Gretchen vs. The Need to Meal Plan

So, I work for Yelp. I’m the Northern Virginia Community Manager, and, yes, it’s the raddest, most bomb-diggity job ever. I get paid to do things like write, put together fun events that make me feel uber-popular, and love on local businesses — all things I do on the reg anyway. Plus, I work from home, have amazing local coworkers, and have access to all the free mints and chapstick a girl could ever need.

It rocks. Now, to be clear, this really was not meant to be a bragging session about how great my job is. It’s great, and it’s a really good fit for me. But it also presents a challenge when it comes to my new lease on trying to lose weight.

Lemme ‘splain. See, while Yelp can help you find pretty much anything from a new doctor to a place to get your bike fixed, as you can all probably attest, it is most well-known for being a resource when it comes to food & restaurants. And the fact of the matter is that the majority of businesses with whom I work and the majority of places where I throw events are restaurants. So, yeah, I’m around food and thinking about food and looking at food a lot.

Throw in the fact that even in my personal world, I love dining out — trying new restaurants, getting the scoop on the latest food trends, satisfying my unquenchable thirst for bubble tea — and you can see where we might hit a few road blocks, weight loss-wise. Now, losing weight and eating out are not mutually exclusive things, of course. I’ve written many posts in the past about being able eat in restaurants while in weight-loss mode, and I never really gave up my love for dining out when I lost weight before.

But even with the frequency of which I was going out to eat back then (I did it quite a bit), it’s not the same as it is now. Back when I was working my old government contracting jobs, I was in a routine where I was eating breakfast before work, then usually bringing in a healthy lunch. So even if I went out to dinner, I had still set myself up well to be able to indulge a little more than evening. But in this job, every day is so different from the next, and I don’t always know exactly how things are going to play out, meal-wise.

Some days I’m home all day and have the flexibility to be able to cook and make whatever I want, but other days I might be out flitting from meeting to meeting all day long. This week alone, I had a dinner event Monday, met my coworker for lunch Tuesday, had all-day calls Wednesday, and I have another event tonight.

I don’t mean to make it seem like I blame my weight gain on this job. I really don’t! But it would be naive of me not to recognize the additional temptations and challenges that come with having a food-centric job. It makes planning things out in advance all the harder… and at the same time all the more necessary. The problem is, I’ve never been great at meal planning, prepping, or any of that stuff. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantry kind of home cook, and I like being inspired in the kitchen.

So my current challenge is to get better about planning out my week in advance, so that I take full advantage of the times when I can eat at home, and so that I make good, thoughtful choices when I’m out. I know that this will involve not a small amount of pre-planning grocery lists and whatnot, so that I make sure that A) I always have good options to eat when I am home, and B) the food I do get at the store doesn’t go bad before I can use it. I admit, I am notoriously awful at overdoing it at the grocery store and then letting food go bad in our fridge because I didn’t think about how many events or commitments I had that week.

But with a little bit of extra planning, I know that I can be successful. Take last night, for example. I have dinner with my family every week (aww/gross, I know ;)), and we started doing a new thing where we rotate between my parents’ house, Ben & Taylor’s house, and my house. Since last night was Sean’s & my first time hosting, I took full advantage of being able to cook something healthy for the whole fam.

I made a large batch of turkey chili with beans (with all the fixin’s!) and some baked sweet potato fries. It ended up being a delicious and filling meal for everyone (well, at least I sure hope they didn’t leave hungry!) and I got to stay on track. And all it took was a tiiiiny bit of forethought — I mean, maybe this is a bad example because obviously I wasn’t going to just play pantry roulette when I knew I had a large group of people to feed, but you kind of get where I’m going with this, right?

And once I get the hang of planning the week out better, hopefully it will also help alleviate my automatic default setting of wanting to go out (or order in) whenever I don’t really know what I want to eat. The trick will, of course, be continually planning meals that are exciting and relatively culinarily challenging since I like to pretend like I’m on Top Chef every time I’m in the kitchen. That’s why I really loved meal boxes like Hello Fresh — the meals they sent were so interesting and everything I needed was already RIGHT THERE. Except that, too, fell victim to ingredients going bad in the fridge because I didn’t use them in time due to various other dinnertime commitments of one kind or another. Plus, it was just a little too expensive to maintain on the reg.

