If you’ve read up on the emerging concept of intuitive eating, you may be familiar with how this mindset and behavior shift surrounding food can make a huge difference in nearly every aspect of your health.
A big part of intuitive eating is listening to your body and learning to make decisions based on the cues it gives you, and not on rigid diet rules. It may therefore seem like intuitive eating and meal prepping can’t coexist, yet this doesn’t have to be the case. Keep reading to learn how to combine the structure of meal prepping with the flexibility of intuitive eating to reap both of these benefits and more.
How meal prep fits in with intuitive eating
Meal prepping comes with a lot of benefits, and it can be a super helpful tool in your journey towards becoming an intuitive eater. Many people view meal prep as a rigid way of eating, though, and assume that whatever is prepped or planned must be eaten in a specific timeframe and according to a strict plan. However, meal prep doesn’t have to be about dieting, weight loss, or rigid rules at all.
It’s not about controlling the food, but enjoying it.
When done correctly and with the right mindset, meal prepping can help you build trust with food and gain confidence in your ability to feed yourself well. The freedom that comes along with that will help you build a positive relationship with food…which is something that everyone can benefit from!
Straying from dieting and towards intuitive eating doesn’t mean that there can’t be any structure around meals and eating time. However, it is essential to do it in a way that promotes flexibility and allows you to still listen to your body’s cues and desires. Meal planning and prepping can actually be a powerful tool in making peace with food (which is the third principle of intuitive eating).
Getting to this place takes time, though, and meal prepping may not be appropriate for you if you don’t yet trust yourself at mealtimes. Once you have some practice working through the intuitive eating principles, consider following some of the tips below to learn how to incorporate meal prepping with intuitive eating.
Meal prep tips for intuitive eating
1. Understand your reasons.
The goal with meal prepping should never be to have full control over your food or to make sure that everything meets specific health criteria. While setting yourself up to make balanced and healthy choices is definitely a positive thing, it needs to come from a place of genuine desire and self-love, and not fear, rules, or punishment. Positive examples of reasons to meal prep might include saving time and money, making yourself more likely to make food choices you’re comfortable with, easing stress, gaining confidence in the kitchen and reducing food waste.
2. Ask yourself what you really like.
With intuitive eating, meal prepping and planning isn’t based on what you think you should eat, but on what you actually want to eat. You don’t need to prep foods you don’t actually like as a means to force yourself to eat them or just because they are “healthy”. If you’ve been dieting for a while and don’t feel like you even know what foods you really like anymore, do some experimenting by trying out different foods and food combinations. Try making a list and narrow it down as you gain exposure and practice.
3. Be flexible.
Remember, meal prepping doesn’t need to be rigid, and it most definitely should not be used as part of a restrictive diet. Try prepping versatile ingredients (examples below) so that you aren’t limited to eating something that ends up not sounding good to you in that moment. Being flexible can also mean having a meal idea for some days of the week, but being okay with the fact that if the day comes and you want to have something else, you have full permission to do so. Give yourself options rather than a strict plan of “monday I will eat this and Friday I’ll eat this” so-to-speak. This is what truly allows for intuitive eating to come into play.
4. Assess how it’s working. Meal prepping is not a requirement, so it need not be forced. If you find yourself feeling burnt-out, uninspired or overwhelmed, give yourself permission to take a break and/or reevaluate where you can make some tweaks. Take some time to evaluate your relationship with food and think back to your original intention to make sure you’re still acting in line with yours.
Getting started with intuitive meal prep
Now that you understand how meal prep and intuitive eating can coexist, you may desire some pointers of how to get started. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need to involve hours on the weekend or be overwhelming at all!
Keeping the principles of intuitive eating in mind, consider the following guidelines for meal prepping success:
1. Plan for it.
Make meal prep a part of your routine just like other things you do on a daily or weekly basis. This will help you follow through more often with your desire and efforts to meal prep.
2. Batch cook.
Try cooking or preparing large portions of versatile ingredients, such as whole grains, hard boiled eggs, and veggies to have ready all week long. Cooking double or triple batches of favorite meals is also an excellent way to batch cook and save time in the long run. Just prepare, store, and enjoy when ready! (tip: your freezer may be a useful tool here!)
3. Check your schedule.
Use your calendar as a guide to make sure that meal prep will actually work with your schedule each week. For example, if there are nights you know you won’t have time to cook, plan ahead to put a meal in the slow cooker that morning, or plan to enjoy leftovers or another quick go-to meal. Meal prep can occur any day of the week, so if your schedule changes and your usual Sunday prep gets turned into a Tuesday, that’s okay!
4. Work around a basic menu.
You don’t have to know exactly what you’ll eat each day of the week, but having a flexible list of a few ideas for dinner and some simple ideas for lunch and breakfast will help you organize your grocery shopping list and your week. It’s also a good idea to check what ingredients you already have in your kitchen and base your meal ideas off of those which will help save money and reduce food waste.
5. Embrace frozen & convenience items.
There are no rules that the ingredients for meal prep need to be completely fresh. Things like frozen produce, pre-cooked meats, bagged salad mixes and canned beans are totally acceptable and may last a lot longer in your pantry, fridge or freezer.
Both meal prepping and embracing the principles of intuitive eating take practice, but they come with big rewards. With time you can experience the freedom and flexibility that both provide when you incorporate the two lifestyle habits together.