Cori (00:00):
Hey guys, this is Cori from Redefining Strength. Welcome to the Fitness Hacks Podcast. This is the show where I share all my free workout and nutrition tips. I’m not going to ever fill this episode with sponsorships or ask you to buy anything. All I ask in return is if you’re enjoying the podcast to leave a review or leave a five star rating or even better share with somebody you think it might help. This will only take a few minutes and would mean the world to me and possibly change the life of someone. So let’s jump right in.

Cori (00:28):
Alright, let’s talk about making meal planning easier. It can be often the hardest part about trying to hit our macros, achieve a new goal. It can feel a little overwhelming, but the more we plan ahead, the easier it becomes to really see those results snowball, get in those healthy habits. So Michelle, I’m super excited to dive into some of the tips you have. As you mentioned, it’s that decision fatigue and we want to lighten that mental load. So can you talk a little bit about what you often see clients struggling with in terms of meal prep in general?

Michelle (00:59):
So the two biggest complaints are often feeling like they don’t have enough time to meal prep or feeling like it’s kind of like an extra chore or homework assignment. So I feel like we have to kind of dismantle what meal prepping actually means or meal planning means because so often when people hear meal planning, they hear meal prep and they’re thinking that they’re going to be cooking all their meals on one day. That’s not a bad thing. That’s not something. Some people can do it and be very successful at that, but it’s not for everyone. Meal planning is just making the decision of what you’re actually going to eat prior. So actually coming up with a game plan, and I know we all hear the cheesy saying, a failure to plan is a plan to fail, but it’s true if you’re not putting in that initial thought upfront, you aren’t going to most likely be hitting your macros. It’s kind of just crossing your fingers and hoping by the end of the day things kind of align. So we really want to make sure that we are making those decisions because otherwise we will fall back in our default mode setting. Whatever’s going to be quick, whatever’s going to be easiest. The quickest thing that comes to your mind is going to be the thing that you are going to then put in your mouth. So you have to come up with a game plan prior.

Cori (02:12):
We have to think about what is natural for us. And often what is natural for us isn’t necessarily what we were evolutionarily meant to do or what we were born doing. It’s the habits that we’ve ingrained and created over an extended period of time. So what is natural for us to do is potentially go into that fast food and grab something quick and easy when we’re really in a pinch reach for that sugary sweet treat, right? So we have to notice what natural patterns we have there, even what natural macros we’re hitting because a lot of times we’ll set a macro ratio and be like, well, I’m not hitting it. I’m really far off of it. Okay, well what have you actually changed? And often we haven’t changed anything. We’ve been just repeating the same meals the way we’ve always done. And that’s why sometimes even taking meal planning back to basics and saying, Hey, here’s what I naturally do.

How can I tweak what I’ve already sort of planned in a weird way because it’s what I’ve done for so long and now make adjustments so that tomorrow I can eat a little bit differently, but also based on my current lifestyle. So it is really planning ahead, but it doesn’t have to be this overly complicated, dramatic thing where you’re making all these changes. It can really be based on what you’re doing currently, but something has to change if you’re going to hit new macros. If you’re naturally hitting them, you would already be hitting them, right?

Michelle (03:25):
Yeah, exactly. I mean so often, usually it’s protein that’s usually lacking because oftentimes it’s the hardest thing to prep or kind of to plan in. So usually when you’re doing your meal planning, if you are going to plan your protein first, really build your meal around that protein because that’s oftentimes where we tend to kind of fail and tend to kind of be off in our macros.

Cori (03:48):
I love too that when we were talking about making meal planning easier, because I’m a lazy person, I loved your example or when you were talking about the struggles, right? You go to the fridge, at the end of the day, you’re really tired, you’re not feeling like cooking anything, so you reach for the easiest thing. And I know that I do that. I know that sometimes even microwaving meal prep that I have frozen for five minutes feels like it takes too long, which is very, very lazy. But I know that that can sometimes feel like even too much. So I have those meals frozen. I have things in the fridge that are quick to pull out that don’t require a lot of cooking. I have even healthy snacks, so when I’m on the go, maybe they’re not completely the whole natural foods I would like otherwise. Maybe it is a protein bar, protein shaker, whatnot. But I have those little handy things. Let’s start to dive into your top tips to make meal prep easier because part of what I’ve developed is knowing myself and I think there’s ways and strategies we can encourage people to start implementing to see what really works for them. So first thing that you would recommend besides planning those meals around protein, if you’re looking to make meal prep easier,

Michelle (04:52):
So actually set aside a dedicated time to plan, put it in your calendar, make a reminder on your phone, know what day you are going to do it and actually get it done. So often times we’re like, oh yes, we know this is important. We know we’re going to get to it, but very few of us actually schedule a time to set aside to do it. So again, if you’re not going to plan on getting it done, it’s not going to get done. It may seem like it takes a lot of effort, but it’s really one of those things that you put in a little bit of effort at the front of your week or midweek, whatever time you want to actually do your planning, it’s going to pay off for your future self.

