How Giving Up “Boxed Carbs” Uncovered the Need for Me to Become a Meal Planner

by Diana Keeler
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How Giving Up “Boxed Carbs” Uncovered the Need for Me to Become a Meal Planner

Not long after determining that Wheat Thins (and pasta, and cookies, and shortbread, and pancakes) made up an unconscionable percentage of my diet (150%, plus or minus), I decided to give them up for four weeks: a midsummer experiment designed to short-circuit my dependence on what I’d begun describing as “boxed carbs” but are more appropriately termed foods of convenience that are high calorie relative to their nutritional offerings. (A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sums it up: “Refined grains, fats, and sweets are inexpensive, palatable, and convenient. However, they can also be energy-dense and are sometimes poor in vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients.”)

I designed the trial to be low impact: I wouldn’t avoid all carbs, just the ones that came in boxes, sat on my shelves, and provided a poor substitute for more nutritionally rewarding foods when the hour was late and my stomach was grumbling. My problem was mindless eating—a box of Wheat Thins gone before I realized what had happened. That meant bread from the bakery, which went stale in 12 hours, was allowed. Ditto sandwiches made at the shop below my apartment, and pasta from restaurants, where I rarely eat anyway. I wasn’t banning carbs so much as I was forcing myself to change how, and when, I typically ate them: as a default option, when I’d given up the option of making anything better.

A small shift, nutritionally speaking, resulted in a cataclysm in terms of meal planning. I live alone, and as a freelance writer, my schedule is unpredictable and erratic: If I have a deadline, I work until I’m finished, and then eat. I can’t count how many times I’ve looked away from my laptop to realize that it was after 9 p.m., and glumly pulled out a pot for the spaghetti (or dialed for delivery): At least I’d have something.

The first day of my experiment, I worked into the evening, passing up every opportunity to go to the grocery store or the farmer’s market—instead, as I had so many times in the past, I looked away from my computer and saw that it was too late to buy food that didn’t involve (a) a Big Mac or (b) falafel. I’d just returned home from a two-week trip, so all I had in my refrigerator were olives and almond milk. The only items on my shelves were the foods I’d just outlawed: a box of penne, pancake mix, a half-empty carton of shortbread. Any other night, and I would have gone with the penne. I ended up walking a mile to the one late-night bodega still open, where I chose the best of a tiny, terrible selection: a carton of yogurt, an abused banana.

Something became clear as I walked home at 11 p.m., holding a plastic bag filled with my meager dinner. Twenty-four hours earlier, I would have said that my biggest nutritional hurdle was my reliance on boxed carbs. Removing them from my diet, though, revealed the much more destructive, underlying issue: my unwillingness to be accountable for my meal planning. Pasta and pancakes had helped me get by with a catch-as-catch-can strategy—if it can be called a strategy. Without them, I had no meal-planning skills to fall back on—and if I was going to eat like an adult over the next four weeks, I had some serious changes to make.

What’s your relationship with meal planning? Do you stock up on nutritionally dense foods for the week, or do you catch-as-catch-can? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • ardellaeagle

    I’ve run the gamut of newlywed, cooking for two, to single, to married with children (at all stages), back to single; I can safely say that I am very comfortable with meal-planning. I’ve always loved to cook and prefer to live frugally (read: I hate to spend money I don’t have on take-out), and I have a tendency to eat eclectically, so having a pantry and freezer stocked with ‘healthy’ alternatives is natural for me. Yes, I have had nights where dinner consisted of about 20 cups of hot air popped popcorn (not since my 20’s!), but there were nights of tabouli or mixed frozen veggie bag mixed in with ramen noodles and a pouch of salad shrimp. Right now, I need to weed out my pantry of stuff that I bought more for my kids (now off to college) and relearn how to cook for one.

  • Cathy

    This is my issue too, lack of meal planning – I find myself just buying random healthy options, but when I get home there is no plan to cook them, so they just go bad!

    • Evelyn Schlarb-Sheppard

      I hate to say this but I’m finding comfort in knowing there are others out there that struggle with the same things I do. I buy all kinds of healthy food, then they go bad because I don’t know what to do with them. I am a HUGE planner but here’s another problem I have. What do you do if your husband is the opposite? He HATES meal planning. “what if i don’t feel like what we had planned?” I’m thinking it might be an option to decide the day of, stop at the grocery store on the way home? Thoughts?

