Meal planning

In recovery, one of the most difficult things for me wasn't just eating, but getting used to eating regularly again. I resented having to do the dishes because it was such a pain and it was so much easier when I wasn't eating and therefore didn't dirty anything. I hated having to pack a lunch- though it is time consuming and a pain in the butt, ED stuff aside. And I hated having to think about what I was going to be eating. When I was in the midst of AN, it was easy. I ate the same thing day in and day out. Same brand of cereal, same flavor of yogurt, same fat free salad dressing. It was a ritual to help relieve my anxiety about eating.

Working with my meal plan has been challenging because I'm not allowed to eat the exact same thing every day, and I also had to eat adequate amounts. Even six months after weight restoration, I still follow my trusty meal plan. It keeps me on track, and my dietitian worked in enough flexibility that I wouldn't feel penned in by meeting my requirements (my snacks are X exchanges, one of which has to be fat or protein). Throughout the past year, I've picked up a number of tips that really make meal planning much easier.

Batch cooking. When I was working full time, I made meals for the entire week on Saturday or Sunday. Because I lived by myself, I usually made two different meals that I could alternate and/or bring for lunch. The variety wasn't optimal, but living by yourself doesn't really allow for heaps of variety. Nonetheless, it worked. And then I didn't have to get home from work exhausted and have to think up something to cook. If I had leftovers, I portioned them out in individual serving sizes in freezer bags, and then just popped them in the freezer. Great for those times when you need something fast.

Plan the night before. In the moment, I often get anxious when I have to decide what I need to eat. Often, it was easier not to eat than it was to decide. So I began to decide what I was going to eat the next day when I could remain calm and rational. Not that I didn't get anxious, but I could make much wiser decisions when I didn't have to face both the decision and the immediate prospect of eating.

Deal a meal. I don't know if any of you remember "Deal a Meal" diet with Richard Simmons (did that totally date me? I think it did), but the general idea was that you got a bunch of index cards with various recipes/menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Essentially, it was a weight loss meal plan. But after a while of working with my current meal plan, I developed a few staple meals and snacks that I could use. Such as: cereal, granola, milk, banana, sunflower seeds. Or power oatmeal. Or an egg sandwich. Lunch could be a sandwich or cottage cheese with peanut butter toast. Things like that. This way, I didn't have to plan each meal or snack from scratch- all I had to do was pick one of my options, and I ended up with a pretty wide array of options.

What tips do you use when cooking or planning meals that help you stay in recovery? Have you found anything that's less than helpful?

posted under , |


Kim said...

I use all these tips. My biggest self-tip for meal planning is, "Get over the fact that you meal plan." Sometimes, I think this makes me "disordered," but it really keeps me less-than-disordered. Most people have to have some food plan. Total spontaneity would be kind of expensive (eating out every day) and chaotic (in my opinion). I do batch cooking, or I think of creative ways to throw together random leftovers (as in, who can use a whole can of beans in something?). I get very creative with wraps and things. I always pack my lunch and snacks the day before. It brings me some sense of calm and order. I also have a bank of meal and snack ideas. I don't always consult or update the written list, but I have a general idea of options. I don't know if I'll always be like this with planning meals, but if I am, that's okay with me. It keeps me healthy. said...

This post is so relevant to me right now, as I've been thinking about how I will pick what to eat in way that provides variety and satisfaction when I leave my day program. I love the Deal a Meal idea. I've done the "plan the night before" thing - but I end up feeling disordered being so anal about planning my food... but maybe that's better than the alternative? Anyway, I plan to try the deal a meal. Fantastic idea!

Melissa said...

Thanks for this - I still find the cooking and preparing part really hard (and then beat myself up about it because it's meant to be a basic skill, right!?).

I find quantities of food hard, particularly as my trust around food was eroded by the bulimia. As well as the preparation and staple meals, I am also really aware of best before dates and the quantity that I buy, especially living alone. I find portionned food that is individually wrapped easier to factor in; and have a few brands that sell one-person sized things.

I also struggle with choice a lot and go round in circles. Here, it comes back to the shopping list and a rough weekly plan, kind of along the lines of the 'deal a meal' idea you describe. This is helping me to slowly reduce the rigidity - yet also feel safe.

Thanks for some great tips.

EvilGenius said...

hm, I don't plan in a typical sense. having said that, 'not planning' led me to realise the new challenge of how normal people do food shopping without knowing exactly what they're going to eat the next day! to begin with I always came home with 10 dinners worth of food and no breakfasts, or something. it took me awhile to figure out how you can 'get a rough idea' without planning, and come home with usable types/ratios of food!
when I did plan though, I did the 'night before' thing too. good way to reduce anxiety :)

Unknown said...

i find that planning my meals ahead of time is so much better for me, bc i don't have to worry about the strress of preparing it in that moment.

insightful post, as alwsays

elizabeth marley said...

