I get a lot of questions about meal planning. I will start by saying that I am not a nutritionist, nor am I am dietician. But I do understand how eating and food impacts mood, behavior, thinking, and the body. And as such I have learned that food is essential for health and wellness. Not only does food impact the body and how the body functions but food can influence your mood. Research suggests that diets high in fats and starch are also related to higher rates of depression (Pepino, Finkeiner, & Mennella, 2009). Diet can negatively impact mood, but eating foods can also improve mood and behaviors. Making proper diet changes can decrease symptoms of ADHD (Peisser, Frankena, Toorman, Savelkoul, Pereira, & Buitelaar, 2009). The food you eat will be a reflection of you.
The food you consume is taken into your body via your mouth. From the moment the food touches your lips your body starts to process and break down the food. This process also involves brain function and these brain chemicals are also responsible for regulating mood, thinking, and behavior. The body then works to help the food travel down to your stomach. Here the food is further processed and met with stomach chemicals that breaks down the food for digestion. The same chemicals that process food in the stomach are also in the brain. In fact your gut contains serotonin, a chemical responsible for moods like depression and anger, just like the brain.
A study looked at how eating foods impacted the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. They found a diet that consisted of probiotics, yogurt, improved areas of the brain known for regulating emotions and keeping mood stable and improved the body’s alertness (Dr. Mercola via Mercola.com). This research supports the notion that “you are what you eat”. Healthy eating is not just necessary for weight loss and physical health but for improved thinking, improved focus, alertness, improved mood, and thoughtful behaviors.
What makes healthy eating difficult is when we are away from home, we are out with others, or we are busy. There is much research about the benefits of setting specific daily plans to maintaining healthy behaviors. Therefore meal planning is required to maintain healthy eating.
- The more specific the meal plan the better. Know what you will eat for each meal and know when you will eat.
- Plan for every single meal, including snacks.
- All meals should include a lean protein, a complex carb, and a healthy fat. So for example a snack could include an apple, deli cut turkey breast, and half a serving of almonds. (This is just an example and does not consider portion sizes, blood sugar, or other medical issues – a registered dietician or physician can best prescribe individualized meal plans).
People meal prep in different ways, so how prepare for meals depends on personal perference. Some meal prep for a whole week or a few days in advance. I meal prep for the next day, as my schedule allows that flexibility. Everyone is different. But here are some tips to start and find a meal prep routine that works for you.
- Meal prep starts with breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it kicks off your metabolism to start for the day. Breakfast can include eggs whites, whole toast, and peanut butter. Pull any dry foods out and place on the counters in ziplock or Tupperware. Only package the serving size you need to meet your dietary needs for the day. You do not need to prepare 4 pieces of toast unless that is your meal plan. Place perishable items in containers in the fridge.
- If you eat right your body will need more food in a couple of hours. Pack snacks that will satisfy. Avoid snacks high in sugar and that are overly processed. When I meal prep I try to follow the rule of protein, complex carb, and healthy fat for every meal, including snacks.
- Next you will pack lunch. Prepare foods by cooking them before and place in Tupperware. If you need to be more organized, label the bag or the Tupperware with date to eat and meal to eat. Then you can pull your Tupperware out of the fridge, warm it up, and you know you are getting in your healthy meal.
- You want to avoid starving and letting your metabolism drop so eating another fulfilling snack between lunch and dinner will help you stay focused and alert through the day.
- To avoid the evening hustle and bustle have dinner prepared. Crockpot recipes are helpful. Have meals partially prepared, all prepped, so you can remove food and place on stove, microwave, or oven with minimial effort.
Peisser, L., Frankena, K., Toorman, J., Savelkoul, H., Pereira, R., & Buitelaar, J. (2009). A randomized controlled trial into the effects of food on ADHD. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 18(1), 12-19.
Pepino, M. Y., Finkbeiner, S., & Mennella, J. (2009). Similarities in food cravings and mood states between obese women and women who smoke tobacco. Obesity, 17(6), 1158-1163.