      • dunhamjr

        If you are the planner and he is not… then it will have to become fully your job to make the plans. One thing though based on your reply, you say you are a planner… but doesn’t sound like you are meal planning at all. If you are meal planning, you plan out the week… THEN buy groceries. You don’t by groceries with good intentions to use them, but end up tossing them. Any good meal plan can still account for chicken day turning into salmon day… or even pizza day. Since you are building the plan, be sure that most meals are things your husband would eat anytime. Don’t make every meal new. Make 6 favorites and 1 new meal. That way if he really is unwilling to try your new thai quinoa pesto salmon fondu wrap ;)… you can pull out the fixin’s for any of the other 6 dinners you already had planned for the week.

        • Stephen Bennett

          Let him fix his own meals if he doesn’t “like” what you have planned. I am sick of these people who are depend on others to feed them what “they” like.
          I was the “I don’t like that!”, or “I won’t eat what you are having so fix me something else!” kind of husband for years.
          What a moron I was.
          Luckily my wife of 38 years stuck by me long enough for me to see the infantile attitude I had.
          We fix our meals together, or if one would rather not have what the other desires for dinner, they fix their own.
          I feel so much more in control of my own health and weight than ever before.
          My wife is so much happier and less disgruntled and we enjoy our meal times together.

      • Babsy1969

        How about plan a weeks worth of meals and have him choose which one he wants day by day. Give him a choice of the 7 meals you’ve planned. That way there’s still some spontaneity.
        I have trouble with meal planning myself. I read all the articles and buy the good-for-you food, but if you’re not in the mood to cook after a long day, good food will spoil. If I can ever get so ambitious as to do freezer prep crock pot meals, I’d be golden. Or any kind of freezer meal. That way you can easily pop a frozen meal in the microwave, much like a TV dinner, and you know it will be healthy because you made it. Yeah, one day I’m going to do just that! 😀

        • Amy Goodrich Goodwin

          I second this suggestion! I plan out seven meal options, usually including a few that are quick and some that take more work so we have a couple of choices any given day and we can go with what we’re in the mood for. It also helps me personally to write out my grocery list by what’s needed for each meal nd keep it throughout the week so I can remember why on earth I bought so much celery, etc. I’m still working on freezer meals, but one thing that helps for me is to just double a recipe I’m already making for dinner and freeze half for another night.

      • ashlay helton

        i know people that do that and it works fine for them. they have a good grocer on the way home from work. i have been tempted to try this but with my work schedule and the gym right after, the grocer in that area is…not so good. im the planner in the family, and i have a few staples i stick to. my main hurdle right now is hubs’ digestive/dietary issues and with his new job as a teacher he has very little time to eat anyway. when i cook, i cook for 4 instead of two (sometimes 6) and have auto-leftovers. boiled eggs/fruit/cheese or cheese/cold cuts/fruit make frequent appearances on the lunch menu. i do get clif kids bars/fruit ropes because he is diabetic and eating isnt optional, but the adult energy bars are too much and overload on sugars. and he cant shove them in his face quickly with no utensils. it seems to be a good compromise. but without planning/grocery lists i go wild on the boxed carbs too.

      • jedi1111

        He’s lucky he has someone to cook for him. If he doesn’t like what you are cooking, let him make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You aren’t running a diner. What a spoiled brat! Unbelievable. You should make him do the cooking and see how he likes picky eaters.

      • Jennifer Ciemiewicz Mancuso

        Evelyn I know exactly what you are going through. I try to plan meals that will be healthy, and then my husband decides he wants take out. I hate to cook for just me, but I think that is what is going to have to happen. Good luck to you too!

    • Tina

      Ditto! Poor meal planning:(

  • hlcook

    Actually, as a freelance writer your schedule is totally up to you … not “unpredictable and erratic” … I’ve been a freelance writer (2 books and 350+ articles) Now I’m in EMS… if we want to talk “unpredictable and erratic” … try eating out of an ambulance instead of your house!

    I’ve also given up on most boxed carbs, it is a good line to draw and pretty easy to follow. I always have fresh food in the fridge out of habit for me and the kids.

    • Hmm

      Actually since you don’t know they’re schedule, you can’t really tell them how their schedule is for them. I don’t think they were looking for a comparison of “who has the most hectic schedule…

      • dragonwolf

        I think this experience has uncovered more than just the author’s lack of meal planning, but also a general lack of time management/planning.

        While we may not know the details of her day to day life, we can surmise that she probably doesn’t generally have “drop everything and do this RIGHT NOW or the world’s going to end” types of deadlines. Odds are, she knows at least a working day ahead of time when something is going to be due. She is, after all, a writer who “writes about travel, health and adventure.” That’s not even generally “breaking news” territory. Therefore, if her schedule is “unpredictable and erratic,” odds are it’s at least as much her own doing as it is anyone else’s, and that means she can take ownership of the parts that she can control.

