How To Make Healthy Meal Planning Easy
Keep your weeks simple and learn the easiest way to tackle healthy meal planning! None of us have time to spend four hours in the kitchen meal prepping on a Sunday morning (hello, kids!). Instead, use these tips to create a plan to make healthy eating simple, stress-free and PRACTICAL throughout the week.
- Introduction (00:50)
- From Unhealthy Runner To Healthy Fit Mom
- The 5 main steps to healthy meal planning (9:10)
- Look ahead at your schedule (10:27)
- Plan your hardest meal first (12:43)
- Helpful Superfoods For Busy Moms
- Organizing your snacks (16:56)
- Updating your recipe list (22:26)
- Making a grocery list (24:00)
- Healthy meal planning for families and other tips (25:49)
- Wrap Up and advice for healthy meal planning (29:34)
- Mentioned In The Podcast
- Connect With Brooke
Welcome to the Fit as a Mama Bear podcast. I’m Shelby, a certified strength coach, nutrition coach, mama to two, and all-around health nut. This show is about a little bit of everything healthy, fit and natural related.
So if you’re striving to smash goals, eat better, feel better, and enjoy the occasional mom rant, this is the place for you.
You’re listening in to episode 21 today, where I’m chatting to Brooke. Brooke is a holistic health coach and personal trainer at wreckingroutine.com and as a public school teacher for 11 years and a mom of soon to be three, Brooke knows firsthand how difficult it is to eat well.
So thanks for listening to today’s episode. I’m pretty sure it’s one all of us need, because today we’re chatting about healthy meal planning and how to make it easy.
So let’s be honest, no one actually wants to spend three hours each Sunday in the kitchen ignoring their kids so that they can bulk cook meatloaf and casserole for the week. Seriously, no one.
But unfortunately, many of us then swing the other way, ignoring the kitchen altogether and walking into the week unprepared. Without a plan or any prep done, we grab whatever we can and often is not the healthiest option. So let’s change that.
With me here today is Brooke Stluka.
Brooke is a holistic health coach and personal trainer at wreckingroutine.com and as a public school teacher for 11 years and mom of soon to be three, she knows firsthand how difficult it is to eat well and move your body consistently when schedules pull you in a hundred different directions.
Specializing in weight loss and run coaching, Brooke teaches the seven habits you need to master in order to lose weight and keep it off for good. So welcome to the podcast Brooke!
Thank you. Thanks for having me today.
Oh, I’m excited! Before we get into the topic at hand, why don’t you give us a bit of a background, tell us about yourself and how you came to be where you are now.
Great. So I started as a collegiate runner. I ran track, cross country and high jumped and then I was sent off into the world to go be an adult. That is when I really struggled.
I found out I had no idea how to cook because I had been on the college meal plan for four years and my idea of a super healthy meal, (Cause I was a runner, I know these things!) my idea of a super healthy meal was whole wheat pasta with a can of drained lentil soup, because lentils are healthy, dumped over the top, mixed together with Parmesan.
And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is revolutionary! Why doesn’t everyone do this? I was a teacher as well, living in Arizona.
I would get up before work, and I would run 8 to 10 miles and then I would eat a bagel on my way to work and I’d have a little salad for lunch. I’d hit up the vending machine around 3 o’clock before I went home.
If my friends weren’t all going out for happy hour, then I would go home, either go for another run or go back to the gym and then just eat very, very poorly.
I didn’t know anyone in Arizona when I moved there. On weekends I would get up on a Saturday, go run 15 to 20 miles and then come back and go to the grocery store and literally buy whatever I wanted. I felt that I ran 20 miles today, so I can totally have pizza, ice cream, a bag of chips and Mac and cheese!
And then I would stay home all weekend and eat because Arizona is really hot, so you can’t go outside very often. I very, very quickly put on 25 pounds of just straight belly fat because that’s my body.
It just goes straight there. So that was very unhealthy and even though I was running a ton, I could not figure out how to eat. Finally, you always see these pictures of yourself, right? Like on a family holiday.
So I saw these pictures of myself about a year and a half, two years into me living this life in Arizona. And I was like, what? I used to be this sleek, fast, college athlete.
Things had to change. So I ended up joining a CSA, a food co-op. So they would hand me a laundry basket full of vegetables every week that I had to figure out what to do with. I didn’t even know how to cook a potato.
I love that.
So it forced me to research recipes cause in a CSA you have no control over what you get. So if you end up with 15 green peppers one week, you better figure out what you’re going to make. I wouldn’t let myself buy anything else at the grocery store except spices and dressings and things.
