods, which include fiber and the “food” or prebiotics for the good bacteria in our digestive system.
Serotonin plays many roles in our body, especially in stabilizing moods, sleep, appetite, and digestion. Remember the relationship between tryptophan and serotonin? 90% of the important brain neurotransmitter serotonin, that can affect mood, digestion, and health is produced in the gut. Certain bacteria found the gut play a large part in producing the serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have also been linked to IBS, heart disease and osteoporosis. (7)
The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion, such as feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy can trigger symptoms in the gut. (8) The gut-brain connection goes both ways; stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress and/or depression. (9)
The Art Of Food In Mental Health
Outside the scope of science, there’s also a part of this puzzle that can’t be ignored, that’s the subjective — i.e. the unique experiences you feel when eating foods. Call it comfort food, the enjoyment factor, or just meals you enjoy that bring you joy.
The beautiful thing about nutrition and health is that it’s completely unique to you. Yes, there’s research and studies that will show what we know about XYZ topic and how it impacts that group being studied, but it still comes down to your individual makeup. Always use science and evidence-based research as the backbone, but don’t forget to make sure it works for you individually.
Think about a homecooked meal you grew up on, that always cultivates a sense of hygge (i.e. coziness), maybe that’s moms chicken soup or your best friends pasta dish. Those are foods that can cause a little mental and emotional boost during times where you’re searching for a connection.
Finding a sense of connection and hygge in meals can be part of a healthy relationship with food — it becomes an unhealthy relationship with food when you’re solely relying on food to comfort, calm, or connect you to others. Just like anything else in health, it’s multifaceted and every pillar plays a role in the complete package we call health.
All of our diets, lifestyles, internal and external factors can impact our mental health in different ways — the key is finding what works for you through trial and error and professional guidance if needed to help cultivate a healthy relationship with food.
We know that a diet rich in whole foods, especially rich in nutrients like omega-3 fats, vitamin D, fiber, lean protein, probiotic-rich foods, and folic acid can make a positive impact in our mental health. (10) Also, make sure you’re eating enough is just as important and often overlooked
What are your experiences with using food to help improve your mental and emotional health? What other lifestyle changes have you made to help support your mental health? If you’re looking for more articles on mental health, check out about burnout, foods that help with burnout, social media detox, manage stress like a pro, and other ways to stay mindful each day.
If You Need Help, Talk About It.
We all need help — I’ll be the first to happily, loudly, and proudly share that what gets me through anxiety is speaking with my family, friends, licensed therapist, checking in with my physician regularly, and engaging in other modes of functional medicine that kept me grounded like acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. It takes multiple pillars of health and is a daily practice.
Always remember, that you’re not alone even if it feels like you are and that nothing ever stays constant — we’re always evolving and changing, that’s true for the hard times too.
Growing up in Ohio, we always made peanut butter and thumbprint cookies, it was only a matter of time before a simplified these recipes and attempted to make them with a twist using cashew butter instead.
Inspired by the classic peanut butter cookie made with 3 ingredients, egg, sugar, and peanut butter — and a thumbprint cookie. Except, these cookies use cashew butter for a little bit of different flavor, not as overpowering as peanut butter can be.
In addition to the classic peanut butter cookie recipe, we use a little fresh ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground nutmeg to drive home the holiday flavor. In the center of this healthy thumbprint cookie, is a raspberry jam filling.
You can certainly make the raspberry jam filling homemade, but if you’re looking for some convenience, use your favorite organic raspberry jam. If you’re not a fan of raspberry, swap it out for apricot, strawberry, blackberry, whatever your heart desires!
By the way, if thumbprint cookies aren’t your jam, you can actually make these cookies as is without any filling and they’ll still be delicious.
You can store these Cashew Butter and Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies in the refrigerator for up to one week or freeze them individually wrapped in parchment, for one month.