        Does that mean her schedule isn’t hectic? Of course not, but “hectic” does not equate to “unpredictable.” Even if someone wants you to drop everything and fly to Madrid, there is still planning involved. You have to get the plane ticket, the hotel, etc. You simply need to prioritize getting and making food the same way you would prioritize getting a decent hotel room and a plane ticket, instead of pushing it off until you’re about ready to fall on the floor or eat everything in sight. Just like waiting until the last minute to go to the airport to catch your plane is a bad idea, so is putting off eating that much.

        This observation isn’t meant to be “mean” to her, but rather to point out an area of potential improvement that has the potential to greatly increase not only her quality of life, but also her income potential. Better time management means more and/or better writing, and more downtime and opportunities for some semblance of routine.

        • Simon

          Exactly. Bad eating is usually a factor of one or more of laziness, stupidity, lack of interest or love of comfort food. I can rustle up a healthy meal from frozen veggies and chicken in a single large frying pan (coconut oil mind) with 5 minutes prep and 15 minutes cooking time. Simples.

        • Betz

          Obviously none of you have the same creative issues as the writer. I am an artist and I also stop painting to discover time has flown by and all of a sudden I am famished. I started using a timer to force myself into taking breaks. That’s tough when your mind is in the middle of a great thought. Give her a break on her time management skills. Changing eating habits is a long journey and I am confident she will figure it out but it doesn’t happen overnight!

  • jen

    When I meal plan- I can stay 100% on track. I find that I spend less money on food (groceries or dining out) if I just invest an hour a week meal planning. Not only am I saving money, I am eating more healthy and lose weight. Go figure!

    My key is prep all my snacks , prep some of my meals (aka chop veggies) for the week on Sunday. I will make dinner and plan for 1-2 nights of leftovers per cooking session. I am constantly on the go so it makes it easy on my nights coming home late that I know I have a pre-cooked healthy meal ready to be heated up. That way I am only cooking a couple of nights a week, the nights I know I have time.

    • jen

      i should say the hour “planning” includes the prepping!

    • Dee Williamson

      I totally agree here. It not only saves me time, but saves me money in the long run. I was just telling my husband how little we spend when we plan our meals out for the week.

  • Amy Clarke

    I find I cannot do completely (rice or quinoa). I will cut up veggies for several days in advance, grill a plank of salmon, some ground chicken (for taco or thai flavors) and cook up some rice or quinoa in in the rice cooker – this effectively provides a canvas for multiple meals for my daughters and I for several days at a time. Hope that helps.

  • Michelle Kosmicki

    I stock my freezer with meals, meat, and frozen veggies/fruit. It takes some time to defrost, but it’s better than processed, boxed stuff.

  • Stephanie Robertson

    Ditto! I wnt ona slow carb diet, which elimanates ALL carbs likt that. I Realizes (a) I sucked at meal planning purly because , like you, I always eat on impulse (Im a retail manager) and (b) I get board easily with a dish…I HAVE to have variety!

  • Great article Diana, can’t wait to read the next one. Meal planning, bargain shopping, and farmers market hopping, all becomes part of growing up nutritionally.

  • Marci

    It has taken years of practice, but I’ve gotten good at whipping up a meal from scratch pretty quickly. It has taken some time, and going easy on myself when I can’t do it all. For days where I don’t have it in me, luckily there’s a pretty extensive salad bar with healthy hot food near by house for those days. They list all the ingredients, so I know exactly what I’m eating. I also keep chopped veggies and fruit around with dips like hummus and tahini for snacking. Kale chips are easy to make. I also keep canned fish and smoked salmon around, which is technically out of a package, but it’s also good for you, so why not? I’ve been eating whole foods for so long that eating boxed foods would result in a pretty intense gastrointestinal rebellion, so there’s no turning back now even if I wanted to!

    • Marci

      Also, it may feel impossible to imagine cooking that much, but better eating leads to more energy, which means it will get easier in that way as well. In the morning I boil an egg and chop up some fruit, which doesn’t take a huge amount of effort. For lunch, steaming veggies in the microwave with spices can be done while waiting for the coffee to brew and the egg to finish boiling. I’ve got a lot of this down to matter of minutes, but I’ve been doing it for about ten years.

  • Sara

    I love my carbs, but I am trying to incorporate more whole foods instead of thinking about what I can’t have. I like to have almonds, dates, and Greek yogurt for those unplanned moments of hunger.

