I recently asked the question "What is the hardest part of meal planning for you?" and instead of following up individually with each person, I decided to type up my responses on here for everyone to see - especially since several answers were the same!
When you think of meal planning you might picture making ALL of your food on Sunday and prepping it in little containers to eat throughout the week. That is NOT how meal planning has to work. If you like doing that and it works for you - then great! BUT for most of us, we don't have the time (or want to use it) to cook food all day on Sunday and then eat the same thing every day.
The balanced approach to meal planning means looking ahead at your week, seeing what all is going on and what needs to be planned around and thinking of a few food ideas that sound good (and hopefully healthy) to you. You could either do this for the entire week OR half the week if you have trouble thinking that far ahead. An example of looking ahead for the week would be: I have an early workout on Mon/Wed/Fri, Tuesday is Trivia Night at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Thursday I have a client lunch, Friday is date night and Sunday is brunch with friends. From this, you can see that you need a quick grab and go breakfast this week, Tuesday and Friday night your dinner will be out, Thursday lunch will be out, and Sunday brunch is out. That leaves you with breakfast for 6 days, lunch for 5 days, and dinner for 5 days. If it were me, I would plan my meals but also have other ingredients on hand for back-ups (Hint: I LOVE cooking once and eating that meal at least twice but always have other options on hand to keep it interesting). My meal plan would look like this for the above scenario:
*bagel with avocado, egg and an orange (x3 meals)
*pumpkin oatmeal (x1 meal - I usually have these ingredients on hand for an easy breakfast option)
*berry smoothie (x1 meal - I usually have these ingredients on hand for an easy breakfast option)
*pbj (x1 meal - I usually have these ingredients on hand for an easy breakfast option)
*pulled chicken sandwich with chips and fruit (x 3 meals - I would also have crackers, tortillas and salad mix available in case I got bored of sandwiches)
*salmon salad with crackers and fruit (x 2 meals - I usually have canned salmon and tuna on hand for an easy lunch option)
*minestrone soup with a roll and fruit (x2 meals - this could be homemade or canned/boxed - low sodium preferred)
*cod with a sweet potato and broccoli (x2 meals - I usually have these ingredients on hand for an easy dinner option)
*steak with baked french fries and a side salad (x1 meal - a fun "splurge meal" to make at home)
*banana and peanut butter (I usually have these available at home as snack options and will switch them up if I get bored)
*trail mix (I usually have these available at home as snack options and will switch them up if I get bored)
*popcorn (I usually have these available at home as snack options and will switch them up if I get bored)
*fruit, chocolate and nuts (I usually have these available at home as snack options and will switch them up if I get bored)
See below to read through the most common meal planning problems and solutions.
#1. "I get bored eating the same foods every day."
You don't have to eat the same foods every day for a meal plan. While it might be easier to make just a few things and eat them for the whole week, another option would be to plan 2-3 different breakfast options, and 3-4 easy lunch and dinner options. If you don't have a ton of time maybe you could just start by making a different dinner 4 days during the week and then eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. That doesn't give you much time to get bored before a new meal for dinner happens!
If you don't want to deal with prepping a bunch of different items, you could also just make a bunch of chicken to cut down on cooking time during the week but use it in different ways for unique meals each day. Also, using the tips from below could be helpful as well!
#2. "It doesn't sound good when it's time to eat it."
Plan your meals for each day but mix and match so you don't have to buy a ton of ingredients AND so you can switch things up if you need to. For example, have a bunch of chicken, lean ground beef and shrimp as your proteins for the week plus a can of tuna and salmon (keep some of the protein frozen and pull it out when you need to cook it so you don't waste food). You can either have it raw and ready to cook as you want it OR each time you cook something, make a lot of it and freeze the extra portions for later.