Need I say more? But seriously, this classic combination of flavors is super satisfying, and beyond simple to whip together. Odds are, you have all of these pantry staples on hand already, so you’re free to enjoy this easy peanut butter banana smoothie whenever the mood strikes!
The star of this recipe is peanut butter, and here’s why: it has protein, potassium, and fiber, making it a nutrient-rich addition to any meal or a tasty snack.
If you make this healthy peanut butter banana smoothie, I want to see how it turns out! Submit your photo directly on this post in the comments section below, and share on Instagram by tagging @nutritionstripped #nutritionstripped. Happy blending!
Is coffee part of your morning routine? Then try adding this non-dairy coffee creamer to the morning mix!
This non-dairy coffee creamer can be made in bulk that will last longer than most store-bought coffee creamers. In addition, it’s made with whole food ingredient powders that are easy to find, easy to make and taste delicious without adding anything artificial.
Store-bought vs. Homemade
Standard store-bought coffee creamers are typically made with various thickeners, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. While some of these ingredients are fine in small amounts, it’s not the best option for overall health for the long-term. Especially if you enjoy a daily cup of coffee with creamer.
This non-dairy coffee creamer is so simple to make. It’s also a good source of healthy fats from the powdered coconut milk, rich in nutrients from both the Fermented Maca Booster Powder and rice bran soluble (i.e. tocotrienols), and tastes delicious with powdered vanilla. Tocos isn’t a must-have in this recipe. However, it does contribute to the mineral content along with the maca, and it helps create a creamy texture.
What’s The Deal With Maca?
We’ve talked about maca before (Superseed Nut Butter, Beautifying Black Bean Brownies, Dragon Fruit Smoothie Bowl), but what exactly is it? Maca (mah-cah) is an adaptogenic root vegetable (from the broccoli family) grown in Peru.
The maca root is ground up into a fine powder that can be used in anything from this coffee creamer recipe to breakfast oatmeal, granola, cereals, desserts, smoothies, and baked goods. The powder can be easily mixed into anything you choose, and the best part is that you don’t need a large volume to get the desired taste or nutritional benefits.
Upon serving you can add a little bit of a sweetener of your choice — I recommend a small amount of honey or maple syrup to taste. This homemade non-dairy coffee creamer is delicious and because it’s a powder, it stays fresh much longer than its liquid counterparts.
This time of year, it can be so easy to skip over the salads in favor for the sweet potato casserole or the mac and cheese but challenge yourself to get a good mix of all of those things you love, including a simple green salad.
Additionally, it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough fiber for the day to keep your blood sugars balanced (with the possible influx of holiday food!), and to give your digestion the fiber and bulk it needs to stay regular, which can be a stressor for so many people who travel for the holidays.
What’s So Nutritious About Greens?
Greens are incredibly nutritious and an easy way to add fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your diet.
When it comes to making a simple green salad, there’s really no “wrong” way to make them! You can use whatever dark leafy greens you like combined with seasonal fruit and this simple olive oil and vinegar dressing.
Dark leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamin K, A, C, magnesium, manganese, calcium, and phosphorus. In addition to the micronutrients, dark leafy greens are a great source of fiber, low in fat, and low in protein.
Tryptophan is one of the most popular and well-recognized amino acids particularly around Thanksgiving time as people eat turkey — a whole food source rich in tryptophan. But, is tryptophan the contributing factor to feeling sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal or when eating turkey?
What Is Tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means you need to consume it in order for your body to get enough for all the processes that utilize and depend on amino acids. Nonessential amino acids are those amino acids your body can produce, meaning they’re always available kind of like a well-stocked kitchen or pantry!
Tryptophan comes in two forms, L-tryptophan and D-tryptophan, the differences between these versions is their molecule orientation.
What Does Tryptophan Do?
One of several important things to note about tryptophan is its involvement in hormone production such as melatonin, the neurotransmitter serotonin, and niacin (a B vitamin). Serotonin plays many roles in our body, especially in stabilizing moods, sleep, appetite, and digestion.