Cori (05:29):
And what would you say to somebody who says, that’s great Michelle, but that feels like homework. It takes time. What would you tell somebody in terms of still embracing this fact, that planning ahead really is key.

Michelle (05:45):
So it’s going to come back a little bit, and this may be a little bit tough love, but there has to be a change and change requires a level of difficulty. It’s going to take you embracing something that seem a little bit hard and a little bit more like a homework assignment at first. But you are here to learn, you are here to try and gain knowledge so that you can improve. So sometimes your health journey is going to feel a little bit like class, a little bit like you’re doing a homework assignment, so I’m not being super nice there, but sometimes you just got to suck it up and do it.

Cori (06:19):
You do. It’s tough love, but it’s so key and nothing changes and nothing changes. And let’s face it, what’s comfortable is what we’ve always done. So we’re setting the time, we’re embracing that. Yes, it can feel like homework to start, but it will get easier as well. Now what are the first steps to creating meal plans and meal prep that actually work for you?

Michelle (06:40):
So be realistic with your calendar. Actually open up your calendar. One of the most frustrating things I see, and I shouldn’t say frustrating, that’s probably not the right word for it, but I will get so many people that want to show me the most perfect meal plan and they have created these, everything is high veggies, everything’s cooked from scratch, it looks fantastic. But the reality is if every single thing on your meal plan the entire week is made from scratch, the likelihood of you actually using that meal plan and creating every single one of those meals is very low. So I always recommend that you are actually focusing on very simple meals and then maybe one or two meals that are either new recipes or may have a little bit higher level of difficulty that you’re planning on those days that you have more time. Because the reality is most of us, the majority of us don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. So if you’re putting in where everything for breakfast, lunch, dinner is different and there’s no repeats and everything’s from scratch, you’re probably not going to do it.

Cori (07:49):
And off of that, I know one complaint that does come up at times is, but I want diversity. And just because you’re trying to keep things simple doesn’t mean you can’t have the diversity there. Just because you’re not using 50 different recipes doesn’t mean you can’t have diversity. You can bulk meal prep, a protein source to then use in a salad or use in a burrito bowl or use in tacos. You can have frozen vegetables as well as fresh so that you can include or swap in a diversity that allows you to not worry about them also going rotten. You can still include a diversity while keeping things simple. I even know yesterday I wanted random things, and I even said to Ryan at the time, I’m like, this plate looks ridiculous, but it was like random ground Turkey with carrots and broccoli and then I had a cottage cheese dip I made and then I put some sauerkraut on the side just because I wanted those things and I wanted to work in those things to hit my macros. And I had them all already prepped and it was easy to just mix and match because it was already in the fridge. So understanding even how the puzzle pieces can work together and having meals entered that you can then plug and play can also keep things simple without making it feel like you’re just eating the thing over and over again or don’t have opportunity for that diversity.

Michelle (08:59):
And that is really key. So many people don’t or they forget about taking advantage of the power of leftovers. And like you said, people are very worried about diversifying their diet, which as a dietician I love, but you can really do the mix and match game and as you said, batch cook, anything that’s very starchy where you can actually, and I got to put a plug in here because it’s one of my favorite tips to always share, but if you have a high starchy item and you batch cook it, you are actually going to make it healthier and more nutrient dense for you if you reheat that starchy item. So I’m talking about legumes, pastas, any type of lentils, potatoes even, because what happens is as you cook and then you cool that retrogradation actually increases the resistant starches in those foods, so you’re actually creating more high fiber foods as you do that.

And this is one of my favorite things because if you know that you love rice or you love grains, your rice, your quinoa, anything like that, bash, cook it, double it up. It doesn’t have to be this, I’m going to cook everything on one day and use it throughout the week. It can be, oh, this meal tonight, I know I’m going to have rice. I’m going to plan another meal the next day or eat it for lunch, so I’m going to make sure I’m doubling or tripling this recipe because that’s going to keep you from actually taking a lot more time to even meal prep and you’re going to save again, we’re investing for that future self you’re going to save. And all those items, those starchy foods freeze very well. So even if you don’t use it that week, if you’re putting it in your freezer, all of a sudden you have a week where you can just pull out a grain and add a little water, reheat it, and you’re good to go.

