Meal Planning Tips

Meal Planning Tips to Help You Stick to Your Nutrition Goals

Meal planning is a must for those looking to lose weight, manage chronic conditions, or stay healthy. But sometimes it’s boring, overwhelming, frustrating, or all of the above. Here are some tips to keep your meal planning organized and on track with a little variety and fun along the way.

Meal Planning

Follow the Plate Method for Meal Planning

The plate method gives you a guide for how your plate should look. When meal planning make sure you’ve got all 5 food categories present: non-starchy vegetables, fruits, proteins, starch/grains, and healthy fats. I’m a big fan of Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate (below). You can read more about Harvard’s plate method here. I especially like that it focuses on water instead of milk as your main beverage. If you would like more information on following the plate method you can read my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-inflammatory Diet where I discuss each of the food groups in more detail.

Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Harvard Health Publications,

Lose Weight by Meal Planning

Meal planning helps you stick to your nutrition plan and prevent excess snacking or extra calories from sneaking into your day. Make a plan and stick to it so you know how many calories are coming in and what foods will fit in your day. For additional weight loss advice check out these 25 weight loss tips. If you are serious about losing weight consider enrolling in my 12 week Weight Loss Inspirations Course!

Start Small

You don’t have to plan an entire month or even an entire week to get started. Consider just meal planning your dinners for practice; you can even just do 2-3 to start with. As you refine your meal planning strategy you can increase the number of meals you plan each week or month. I use PepperPlate to plan my meals. You can use an app, calendar, or notebook. Find a system that works for you and keep at it. If you’d like to download my basic meal planning worksheet (pictured below) sign-up for my mailing list and I’ll send you a PDF for free at your request.

Meal Planning

Use Ads for Meal Planning Ideas

Check out the weekly circular for meal ideas. Purchase sale items for budget friendly meals. Ads are a great way to get the ideas flowing. If roast is on sale you can consider a slow-cooker roast recipe or if salmon is on sale you might add that to your weekly menu plan. Ads also help you find out what produce is in season which helps your budget and your health; see the next point for more info.

Stick to Your Dietary Needs

Meal planning allows for you to meet your dietary needs without feeling overwhelmed or forgetful. Need to go low sodium to manage your blood pressure? Add recipes with limited salt. Aiming to manage your diabetes? Go low carb the healthy way and keep your starchy foods to one-fourth of your plate. Aiming to lose weight? Keep portions under control and pair higher calorie main dishes with lower calorie sides. Any dietary needs can be met by meal planning ahead of time and keeping your needs in mind.

Seasonal Simplicity in Meal Planning

Aim to eat vegetables and fruits that are in season. This can help with sticking to your budget as well as getting in a variety of foods throughout the year. Seasonal foods tend to be a better option since they are often grown locally and fresher when purchased. Seasonal produce tends to be a better price option since the store doesn’t have to pay extra for extravagant shipping requirements or special growing conditions. Meal planning based on the season can also help you get a range of nutrients each season and throughout the year.

Meal Planning

Weather Appropriate Meal Planning

Speaking of seasons. Hot weather may call for cooler meals such as smoothies and salads. Cold weather tends to lead us to soups and chili. Consider how eating a certain food may affect how you feel or function that day. Hot soup on a day you’re working out in the yard may not be the best choice but would be perfect after playing in the snow! Meal planning with the weather in mind can help you relax and appreciate your foods in a new way.

Stock Essentials

Keep the freezer, fridge, and pantry stocked with essential items you use consistently. Things you should always keep on hand include: healthy oils, nuts/seeds, frozen vegetables and fruits, peanut butter, brown and wild rice, oats, salt and pepper, canned tuna, frozen meats, canned beans, tortillas, breads/pastas, eggs, etc. Basically always be able to throw together a simple snack or meal if your originally planned option falls through. Any time you finish off one of your essential items it goes directly onto the grocery list. This also helps you prevent running out of an essential item in the middle of your week after you’ve already completed your meal planning and grocery shopping for the week.