  • Sean Burgess

    While I applaud the decision to jettison the calorie dense foods in favor of something more freshly made, I can’t understand the differentiation between pasta cooked at home and pasta ordered out at a restaurant. Both should contain nearly identical calories and nutrients and should taste just about the same unless the pasta is freshly made and not dried. Am I missing something here?

    • kwest

      She doesn’t eat out often, so she figured if, upon occasion, she found herself at a restaurant, she could indulge in pasta at that time.

      • missfitgator

        Thanks. I was wondering the same thing!

  • Babsy1969

    I’m a single cooker myself. I work sometimes late hours and volunteer sometimes even later. My “bargaining” was “oh its sooo late, I’ll stop at McD’s or Wendy’s. Or stop at the grocery and chow down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s best. That had to stop!
    I’m trying to do better. Since then I’ve become pretty good at determining which vegetables won’t go south on you too fast. I like zucchini, cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, whatever will keep a week. I keep a good non stick frying pan on my stove at all times. I just wipe it out as I’m finished. (Pampered chef pan; awesome!) My go to (if I have veggies in the fridge) is a handful of each, starting with the longest to cook, topping it with either salsa, spaghetti or tomato sauce, or just a squeeze of lime juice. Then I top it off with pre-cooked chicken. When chicken goes on sale, I buy what I can and pre cook it. Once its cooled I weigh it and cut it to 4-6 oz pieces (breasts) or 2-3 oz pieces (thighs). I then put them in individual sandwich baggies and all into a big freezer bag. Then each morning I’ll pull one out of the freezer and at night chop into bite size pieces and throw in my veggie pan. In about 10-15 minutes I have a hot meal ready to go – and the best is I cooked it!
    Best thing though is to pre chop everything the first day you bring it home. I’ve even made mason jar salads to take to work with me. Google ‘Organize Yourself Skinny’; there are soooo many ideas from pre made meals to freezer meals, to pre-prepared crock pot meals. I love it!

    • pattieone

      What a great post. Going to google that. Thanks

    • Dawn

      Excellent tips and I’ll check out organise yourself skinny

  • Nicola

    What’s wrong with just having a sandwich ? Chuck in some salad leaves, tomato and a bit of cheese and ham. Done

    • AEDeb

      I hate meal planning but I make sure to shop for a variety if veggies, proteins and healthy starches. Each meal for dinner must be veggie, protein and starch But in any combination that I feel like that day. It’s the golden rule!

  • Pamela

    Not only do I hate meal planning, I hate cooking! So trying to decrease carbs for me is very difficult. But planning does make a huge difference. Still trying and failing, but haven’t given up completely.

    • pattieone

      I hate cooking too.

    • owie

      buy precooked chicken, cold meats etc, make your own soup or get good carton ones with proper ingredients (and not tinned etc). eat peaches straight out a small tin if fresh ones tend to go off (mine usually do as i’m not a great fruit eater). You don’t need to cook just to be able to stop eating pasta and bread. Hummus, pb or any other similar condiment is great on carrots (all you have to do is peel don’t even need to cut them up), celery, apples, bell or sweet peppers (these can be cut into large ‘spoons’) and dunk them in. There really is no excuse for not binning rubbish carbs. Just use your brain.

  • Mpm6228

    I lost 60 lbs a year ago by giving up all “boxed” carbs except Finn crisps and Wasa crackers, and all desserts that weren’t fruit, raw plain fruit. I did a ton of planning. I ate a lot of protein and fat. It seemed easy once rice, pasta and bread weren’t on the menu.

    • pattieone

      Try to eat fresh fruit BEFORE your meals instead of as a dessert. It’s better for your digestion.

  • clg

    I think pasta is a pretty fair food to keep eating with a goal like this, as long as you’re cooking it as part of a MEAL and not just “pasta with some cheese on it” or something like that. There’s a difference between “quick lazy pasta” and “home cooked fettucine primavera with salmon”.

  • Great post that really does point out what we are doing as a society – being too dependent on the “box foods” and low nutrition. I’ve been doing a doctor supervised weight loss program that is a modified Atkins, big focus on no/very low sugar, no pasta, bread, beans, fruit (except berries.) I’m very lucky in that my spouse is an excellent and extremely creative cook, so we’ve been doing all kinds of substitutions for carbs. This has been a life-altering experience: in almost 5 months, I’ve lost 40 pounds, dropped cholesterol to normal, triglycerides to normal (first time in I don’t know how long), and taken myself out of pre-diabetic A1C level. My blood work/lipid panel is now Normal. So, I’m very happy not doing the carbs – the weightloss and my better general are witness!

