Meal Planning

Okay guys, I'm officially on my last full week of this crazy elimination diet and I can't wait to start reincorporating foods! If you have ever had to follow a super restrictive diet you will understand the pure joy of being able to add one more food item to your weekly repertoire. For the past month I have been without some of my favorite things; no wheat, dairy, tofu, refined sugar, chocolate and tomatoes (among other things that I don't miss as much). The whole list is actually quit long, it's just these things that I really miss. I have a ton of respect for vegans and gluten-free folks, I don't know how you all do it! 

Instead of posting a weekly recipe like I usually do I thought I'd share some tips on meal planning. How many of you have had problems "staying on track" in one way or another? Maybe you made a new year's resolution to loose weight but can't manage to stay on plan, or perhaps you promised yourself that you would pack your lunch everyday to save for your dream vacation but just can't find the time to do it? We have all been there. Planning is the key to success in terms of meeting your food goals, be it eating healthier, staying or a diet (elimination or otherwise) or lunch packing. The difference with an elimination diet, as opposed to some of the other situations, is that you don't really have a choice about sicking to it. Elimination diets suck, so people don't do them for fun. If you end up in the situation where you are on one, chances are you have a health issue or two that you want to go away and it's been a process to get to this point. Cheating while you are on one of these is definitely frowned upon, and you don't want to start all over again so you need to do it right the first time. The only way to do this is to plan! 

Let's start at the very beginning, what can't you eat? Are you making a dietary change for weight loss or maybe health reasons like allergies, high cholesterol or diabetes? Do some research into what you new plan will entail. For example if you are looking to lower your sugar intake you might what to look into what foods have high natural sugar as well as what foods are high in added sugars. Become a label reader and learn all the names for the foods that you need to avoid; a lot of packaged foods have ingredients listed under names that you might not recognize. A good example of this is sugar, that stuff is hidden everywhere! Maltose, dextrose, sucrose and barley malt are all other names for sugar.

Now that you know what you can't have, open your mind to everything you can eat! I know you feel like your choices are really limited right now, but try to think outside the box. If you can't have wheat you can still have rice, barley, oats and corn. Breakfast without "normal" toast might be weird for a while, but you could buy wheat-free granola, or have a big bowl of oats instead. You do have options (lots of them actually), but you do need to break your habits. Instead of pasta reach for rice or soba noodles, or even use spaghetti squash. Look for inspiration online, you are not the only one that has to make these changes. Start creating a folder of recipes that you want to try out,  also include old ones that will work within your plan. 

Get the family on board. Support is so important when you are going through a period of change. Chances are you are eating differently in order to achieve a positive outcome. Let those close to you understand why you are doing this, they will probably understand. Also let them know that they are in no way obligated to make the same changes. If you are the main cook in your household you can choose meals that are easily adapted to be more palatable to your family, like taco nights where everyone builds their own. You can also choose meals that don't need the ingredients that you aren't allowed. If you are newly lactose intolerant reach for recipes that don't need dairy like Thai, Japanese or Chinese inspired dishes. They will taste great and no one will miss the cheese. 

Now the tough part begins, actually making your meal plan. Set time aside every week to sit down and look through flyers. See what is on sale and work from there, the last thing you want is your grocery bill skyrocketing! Pick some items that really appeal and start building your meals for the week. Go through your folder and find recipes that use this week's sale items. It can be useful to stock up on dry or bulk items when they are on sale or when coupons are available. Try to very recipes as much as you can so that you don't become bored.

After choosing your recipes you need to shop and cook. Set aside time every week to do this, and don't reschedule or rush things. If you put off shopping then you'll cut into your cooking time, which means you might not cook as much, which leads to disaster! Take the time to go shopping, and prep everything that you need for several days. I will often shop Saturday and then cook enough food on Sunday to last the work week. If I know that I'll need to cook midweek then I will make sure that it's an easy recipe and that I have everything already cut up and ready to go. Give yourself more time than you think that you will need. If you have a new allergy you'll need to read packages in the grocery store. If you are cooking in bulk you will need to give yourself extra time to prepare produce because there will be more of it than usual. 

Understand that eating out will be a challenge. Sometimes eating out can be a huge, stress inducing thing that causes a mini melt down. If you can try to be the one who chooses the restaurant. Look online as far in advance as you can to make sure that you have a couple choices on the menu. If you are newly vegetarian a steakhouse probably isn't a great choice. If you just learned that you are gluten sensitive then maybe avoid Italian. I found on my diet that Thai was a great option and sushi was a close second. I also avoided going out for brunch since most menus around me were wheat based. Have a couple restaurants in mind close to your home and office just in case something spontaneous pops up. There are some good apps out there to help you find restaurants that can accommodate your needs. Do some research so that you aren't caught off guard. 

Have your pantry properly set up for snacking. I found this out the hard way on my first day of my diet. I didn't plan on needing to snack outside of my normal meals so I had no healthy on-plan snacks in my house. Every week I plan in-between meal snacks for my workday, like chia seed pudding or trail mix bites, but what I realized is that you also non-perishable snacks for unplanned hunger. I stocked up on fruit and nut bars with no refined sugar, chocolate free trail mix, dried fruit, unsweetened apple sauce and gluten-free crackers. I have a stockpile of snacks at work, and if I go out I make sure that I have a bar in my bag in case I get a snack attack.

I know that you probably feel overwhelmed at this stage, but know that you can do this. Give yourself lots of extra time to plan, shop and cook so that you are setting yourself up for success.