I've found that planning with my boyfriend helps. I keep a few food blogs in my google reader and I'll send him links to things that look interesting throughout the week that I intend to cook next week.

By the time we go grocery shopping, I have a list to stick to (no more anxiety attacks in the grocery store! though, I still do grocery delivery from time to time to avoid it) and a menu to stick to throughout the week. It also helps knowing that if I (or sometimes we) don't cook, he's going to just eat frozen pizza. The idea that I need to cook and plan to feed someone else just helps to take the pressure off myself.

I definitely get frustrated with the meal planning, though. The constant planning was the thing I was most sick of when I entered recovery and I'm a little disappointed that I can't get away from it. My tantrums over meal planning often involve a version of "but I'm still fucking planning, I'm just planning MORE CALORIES. Fuck this." I'm not really sure what to do with that anger, but I'm really trying to work towards the day when I can just have a meal without thinking about it for 12 hours.

Anonymous said...

You timely, timely genius. I have such a hard time with this. In treatment programs, no one ever seemed to talk about the difficulty of deciding what to eat, just the difficulty of deciding to eat it. Both are hard for me.

A few weeks ago, in a flash of motivation, I tried to plan a week's worth of meals, trying to plan it around making one big batch of something. I failed because I couldn't come up with anything that met my criteria of laziness and avoiding too much of certain food groups (ahem). I worked myself into a corner trying to plan meals, and eventually gave up.

I also have a hard time with that whole single-person thing. Yes, I live with my parents, but I am a vegetarian, so our foods don't overlap a super lot. I pretty much grew up on grain, fruit, and cheese, which isn't very balanced, so I have to get my own food to balance things. Then I worry about expirations and feel guilty when I buy food in a flash of motivation then let it rot while that motivation wanes.

This deal a meal thing sounds good. Perhaps I will come up with lists of single exchange foods to fill in the gaps left by batch cooked entrees. That sounds like a helpful thing. Packing my lunch the night before and otherwise planning in advance, those are probably good, too.

Marilla said...

I don't meal plan. I probably need to. I sometimes will decide that I want ______, (often a pasta dish, with tofu, and sauce) and then buy groceries to make that, but normally, I cook whatever I have supplies for. Couscous with tahini and tamari is delicious. However, I see a lot of value in meal planning. Once upon a time, when I was younger, I had an RD, and I had to meet certain requirements every day. I find that without having that accountability, I can do whatever I want with food, and that often means not meeting my nutritional needs. This next week, I have two friends visiting, so, I'll have houseguests almost all week, which means, feeding people who eat "normally." It's a challenge, but probably good for me. I've been trying to push myself to meet certain (me-set) requirements lately, and it's been hard.

Crimson Wife said...

Not exactly a meal-planning idea but I love my Crock-Pot! Back when I was employed full-time I loved being able to start it before I left and have a meal waiting for me by the time I came home. Now that I'm a homeschooling mom of 3 young kids, I love being able to batch-cook and then freeze the leftovers for days when I'm too worn out by the evening to make something.

Carrie Arnold said...

Crimson Wife,

I'm with you on the Crock Pot- not only is it fast and easy, it's almost idiot proof cooking!

Anonymous said...

I realized that when I'm working at home, it helps me to prepare my next meal (usually lunch) right after having had breakfast, that means, all the chopping and getting the pans and stuff like that, so that at lunchtime, all I have to do is "just cook it", quickly. Because when I am already hungry at noon, I don't have the patience to do it from scratch, and then would eat things like toast, or chips etc. and feel not too good about it. And I have more appetite, when I don't have to spent half an hour or longer inhaling the smells of the soon-to-be-eaten food^^ (gets a bit boring).

Anonymous said...

Don't laugh I just resurrected my old deal a meal (did that date me...i think it did! :-)

I always did better with a plan...I can never just go in their and wing it....i need the plan. And so I came across your site because I remember a few of my fave meals had pb (without the plan a real red flag food for me) but the whole portion thing (drawn up by someone else) and not left up to me, has always seemed to work best.

I am less thinminded now and strong and healthy minded now abut I struggle with multiple knee injuries and surgeries, so it is harder to get back on track now.

I would love to hear your power oatmeal recipe...and even your egg sandwich (yellow or whites only) and cottage cheese with peanut butter toast recipes is that all together on one sandwich or is the CC on the side?

In Health,


bailey said...

my friend has an eating disorder and i am definetly going to forward her these tips and some i found on another website: Hope this helps.

petersmith said...

It was great meal planning, this will really helpful for everybody.
Loan Against My Watch

william said...

Every person has the passion in any aspects or things.
If you love something and it came in front of you it completes your day and your mood turns into something you won't expected.
I love your work and I want to read more about it. Visit my site if you have time . Thank you.

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home

ED Bites on Facebook!

ED Bites is on Twitter!

Search ED Bites

About Me

My photo
I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

Drop me a line!

Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


Popular Posts


Recent Comments