Aaaanyway, all this babbling has really just been to say that I’m going to try meal planning a little better from now on. So all you super organized folks, let me know the secrets to your success! Do you use a planner, do you have a whiteboard, are you putting your meals into Google Calendar… is there an app for that?

Be proud of me, guys. As Alexander Hamilton/Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “For the first time I’m thinking past tomorrow!” (Ohhhh yeah, I’m SUUUUPER Hamilton obsessed by the way) and genuinely trying to take a grown-up approach to this ish. Because, while dining out is an inevitability for me (even if work wasn’t a factor, I just love restaurants, man!), there is absolutely no excuse not to make the most of the time I do get to spend in my own kitchen, right?

13 Comments

  1. Katiesays:

    I am right there with you on the “I lost a ton of weight, and then it all crept back and it sucks” wagon.

    A few months ago, I started using the Cooking Light Diet thing. It’s $20 for 3 months. When you first start, you’ll answer a short questionnaire (are you vegetarian? Do you shellfish? How much do you weigh? How much would you like to lose?) and Cooking Light calculates how many calories you should eat. From there, you get access to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack recipes and you get a few options for each meal per day, and you can mix/match meals from different days, or record that you’re eating leftovers from a previous meal. Cooking Light is even SO REASONABLE that they realize that you might want to eat out, so you can mark that on your meal plan. It is truly a reasonable meal plan; a couple times a week, my dinner will include a glass of wine or beer. They’re not dummies!

    Anyway, I think that’s been a really great set of training wheels for ~lifestyle change~. I’ve been doing using the Cooking Light Diet for a few months, so now I feel really comfortable making an old favorite dinner, but in a portion size that is reasonable.

    If you don’t go the Cooking Light Diet route (I totally get it), I usually take a look at my favorite grocery store’s sales flyer and start from there. I look at what meat is on sale, and design a few meals around that. Then, I take a look at what produce is on sale/in season, and add those in. I cook most of my meals and eat out maybe once or twice a week, so I know that I need one or two recipes for lunch, two recipes for dinner (I cook one fancy meal for me and my dude with side dishes and everything, so fancy), maybe something for a snack (vegetables or fruit), and one breakfast (scrambled egg/cheese/salsa/whole wheat tortilla). I copy/paste recipes into an e-mail to myself, like so:
    Breakfast: egg wrap
    Lunches: recipe 1 URL, recipe 2 URL
    Dude Dinner: recipe 3 URL, salad, wine
    Katie Dinner: recipe 4 URL
    Snack: apple, carrots, hummus

    My weeks are pretty simple, so I feel like I don’t need much more structure. I know that I’ll make a lunch recipe on Sunday and eat that for dinner on Sunday night and probably for lunch on Monday. I’ll make a dinner recipe on Monday night, and eat Sunday’s recipe’s leftovers for lunch on Tuesday. If I had more stuff to juggle, I would probably use a dry erase whiteboard or something and make like, a weekly menu, but for just one person, it seems like overkill.

  2. I use GatheredTable for meal planning and groceries. It has been a game changer for me. You can tell it what foods you don’t eat, what days you typically cook, and import your recipes. From there it automatically builds a weekly menu, which you can then change as much as you want. Finally it builds you a grocery list that takes in to account what you say you keep in the pantry. Extra bonus for some (me) is it can integrate with my online grocery store (Peapod) and put the items you need in the cart for you.

  3. Hugs we are all on the same boat. For meal planning I like to use portioned meal prep containers. They help me eat a better portion size. Which is something I constantly struggle with.

  4. Caseysays:

    I have used these for years, printing them out and filling them out. It makes shopping a breeze since most of the stores are organized by category. Good luck!

    http://www.theprojectgirl.com/2009/01/19/menu-planning-form-free-download/

  5. Laurasays:

    I just ordered Hello Fresh for the first time – curious to see how I like it compared to Blue Apron!

    I figured you’d be moving pre/post-wedding, but curious how it went! Do you like your new place?

  6. Jamiesays:

    I’ve been using CookSmarts for over a year now and I really love it. You get a weekly menu of 4 recipes and each recipe has 4 options (regular, vegetarian, gluten free, and paleo). You can modify serving size from 2-8 servings per recipes.