Cori (10:47):
And by having different sauces, if you make these things more basic in terms of flavor, in terms of seasoning, you can throw them in so many different things to have that diversity in flavors, meals over the week while keeping the meal prep simple because if you have chicken and you have rice, you could add salsa and guacamole or you could add tamari or soy sauce and all of a sudden have very different dishes. I like too that you mentioned two recipes per week. And I think this is key because not only can that keep meal prep easier, you can bulk make things have leftovers, freeze some of the leftovers if you don’t necessarily want to eat the same thing for six days a week. So you have maybe three days you eat it and you have three leftover for the next week or the week after.

But also the more recipes you start to experiment with and throw yourself even the challenge if you do tend to eat the same things of two different things to keep things interesting, you can create those two recipes, log them as recipes in your food tracker, have those macros already readily available, and then be able to have different puzzle pieces you can easily plug and play so that if something does come up during the day where you’ve had to change other meals or you simply do want something different last minute, you have items already logged that you can easily see how everything fits together as you get more comfortable with that planning. So you can slowly add up your databases. Basically what I’m saying over the weeks by just even testing out two new recipes per week.

Michelle (12:07):
Yeah, it really allows you to keep cooking and eating a little bit more interesting. But again, we’re not going to be putting a ton of that mental load on you throughout the week every day of the week.

Cori (12:19):
And off of this, you mentioned making a shopping list, which for me, I’m like, I need a shopping list if I’m going to the grocery store, otherwise I’m going to forget something. But I think that’s a key component. We don’t think about when making a shopping list any recommendations for people.

Michelle (12:35):
So always go to what you have on hand first. I mean this is going to reduce time in the store, it’s going to reduce the aimless wandering and also it’s going to save you money. So again, so often people are going to open that piece of paper, start filling out what they want to shop, but they’re either one, not planning how they’re going to utilize those ingredients in mills or they are putting down the mills and then they’re forgetting the ingredient and pretty soon the macros are way off because they don’t actually have what they need to create the mill. So make sure you’re doing it at the same time. First look in your pantry, look in your fridge, see what needs to be used up, build off of that, and then add your shopping list and make sure that you’re getting those staples. This again, I know it sounds like we’re telling you to put a lot more effort upfront, but when you take in the time that you’re going to save at the grocery store, when you’ve take in the time that you’re going to save every single day when you’re creating your meals and cooking, that is going to have a bigger difference at the end of your week and save you more time as a whole than the 20 minutes is going to take you to put together that shopping list and some meal plan ideas.

Cori (13:49):
It’s a little bit more time now for less time spent later, and it’s sometimes hard to remind ourselves of that, but it’s truly important. And also in creating that shopping list, a lot of times we can find sauces or spices or ingredients that overlap in multiple different dishes or can be used in multiple different ways. Even things like I got pistachios the other day and I’m like, okay, I can use this in oatmeal, I can use in my Greek yogurt. It can be a snack. Sometimes thinking about the diversity of ways you can use something so that you can keep prep easier or even have things on hand for other options. If you get eggs, hey, you can hard boil those eggs, you can make almonds with those eggs. You could make baked oatmeal with those eggs. There’s so many different ways to use them. And even having that idea of, okay, what could I even use this in if something were to go off in my day and I were to need to adjust my macros can be very helpful when creating that shopping list to get some staples.

Michelle (14:43):
And I love that too because I mean, we mentioned diversifying your diet and so often we forget that those sauces, toppings, those minor little things are really going to add in and help really help diversify. So your example of, I bought pistachios this week. If you bought pistachios instead of a different nut, or maybe you bought two or three nuts that week and you can mix and match them in your different meals, that’s going to help you add that diversity to your diet.

Cori (15:12):
And diversifying is easier than we think because it doesn’t have to be complicated recipes every time. It can be bulk prepping some of those different starches and freezing them so that you have potatoes that you can unfreeze when you need versus the next day you can use rice. It’s even thinking about things that don’t go bad. And I know when I say that people are instantly like, oh, that’s processed, that’s bad. Okay. There’s lots of different levels of processing a, but also freezing. We don’t often think about not only freezing those starches, but frozen vegetables, frozen fruit. I can tell you I almost live off of frozen fruit because it allows me to use it in smoothies easily. I love putting it in my Greek yogurt. It makes the Greek yogurt a little frosty ice creamy. I can even unfreeze it, microwave it and use it in so many different ways, but then I don’t have to worry about it going bad and it’s always there.