  • Sue Robinson Arsenault

    I took processed everything out 6 weeks ago!! Best thing I ever did! No bread no pasta! I am down 15 lbs feel great and very active! I plan and use my days off to prep my foods for the week so I don’t find a reason to cheat! As soon as the scales started moving after 2 years of only going down to go back up with no real weight loss I am scared to cheat!!

  • Laura

    I’m a working mom of two teenage girls and a meat and potatoes husband. Life can be hectic but I find I cope best and I’m happiest when I take 20-30 minutes on Friday or Saturday to plan out meals for the week and then do the shopping for those meals. I post the list of dinners on a board in the kitchen and the first person home can choose a meal and get things started. I too try to avoid boxed carbs and packaged foods. The BBQ, chicken and fresh veggies seem to be staples. However, I do find meals get boring and repetitive sometimes and we get tired of the same old things. That is my challenge.

  • Steve

    My wife and I plan our meals out. With her having diverticulitis it really made us watch our meal planning. She has been good at it, and I willing to try new things. She has learned to substitute cauliflower for rice, which at first I was hesitant, but have grown to really like it. She even makes a Spanish rice version. We eat lots of lean meat and have spaghetti made from squash.

  • Timothy J. Burdg

    I used to struggle with meal planning. However, I get a nice box of fresh, organic produce delivered to my door every two weeks. I use that day to plan out the next weeks food and I incorporate whatever I have received in my box. When I first started doing this, some of the vegetables went to waste because I couldn’t eat them all (I was getting a delivery every week at that time). I cut back to every other week and my goal is to use everything I have to plan out my meals. I add some protein (usually ground turkey or chicken) and a sauce (typically tomato based) and then portion out my food being sure to measure each portion. I then put them in Ziploc containers and have them ready to go every day. It takes the daily guess work out for me because I have done the work ahead of time. I’m also finding that with the portioning I am able to eat 4-5 smaller meals each day rather than three larger ones.

  • dragonwolf

    This is an awesome account of your learning experiences!

    MFP — can we get more articles like this one? And Diana, can we get a followup article about your progress through the course of this experiment?

  • Chinkapin Chick

    I’m a single, homesteading, working mom of two middle aged kids. I used to grow things for a farmers market and either grew my food, or bartered for it. Not going into the grocery store saved me from eating junk out of boxes. However, my life has changed, and although I still grow food and occassionally make it to the farmers market, I find the convenience and necessity of shopping at the grocery store changed our eating habits and I was seeing it on my waistline. To avoid the boxed food ease of cooking I follow the perimeter shopping rule and avoid making my way into the aisles of the grocery store as much as possible. The perimeter includes produce, organic and natural food (beware of boxed organic stuff…just as bad carb-wise), meat and dairy products, and the deli, where I can by nitrite free cold-cuts and quality cheeses. I do venture into the aisles for dog food, toilet paper, soaps, and canned salmon. From these basic items I have about two dozen standard meals that I can make based on our moods for food. The other thing I do is buy bulk foods at the local health food store and keep them in jars on my counter. These staples include ground corn (for polenta), whole wheat flour (yes we do like pancakes on the weekends and occassional homemade baked goods), organic sugar, whole raw oats, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, raisins, dried pinto beans, and short grain brown rice. We can eat from this collection creativily and wholly.

  • Sara

    I don’t like frozen cooked chicken or turkey and not real fond of freezing meals! My husband & I eat totally different. What I make he doesn’t like and I am not eating his meat, gravy, and potatoes every night. So usually we don’t do too much meal planning.

    • epickett

      Sounds like you guys NEED to do meal planning. Find something you can agree on that you can eat at least one or two nights out of the week…

  • Sarah Pearce

    This was my issue too, depending on stored items to make something, or jetting to the store at 5 pm. (With everyone else) Having to cook everything now (LCHF) makes my fridge full of good food now.

  • Em

    I like to create food calendars where I plan out my meals for each day, pick 2 – 3 recipes that will have enough for leftovers, do all the shopping in one night, and cook them on a Monday night to last me to at least Friday. It means that I hardly eat out during the week, and make better choices then last minute take out.

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  • bobby_t

    I don’t always meal-plan…but I do snack-plan for the week. I always have plenty of fruit, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, almonds, protein bars, etc on hand, at work, when needed.

  • Follow up article please! This one left me hanging. Did she start planning meals? Did it work the way she hoped? What system for meal planning (freezing meals, one week plan, etc.) did she go with?

  • Big Momma

    Thank you! I enjoyed reading all the replies and helpful hints. It always helps to know others have the same problems, and get some new suggestions to try, but that percentage in the opening paragraph is bugging me. Even if your ENTIRE diet was boxed carbs, that would only be 100% percent.

