Planning meals for the week can increase anyone’s level of stress. When someone is trying to recover from an eating disorder, planning meals can feel even more difficult. Here are 7 tips to consider when planning out meals and snacks for the day or week that can be helpful during eating disorder recovery.

1. Start Simple
What foods do you like? What foods do you feel comfortable cooking? What foods do you feel comfortable eating? These questions are good places to start when planning meals. I recommend to my clients to create a list of foods they feel comfortable and confident with for each food group: starches/grains, proteins, fats, fruits, vegetables, snacks, desserts, etc. From here, you are able to pick ingredients from each food group that be put together to make an appropriate and cohesive meal.

2. Organize Yourself
Once you have a list of foods you are comfortable with, write out 2-3 meals for each breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If that feels too overwhelming, start with one meal or one day at a time. Organize these meals in a visual way that is pleasing to you; some people have tried using a grid or a calendar, a bullet journal or a template they’ve find on Pinterest. If your organization is more visually appealing, it might make the exercise of meal planning more appealing too.

3. Grocery Shop with a List
Many individuals – even those who haven’t had an eating disorder – find grocery stores to be overwhelming. That is okay! My recommendation is to go to the store with a list that has been compiled from the meal ideas that you have already written out. For example, if a breakfast idea is yogurt with granola, nuts, and fruit, then your grocery list items include yogurt, granola, sliced almonds, and strawberries. If a dinner idea is vegetarian stir fry, your grocery list items might include rice, sesame oil, tofu or tempeh, edamame, peanuts, soy sauce, broccoli, and onions. If you go in to the store with a plan, it can make the shopping process much more manageable. Be sure to check your cabinets and refrigerator with your list before going to the store to see if there are any meal ingredients you may already have.

4. Consider Leftovers
If you made a larger portion of stir fry than what you needed for a meal, you can save the rest to eat in a future meal. Leftovers are great because they give you a night off from meal planning or cooking. Sometimes leftovers can include a full second or third meal, or they could include one or two components of a meal that could be added to other foods you have at home or get at the store. For example, if you have leftover rice pilaf from last night’s dinner, you could pick up salmon and zucchini at the grocery store on the way home and pair that with the rice to make a balanced meal. Also, keep in mind that purchasing larger containers of certain foods will allow you to eat those foods over the course of several days. In the breakfast example from #3, buying one 6-oz container of yogurt will supply one yogurt parfait breakfast. However, purchasing a larger container of yogurt and portioning it out each day is more cost-effective and lasts for several days.

5. Roll with Flexible Eating
Has this happened to you: You have your lunches and dinners planned out for the week, and on Thursday afternoon, your friend texts you and asks if you want to get together that night for sushi. You debate with yourself about whether or not to go, and ultimately make a decision. Especially in eating disorder recovery, the idea of flexible eating can be difficult to tolerate, particularly when it is spontaneous. Consider the pros and cons of such a scenario and use those options to help make your decision.

What about this scenario: Your schedule has been so busy over the last two days that you have almost no food left in your refrigerator and really need to get to the grocery store. You can get creative with the ingredients you have left in your fridge and pantry or you can consider ordering take out or picking up food on the way home. Sometimes you don’t always have the exact foods or ingredients you want or need, and you need to be flexible in order to make do with what you have, because not eating is not an option.

6. Use Your People
If thinking of meals by yourself feels too difficult or stressful, use the people who support you to brainstorm. Whether it’s your dietitian, friend, parent or significant other, two brains are better than one when it comes to finding new ideas to change up the meals you eat throughout the week. The same idea goes for flexible eating. If you go out with family or friends for an unplanned meal or snack, perhaps you can use those supports to keep you engaged in conversation and distracted from the food if it feels difficult to tolerate.

7. Seek Inspiration
What is most important is to find what planning strategy works best for you–which may or may not be what works best for someone else. Ask family members or friends what strategies they use for planning meals, or if they have any go-to recipes that are quick and simple for when time is tight. Whether it’s an artistic bullet journal to write out your meals or a Pinterest recipe that is a twist on a classic, there are many creative ways to find inspiration and get you excited about planning meals for the week.

If you are in need of a little extra support, we are always here to help.

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Katie Gustamachio received her BS in Nutrition from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and completed her dietetic internship at Saint Louis University, in St. Louis, Missouri. After her internship, she worked at several acute care hospitals in Massachusetts. Katie has been a dietitian at Walden Behavioral Care since December 2013, and has experience working with adults and adolescents at all levels of care. Katie currently works in the Waltham clinic, where she provides nutrition counseling for adults, adolescents and families in PHP and IOP. At present, she is enrolled at Plymouth State University, pursuing a master’s degree in health education with a concentration in eating disorders. In her free time, Katie enjoys baking, spending time with friends, and traveling.