Select a few different veggies and grains that could be partnered with a few of the proteins in different ways. Again, you could either have these fresh, frozen, or already prepared and ready to go. Some options include: chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, quartered brussels sprouts, sliced mushrooms, diced onions, sliced bell peppers - all things you can cook as stir-fry, sides, pasta dishes, sandwiches, etc. You can also have some fresh ingredients that don't need any cooking too, like tomatoes, green onion, spinach, avocado, carrots, cucumber and herbs. Brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, crackers, bread and beans all are great options that can be mixed with the protein and veggies to complete your meal.
Have different spices and sauces available as well and add them once you are ready to eat them - just the different flavor profiles can change the meal even if it's the same ingredients. If you end up having a bunch of leftover food at the end of the week, reduce what you buy next week, make frittatas, nachos, pizza, salads or omelets to use up what's left and freeze what else you can.
#3. "I don't have enough time."
Meal planning doesn't have to take a ton of time. Think ahead for the week and write down a few different meals that you like eating. You can either grocery shop on Saturday or order your groceries online to be delivered Sunday (this app helps with that). If you want chicken for your lunches during the week, plan for Sunday night to be a chicken dinner and make all of the chicken for the week so you don't have to spend extra time cooking. Freeze some for the end of the week and put the rest in containers for each day.
Choose easy meals that you are familiar with - it doesn't have to be complicated. Cereal and hard boiled eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich with chips and a fruit/veggie for lunch and salmon with a baked potato and broccoli for dinner. The time it takes to make any of these items is much quicker than if you went out to eat (even for fast food).
You could also invest in a slow cooker and throw everything in it that morning so all you have to do is eat it when you get home! Another option is a meal kit or delivery service. This takes the planning and shopping time out and all you have to do is heat up or cook the food delivered to you. Most grocery stores even have meal kit options available now.
Also, your freezer is your friend and so is pre-prepped food from the grocery store - meal planning doesn't mean making every little thing from scratch. Always keep it stocked - even if it's not the "healthiest" foods, it's probably better than going out to eat or grabbing fast food. Check out this post to see what you should keep on hand so you can always whip up a healthy meal in no time - no planning needed!
#4. "It's too expensive."
If you were to add up the amount of money you spend in one week going out to eat, buying drinks/coffee, snacks, etc. you will likely find that it is way more money than shopping for groceries for the week. Produce, whole-grains and most lean proteins are not that expensive plus they actually fill you up and are healthier options.
To be healthy, you don't have to eat complicated, fancy foods. Keep it simple and easy and focus on whole foods.
#5. "I don't know what I should eat."
Start small. Take what you normally do/eat and just add a fruit and vegetable to each meal/snack. Work your way up from there. You can't go wrong with a combination of lean protein + produce + whole-grains + healthy fats.
If you want help with an arsenal of trusted, delicious and healthy recipes you can check out the Prepear app and purchase my Balanced Eating + Workout Plan virtual cookbook or just use any of my recipes!
I have always been active and I have always loved food. I have never "dieted" but I have always tried to eat healthy - especially starting around when I began cross country in high school. It turns out that by trying to watch the types of food I ate while also running several miles a day caused me to not get my period during each cross country season. I didn't think much of it then. I was just trying to be healthy by eating well and exercising.
I used to avoid sugar and anything processed and "unhealthy" at all costs. It was never a weight issue with me - just an obsession with trying to be as healthy as possible. As for my workouts - I never missed one. I always wanted to do more - more strength training, more running, more daily movement...because the more activity the better, right?
When I got married and moved to Maryland I started making everything from scratch to be even healthier. I would write down what I was eating and how many calories everything was and I would try to get the proper amount of nutrients each day - but it became obsessive and made eating stressful for me. I wanted to eat "perfect" so I could be as healthy as possible.
It all changed when we moved to Nashville in 2014. I don't know why but I told myself when we moved that I was over it. I didn't want to count calories or macros or nutrients anymore. I wanted to go out to eat and order what I wanted and not worry about it. I chose to listen to my body and my needs and ended up feeling better than ever. This is when I discovered balance. I realized it was okay to eat processed carbs and sugar in moderation. It was okay to go out to eat and order something special. I started adding in the little things I used to avoid along with my normal healthy diet. So for the last several years I have felt good and have been in a great mindset - I found my balance with food and exercise. Or so I thought.