  • Pam

    I must admit that the best thing I ever did for my health was have children (not that having children is necessary, it’s simply what it took me to get myself going in the right direction). Before that, I either starved myself or gorged myself silly because I had starved myself the day before. I just didn’t have the desire to get organized in that way, and was more interested in other things. Learning to plan meals, even if it’s just for one person, has the potential to turn into something fun. My biggest challenge after that was learning how to cook!

  • BUC

    This article went no where. Just some rambling about someone with no food in the house. Diet food is expensive, eating out is expensive, organic food is to expensive for what you get. So meal planning is what you are left with. The problem here is it’s time consuming and you can’t get the things that taste good. Bread and Pasta so what are you left with. Bland meals that you won’t eat much of after awhile. So eat what you what and burn more calories then you are taking in and you’ll lose weight, if that is your goal.

  • angharris34

    This article came at exactly the right time. I love and live for boxed carbs, especially Mac & Cheese! I have had some concerns about my blood pressure and have realized these items are very high in sodium. I am inspired to try eliminating these items from diet to try abd improve my overall health. Now to get my husband on board!

    • dottiedale

      I’m a few months ahead and 38 pounds lighter. But I was/am faced with the same dilema. I have approached this “obsessively” I admit, but as a game. My new eating plan is high protein (not red meat), good fats, all the veggies I can eat, some fruits, but since high in sugars, I curtail the amount and only carbs that are low glycimic such as brown rice, beans, high fiber. No boxed.
      As this has been new to me, I spent considerable time on-line searching for healthy meals. I try to keep my calorie intake well under 1500. (I stll have 100 pounds to go). To do this, and get maximum nutricional value I concentrate on the “super foods” like blueberries, olive or palm oil, avacados, lemons, green tea, kale et al.
      A few basics that I rely on, that are quick and easy are: my breakfast smoothie. Almond milk, whey protein powder, a veg/fruit powder, a little stevia for sweetening, and a cup of frozen pre-cut fruits (preferably a mix of strawberries and blueberries. Mix with my Ninja. This has about 400 calories, but very high in protein, low sodium, and all the great amino acids, etc. of fresh veggies.
      My other mainstay is a drink I use all day long. I am not a big water drinker, dislike the taste of green tea, but this way I love it. I mix up a large pitcher of iced green tea, squeeze fresh lemons for lemonade, stevia added to the hot tea to make a simle syrup, and fill with filtered water. Then add some low calorie tonic water for fizz. I use a 72 ounce empty juice bottle and know how much of each so I don’t even need to measure. I prefer it about 2/3 green tea to 1/3 lemonade, but that is a personal preference.
      One more drink (dessert) for before bedtime. Again I use an empty plastic juice container to store it. Are you familiar with Cacao? It is what makes chocolate good for you without all the bad stuff. I heat a cup of hot water, add the cacao powder (I get both that and the veg. powder online) to dissolve. Then fill with almond milk. Add cinnamon if you like it. Store and heat a cup for hot chocoate before bedtime. This will last a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. I experimented to get the proportion I liked and listed it on the front of the jar with plastic tape to protect it.
      Your family might not approve, but when I am alone, sometimes for dinner I will just have oatmeal with frozen fruit, hemp seed or flax meal added to the cooking. A little stevia and almond milk and it’s healthy, fast and easy. No pre-planning involved.
      I hope this helps someone.

  • Healthy Pipes

    I’m on day 4 of a no-sugar diet (taking the Fed Up sugar-free challenge – you can google for it if you want, it’s the Katie Couric project). I go to Whole Foods and load up on vegetables, and stock up on pre-washed organic quinoa (boxed, ready to cook) and cans of Eden beans. All organic if I can and I’m lucky to have Whole Foods nearby. Then, and here is what makes the deal, I steam the vegetables, cook the quinoa, and put everything into three large pyrex containers, enough for three days of several meals a day. When I get hungry, I’ve got food already there, as if I’d just done takeout. Works very well for me, as long as I don’t eat any sugar (bummed, no vanilla lattes anymore). It does take a very long time for me to cook, I am not that great in the kitchen, but hoping I’ll get more efficient.

  • DianaLesireBrandmeyer

    Did I write this? Seriously, I could have you have described me right down to being a writer and the time going by. I realized this past week my menu planning skills have been disappearing the closer I get to my deadline.

  • Liriope

    I too find that meal planning is a huge time commitment but absolutely necessary. I have resorted to an excel spreadsheet of menus created bi-weekly.

  • Brie Hoffman

    I have one phrase for you “home-made soups” ..freeze them and you will always have something healthy to eat in a pinch.