And if I overbuy one week, it’s still there for the next week. Nuts, you can get those and easily be able to use them for a very long time. They have a good shelf life. You can get jerkies can get oatmeal. There’s so many different things that are healthy and quality and even canned fish, there’s different things we can do that we always have on hand then. So then if something didn’t go as planned, and I always bring this up, didn’t go as planned because life is not going to go as planned no matter how much we even planned for it. And planning only helps us navigate some of the ups and downs and the unexpected things better. But the more we can have those easy things on hand, always readily available that we can always make sure stocked because they won’t go bad, it can be so helpful in that planning process and even reacting when we need.

Michelle (16:39):
Yeah, I love a well-stocked pantry and a well-stocked freezer to make those decisions easier. If dinner by chance you did forget an ingredient and you didn’t buy something or you need a five minute meal, I always like to challenge clients to have five recipes that they have ingredients for that they can create in under 15 minutes, and it’s because they’re using pantry staples and freezer staples. And I do want to address, because I know I’m going to get some questions on this, so I’m going to answer it right now and dispel the myth that is frozen better than fresh or worse. And the truth is oftentimes frozen is and fresh can sometimes be even equal or oftentimes even frozen is a little bit better. And I know that’s going to upset some people, but the reality is when those products are picked and for flash frozen, it’s going to trap in the nutrients. So you’re actually getting it oftentimes more at the peak of the season than you are otherwise. So if you’re buying fruits and vegetables out of season, sometimes their frozen counterparts are actually going to be a little bit more nutrient dense. So I’m not saying fresh is bad, I love fresh fruit and vegetables, but if you are one of those people that are a little bit nervous about having the healthier option, there’s absolutely no reason to not have those frozen items.

Cori (18:02):
And off of this, because again, we’re going for ease, lazy person here, I own it. I wanted to talk about some other tips besides just even cooking. So while the more we can cook whole natural foods at home, the more control we have, the more we can enter even in meals to our fitness tracker or our food tracker as well as all the ingredients we eat. Because the more you can even enter those ingredients, save those recipes, right? The easier it is when you’re in a pinch, when you’re short on a time or even when you’re just meal planning to save yourself time. But there are times where cooking is not a possibility or we’ve planned ahead really well, but we want to plan meals out. Can you talk a little bit about finding restaurants, planning and meals out, how to approach that too to strike a balance? Because I think so often we can then feel like a person on a diet or we can feel like we’re always having to do all this extra labor and some of us don’t like doing dishes, but meals out can be a part of it. Can you talk a little bit about how you have clients work those in?

Michelle (18:59):
Yeah, I think this has a lot to do with kind of the mental load that’s people as specifically when they’re dieting can feel like they’re carrying. So if you feel like you’re constantly depriving, you depriving yourself of nights out or those fun mills out with friends, then you are not going to be on a plan that’s going to work long-term for you because if that stresses you out, then we need to actually work it in now so you can be able to get that balance. So some of the biggest things is really making sure if it’s at all a possibility to actually plan the day out that you’re eating and being able to look at the menu beforehand, being able to even decide before you enter that restaurant what mill excites you that you want to make sure that you’re going to fit into your macros.

Again, if we’re just hoping that everything fits at the end of the day, that’s not most likely, we’re not going to hit everything correctly. And then you build your day around that mill. So if you know it’s going to be a little bit heavier carb, you may need to focus a little bit more protein earlier on in the day so that you can still have that mill and enjoy and enjoy it while still hitting your macros. And I want to say this too, because of course there’s always the 80 20 rule. If you are looking for super fast results, that’s going to take a little bit more sacrifice. If you are someone that’s really looking for the lifestyle, the maintenance, and being able to build habits that you can still get results maybe not as fast, but still get results and be able to have a little bit more relax around your diet, then you can definitely work in a day that you may be a little bit off.

As long as we’re still trying to keep things within reason. This isn’t a binge, this is just a mill out, then you can still enjoy that without worrying that everything is going to fall off and you’re not going to see any results. It’s really striking that balance and making sure that 80% of your diet of course, is going to be really what your body needs and is those healthy nutritious foods. But you can still enjoy that 20% of your diet from foods that may not be as nutrient dense, may be a little bit higher in sodium and fat than what we really would like to stick to that 80% of the time.