Theme Nights for Meal Planning

Consider having theme nights to keep your cuisines rotating and your planning on track. Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, and Fish Fridays are popular options. Obviously you don’t have to have tacos every Tuesday, but something Mexican or a similar flare would work with the theme night and help when you trying to come up with options. This is also not something you have to stick with at all times. Consider it more of a guide or idea generator instead of a rule book. It can keep your meal planning organized but can sometimes feel limiting. Remember you’re ultimately in control of what goes on the menu that night.

Meal Planning

Love Leftovers

To prevent wasting food – plan leftovers into your week. One strategy is to eat leftovers every 4th night or you can plan to have leftovers on your busiest day of the week. Another option is to have leftovers as your lunch meals all week.  Try giving leftovers a little twist. For example: Chili can be eaten alone the first night and then over a potato as lunch or the next night. This helps keep things new and fresh and prevents feeling like you’re always eating the same things. When meal planning for the week or month just write in “leftovers” for the meals you plan to use them; that way you don’t forget!

Meatless Mondays

Aim to go vegetarian at least one day per week. There are countless health benefits to a plant-based diet. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate meat completely – just eat less of it! Having one day a week meatless also makes some room in your budget. Meatless meals tend to be very budget friendly! It also doesn’t have to be Mondays or even a full day. One strategy I implement pretty regularly is having plant-based/vegetarian breakfast and lunches and only having animal products at dinner time. Incorporate meatless options into your meal planning strategy.

Meal Planning

Back-Up Options

You need a back-up plan. This should be 2-3 meals that meet the following requirements: 1) You can keep the ingredients on hand at all times, 2) take less than 15 minutes to throw together, 3) You enjoy eating. These may include something like a simple shrimp stir-fry made with minute rice, frozen precooked shrimp, and a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables or easy tuna salad sandwiches. These meals are not to be written into your meal plan. Instead, they are planning ahead for the unexpected. Your back-up plan is for those days when you’re running 2 hours behind by the time you finally make it home or your crock-pot dies along with your plans for dinner. This will help keep you out of the drive through and eating home-cooked, nutritionally balanced options instead.

Slow Cookers for Busy Days

If you know you’re going to be away from the house all day but don’t want to break the bank on restaurant meals; get a slow-cooker.  I love my slow cooker. I typically use it once a week. Look at your schedule for the week and choose slow cooker meals for days when you’ll get home late or you know you’ll be extra tired and not feel like cooking. Meal planning is vital for those busy days and prepping ahead before you leave the house will make you extra grateful for meal planning when you arrive home to an inviting smell wafting from the slow cooker.

Prep Ahead

Have a prep day. Pick a day of the week you can set aside 30-60 minutes to do some chopping, slicing, marinating, etc. Prepping for the week can reduce your cooking times and help increase productivity in other areas. Prepping your lunches can keep you away from the vending machine and improve your bank account balance as well. Pre-cut vegetables and fruits will increase snacking of these items instead of junk foods because you’re improving the ease of access.

Make a Big Batch

Batch cooking saves so much time! Double or triple recipes and then freeze them. You can freeze after cooking for quick meals for the next week or month or freeze prior to cooking and place into a disposable casserole dish. Freeze in either single serve (for lunches) or meal sized containers. You can add your frozen dinners to the menu when meal planning for the next month. If you batch cook a few times a month you’ll have several meals each month you don’t have to cook! Just heat and eat. I like to double recipes during the week so I only have to cook twice. We will often eat the same meal Monday/Tuesday and a second meal Wednesday/Thursday. Weekends I’ll cook additional meals when I have more time.  There are several ways batch cooking can make meal planning easier and efficient.

Meal Planning

Prevent Boredom by Meal Planning

You want to make sure you keep things interesting and vary your options for optimal nutrition. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a new recipe every night! You can change things up simply by using different vegetables, seasoning it a new way, or using different cooking techniques. For example, salmon can be paired with asparagus or broccoli, seasoned with garlic and lemon or teriyaki marinade, and can be baked or grilled. These variations can keep things interesting but also consistently keep your favorite foods on the menu.

