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The Art of Meal Planning

How can we bring mindfulness to the experience of gathering and preparing food when we're all so pressed for time?


Annie B. Kay, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health


Gathering and preparing a whole-foods, plant-based diet is all about cultivating the planning, shopping and cooking habits that will get you in the groove. Just a little bit of time spent on each step can greatly improve the quality and nutrient density of the foods you introduce into your kitchen, your body and your life. Here are my tips for making the process easier and more fun.

Begin with intention

Take a few moments to write down why you want to spend a little more time in your kitchen. What are you looking to cultivate in your life through this practice? How might you feel when you are eating regular, balanced, nutrient-dense meals more of the time? Science suggests that you literally become what you eat, so the choices you make matter. You are worth a quality diet!

Vision your week and assess your time

It takes about 30 minutes a day to cook a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and about 30 minutes weekly to plan, plus shopping time once or twice a week. Start with taking a few minutes to sketch out your week. This is a great ritual for a quiet Sunday afternoon or your day off. I give clients a blank calendar on which they can jot down their schedule for the week. Think about what type of week it will be. Filled to the brim? Then don’t plan multiple two-course meals with complex recipes. How many nightly cooking sessions will you realistically have this week? Grab-and-go breakfasts only? If this is all brand new for you, don’t get overambitious: Add just one or two cooking sessions to your week to get started. Even if you cook one more vegetable this week than you do now, you are improving your diet. Begin where you are and make a small shift. Aim for progress, not perfection.

Sketch out a simple menu for the week

Now that you have a sense of your week, think about what you want to cook at home. Keep it simple! If you have a busy week coming up, aim for making just one plant-based dinner, perhaps one that you can spread over several meals. You might make a small pot of your favorite whole grain (brown rice or quinoa, for example) and one vegetable, maybe a bunch of sautéed kale or baby spinach. Think about other meals and snacks, too: How much fruit will you realistically eat through the week? What will you have for breakfast?

Make a shopping list

Make a shopping list based on the menus you’ve sketched out. Look through any recipes you’re planning for the week and make sure you write down all the ingredients, even if you think you can remember them. Having a list will help keep you on point so you stay in the produce and refrigerator aisles and far away from the prepared food.

Minimize food waste

If you find yourself tossing or composting lots of your formerly beautiful produce, no worries. It’s a natural phase of the process. Minimizing the food you toss is all about contingency planning. Every chef has a few ways to use up old produce. One easy way to save veggies that are on the way out is to chop them quickly, blanch them in hot water and freeze them to be used later in soup stock or sauce. Older fruit can be cut or blended and then frozen, to be used in smoothies or baked goods. Bringing intention and mindfulness to the process is nothing less than yoga in action. It’s a shift in attitude. Just reading this article was your first step. Nice work!

Annie B. Kay, MS, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a Kripalu faculty member and a leading integrative dietitian, yoga therapist and shamanic plant alchemist. She is author of the award-winning book Every Bite Is Divine.

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