Enter October 2018. I decided to stop taking my birth control pills with the intention to let my body regulate itself for a few months without hormones before trying to start a family. I had been taking birth control pills for about 10 years and from prior research I knew it could take a few months to adjust. I was excited to get off of them because I always hated that I was taking synthetic hormones. After finally stopping the pills, I lost a few pounds, I had extremely dry skin and hair, my face was breaking out all over, my anxiety was high and I was having problems sleeping. I also didn't get my period.
The next several months tested my patience as it required a lot of waiting. Waiting for appointments, waiting for results, waiting for answers. My gynecologist was not super helpful so I eventually switched to a new one (who is great) and I worked with her and my primary care doctor to figure out what was going on. I had my hormones tested in February and the rest of my blood work was done in August. Everything came back normal. This process was so frustrating because it took me so long to get help and to get answers. I had a feeling what the problem was because of what happened to me during cross country season. All signs were pointing to FHA (a diagnosis of exclusion after making sure there wasn't a bigger issue).
Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (FHA). I never knew I would Google this word so many times.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a condition where your period stops due to increased stress usually due to over-exercising and under-eating. Most women don't realize they have a problem until they stop birth control and then never get their period. It occurs when the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that regulates body processes, slows or stops releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the hormone that starts the menstrual cycle.
Common characteristics of women with hypothalamic amenorrhea include:
The good news is that it can be reversed with lifestyle and behavior changes and you can still get pregnant once you get your period back (or receive fertility treatment). Yes, you DO need to still get a period for your health EVEN if you don't want to get pregnant. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a serious health issue. It can cause bone loss/osteoporosis, dry hair and skin, digestive issues, exhaustion, poor sleep, anxiety and increased risk for long-term diseases.
While for 6 years now I have had a healthy mental attitude towards balancing food - I could see where a new problem might have begun with exercise. Ironically, I was aiming to get as healthy as possible before trying to have a baby. I had been in a great place mentally and didn't feel like I was exercising too much (because I love it) and I felt like I was eating enough (because I sure can put food away) but I guess I was still overdoing it. On top of that, 3 years ago I lost 10 pounds in a month from the stress of buying our newest house and renovating it. I never gained all of that weight back until recently. So that, partnered with increasing my running to be more competitive (I had gone from 2-3 days a week of easy running to 5-6 days a week of intense running + weight training + just being an active person that moves around a lot + the stress of starting my own business) and still having a hard time fitting enough food in for my amount of activity = no period.
I'll be the first to admit, this was depressing and frustrating. I felt defeated because I thought I had been doing well and I was happy with where I was at. Unfortunately the birth control pill masked this symptom so I don't know for how many years my hormones were actually thrown off. It could have just been in the last year or two when I started increasing my activity levels, or it could have been all 10 years on the pill. Whatever it was though, I wish I would have been able to tell earlier so I could have fixed it all sooner. I was angry that I needed to cut back on my exercise. Angry that I needed to eat more (everything I read recommended more carbs and fat and more "unhealthy foods"). Angry that my body wasn't working as it should. Most articles I read said to give up all types of exercise and eat a lot of unhealthy food. That wasn't how I wanted to go about doing this though. Could an "all-in approach" have fixed things sooner? Maybe, but I would have been miserable. I also chose to ignore all other complementary therapies that were recommended (acupuncture, acupressure, special teas/supplements, adaptogens, etc.) I wanted to get to the the heart of the problem: too much physical stress on my body and/or not enough food.
A lot of the research I did led me to see that I probably needed more carbs and should aim for AT LEAST 2500 calories a day (plus more on workout days). I definitely don't restrict carbs or calories at all BUT I realized since I eat gluten-free I always aim to decrease the amount of "unhealthy" gluten-free replacement options I eat. So, starting in April I finally started making changes. Honestly the biggest food changes I have made are: I try to eat a gluten-free bagel for breakfast most days (it was an easy way to get in a few hundred extra carby calories) with coconut oil and on a big activity day I add an egg, avocado and fruit, I eat a bigger afternoon snack (like homemade banana bread with peanut butter) and I just ignore portion sizes and eat what feels right according to my hunger, especially on days when I am more active.