That was a huge catalyst towards my weight loss and towards learning how to meal plan and how to just straight cook because that was hard. A couple of years after that, the weight came off. It’s stayed off. This is, oh man, I’m getting old, but 12 years ago now. So it’s been really consistent.
And that turned into, becoming a certified personal trainer, so I’m a trainer and then that led into, well people need more help with food so I became a certified health coach, and now that’s what I do. I help teachers specifically because I understand that life very clearly as I taught for so long.
That is amazing. I’m going to scale back, I’m sorry, 20 miles in the morning?! What the shenanigans is that!
Well, you have to remember, I moved to Arizona knowing nobody. I’m from New York, so I didn’t know anyone. It’s the job that hired me.
I’ve always wanted to move to the West. So I was like, okay, I’m going. I had nothing to do on the weekends, except get up early and run before it got hot, and then literally sit in my apartment and watchman versus food.
Oh my. I’m just so impressed by that. I got up to seven kilometers this summer and that’s the most intense thing I’ve ever done.
That’s really good.
But going back to meal planning, I understand where you’re coming from. I was the exact same way as I never cooked. Our idea of a healthy meal, for my now husband and I, would be Sidekicks.
Those side dishes that come in a package, which is really just Kraft Dinner. We didn’t have vegetables and we’d buy frozen chicken fingers.
Those were our healthy weeks, the meals where we weren’t eating McDonald’s or Pizza Pockets. Then my husband went out West to work for four months and he was always a better cook.
I was like, how am I gonna feed myself? You just have to dive right in and figure it out and learn. So yeah, it’s definitely a catalyst. I’ll give you that.
It can be so intimidating to have to learn how to cook, because in our Pinterest world these days everything is beautiful, and these beautiful meals are at your feet. And mine does not look like that.
But my cooking style now is hilarious because I’m a fast and easy cook. I have kids and work 2.5 jobs from home. I’m a throw together meal person. It’s kind of how I roll now.
Today we are chatting about everything food-related and basically how busy moms can make healthy meal planning easy and practical.
I want to emphasize the easy there because like I mentioned, we really don’t have a whole lot of time to be hanging out in the kitchen for that whole four-hour food prep that you see in the fitness world.
So, funnily enough, as I mentioned, I’ve done a 180 when it comes to healthy meal planning. I actually coached figure competitors for a very long time.
Wow! I didn’t know that
Yeah, way back when! So for a while, I was rocking more of a figure competitor way of planning
So all of my meals for every single day got outlines on Sundays. I was in the kitchen for three to four hours every Sunday making sure everything got done and everything was just completely ready.
This is pre-kids?
Yeah. You can’t rock that with kids.
And even when I didn’t have kids though, it’s still intense. You still get into the kitchen every Sunday for that long. It wasn’t enjoyable for me. It wasn’t overly fun.
Nowadays I take a really much more relaxed approach. I finally found a meal prep system and thank God because it really saves my life with kids. But after chatting to a zillion mamas, finding a system is hard.
I think that’s what most moms struggle with which is what Brooke and I want to help you all with today, is trying to find a system that works for you but that you don’t hate.
I don’t want anyone to hate their food journey because it’s not fun.
So Brooke, why don’t you run us through the five main steps of meal planning that you use with your clients and then we’ll break each one down a little bit more.
Sounds good. I’ve worked with clients on a lot of different things, but mainly focus on weight loss. So when I’m working with a client we talk about these five steps of how they can actually plan their meals.
Because sure, you can meal prep all the vegetables you want. You can go to the grocery store and buy the whole laundry basket full of healthy food.
But if you have no idea what you’re going to eat and when, you’re going to end up spending more money than you need to, throwing out a ton of food because you’re not going to get to it.
And then your family might not eat it. You might go to the grocery store and be like, wow, this bunch of spinach looks really fresh and delicious.
Then you bring it home and your kids are up in arms with forks coming out. There are 5 main steps to this. I’ll just run through them really quickly; looking at your schedule ahead of time, planning your hardest meals to eat healthy first, organizing your snacks, updating your recipe list and making a shopping list.
I love them. Those are really valid points. All right, well let’s dive in and tackle the first one, which is the top priority, look at your schedule. Tell me what to do.
Most people who meal plan look at the rest of their week coming up on a Saturday night or a Sunday. So if you’re looking ahead at your schedule, you need to really pay attention to what days are going to be busy to be successful in healthy meal planning.
Let’s say Tuesday night, your daughter has soccer practice and that goes from 6:30-8. You’re not going to plan to make your longest meal. For me let’s say that is enchiladas. So I’m not going to plan to make enchiladas on Tuesday night during soccer practice cause I’m not going to have time to get it done.
