The 5 meal planning myths that hold back your success.

I bet you’ve experimented with your fair share of recipes and meal plans over the years. Sometimes, you find great ideas that stick with you. Other times, you are left scratching your head in the wake of an entirely too complicated experience that might include:

  • Long trips to the grocery store
  • Expensive grocery bills
  • Long hours on weekend food prep. (I once followed a plan that had me prep for 6+ hours. That’s too long. Netflix ain’t gonna watch itself.)
  • Underwhelming results from lackluster tasting food

Here’s a picture of me about to follow a not-so-great meal plan that had “all of the above” when it came to complexity, effort, and cost:

“Behold, groceries!” — Me

Don’t let these instagram-worthy optics fool you. My kitchen was a mess, I lost the weekend to chopping vegetables, and in the end this “can-do” Dietitian developed a bit of an attitude problem. I remember thinking to myself, “For what I just went through, this food HAD BETTER be the best I ever tasted. And it HAD BETTER lead to amazing, transformational, Beyoncé-body shaping results.”

Obviously, this plan didn’t stand a chance at teaching me how to be successful as a meal planner. But here’s what I did learn: working harder for your meal plan than your meal plan works for your body is not what leads to success. If you’re done feeling frustrated by weekly meal planning, letting go of these five myths might be all you need to find your path to glory:

Myth #1: One-size-fits-all plans work for the long term.

As humans, we tend to get bored on occasion. And just at that moment when we feel that we’ve got it all figured out, our lives have a funny way of changing on us.

Menu plans are not immune to these truths. If you can’t effectively learn to adapt meal plans with the natural ebbs and flows of your life, you’ll come to rely on temporary fixes forever (or worse, fall off the healthy eating wagon entirely). Instead, figuring out the values behind your eating style may lead to longer-term success. Efficiency (feels fast+easy), experience (feels fun+shareable), and health (feels nutritious + satisfying) are mine. I also have limits for how often I like to eat out and drink alcohol. You might, too. No matter what is going on in the moment, values are the “North Star” that guides you in making decisions about food week-to-week without compromising what’s important to you. Mission Nutrition offers a value finding Menu Profile that serves as the back bone of flexible meal planning. Staying in touch with values keeps it clear how to prioritize your time, money, and effort toward meal planning success.

Myth #2: You need to use lots of different fruits and vegetables each week.

This myth makes it seem like sticking to a small rotation of fruit and vegetable favorites just isn’t good enough. Not only is this not true, it can be harmful to building a long-term routine. Depending on your budget, where you live, and the time of year — produce can be expensive, hard to find, and complicated to prepare.

You may need less variety than you think. On a given week, you can safely repeat the same exact produce-types so long as you’re aiming for 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Among these choices, if you pick 1 leafy green, 1 red/orange vegetable, 1 purple/blue/white vegetable, and fruit varied in color each day you’ve included a nice mix of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols to protect your health.

Here’s an example. If you’re okay with repeating, you could choose the following as your fruit and vegetable choices for an entire week and hit your marks just fine: grapes for breakfast, red delicious apple as snack, yellow and orange peppers at lunch, broccoli and kale at dinner. The next week you might decide to switch things up: blueberries at breakfast, tomatoes as snack, summer squash and beets at lunch, spinach and cauliflower at dinner. And that would be good enough, too. The question is this: what’s the minimum variety of foods that allows you to realize your healthy menu? Extra variety is always yours for the taking, but learning to be okay with simple may be more sustainable.

Myth #3: Changing the plan means you’ll fail.

If its backed by Dietitians, meal plans are designed to meet the author’s idea of how to meet goals for calories, fiber, protein, carbohydrate, and fat that correspond to a certain diet.

If you have a good sense of the goals behind the menu you are working with — there are other combinations of foods that could do the exact same nutritional job. Take time to learn about food groups and how to “eyeball” the amounts of each food in meals you prepare. Then, you are free to break the plan! Knowing how to make swaps is fairly easy to learn and good plans will offer you a food list to guide you.

For example, changing chicken breast (a low fat, protein rich food) for tofu would be a nutritionally comparable swap that doesn’t compromise success. The skill of being able to swap ingredients brings new life and convenience to old recipes that might start to feel boring after a while.

Myth #4: Short cuts are cheating.

Many menu plans list ingredients in their raw form. They set the bar, but is it necessary? Maybe not. During my work week, cutting vegetables takes too much time. My favorite helper for this particular concern is the grocer. There are often partially or full prepared foods that may work out just fine. On really busy weeks, I give myself permission to buy pre-chopped vegetables that I can more quickly toss in a frying pan. Other weeks when I have time, I save the money and do it myself. Pre-chopped broccoli is as healthy as broccoli chopped at home. Strategies like these aren’t cheating. They are thoughtful, valuable efforts to enjoy meals without giving up time for the other important things in your life.

Myth #5: You should be able to do it all on your own.

For all the time you spend on your grocery shopping and meal prep, you should feel 100% confident your menu will be effective in reaching your health goals. You should feel that it’s possible to achieve the plan for more than just one week.

Plans that are challenging enough to be exciting and new, but not so hard you can’t go on are hard to come by. On weeks things don’t seem to be working, find yourself some just-in-time encouragement from someone you trust. Talking with a friend or family member who has been successful with long term meal planning , or, learning along side a Dietitian that provides custom menu planning services can help you learn what might make things easier to prepare healthy meals each week. Reaching out and connecting to others might be the missing piece to do this meal planning thing your way, once and for all.