Make Meal Planning Easy

Consider how to make your life easier while you’re meal planning. A good rule of thumb is 30 minute or less for recipe times during the week. Experiment or do longer cooking recipes on the weekends when you have more time available. Salads, sandwiches, soups, and casseroles are easy and simple options that don’t take a lot of time or energy. Give yourself a break and buy frozen, pre-cut vegetables, canned beans, and premixed salads as needed. Just because someone else did the work for you doesn’t automatically make it unhealthy. Just stick with whole foods with minimal processing.

Meal Planning

Reasons to Repeat

Some people really enjoy certain meals and there is not reason to avoid repeating if you love it! Rotating menus can be great for busy families in fact. Consider coming up with about 25 different meals that you can rotate through each month. You can implement a rotating menu where you basically repeat the menu each month if desired. Utilizing the rotating menu option can really cut down on your meal planning time; saving you time and energy. Swap out dishes occasionally as seasons change or you find something new. This can keep your favorites in steady supply but also allow for some variation from time to time.

Organize Your Recipes

Create a recipe organization system that works for you. You can go the old-fashioned way keep them in a tin if you want to write each one on an index card. You can print them or cut them out of magazines and place in a binder. Other options include organizing your pinterests boards just right or using an app designed to organize your recipes. Honestly how you organize them doesn’t matter. Just have a way to access your go-to recipes so you can easily find them and get dinner on the table.

Grocery Lists are Part of Meal Planning

Once you have your meal planning completed for the week or month, the next step is to write out your grocery list. Add all the ingredients you need for each meal down on your list. Then cross off or delete items you currently have in your pantry. Make sure you take your list to the store and stick to it!

meal planning

Make sure to sign up for my newsletter to receive additional healthy lifestyle and nutrition advice delivered straight to your inbox. You can request the FREE meal planning worksheet as well by replying to the welcome email.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Anti-inflammatory Rainbow: Orange Foods

Anti-Inflammatory Food and Colors

The foods that help fight inflammation come in all different colors. Each color has special properties that help fight inflammation and provide a myriad of other benefits to our body. These special properties are often referred to as the large category of “phytonutrients” which is basically a fancy word for plant nutrients. There are over 100,000 phytonutrients in the plants we eat! You can learn more about phytonutrients here. The anti-inflammatory nutrients make up hundreds of those phytonutrients. The color of a plant tells us some things about which phytonurients and which anti-inflammatory nutrients that plant contains. It’s vitally important that we get a variety of colors in our diet to make sure we are getting in the wide variety of phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds that we need for optimal health. This post is all about the orange foods and how they benefit our health.

Anti-Inflammatory Orange Foods

Orange compounds help protect our eyes, skin, and immune system. Additional benefits include anti-bacterial effects, anti-cancer, and reproductive health. The healthy orange compounds include: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, cucuminoids, and naringenin. The orange foods come in a wide variety of starchy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, and fruits. Some orange foods are starchy; pair those with a compete meal to prevent blood glucose spikes. The starchy orange foods include winter squashes and sweet potatoes. Tangerines and Oranges, among other citrus fruits, are high in powerful phytonutrients and provide many health benefits so make sure to incorporate them into your weekly intake. Check out this post to find out more benefits you can gain by eating citrus fruits. Carrots make a great, easy addition to snacks and meals. Baby carrots are a healthy convenient item to keep on hand in your fridge for quick access. Keep reading to learn more about the orange foods.

Orange Food List:

anti-inflammatory rainbow orange foods



This phytonutrient founds in orange foods turns into vitamin A. So in-turn beta-carotene helps maintain healthy vision, promote cell growth, supports healthy reproduction, and supports our immune system. Cooking foods like carrots helps us absorb the caratenoids more efficiently. Also, beta-carotenes are fat soluble – meaning they need some healthy fats to be absorbed. This emphasizes the importance of balanced meals for optimal health. Check out the anti-inflammatory plate method to ensure you are balancing your meals correctly. The University of Maryland Medical Center has some more information on beta-carotene here.


