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How To Do Intuitive Eating and Meal Prep

I feel like this is the perfect time for this type of post about intuitive meal prep, since I posted all about my weekly meal prep on Monday.

Don’t Meal Planning and Intuitive Eating Contradict One Another?

No! People think meal planning has to be rigid, and all or nothing. Remember, black and white thinking does not mesh with intuitive eating. There is a lot of gray and nuance with intuitive eating, and it’s never black or white. The two can certainly coexist together.

I always like to point out that meal planning is not synonymous with a meal plan. Meal planning is something done to make your life easier.

Intuitive Eating, although difficult to begin and learn, once understood can make life easier.

Here are 5 ways to start intuitive eating. It takes the stress out of eating, food rules, and food choices.

So, the two are both great for relieving some of the stress and pressure off of being a perfect eater.

I thought it would be helpful to talk about each separately, and then combine them together into what I’m calling intuitive meal prep.

Steps on eating intuitively while meal planning graphic

Intuitive Eating Branch

So, intuitive eating simply put, is being intuitive with what your body wants.

And giving it that. Yea, we could talk about hunger, fullness and cravings, but essentially if you’re listening to your body, you’re good.

Want more intuitive eating resources?

You don’t let yourself get too hungry because you know that feels like crap. You may get overfull sometimes (don’t we all) because we’re all still learning and there’s no such thing as perfect.

However, you’re aware that eating more than you’re hungry for doesn’t always feel good. Again, sometimes it happens and that’s totally cool.

I tend to overeat when there’s a spread of yummy desserts in front of me that I want to try. Or, if I’m out with friends and we all order different dishes and I want to try a little of everything.

The experience is very pleasurable and memorable, and while my stomach may be a little more uncomfortable than I’d like, it passes. Totally normal.

So, to summarize, intuitive eating refers to choosing meals and snacks that sound good in the moment.

Superhero muffins from Eat Fast Run Slow Cookbook on oven mitt

Meal Prep Branch

Meal prepping can be a lifesaver. Believe me – I’m living in this week. I don’t have to put the mental energy into cooking foods when I’m drained at the end of the day. These tips on athlete meal prep ideas can apply to everyone!

However, I know that not all weeks are the same and meal prep wouldn’t work for every week. It may not even work for you at all and that’s totally fine.

Remember, we’re talking about meal prep or meal planning, not following a rigid meal plan. It’s important to differentiate because you can do all the meal planning based on hitting certain macros, or you can do it all out of gentle nutrition.

The act of meal prepping is a great way to fit more time into your schedule and save money. You can buy the best pantry staples to use for specific recipes.

Believe me, I’ve gone to the store before without a list and without rhyme or reason for using the ingredients and I’ve spent so much more money and even worse, let the ingredients go to waste. Having a plan is important!

Frozen produce and examples of groceries on a kitchen countertop from recent grocery shopping at Trader Joe's

“What if I do all this meal prep and then I don’t want the food?”

There are a few different ways to answer this question.

First, remember that not every meal has to be “OMG AMAZING” with intuitive eating.

Sometimes you just eat a meal and move on. You’ve nourished your body, spent minimal time and energy making/stressing about the food, so you can move on with your day.

Prime example: You come home from work at 5. You have a soccer game at 7, and you know you need to eat before it. You don’t have time to cook something from scratch based on what you really want, but you have something pre-made that tasted good yesterday.

sandwich with cara cara oranges

It may not be what you want in this exact moment, but it’s there, it’s easy, it’s balanced and it will do.

What’s the alternate scenario? You don’t meal plan and you really want xyz for dinner. It’s been a long day, but you stop at the store on the way home to buy the ingredients (because you didn’t pre-plan).

Finally, you get home and have to tend to the kids, laundry, pack lunches for the next day, etc. etc. and before you know it, it’s 8:30 pm and you don’t even want this dinner anymore!

You could also just stop and get takeout on the way home for something you’re really craving and that is still totally an option. Meal planning doesn’t prevent you from doing that. 

overhead shot of burger and fries

If you really don’t want the food that you’ve meal prepped, you can either freeze it for another time, or save it for lunch or dinner the following day.

Or eat part of it and pair it with something you do want! Again, nothing has to ever be black and white. I think the more we can look at this with flexibility, the better.