That is going to be the instant pot night, the crockpot night, the frozen casserole I made three weeks ago night, those quick meals. You have to look ahead at your schedule to know what’s coming up.
And I get this a lot where I don’t know what I want to eat on Friday on a Sunday. I totally get that. So maybe just plan three days ahead. Just look three days ahead. So alright, Tuesday night is soccer. Monday we can have enchiladas, Tuesday, frozen casserole and Wednesday is a quinoa dip.
That’s a really good point. Our busy days are Monday nights. My girls both have gymnastics and we pick up from school and leave 20 minutes after pick up, go to gymnastics, we get home at 6:30, and I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old.
That’s pretty much bedtime. We walk in the door, dinner has to be ready, served and then we go to bed, so there is not a lot of time for actual cooking. I think looking at your schedule is a really good point because if we don’t have that day outlined, we’re screwed. We actually have nothing.
Or you know, you bought all the healthy stuff, it’s all in your fridge and then you open the fridge when you get home at 6:30 and you’re like what do I make? Oh, let me grab the frozen chicken nuggets.
And a mom hack. Crockpots save lives. They literally saved my life on Monday night.
Okay. So point number two would be to plan your hardest meal first. Do you want to run me through that?
Everyone has that one meal that is so hard to eat healthily. For most of my clients that come to dinner because you have the kids are eating, the husband is eating, you’re eating, everyone wants something different.
I get a lot of complaints about spouses. “They won’t even touch it!” So if you plan the hardest meal to eat healthy first and focus there, you do not need to plan every little detail.
Have breakfast, if breakfast is the same thing for you every day or plan every little detail of lunch, or if you’re good with leftovers.
So plan, let’s just say, dinner. So plan dinner and there is a specific way that I like to help my clients build their plates, where you’re building half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and then you fill in your protein and your carbs
That can be a big mind shift too, of not just squeezing some broccoli into the corner of the plate because I need something green here. No, you’re starting with your green and then building out from there.
So if you can plan whatever hardest meal that is, make sure you know what you’re having for that meal, you’re going to have so much more success with healthy meal planning.
It’s a great way to do it. I’d also like to add, one of the tips that I use with my clients, especially for breakfast, because I hear a lot of, “I don’t know what to have for breakfast”, but the thing is there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
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So pick 5 to 8 breakfasts that you enjoy, and rotate. You don’t need to have something new and different for breakfast every morning. We have six breakfast things that we rotate through every single week.
Maybe flavor variations in there, but we really just rock chia pudding, overnight oats, omelets or scrambled eggs or pancakes. Those are the only things we have for breakfast every single weekday and there’s no need to go outside of that.
For me to get creative, and make stuffed apples or something different just isn’t necessary. So when it comes to meal planning, I think simple is best.
I agree. And let’s say you’re looking at your dinners and you want to improve the nutritional value, pick the meals you already eat and then look at how can you add in more vegetables or swap out the beef in your enchilada for Turkey. Make these simple changes as you’re getting going here
Instead of trying to come up with all new complete variations that truthfully end up just really fancy and you’re not going to do them regularly anyway.
Then you spend a half-hour on Pinterest looking at recipes and going down a rabbit hole. We don’t have time for this.
No. Okay, so snacks. Talk to me about snacks because I have crazy snack girls.
Yeah. Oh my gosh. I think it’s just kids. I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and I think all they do all day is eat.
Just hang on, back it up. 3 year old and a 1-year-old and you’re pregnant.
I can’t even talk about it.
You’re my hero.
The one-year-old is going to be 19 months.
You’re my hero. Enjoy that.
This was a little bit earlier than we planned.
So you’re going to need some snacks.
Organize your snacks. Don’t leave snacking up to chance, because here’s what I would do back in the day. It would be at 3 o’clock. I’m starving because I ran in the morning, I had a bagel for breakfast, which is almost zero nutritional value.
I maybe put together a little bit of a lunch thing or I was at Costco and bought something like pre-made at Costco to take for lunches.
And so I’m starving by 3 o’clock when my students leave, so I go to the vending machine that they have in almost every staff lounge I’ve ever worked in and grab something.
Do I want a candy bar or do I want the grab bag of chips? And that would be my choice. So my entire day is zero nutrition. So you really do need to plan your snacks.
If your meeting runs late, if gymnastics runs late, if the kids are melting down at the target parking lot and you can’t get out of there for half an hour, you know, whatever it is, you need to have some strategic snacks.
There are a couple of things you need to look for in your snacking. That would be the servings. Because you see, a lot of these things are one hundred-calorie pack or one serving is zero of everything.
