You’ve heard it countless of times before: healthy eating can support your health and bring you one step closer to your own definition of recovery. But the irony is: right when you need it the most, is when it’s hardest to eat a nourishing and balanced diet.
Because when you’re exhausted, in pain or simply too faint to stand behind the stove, it’s challenging if not impossible to cook a healthy dinner every night. And that doesn’t even include making breakfast and lunch, doing grocery shopping with limited mobility and remembering all the ingredients you need to buy in the first place with brain fog.
But there’s one things that’s helped to stick to a pretty healthy eating pattern throughout my good and bad years: meal planning.
I know, to some people, meal planning sounds like a lot of work, too structured for their lifestyle and most of all, boring. How do you know what you’ll be in the mood for eating tomorrow night?
Feel that way? Hear me out why meal planing is such a helpful tool when you’re living with chronic illness and how you can effortlessly put a healthy dinner on the table every day too.
This blog post contains some affiliate links to resources you may find useful, at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.
1. Meal planning saves you precious energy
Meal planning may sound like a chore, but in the long run, it will save you precious time and energy. Why?
- Knowing which meals you’ll be making for the week ahead means you have to take less trips to the supermarket with limited mobility. Big energy-saving hack in my book!
- When your fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy foods, you can prep meals at times when you feel relatively good. That way, you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen – or order not-so-healthy takeout – whenever you’re too tired to cook.
- Planning ahead can also reduce your stress levels if you have food allergies or need to stick to a medical diet.
Not only can meal planning save you physical energy, it also requires less mental focus in your day-to-day living. On that topic…
2. Never stress again: “What shall I have for dinner tonight?”
When you’re living with chronic illness, you have plenty of things to worry about. So let’s get something off your plate by never stressing what’s for dinner tonight again!
Just like Barack Obama famously only wears grey and blue suits to avoid decision fatigue, a weekly or monthly meal plan with rotating recipes will simplify your decision-making process. If that feels too ‘strict’ for you, having theme nights like Taco Tuesday provides a simple structure while leaving room for spontaneity and the use of seasonal ingredients.
Now personally, I love any excuse to make lists. But if you want to make things even easier on yourself, check out hundreds of ready-to-go healthy meal plans for every diet from keto to gluten-free and plant-based!
3. Meal planning makes healthy eating easier
We all know that changing our food patterns can be challenging, especially if you have to stick to a diet for medical reasons. But having a solid plan is half the work.
First of all, meal planning ensures you have all the ingredients you need to make a healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner. There’s nothing more annoying than starting your day with intentions to eat ‘right’ only to discover there’s nothing in the fridge but cheese and pickles.
What’s more, you’ll be less tempted to have pizza or French fries, because you’ve already decided what you’re gonna eat tonight. And finally, building healthy habits takes time. Meal planning can be a helpful tool to make those first weeks of going Paleo or vegan much easier, until your new healthy food pattern becomes an automatism.
4. Prepping (freezer) meals is ideal for sick days
Meal planning lends itself really well for food prepping, whether it’s batch-cooking or making freezer meals. That way, even on bad days, you’ll always have a healthy meal or snack at hand.
Prepping ingredients for the week, combined with versatile pantry essentials, is also good strategy if your dinner plans often change due to your health problems.
5. Meal planning can save you money
Planning your meals ahead of time saves you money in various ways:
- When your fridge and cupboards are organized, you don’t randomly buy ingredients you don’t end up eating. What’s more the chances of you throwing away food because it’s past the expiration date also decreases. And less food waste isn’t just good for your budget, but also for the planet.
- Do you have a habit or ordering food when you’re too tired to cook? Having healthy meals and snacks at hand could save you money on takeout, frozen TV dinners and vending machines.
- As your planning your meals for the week, you can also check for discounts at your local stores and cook double portions when you find a good deal. Even better, using seasonal ingredients doubles the benefits for your budget.
- Lastly, meal planing enables you to use the same ingredient for multiple meals. For example, you no longer have to wonder what you do with the leftover anchovies from your Caesar salad when you know you’ll use them in pasta puttanesca the next day.
Ok, so you’ve got 5 great reasons why meal planning is the secret to healthy eating with chronic illness. But how do you actually do it?
How You Can Start Meal Planning This Week
Meal planning can be as routine or loose as you want it to be. But here are some essential steps you should cover:
- Define what healthy eating means to you. Are you a conscious omnivore, do you have any food restrictions or do you want to follow a specific diet? Have a clear idea on what makes a healthy food pattern for your situation, so you can choose fitting meals.
- Choose a meal planning template. Are you more of a “monthly meal plan” kinda person or do you prefer theme nights? And do you also want to prep for breakfast, snacks and lunch?
- Round up recipes. What are your favorite dishes? Make a list of your go-to meals and new recipes you want to try. If necessary, adapt those recipes to fit into your new food pattern. Also add extra veggies or health-boosting herbs and spices wherever you can.
- Check if your meal plan is balanced. You need a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients to function well, so make sure your meal plan covers all the nutritious bases. Rotate both the kinds of proteins (meat, fish, vegetarian), the carbs (pasta, rice, (sweet) potatoes) and the veggies you eat (leafy greens, root vegetables, cabbages, mushrooms).
- Stock your pantry. Make a list of which ingredients you should keep at hand and occasionally raid your collection to cook delicious dishes.
- Meal prep if you wish. Or use other energy-saving hacks like slow cookers or sheet pan dinners to make healthy eating a little easier.
What’s your best secret for healthy eating with chronic illness?