Tag Archives: meal plan

Meal Planning Monday November 28, 2016


It’s a new week and maybe I don’t need to eat pie every day. Or maybe I do? I had quite a lot of good pie and other treats for Thanksgiving. 

There’s no need to repent or detox.  But I’m craving some vegetables. This week’s dinner menu will have plenty of them. Hopefully there will be good leftovers for lunches, and I’ll throw some spinach into my breakfast smoothies or fold a few veggies into an omelet. 

Monday: Black Bean Pumpkin Soup from Smitten Kitchen with a mixed green salad

Tuesday: Feta spinach chicken sausages roasted with red bell peppers, onions, and broccoli. (Use whatever veggies and seasonings you like! I’ll sprinkle on oregano, salt, and pepper and roast in one pan at 400F until it looks nice and toasty. 25-35 minutes should do the trick. 

Wednesday: Baked ginger soy chicken from David Lebowitz, served with a big side of steamed or sauteed stir fry veggies. (Just buy the frozen ones if you don’t have fresh veg on hand.)

Thursday: Surely we have leftovers. Right? Right? If not, I’ve been itching to make the turkey meatloaf from Skinnytaste. It would taste great with a side of sweet potatoes and broccoli. 

Friday: Lentil chili from Little Broken. With a cornbread muffin, because yum. 

Saturday: Hosting a sleepover for many 4th grade hooligans. A DIY hot dog bar with fruits and veggies on the side will work for the kiddos. Turkey brats with apple sauerkraut and roasted Brussels sprouts for the grownups. Plus wine. Of course. 

Sunday: Blackened fish taco bowls from Noshtastic

Are you cooking up a favorite meal you’ve discovered lately? Tell me all about it in a comment below. Have a great week!

Just tell me what to eat. (No! Ok, maybe.)


That’s what some clients and friends implore me to do. They ask me to tell them exactly what to eat in order to kick ass at getting lean, building muscle, or just becoming healthier for taking life by the horns. 

My preachiness was cringeworthy in retrospect. I’d put on my Mike Brady voice and lecture them about why I didn’t write meal plans. If you’re too young to remember Mr. Brady, then I’ll pinch your cheeks, youngster, and school you. 

No Cindy, let me break it down fo you.

No Cindy, let me break it down fo’ you.

Mr. Brady, the patriarch of the Brady Bunch, patiently doled out life lessons to his brood before telling them to skidaddle. He always had a neat and tidy answer at the ready. 

Just like Mike, I tsk-tsked. There are better alternatives to handing out a meal plan. 

That’s because very strict meal plans – you know, the ones that tell you exactly what to eat for every meal, don’t work for the long term. 

  • Meal plans don’t teach us why choosing certain foods help us meet our goals successfully. 
  • They tend to fall apart the first time that something unexpected happens. We have an event. Or we run out of an ingredient but it’s 6 p.m. and we’re hangry.
  • Nobody is going to use a meal plan forever; so why not start by building skills that will teach you how to eat well for life?

Let me teach you, I say. I don’t think I sound like Mr. Brady, but who knows? Alice was an empathetic listener. I needed to channel her instead. 



Yeah some people look at me like Cindy.  When I see that look or sense that feeling in someone’s words, I know we need a new starting place. 

That’s because I’ll always show you the ropes. But learning to climb dem ropes will take a whole lot of new skills.

  • Learning the nutrition basics – macronutrients, micronutrients, etc. 
  • Counting calories. Not forever, but until you learn what’s in your food.
  • Learning to manage your emotional relationship with food.
  • Managing hunger.
  • Learning what kinds of foods best meet your goals.
  • Menu planning.
  • Changing what kinds of foods you choose at the grocery store.
  • Figuring out new ways to cook.
  • Understanding what a healthy meal looks like.
  • Incorporating treats so you don’t binge.

Damn, Cindy, I get it.

That’s a lot. And I’m not even done telling you what you’ll learn along the way to building the skills that will keep your body and mind happier and healthier. 

So is there a middle ground we can find?
Some people can hop right in and get going with doing all the things at once. If this isn’t your first rodeo in the nutrition game, most likely you just need to do some fine tuning.

But it’s a lot different if all of those things I rattled off are brand new. I get you. 

What vegans showed me about taking on new things.

photo credit: someecards

photo credit: someecards

I remember how exasperating it was to learn how to cook and eat like a vegan last summer. You see, I wanted to better understand clients who might not be on #teamchicken like I am. I came away with two giant realizations.

1. Vegan cooks share some surprisingly tasty recipes. It was good to shake things up and get new ideas. #teamlentiltoo

2. I now get why jumping into the deep end of lifestyle change can be so overwhelming. 

Yes, I can better empathize with trying to make sweeping changes in one swoop. I needed training wheels. 

If the thought of having to figure out everything at once makes you break out into a sweat, chill out. Instead, choose one thing that you think is both totally doable and will make a meaningful difference to how you feel. 

Eat mostly junk? Stop bringing it into the house. And throw some apples into your shopping cart. 

Working out sporadically? Make a schedule you know you can keep. 

Too busy to cook? Choose some stupidly simple meals that are more like “throwing together things on a plate” than actually cooking.

But what if you still want me to just tell you what to eat?
Here’s one way I help clients who need more guidance. You can do it too:

1. First you need to understand what a daily meal should look like most of the time. My recommendations vary based on your goals, but nearly everyone should have a plate that has mostly non-starchy veggies, a portion of protein, and a small amount of fat. Meals surrounding workouts benefit from having some starchy carb too. 