Water soluble phytonutrients found in orange (and yellow) fruits don’t require fat to be absorbed. Together with vitamin C bioflavonoids help reduce the risk of heart attacks, maintain strong bones and teeth, and fight off cancer. Other benefits include treatment or prevention in the following conditions: allergies, atherosclerosis, stress, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, lupus, and urinary tract infections. Huntington College of Health Sciences has a fact-sheet on these orange colored nutrients here. Bioflavonoids can help reduce the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and surprisingly, emphysema. Overall, bioflavonoids help protect us against inflammation and boost our immunity.

Tips for Increasing Orange Foods in Your Diet:

  • Choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes some of the time
  • Cook with turmeric more often
  • Have orange colored fruits as snacks or incorporate into fruit salads
  • Add orange peppers to fajitas or stir-fry
  • Grill peaches or nectarines for a sweet surprise
  • Keep carrots handy for snacks and meal additions

Recipes to Boost Orange Foods Consumption:

Mexican Chicken Skillet with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans by Recipe Runner
Golden Coconut Lentil Soup by Budget Bytes
Golden Turmeric Hummus by Healthy Nibbles and Bits
Mango, Tangerine, Yogurt Smoothie Bowl by Martha Stewart

How to Eat to Fight Inflammation

Just eating a few orange foods each week mixed in to your normal intake of fast-foods and sweets isn’t going to get you the benefits you are after. Check out my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet to make sure your following the full plan for optimal results. If you’d like to not only fight inflammation and gain health; but lose weight as well, check out How to Go Low Carb the Healthy Way. You can combine the anti-inflammatory diet and low-carb meal plans together for optimal health and weight management results. Sign-up for my newsletter below to get even more tips on following the Anti-inflammatory meal plan.

anti-inflammatory rainbow orange foods

Anti-inflammatory Rainbow

I’ll be sharing information on red foods, green foods, blue and purple foods, white and brown foods, and yellow foods over the next few months. Definitely check out the other wonderful colors of the anti-inflammatory rainbow and incorporate them into your nutrition plan as well. Your meals will not only be healthy and tasty, but beautiful as well! Check back often or sign-up for my newsletter so you don’t miss a thing! Eating a rainbow of colors is the best way to ensure a highly anti-inflammatory diet that includes the broad spectrum of phytonutrients we need for optimal health.

What’s your favorite orange food and/or recipe? Post in the comments below!

Low Carb the Healthy Way

healthy low carb

The very low carb keto diet is super popular right now. People have found some weight loss success with it. You could do it and probably lose weight. But you most likely won’t keep the it weight off. Because realistically you won’t follow it forever and you’ll sneak carbs back into your diet. Because most people who lose weight gain it all back (and then some) within 1 year!

So why not use a simple approach for weight loss that you can maintain forever? And avoid the nasty keto flu along with it?  I’d be game. Follow these simple guidelines to go low carb the healthy way.

Low Carb Meal Plan Basics

The plan is to follow the plate method of eating and limit your carbohydrates to 30-45 grams of carbohydrates at your meals. This will keep your blood glucose steady and supply adequate fuel to your body without making it rely on ketones and suffer the negative effects of an very low carbohydrate diet. Why a range of 30-45? That’s just a starting point and you many need to adjust based on your experience. Typically I recommended 30 grams for women who typically are at a lower calorie intake and 45 for men at a higher intake. However, if someone is extremely active they could increase based on their needs. I believe once you have the tools and knowledge you can listen to your body and feed it what it needs.

This is a great example of the plate method.  You can go here to read more about their healthy eating plate philosophy. In the image below fruit and whole grains are the 2 food categories that contain carbohydrate. Be aware that for this low carb plan that beans and legumes and starchy vegetables would also be in the same part of the plate as the whole grains because of their starch content.

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Harvard Health Publications,

Low Carb Foods

Animal proteins, fats, and cheeses don’t contain any significant amount of carbohydrate. These are “free” of carbohydrate but still should not be eaten in unlimited amounts when trying to lose weight. This is where Atkins and Keto diets get things wrong. They don’t pay as much attention to the quality of proteins and fats as they should. What type of protein and fat you consume still matters if you want to be healthy and keep weight off long-term. Low carb and healthy should not be considered two separate goals!