    You have the option of selecting which of the 4 recipes you want to make that week and once you select the ones you want it generates a shopping list. You can also tap into the archives for those weeks where none of the recipes resonate with you and essentially you can create your own weekly meal plan by surfing the archives.

    I find I’m less likely to over do it at the grocery store, only buying the ingredients we need for these recipes. It also provides a weekend prep to help you gain back precious time during the week. The weekend prep usually involves making your marinades/dressings, chopping vegetables and marinating any meat that needs a day or more of marinating.

    Each meal has a nutrition break down and is easily imported into MyFitnessPal if tracking is your thing and provides WW numbers for those members who use WW.

    It’s really economical since you are only paying for recipes and not for the ingredients themselves. It is also a great mix of recipes and the recipes tend to lend to the same ingredients so you buy things for more than one recipe. For example this week’s recipes include:

    Southwest turkey burgers with avocado/cilantro lime sauce and potato wedges
    Spring pork ramen with snap peas
    Orzo and spinach salad with roasted tomatoes and mushrooms and feta
    Braised chicken in tomatoes with green beans/olives/orzo

    Here is a link for you to check it out if you are interested: http://www.cooksmarts.com/
    They offer three free weeks of recipes for anyone who wants to try it out before purchasing the service too!

  7. Annasays:

    My husband and I make a weekly meal plan on Sunday of our dinners, including a leftover day and usually a meal out day. On the same sheet we plan our workouts and a short to-do list. Then the sheet goes on the fridge!
    I also meal prep HB eggs, snack bars, etc. on Sunday. And if I ever have produce that looks like it’s going to go bad, I just prep and freeze it! I hate throwing away food and that way you won’t have to.

  8. I go old school and just write everything out on a PostIt and pop it on the fridge. I start by filling in the days I have lunch or dinner plans and then I look at the days where I know I’m going to be home late because of the gym, or a commitment, and decide on those meals (they need to be leftovers, or something I can toss together super quickly). Then I make my grocery list and, here’s the kicker, I only buy what’s on the list.
    My staples are sweet potatoes, roasted chicken and broccoli. Super easy to roast on a Sunday and then I have 5 meals already taken care of that I can bring for lunch, or eat for supper on a busy day. I end up eating a lot of the same, but that works for me. I find one of the biggest issues I have with meals is decision fatigue. Needing to decide what to make every dang day really is tiring, so my automating it, I can save that brain space.

  9. Kristysays:

    Gretchen, as a fellow person who also took a hard tumble off the wagon, I just wanted to thank you for your insight and honesty through this process. Losing the weight in college was, comparatively, so easy and having to do it as an adult with a slower metabolism, no gallbladder, and a full-time job is continuing to knock me on my butt. I’m re-committing to my journey and it’s so nice to read about someone going through the same struggles. Rooting for you!

  10. I can fully understand your demise, Gretch! It’s really hard to resist temptation especially if you’re dealing with those mouthwatering yet unhealthy foods every day, everywhere. It’s like you’re telling yourself to stop eating while you see food wherever you look. It’s a horrible feeling, but I guess you can cope up if you plan your meal ahead (I know this might be difficult), but I think you can try. Other than that, try to choose the healthiest or the least processed foods when dining out. And go for salads and veggies! You can never go wrong with them! Hope this helps! 🙂

  11. Andiesays:

    Planning is SO key. I’m totally a meal-plan nerd and love going through my grocery store’s flyer and making a weekly meal-plan based on that week’s specials. A good way to save some money, too! All the best – I’m so happy you’re blogging again!

  12. Maggiesays:

    Another thing I do is, when I have the time or when I’m making something like chili or stew is to double the recipe and freeze the extra batch in pre-portioned containers. That way, I have some quick, healthy “TV dinners” in the freezer that can be grabbed on the days when you want to eat at home but don’t necessarily have the time or energy to make an entire meal from scratch.

  13. i try to map out my week on sunday, and then go to the grocery store to fill it in. I also love restaurant eating, so I feel you, I try to keep plenty of frozen veggies around as a fill up if I’m hungry at 5 and going out at 7 or something like that.

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