I was probably eating around 2000 calories most days before I made these changes and more on my super intense activity days, but it appears I still didn't come close to what my body was needing for the energy I was spending each day. After the changes I made I would say it now ranges from 2500 - 3500 calories a day (I still don't count calories but I will check in every once in awhile to make sure I am eating enough). I aim to keep 2500 calories as my minimum and then I try to eat around as many calories as I burn depending on the exercise I do - which is still hard when I train for longer races.
For the activity portion of my recovery - I mainly cut back on my running. This was the most frustrating part for me. I don't exercise because I feel like I have to but because I like it! I love running and how it makes me feel, I enjoy running hard and doing well in races. Starting in April I cut back from 5-6 days a week of intense running to 3 days a week (1 day hard, 2 days easy-ish) and 2 days a week of strength training/yoga. I even kept training for a few races and trained well enough that I was able to place in them. In fact I feel like I have been running even better and faster since I haven't been killing myself every day like I was before. I now make sure to take more time off after each race to properly recover too. I also used to "have" to get to 10,00 steps each day - so I got rid of my Fitbit watch.
It's interesting because looking back now I can see that I was being a little too intense with my workouts, yet at the time I just felt like I was being a good, competitive runner. I am now picking this up from others doing the same thing around me and I get it...it is easy to get pulled into the thought that more is better. Guess what though? It's not. Recovery and balance are everything. I think I even went through the 5 stages of grief through this whole process. Denial: I didn't think that I was exercising too much. Anger: I didn't want to stop competing, I loved it. Bargaining: I thought if maybe I only starting eating more but continued running just as much it would still come back. Depression: I felt like I lost my identity by forcing myself to eat more and run less and I did not like how it made me feel. Acceptance: I realized running less and eating more wasn't such a bad thing and I was starting to feel even better and healthier.
It took 6 months for me to figure out something was wrong and to start making changes when I realized what the problem was. It took another 6 months of implementing these consistent changes to finally see results. After a full year of not having my period after stopping birth control - I finally got my first period again in October 2019 and have been having it regularly ever since (just kind of long cycles - 40ish days or so)! After 6 months of less running and more eating I gained about 5 pounds and I am back at the weight that my body has always been comfortable with.
While I was annoyed with the food portion of this recovery, the hardest part has definitely been the cutting back on exercise part, but I am finally at a spot where I feel good with what I am doing. I just have to hold myself back from continually signing up for races (which is hard when I am in a running group and everyone is always talking about races, lol).
After 3 months in a row of getting my period I feel like I am doing well and I have learned A LOT. Listening to your body is so important. While mentally I have been in a good spot for years, I guess my body still wasn't physically there yet. But it is now. The anger and frustration is gone. The changes have been made and it is up to me to keep them going. The good news is that I plan to never take birth control pills again so I can at least tell if/when I start getting too intense with exercise in the future. Another plus - my skin is cleared up (mostly), I am sleeping better, I have WAY less anxiety and no more dry skin and hair!
It's actually pretty crazy to see first hand what all affects your hormones and what all your hormones affect. Hint: Extremes are rarely ever a good answer.
If you are going through something similar - don't give up! Instead, ask yourself if you are doing enough. Are you actually eating enough? Are you actually cutting back on your exercise? It is hard not to fall back into your "normal" ways. Stick with it. You WILL recover but it is up to you to make these changes and keep them up! If you feel like you are being "less healthy" with these changes, just remind yourself that getting your menstrual cycle back is actually the healthiest thing you can do at this point. If you are going through this and want to talk, please reach out to me!