Okay, but are you really gonna eat one serving? Because you know, you look at a bag of chips and one serving is nine chips. Is that, all you going to eat? Are you going to stop at it now, or you’re going to count them out. You know, I don’t think so. So just pay attention to that.
And then how much added sugar, and sodium is in there. And then you have to read your ingredients list on grab and go snacks if you’re doing something packaged.
I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but those ingredients lists under the nutritional label or near the nutrition label are listed in order of most to least. So the very first ingredient that’s listed there is the ingredient that is in the most.
So if it says sugar is the first ingredient, that’s what you’re eating the most of.
The same goes for if it says ‘cane syrup’. It drives me bananas because they’ll use it a lot. I’m using air quotes now. A lot of “natural products” or “natural snack bars”, list just sugar as the first ingredient, they’ll use a fancy sugar is what I call them.
By all means, some sugars are better sourced than others, but it is still sugar and breaks down as sugar. It’s the first ingredient. Yes, there is a sweetener as the first ingredient. Put it back.
Brown rice syrup is making a huge come back. And right now I guess I like Brown rice syrup when I’m making my own things just because it’s sticky so it binds anything.
But again, if that’s the main ingredient of a recipe, then you are having dessert, you are not having a snack
Or if there’s more than one sweetener listed on the product.
Yeah, that one gets me a little twitchy too. As I said, my girls are snack fiends. So what I do to keep sane, as snacks are honestly the one thing that I do prep, I don’t actually do a whole lot of food prep anymore, but snacks are the one thing that I always keep in the freezer.
So I always make sure that there is a protein bar, energy balls and some sort of muffin, frozen. Then we use them for lunches, use them to grab and go, whenever we’re en route.
There’s just always one in our bag because kids are crazy. And because I don’t want to be stuck with a screaming kid who is easy to calm with a mini snack.
I think having those prepped is probably number one on the food prep scale and you can double batch and throw them in the freezer.
That’s kind of my life game plan to be perfectly honest. Double batch snacks and put them in the freezer. There are a few store-bought bars that we do use, but the majority of the time it is a piece of fruit and one of those three things.
There are so many great healthy snack options out there like Made in Nature. They make dried mangoes that are literally just mangoes and my son loves the dates.
My daughter loves mangoes!
Oh yeah, they’re so good. We just got really into apricots too, so just read that ingredient label and make sure there’s no added sugar in dried fruits and they’re good.
I will try and just link a few of our favorite brands in the show notes. That way you kind of have a bit of a reference to look for when it comes to snacks and healthy meal planning
Again I really do try to go the homemade route because I’m a crazy person
You’re a ninja mom!
I do understand that’s not always practical for a lot of moms, but for healthy meal planning my biggest tip is to double batch and keep them in the freezer.
Updating your recipe lists was one of the other topics you talked about. So why don’t you tell me more about your thoughts on that one?
If you find a recipe that your whole family enjoys, everyone loves, which was mostly healthy and nutritious for all of you, keep a spreadsheet, keep a pen and paper, a notebook or something and write it down.
So when you come back around to the next Sunday and you need to sit down and do your healthy meal planning again, you don’t have to go down the Pinterest rabbit hole. You have this list of recipes that are tried and true. You know your family loves them.
Maybe you can tweak them a little bit, you know, if they loved, for example, we make this quinoa dip that the whole family is obsessed with.
So maybe you improve it a little bit, add in a little bit more vegetable to it the next time or, you can just change it up a little, but keep a list so you can take maybe 10 minutes to check your schedule, run through your list of recipes you know your family likes and then you’re done meal planning.
And again, starting this off doesn’t have to be a huge thing. You don’t need a list of 30 recipes that you need to go find this weekend. Pick 8 to 10 meals that your family likes. Circulate through them and just make small variations.
So again, like changing the protein source or if it calls for broccoli, using cauliflower, like mini swaps to make it seem different, work just fine. But there’s no need to revamp the entire system.
Not at all.
I love that. And of course, make a shopping list is on there. So don’t go to the grocery store empty-handed.
Oh my gosh, no! I have so many clients. They walk into the grocery store and think, what do I buy? They’ll go through the produce, oh I’m supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Let me load up. Make the shopping list.
I love grocery shopping but I refuse to go more than once a week. If we forgot something we substitute or make something else. I’m not going back. Especially hauling two kids in and out, make the shopping list and stick to it.
And if you order online and you pick it up, or your groceries get delivered, that’s super easy. But have the list, have your meal plan next to you while you’re making your list so you don’t forget anything, and you don’t overbuy.