  • Denise Fletcher

    I now buy local bread 35 calories per slice, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, lots of vegetables. Lean meats and got to have my cheese. I live alone and am taking two classes online from the local college and write for Linkedin. Plus I am working on children books, so there is lots of drawing and painting. I need to lose 40 pounds and am going to lose it if it kills me.

    I like stewed tomatoes from the can, mix one can of stewed tomatoes (with spices) with one can of tomato soup(using water) taste really good. i use lots of vegetables because they are low in calories with the meat, got to have my meat. Protein keeps hunger pains away longer.

    Things I can make while I am writing is stuff green peppers, vegetables in a large pot with hamburger a little paste and always add spices. This way i usually have enough for the next day too 🙂

  • McKay Jean

    “…Removing them from my diet, though, revealed the much more destructive,
    underlying issue: my unwillingness to be accountable for my meal
    planning. Pasta and pancakes had helped me get by with a
    catch-as-catch-can strategy—if it can be called a strategy. Without
    them, I had no meal-planning skills to fall back on—and if I was going
    to eat like an adult over the next four weeks, I had some serious
    changes to make…” I so identified with this article…thank you i need to ‘read’ this..Last nites (once a day) meal//s finished off by spoon the peanut butter jar and the vanilla icing, in a can, Put a slice of round roast on the George Foreman small grill, too cooked, and joined that with a baked potatoe. This is how I eat.. today I opted for a plateful of poutine and a plate of salad..So today is done. I do not have the money to get a weeks supply of food at a time, normally, and like other posts if i do they tend to go bad ie bread and peppers, bananas go bad before i get to them. I will keep trying

  • J.J. Peters

    Having suffered from hypoglycemia for a number of years I’ve learn to eat what is good for my body: fresh fruit/veggie, water, low sugar/salt.
    Even so, I have to be vigilant about carbs as my body reacts to it in a very unhealthy way.
    Lately, I consume more protein than carbs, more dark leafy greens than whole wheat and a lot more water than I really want to drink and it seems to be working. I’m losing belly fat, feel taller/lighter, more energetic and my complexion is clearer. It’s a confidence booster too. I feel so good that my view of supermarket foods has changed, I now see most as poisons. And, yes, I agree if food does not decay quickly it’s probably not good for you.

  • Mary

    Ahhh! But where’s the rest of the story??? How did it go? What changes did you make? How did you go about learning to meal plan? were you successful? Did any of the changes you made last? When’s the next installment of this story?

  • Riesah

    Diane, I know whereof your speak! When I was writing down everything I ate for two weeks and had planned well, having stocked up on fresh veggies, fruit, proteins and such, I not only felt better physically, but I dropped a pound or two and I was proud of myself for taking such good care of myself. Preparation is particularly challenging, since I live quite rurally and a trip to the grocery store is 32 km! I like to keep my pantry stocked with good dried foods (legumes, grains, seeds and nuts, etc) all the time, and the fresh foods choices in town seem to run the gamut of same-old, same-old, so once a week, when I head to the nearest “large” city, I stock up and many of my choices include varieties of veggies (oriental and regular), since I’m best with a diet that also allows me to cook a wide variety of dishes, so I don’t get bored.

  • Riesah

    Something I forgot to mention is that I’m also allergic to soy, dairy and gluten, so with the convenience of dairy off my list, I’ve had to seek out alternatives and was happy to discover so many coconut based products like yogurt, “cheese” and delicious frozen ice “cream”. I also eat fresh coconut for snacks, along with nuts, nut butters on rice cakes, humus, guacamole and other good things that are always in my fridge and right at the front. They don’t go off quickly and they’re healthy too. I find winter is the hardest time to find a wide variety of non-GMO, organic fresh foods that won’t break the bank and will keep me healthy. Thankfully, some local producers offer free range eggs, chickens, turkeys, lamb and beef, all raised on grass, without antibiotics, growth hormones and the like.

  • Sallyann Groves

    Every Saturday morning I sit down at breakfast and plan my meals for the week ahead so I know what I’m going to prepare for lunch at work and all my dinners, with quick and easy and longer cooked meals planned so I cook ahead for tomorrow whilst I’m cooking tonight’s dinner if need be. This benefits me not only in that I’m not falling back onto fast food, takeaway or prepacked meals but it also allows me to buy exactly what I need and therefore not wasting money and food.