Cori (21:20):
I think we often put too much pressure on being perfect with things when we are making those habit changes and there is a learning process, not to mention, we have to think about what we would do in that situation otherwise. And often we’ll realize that going for that meal out, getting that fast food, even while being conscious of our macros and having planned it in often is better long-term because we’re hitting those macros still. We’re getting that food diversity. We’re not feeling guilty and throwing ourselves off of our plan or even eating something that was potentially worse. I know that sounds really negative, but often we don’t think, well, I would actually be doing something worse for myself right now if I wasn’t finding this balance. And so we just makes ourselves feel guilty because it isn’t the perfect thing we necessarily want it to do.

So I can tell you if I’m in a pinch, I have fast food restaurants that I know the macros on, different things that I could log. I’ve even gone to restaurants that I really like to go to frequently have taken takeout and then done my best to really break down the macros. You don’t even have to go that far. You can use visual portion guides, you can estimate based on nutritional information for other restaurants as well, but you can find the things that you do consistently or that you enjoy as part of your lifestyle now and just plan those in. It goes back to planning, but you can work in meals out. And I think the more we embrace this balance, we see that there has to be that consistency in what we can do. And we even say, is this better than what I would do in another situation? It allows us to truly move forward consistently, see those habits snowball, see things progress more than trying to force perfection in the moment.

Michelle (22:53):
And I’m going to add to that too. I think so often we do get a little uptight and very stressed out about our diet, like you mentioned being perfect. And oftentimes that actually is going to play an effect on and kind of have a domino effect on your overall health. If you are so stressed out about your diet being completely perfect and really stressed that you’re missing out on things, that stress level is going to negatively affect you and your results. So sometimes loosening up the reins just a little bit, and like you mentioned, knowing that you can still have the best of both worlds is going to actually give you the best results. And when in doubt if you happen to be at a restaurant that you didn’t choose, let’s say it was up to the group you were with or someone else chose it, and you’re still hoping to hit as close as you can to your macros, that you have no time to look anything up. We’re always focusing on protein first, veggies most. So when in doubt, let’s try and make your plate majority of vegetables. So if that means swapping out the side of fries with an extra serving of vegetables, and then really looking for those lean protein options, and of course standing by the old, let’s focus on grilled or roasted items. Those are usually going to be your healthier options when dining out.

Cori (24:13):
And I wanted to get your closing thoughts on this, but also add I for the longest time try to force perfection when I would try and do a cut lean down. And that ultimately sabotaged me. And I’m not saying that there isn’t sacrifice. It is sacrifice and hard work to reach a goal that you have never had. When I was first trying to get leaner, there were sacrifices because it wasn’t just doing what I’d always done. And let’s face it, if we could get away with doing exactly what we want every moment of every single day, we would, but that’s just not reality. So there is a sacrifice, there is a consistency. There is a hard work when you don’t want to do it, but I think too often we try and rely on that willpower versus realizing too that there is something to consistency. And the more you make those little improvements, the more on top of that you’re willing to make other improvements that might’ve even felt like something you didn’t want to give up before. So as much as you might say, I need to get results now, I need to be perfect. And as much as there is sacrifice, you have to find something you can truly be consistent with. So on that note, Michelle, any closing thoughts to help people lighten their mental load, make meal planning a little bit easier because it really is the secret to success.

Michelle (25:20):
I think you hit the nail on the head just with that comment. You do want to make sure that you are looking at things down the line. I think so often we look at the fast results now, but we forget that sometimes taking the slower route sometimes is actually going to lead to the best maintenance results down the road, or you being able to actually have the best results. And I wanted to say this earlier, so I’m just going to plug this in right now. Meal planning does mean that you can repeat if you are someone that you don’t want to have to think too often or we want to make sure you’re planning on those leftovers, that’s either eating leftovers for that lunch or eating the same meal maybe three days out of the week. If you’re new to cooking or you’re someone that used to eat out a lot and you’re trying to eat out more at home, repeat. Repeat your foods, repeat your meals that you’re going to have because that is going to be the easiest for you. And we are really trying to just make those slight changes. And again, if repeating sounds dull to you and boring, as Corey said, really take advantage of those toppings and those sauces to really mix things up so that you don’t feel like you’re necessarily having the exact same meal.

Cori (26:37):
Thanks for listening to the Fitness Hacks Podcast. Again. This is the place where I share all my free workout and nutrition tips.

Cori (26:43):
I’m never going to run sponsorships or ask you to buy anything. All I ask in return is if you’re enjoying the podcast to leave a rating review or share it with someone you think it might help. This will only take a few minutes and it would mean the world to me and possibly change the life of someone.



*Please Note: this transcript is auto-generated and there may be some errors in the transcript