If you get sick of the food day after day, repurpose it! Leftovers can be fun. Don’t just eat a sweet potato with your turkey burger again. Stuff it with beans and cheese!

Use a different dressing, or topping – marinara sauce goes well with just about everything in my book. Top your veggies with different cheeses, sauces, herbs, seasonings, nutritional yeast, etc.

How They Mesh: Intuitive Meal Prep

They mesh because meal planning is a form of gentle nutrition. It’s choosing meals and recipes that sound good to you and you know are satisfying.

Recipes that have carbs, fat, protein and fiber, or some combination – not just a low carb meal. It’s choosing meals based on foods you LIKE.

I would never tell someone to do a bunch of meal prep and make kale salads if they hate kale! That is not intuitive at all and that would basically make me hate meal prep if I hated kale. That is not intuitive meal prep.

asparagus and sliced white potatoes on baking sheet and seasoned for intuitive meal prep

Meal planning utilizes that plan and caters it to your schedule. So, maybe you purposefully plan for dinner out with your girlfriends one night. So, that’s one less meal to cook and an opportunity to socialize and order what you want in the moment.

Meal planning allows a flexible structure (because nothing is set in stone and you can always bypass a meal) so you can spend your mental energy on other things that invigorate you.

Maybe it’s more joyful movement because without meal planning, you come home from work and only have time to dinner. In that scenario, there’s no time for exercise and then you don’t feel like yourself.

cereal in mug as comfort snack

Or, maybe you’re not up as late washing dishes from cooking so late so you can actually enjoy a movie with your significant other and/or an early bedtime. All great forms of self care!

When you go through the act of meal planning, (hopefully) you’re cooking a few different things that may appeal to different moods. Hopefully, there’s a plan for carbohydrates, proteins, fats, veggies.

But, again, there’s no one right way to do meal planning.

Pantry Staples in glass jars (oats, lentils, beans)

So maybe for you, it’s just washing and chopping veggies so you can quickly add them to your lunches or dinners. That’s a gentle nutrition move because you know without doing that, you may not get your veggies or feel as good.

Or, maybe it’s thawing the meat the night before and pairing it with the sweet potatoes you baked on Sunday and the veggies you cut on Sunday.

That’s turning a 45-minute dinner into a 15-minute dinner. That works too! Either way, it’s helping you de-stress about thinking about food. It drastically cuts down the amount of time you think about food.

Meal Planning and Intuitive Eating in Action

Here are some final points about how the two go together.

  • Buy a variety of ingredients and nutrients from the grocery store – carbs, fats, proteins, veggies, dairy, fun foods.
    • I’d say plan for 2-3 recipes for the week, but you can do up to 5! Do whatever is doable and comfortable for you
  • Keep some pantry staples on hand that you can always cook quickly!
    • Mine are microwavable rice, frozen veggies, canned beans, pizza dough, lentils, potatoes, sweet potatoes, canned tuna, pasta, whole grain bread. I often keep nitrate-free pre-cooked chicken sausage on hand at all times when all else fails and I didn’t meal prep and run out of time for dinner. Or, eggs, veggies and toast is my ultimate go to!
  • Incorporate the main macronutrients in all of your meals
  • Cook things in bulk, like boiling rice or quinoa, baking potatoes and/or veggies, sauteeing chicken or steak. It takes the same amount of time to cook 4 of these as it does 1 so do it in bulk if you can!
  • Choose foods you like so you feel full and satisfied after eating
Freezer with frozen produce and foods that are great for meal prep

If you’re looking for other ways to loosely meal plan and save time, consider

  • Online shopping (with discounts)/ Grocery delivery
  • Meal Delivery services
  • Ingredients that can be dressed up in 2 different meals (i.e. shredded chicken in the crockpot for tacos and/or for your stir fry)

Share with me – please!

Do you think meal planning and intuitive eating can go together?

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  1. You basically described my dinner planning to a T haha. I plan 2-3 meals, plan on leftovers as a dinner one night and then leave it flexible. Sometimes the plan isn’t followed and takeout happens but that’s okay.

    I do think meal planning and intuitive eating go together! If I planned to have tacos one night but we talk and actually want burgers, we’ll just use the defrosted meat for burgers instead and pair it with potatoes and whatever veggie is in the fridge.

    1. That’s great that you have some flexibility with your meal planning, it makes things easier!