The moral of this story is to stop trying to be perfect. You don't have to push yourself every single day to always complete your workouts, to always be better, to always be faster. Sometimes it's okay to take a break. Give yourself a little grace. Listen to your body. Focus on recovery. Focus on restoring. There is no perfect diet. There is no perfect way of eating. Find what works for your body and mind. A healthy relationship with food is a good start. Your body needs food. So does your mind. There is no "bad food". Get in plenty of vegetables, fruits, complex carbs, dairy (or non-dairy options), healthy fats and lean protein. Make space for the less nutritious options as well. Eat enough but don't over do it. If you do, forgive yourself and move on. Practice stress relief techniques and don't be so hard on yourself.
Live your life balanced.
I AM SO EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE THIS!!!
Wouldn't it be so nice to not have to think about or plan your meals (or create grocery lists from scratch) but still know you are eating healthy, well balanced meals?
What about not having to worry about your workout plan because you already have the next 6 weeks figured out for you?
I have been working with the Prepear app for the last year to be able to collect and sort all of my recipes in one place (instead of just on my website). It has grown so much over the last year and now has everything I have wanted in an app for my recipes! It helps to organize recipes (not just mine), plan your meals, create an automated grocery list, order groceries through Walmart and follow the recipe directions without your phone screen shutting off (all in one app)!
Now, on top of all of that - I have created a new virtual cookbook that is available for purchase through the app! It consists of 72 recipes, laid out in 6 weeks of menu plans PLUS 2 workouts (one with weights and one without). There are 2-3 recipe options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks each week. It is designed so you only have to cook a max of 3 days but can eat for the whole week! You can easily change the serving sizes if you are just cooking for one or for the whole family! Your grocery lists will automatically populate each week once you drag and drop your recipes into your meal planner and you can shop wherever you want with the list (without the phone screen shutting down), OR order your groceries through Walmart. If you don't like something from the recipes you can even change it to fit your tastes or replace it with something else. The best part is this plan is designed to be flexible to fit into your life! Add your favorite treat each day and work around your schedule to stay healthy while still enjoying life!
Checkout the section guides to see what the week looks like and what else you can add to your meals to make them more filling.
You also will gain access to ask me any questions and have me help you along with this new journey. Just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as you purchase this cookbook for more information on the workouts or for recipe help. If you need more assistance with health coaching, I am available for that as well! You will only have to cook 3 times each week to eat satisfying, delicious meals and snacks throughout the day. The recipes are gluten-free and dairy-free but can be enjoyed by anyone!
Join Prepear for free and download my new cookbook today! I am here to help make getting healthy easier!
I had been looking forward to this race for over a year and it was everything I thought it would be! Since the Harvest Half and Quarry Crusher were a little over a month before this race - I focused on only trail running for the month between leading up to it. I had the endurance from training for the Harvest Half and power and strength from training for the Quarry Crusher as my base. So during that month I specifically trained for the trails, making sure I got plenty of elevation gain during my normal runs. I ran three times a week - one was a long trail run, the second was a power/strength 5 mile trail run and the third was just an easy 3 mile on the road. I also did 2 days a week of strength training. I have discovered over the last few years that trail running (for me) is all about running on fresh legs so I made sure to space my runs and workouts out so I could give my all and not be dead. I need the power to climb up the hills (and avoid tripping and falling) and it just isn't there if I am beat down. During most of my trail runs in the past I ended up walking most of the big hills but I decided I wanted to be able to run it all - so that was my goal. During my training runs I made sure to run all of the hills at Marcella Vivrette Smith Park and the Westhaven trails and it actually felt good! I definitely felt strong and ready for this race.
Josh drove Heather (fellow Franklin Road Runner/Team Beef member) and I out to Montgomery Bell State Park on Saturday morning. I fueled with water and a peanut butter and banana sandwich on gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread. We got there an hour early so we picked up our great swag and walked around for a bit while we waited. I started to get a little nervous but then as we walked and looked at the scenery, it went away. It's crazy how much better and less nervous I feel about trail running vs road running!