  • Cece1550

    I have avoided highly processed foods and done a weekly meal plan for a few years. I’m a mother with 3 children whose busy schedules don’t leave a lot of time for cooking in the evening, and here’s the system that works for me.
    1) I plan for a week but only buy groceries for about 4 days at a time. This keeps me from having food rot in my refrigerator because my plans changed. (I’m lucky to live near a grocery store and I can shop quickly thanks to the Grocery IQ app on my smartphone.)
    2) I keep a Word document called “repeat dinners” that I draw upon for meal planning. Included in that document are sections for “fast dinners”, “vegetables & sides”, “slow cooker”, “a bit more trouble”, and “company”. I’m careful not to be overly ambitious in my plan. Even though I like to cook, I plan for only 1 or so dinners a week in the “a bit more trouble” category, and I try not to make more than 1 new recipe per week because those always take twice as long as I think they should.
    3) I also keep my meal plan in a (separate) Word document–I put the new week’s plan on top, but let the history accumulate because it’s good for reference. When I’m too busy to meal-plan (or not in the mood), I just grab the plan from an earlier week.
    4) Accumulating recipes that work for me has been key, and I’ve put a lot of energy into that. If a recipe turns out well and is fast and healthy, I enter it into the computer. That’s been a significant time investment, but one that has paid off. Then, I can reliably find my recipes, plus it makes it easy to track the notes I’ll need to make the recipe more easily or better the next time.
    Good luck! I’d love to hear other people’s systems too. I always wonder how others make this work! It’s a hassle to eat healthy. Meals were easier before I had kids and tended to eat frozen bean burritos and ramen a lot for dinner!

  • Beque

    I cook once per week and pull out the big guns (my pressure cooker and rice cooker). I will never go to all the effort of cooking just for one meal – what a waste of time! My freezer is my best friend and the combination of the two tactics saves me a lot of money and time and leads to healthier eating. Eventually your menu in the freezer increases so that you’re not eating the same thing every day. Oh and my lettuce patch provides many lunches.

  • Amie Hopkins

    I lived the same diet for many years, as well; fast food, pantry full of carbs. It’s easier to eat that way. No thought, no muss, no fuss. Everyone is in a hurry for their meals and preparing every meal is almost unheard of from people these days.

    We engage our minds and hopefully or bodies in so many activities that taking time to nourish the part of ourselves that keeps it all going, our foundation for all of those activities, is taken for granted. We invest almost no time in this most important part of ourselves, the part that maintains our body and mind to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

    Perhaps the answer is our changing our life style. If meal planning days, weeks, months in advance doesn’t work for you, buy food from the market on the way home from work everyday. Make it a fun game to find new places to buy fresh ingredients. If you have an issue with time, set a timer on your phone (it’s always by your side anyway, make it work for you) to remind you to start the meal and stick to it. Make a note of what you were doing when you stop working so you’ll know what you need to do when you come back to work some more. Take the time to nourish yourself so that you can make better progress when you come back to it. If you don’t know what to make, try finding a simple recipe then make it your own. Add interesting ingredients, spices or just trade good recipes with friends.

    Make fresh, healthy eating a positive, life affirming choice!

  • Gigi

    I started meal planning for the same reason, I needed to break the “eat what was found or fast food/take out habit” and my husband was getting cranky at the amount of food that we were throwing out each week! It took some trial and errors before I found a system that worked, but now we eat healthy (for the most part) meals made at home most nights, and I’m throwing less and less dead produce/fruit away each week! I start out by writing meal menus before I shop, that way I can check what ingredients I have at home vs what i need, and then I post it on the fridge. I also started to write what was in my freezer on a list on the fridge so I wouldn’t forget what was in there!! I’m a nurse and don’t get home until late when I work, so I divide them into I’m working/I’m not working meals so my husband can get the “I’m working” meal started when he gets home from work. We laugh about that because I literally will put all the dry ingredient out in the morning (including the pot/pan/casserole dish to use), leave the protein to be used with a “dinner” sticky note on it, and if the produce choices are tricky, I’ll put them into a big bowl in the fridge instead of leaving them in the drawer (hey, whatever works, right). I also try, when possible, to make twice what we need for the meal so we have lunches, or reruns, for later in the week or to throw in the freezer for our own “tv dinners”. We’ve been doing this for almost two years and it really has helped! Now if I could just solve the hurdle of eating so late at night… but with both of us working 12 hour shifts, that may never happen!

  • Sure, it is good to plan out things in advance, but that didn’t really work for me if I am being honest. Simply writing what you eat daily is all it takes for some people to do better portion control and change their habits. It worked for me anyway. I use this Thrive Journal pictured here to do the whole mind/body coverage and it really works. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/122a63e806bd47d07afca7012ce5ca0704e87f37148f05cd1b447c2724ce4aeb.jpg