Non-starchy vegetables are also extremely low in digestible carbohydrates. I don’t typically count the carbohydrates of these foods when counseling clients on reducing carbohydrates but if you use a tracking app it will probably count all your carbohydrates. If that’s the case, subtract your total dietary fiber from your total carbohydrate intake to get your net carbs. AKA the actual carbohydrates your body can digest. Because fiber is non-digestible it shouldn’t be counted against your carbohydrate count for the day/meal. So even though all vegetables are technically carbohydrates; non-starchy vegetables are still considered low carb.

High Carb Foods

Fruit, grains, legumes, milk, and yogurts all contain carbohydrate. These foods need to be monitored in a low carb meal plan. Additionally sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages also contain carbs. I recommend against sugary beverages, including fruit juice, completely and reducing your sweet intake to about once per week or very tiny portions a few times per week when trying to lose weight. It’s hard to maintain a low carb meal plan and eat a lot of sweets. Sweets are nearly all carbs or they’re carbs and less healthy fats; either way they are empty calories that will hinder your weight loss goals!

Below I have a list of foods that contain carbohydrates in 15 gram carbohydrate portion sizes. Choose 2-3 options below per meal and 1 option at snacks. You can mix and match any way you prefer. Making a smoothie? Pick 2 fruits and a yogurt serving and add a protein powder (sugarless) to balance the meal. Having pasta for dinner? Make all 3 options as pasta (3 x 1/3 cup = 1 cup) with a side salad and meatballs to balance the plate. These will keep you low carb and balanced at your meals.

15 Gram Carbohydrate Serving Sizes: Pick 2-3 per meal for low carb eatingLow carb diet foods to monitor

For items not listed, read the label. Figure our how many carbohydrates it contains per serving and do the math. You can have 30-45 grams per meal so adjust as needed. This is a great starting point for most people who want to lose weight, and bonus: manage their diabetes or prevent diabetes. But like always consult your personal physician or health care professionals before making any dietary changes. Carbohydrates per serving size above were obtained from the glycemic Index or by searching Calorie King.

Low Carb Foods to Eat More Often

What makes my low carb plan a little different than keto or Atkins? Because it’s a little higher in carbohydrates, the protein and fat amounts are more moderate. You shouldn’t go into ketosis on this diet and if you already have diabetes or prediabetes this plan is a lot safer for you than keto. The type of protein and fat also matters. Yes bacon is low in carbs but it isn’t healthy for you!!

The foods below are all low carb and can be eaten in quantities that you decide. They won’t contribute much or any carbs to your intake but you should still be mindful of overall calories and portion sizes. Also, vegetables are technically carbohydrates; but since they only contribute a couple of carbohydrates per serving and are rich in fiber they don’t count against you on this eating plan. There is NO reason to limit non-starchy vegetables.

Low carb food list

Foods to Limit to Stay Low Carb and Healthy

Finally, we have foods you should eat less often. This is where a lot of people disagree, feel deprived, or begin to cheat. There are foods that we should NOT eat on a daily basis. We use the phrase “everything in moderation” and believe that one cup of ice cream per day counts as moderation.  I have a different view. I am not saying my opinion is 100% correct but it will help you lose weight by reducing the calories you eat and keep your body healthy at the same time. Losing weight on an Atkins type diet won’t do you much good if your cholesterol goes up and you have a heart attack. So the foods below should be limited. Not avoided. Just eaten less often.

Low carb diet food to limit

Now you have to tools to go low carb the healthy way. It’s up to you to utilize these tools and start losing weight. Please share these resources with others so they can learn how to obtain a healthy weight without drastic fad diets. Stay in touch to get more information about healthy eating, weight loss, anti-inflammatory foods, and other healthy lifestyle information.

In case you were wondering. You can follow the anti-inflammatory meal plan and go low carb at the same time with AMAZING health benefits! Check out my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-inflammatory Diet for more information.

healthy low carb