If you know your meal plan for the week only needs two bell peppers, you’re not going to buy four for $5, cause it’s on sale. What are you going to do with those other two peppers? If it’s not on your meal plan, they’re going to go to waste. Make the list and stick to it.
I think from a waste reduction perspective, that’s a really, really good game plan because that’s the thing is you have great ambitions when you go and you load up on all of these things
If you don’t know how to use them and you or your kids are not just raw veggie eaters chances are they are, it’s just going to be a waste of money all around.
Great tip. You can only eat so much and, I know it looks good. They’re on sale, you’re getting a deal, but you can only eat so much.
So run me through a few of your family’s kind of staple dinner rotation and how you prep.
This quinoa dip, we just had it last night, which is why it’s at the top of my mind. We eat a lot of Mexican inspired meals. The quinoa dip, we do a lot of pasta cause I love pasta. But the pasta is half the amount of pasta, double the amount of vegetables.
So we make a totally vegetable loaded sauce with peppers, onions, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, and it all goes in, we love grilled chicken with a little rice and a green vegetable, maybe some roasted broccoli and zucchini or steamed broccoli.
We love salmon and potatoes. Now that we’ve moved to Minnesota from Colorado I’m now in potato land. So potatoes, yeah we’re pretty basic eaters around here.
We are also basic eaters. One more tip that I wanted to share in this is to reuse meals. Not in a leftover sense, but for example one of our go-to meals is grilled chicken and roasted veggies and normally a potato or rice.
But instead of making the number of roasted veggies I need for that night, I triple the batch. And then the next night I take all those roasted veggies and I put them in pasta. And then the following night we have some sort of roasted veggie rice bowl.
It’s cooking once, which gives me two, or three meals. So I think being able to repurpose that way is crucial because it’s the same thing when people when you’re eating grilled chicken, cook a few extra breasts because then it’s ready for you in the fridge.
You can do the same thing with vegetables, roasted veggies, work in absolutely anything. So do sautéed veggies in sesame oil. They work for anything so make a big batch and then throw them in your next couple of meals and it’s just a time saver.
Yeah. Let’s be honest. We all need more time.
And like you’re saying, freeze it. So if you know you’re going to make pancakes one morning for the girls, you freeze make a double batch and freeze it Simple, right?
All right. Any other big tips for moms in terms of not spending time in the kitchen?
Just get your time back, find the hacks, find the tips, find what’s gonna work for you to get your time back so you are not spending three hours of your Sunday in the kitchen with little hands wrapped around your legs that you’re tripping over.
So find what works for you. Use the freezer and don’t be afraid to try new things if you don’t like it, nothing went wrong
Actually on that point of trying new things. I think that’s the biggest point, keep an open mind. If you automatically assume you’re not going to like something, obviously you’re not going to like it.
So definitely try new things. And my tip would be to trial and error. It takes a little while to find a system that works specifically for your family. But for me, we don’t do a whole lot of food prep anymore.
I don’t need to, I’m really good at throw together meals so I don’t tend to do a lot of food prep. If you are still kind of getting into your cooking shoes, you may want to have a little bit more prepped in the fridge and ready to go.
Trial and error, figure out what works for your family and remember that you don’t need to reinvent anything. Keep it simple and pick 10 meals you like and cycle through. There’s no need to add more stress of coming up with something new and fancy and exciting when the basics work.
All right, friends. Well, I think that about covers it. Healthy meal planning can seem overwhelming, but when you break it down, it’s practical. I promise. My biggest piece of advice again is to just trial and error to find a bit of a system that works for your family and then tweak it from there.
Brooke, thank you bunches for jumping onto the podcast with me today. I always love having another fit mom to chat about how to survive and just go through it with.
Talk to me in a few months when baby three gets here!
For all of you looking to connect with Brooke, you can find her www.wreckingroutine.com and on Instagram and her handle is @wreckingroutine. I will link to both of those in the show notes, so make sure you head to fitasamamabear.com and grab all of those, as well as the list of resources that we touched on today.
We’re going to throw a few recipes up there and a few templates that you may need. Remember if you’re in need of fitness tips, workouts, and amazingly healthy recipes, often they’re very, very sugar-free, especially the bars. Check out my website at www.fitasamamabear.com
On that note, check back soon to catch the next episode of the Fit as a Mama Bear podcast, and if you took one lesson from today, I hope it’s that you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen feeling overwhelmed. Healthy meal planning requires some thought, but not your entire day.
- Bone broth powder (use code mamabear10)
- Making Meal prep Easy – A Blog Post
- Matchinga – use code mamabear10
- Make Ahead Breakfast Options – A Blog Post
- Made In Nature – Snack Option
- Kosuma Bars – Snack Option