So where does all the talk about sleepiness come into play when we talk about turkey at Thanksgiving? It’s most likely the hormone melatonin. Melatonin plays a role in sleep, more specifically our sleep-wake cycle. It’s made in the pineal gland (an endocrine gland in our brain), and it’s released depending on the time of day — increasing in the evening and decreasing in the morning.
The health benefits of consuming enough tryptophan range from stabilizing mood, decreased anxiety and depression, improved sleep quality,
Whole Food Sources Of Tryptophan
Tryptophan can be found in everyday foods that you might already have stocked in your kitchen! Check out these whole food sources below that contain tryptophan per 100g:
- pumpkin seeds contain 576mg which is 206% RDI
- soybeans (soy foods) contains 575mg which is 205% RDI
- poultry (chicken and turkey) contains 404mg which is 144% RDI
- tuna contains 335mg which 120% RDI
- oats contain 335mg which is 120% RDI
- beans contain 115mg which is 41% RDI
- eggs contain 167mg which is 60% RDI
Recipes that contain tryptophan:
So, what if you don’t eat any of these food sources of tryptophan, can it hinder your bodies ability to produce melatonin and serotonin to the optimal function?
In short, yes. Those who have a tryptophan deficiency or lower levels of tryptophan also are at higher risk for mood disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s best to consult with your physician or dietitian to find out if supplementing is the right choice for you, in most cases, it’s not advised. Rather try to increase food variety into your diet that contains this amino acid.
With this supplement, in particular, there is a rare disorder called EMS, that may cause issues with breathing, skin rashes, muscle pain and even death (1). In addition, taking tryptophan will likely interact with other forms of medication that increase serotonin or melatonin since tryptophan helps your body create these.
The more probable reason why people feel so sleepy after eating turkey at a Thanksgiving meal is from all the food! It’s more likely the sleepiness is coming from multiple factors such as drinking alcohol, having a busy (sometimes stressful day for some), and eating a lot of foods that people may normally not.
Not only that, larger portions that include a lot of starches (potatoes, casseroles, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc.) and not a lot of fiber (i.e. veggies!). The larger portions combined with the food components that make up that meal — lots of starches and sugars — can create a blood sugar roller coaster which can also make you feel tired afterward.
If you’re looking for advice on how to get a good nights sleep, check out this article on nighttime routine and sleep.
What are your experiences with feeling sleepy post-Thanksgiving meal? Did you believe this nutrition myth? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience about this and if anything, you’ll have a fun nutrition fact you can share around the table with your family this holiday season!
Fall and winter recipes are some of my personal favorites; they’re often very simple to make especially when it’s a 1-pot recipe, a soup, or a side dish that can transform into an entree just by adding proteins and greens.
This Mango Harvest Wild Rice is just that, it’s hearty, satisfying, has fiber and vitamin C (buh bye cold season), tastes delicious and can be made on your meal prep day for nutritious leftovers all week.
A couple things to keep in mind when you make this recipe that will really change the outcome is to start with great quality ingredients and make sure the mango is ripe — it’s the star ingredient of this recipe!
A quick tip on how to know if a honey mango (also called Ataulfo or Champagne) is ripe (that’s the mango variety I used in this recipe), your nose knows so smell and make sure it’s fragrant. It will also give slightly which means it’s soft inside, and it’ll turn vibrant yellow. Honey mangos skin wrinkles slightly when it’s ripe, so don’t let that deter you from purchasing – it means it’s ready to eat!
As with all our recipes, make the ingredients work for you, if you’re not a fan of pistachios try roasted walnuts for added omega-3 benefits; if you don’t have vegetable stock on hand, use chicken stock.
Most importantly, make this on the weekend so you have a quick lunch by adding this recipe to a handful (or two) of greens or reheat it for dinner as a side dish or an entree by adding protein. The possibilities are endless and can be enjoyed in all seasons!