We lined up at the starting line and we were off! The first mile or so was on the pavement which was a little unexpected. Once we got on the trails though, it was amazing! Definitely more of my element. I was SO thankful they cleared the path of leaves so we could see all of the roots and rocks. That did not go unnoticed and was very much appreciated. The path was also clearly marked in all areas (there was one area that I think people got a little confused with but if you followed the arrows then you were good). I started with a bigger group of people that was slimming down as the miles kept on going. I really wanted the wooden award so other than my goal of wanting to run the entire thing, including all of the hills for the 1000 + elevation gain, I also wanted to pass as many people as possible. I was able to stay strong throughout the entire race and did run the whole 9+ miles and felt great. It was such a fun, pretty, technical trail (roots/rocks/elevation). I talked to a lot of people along the way who helped push me to go even faster. What I love about trail running is you can't get bored - you have to be very aware of your surroundings and always thinking about where your next step is going to be. The race seemed to be over before I knew it! I could hear people cheering and all that was left were the steep stairs before the final uphill climb. I finished 3rd female out of 43 and 14th overall out of 86. I got to ring the bell at the finish! Heather also did awesome!!!!
We celebrated at the after party with beer (Josh had that) and soup. I never thought I would want soup right after a run but it was perfect. I was starting to get cold so the vegetable soup was amazing. We waited around for the awards ceremony where I got my wooden plate, drank our coffee that Josh brought us and then headed home. It was a fantastic race and while I don't normally like repeating races, I would do that one again - especially the 25k. It was one of the most organized and well attended races I have ever done, so thank you Montgomery Bell State Park!!!
Do you ever wish there was a website that helped steer you towards selecting different healthy food/products? It is especially hard to find good information when you begin your health journey (whether you are gluten-free, dairy-free, or not). I usually end up finding information all over the internet (or by trial and error) but never all in one place. So for those who are looking for the best food products that are actually healthy and taste good or if you are wanting to trend towards using more natural or helpful home products - this is the place for you!
I have been wanting to do this for awhile now and I finally got around to it. I now officially have a page dedicated to all of my favorite products. I constantly have people asking me about different products that I use/eat/etc. so I decided to have one page on my website that I can continually update with all of my favorite, tried, true and tested products!
So far I have it grouped into:
I'm sure these will change or I will add more, but this is my starting point!
Going gluten-free or dairy-free doesn't have to be hard or mean that you can only eat salads! There are so many tasty options out there - let me weed out the bad ones so you don't have to! I am always trying out new products and will keep the list up-to-date as I go. If you are looking for something in particular or have tried something you love, please e-mail me at email@example.com to let me know!
I figure this would also be a great resource for trying new recipes AND for those who are trying to cater to any dietary needs and don't know what to use - you could just direct them to My Favorite Products page and they could see what they could use from there. I know my friends and family would appreciate that when they are trying to cook for me and aren't sure what to use! If all else fails, Aldi and Walmart actually have a good amount of gluten-free and dairy-free products and foods that are pretty good!
If you want to purchase or view the products listed, most links will take you to Amazon. I will also link to other stores if not available on Amazon. I try to choose products that are as natural and safe as possible but also sometimes just resort to the things that work/taste best!
Elena McCown, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Check out My Favorite Products here!
I am a food loving, activity seeking health coach who resides in Franklin, TN with my husband and two sweet dogs (Lola & Penny).
I believe everyone should eat balanced and not cut food groups if you don't medically need to. All foods can fit in a healthy diet. Unfortunately, I have to avoid gluten and also limit myself with dairy, so my goal is to provide healthy, gluten-free/dairy-free recipes so EVERYONE can enjoy all foods, even if you do have to cut out certain food groups. My recipes are encouraged for everyone to eat, not just for those with sensitivities/allergies! Most of my recipes can be easily converted by using real dairy and whole-wheat in place of my allergy-free substitutes.
Looking for something specific? Everything can be found by category under the "Life" and "Recipes" sections on my website or you can search below.