2. Start making lists of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, starches, and fats that you actually enjoy eating. Begin with the basics: zucchini, broccoli, spinach for vegetables; chicken, pork, dairy for lean protein examples. Here’s a cheat sheet. 


3. Refine your list. What specific recipes or meals do you have that would fill in the blanks for those categories? Instead of “dairy”, write down “Greek yogurt” or “string cheese”. 

4. You’re almost there. Before you create your own plan, keep a few points in mind: 

1. Are your meals really simple to prepare? They should be at first. You have time down the road to go full Martha Stewart.

2. Are your meals varied enough that you’re getting a fairly wide source of nutrients? I.E., your protein source shouldn’t be always the exact same thing.

That’s because your body needs to get different kinds of vitamins and minerals from that variety of foods. Also if you keep eating chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may turn into one. And you’ll be bored to death too. 

But what shapes up is a meal plan. One that puts your own needs into play and also begins to build your skills to a new and healthier lifestyle. 

Mike Brady yourself while you work off a menu.

Try tracking your calories and pay attention to what kinds of nutrients are in your meals.
Pay attention to how hungry you were before, during, and after meals.
Slow down as you eat. Do you want the whole plate of food? If not, set it aside.

I ask my online coaching clients to track  their calories at first. Not so it becomes a ball and chain. But because it shows you how your days shake out. You’ll often be surprised at what foods are calorie dense and which fill your belly for next to nothing. 

While I don’t write up detailed meal plans and demand that people follow them, I’m happy to show them some of my own logs. Here’s one to teach you with. I’m not using my Mike Brady voice at all, by the way: 


You can see how I had plenty of protein at every meal. You’ll notice that I ate mostly whole foods, with a bit of chocolate included for life happiness. If you look at my lunch, you will see that I too am a bro who loves Chipotle. But ordering two times the chicken and skipping the rice goes a long way toward meeting my daily protein goal. I don’t usually get 150g of protein, but this day was great. 

Not every day will perfect. But you’ll see trends, as I did when I noticed I was insanely hungry at 11 a.m. if I ate too few calories at my morning meal. Or how cookie lunch made me feel blah by 3 pm. (It was glorious at the time, however.)

Looking back at the day’s log can be illuminating. Building awareness of how our bodies respond to how we fill them with food goes a long way toward a whole new healthy lifestyle and achieving your fitness goals. 

And when that happens, you’ll be ready. Ready for whatever unexpected situations come at you, like a football to Marcia Brady’s nose, the next office party, or just eating in a way that makes you feel good, function well, and enjoy your meals for life. 

Oh, my nose!

Oh, my nose!

Have you read Fat Loss on a Budget? It’s free! Fill out the form below and I’ll hurl it right into your inbox, along with the inside scoop for burning fat, building muscle, and getting fit like a boss. 


A Peek Inside a Week of Healthy Meal Planning

yummy snack

Hi guys! As part of the launch of Fat Loss on a Budget I want to walk you through what my own grocery shopping and meal prep looks like for my family.  Preparation is everything when it comes to optimizing your nutrition on a budget. Here’s what my weekend planning looked like last week:

Saturday Morning Prep
I wake up, pour some coffee, and gaze at my yarn. I really want to have a knitting and Hulu marathon instead of planning my shopping list. However, when Monday rolls around, I know that I’ll be way less stressed out if everything is in place. So I grudgingly get going and open up the grocery ads – I usually have print ads as well as access to digital ads on my computer.

hyvee ad

I then peek into my chest freezer to see how much meat and frozen veggies I still have on hand. My prepared freezer meals are down to nothing so this week I have to begin stocking up again here and there and try to make a few double batches of recipes to have on hand for busy days.

Score! I have a ridiculous amount of chicken that I nabbed for only $1.88 per pound. I also have at least 3 pounds of ground beef, wrapped into 1 pound packages. Unless we can find great sales on beef, we buy it in bulk at Costco and then divvy it up at home. When I say “we”, I mean my husband, because I always end up asking him to do it. THANKS BABEH.

Back to the ads. I have some familiar favorite meals that I can make based on what I have on hand. I compare prices of fruit between Aldi and my local grocery store, Hy-Vee. We have 2 other major supermarkets but my time is severely crunched this week, so I’m going to have to make it work going to only these stores. It’ll be fine.

After browsing recipes that I have on hand or online from favorite sites and thinking of the recipes that best match what I already have or can get for a low cost, I finally write my grocery shopping list and plan my menu for the week. You’ll see that in some cases, I’m making extra batches to have more meals. This lets me save time in the long run and also save money so that no ingredients go to waste.

The cost per meal isn’t what I actually have to spend each week. This is important to consider. I’ve estimated the cost of ingredients to give you a ballpark idea of what it costs to make a meal if you shop strategically.  Your total bill at the store will vary depending on what you already have on hand as well as how you and your family eat. Because I buy food when it hits very low prices, my costs are often even lower than those listed here because I nab ingredients when they’re at a deep discount. You can learn to do this too in my book. Ready for some meal ideas? Here we go!

The Meals

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.


  • Monday: Egg white/whole egg scramble with scraps of garden veggies I have on hand, a sprinkle of reduced fat cheese. Fruit on the side. Sometimes made with pizza sauce because pizza, or salsa.
    Total cost per serving: less than a dollar.
  • Tuesday: Protein pumpkin pancakes for me. Greek yogurt with cereal or oatmeal for the kids.
    Total cost per serving: around 40 cents. 
  • Wednesday : Overnight protein oats: Dashing Dish has a zillion variations. Usually the recipe is too filling to eat at once, so I save some for a snack. Here’s one I’m going to try this week: https://dashingdish.com/recipe/brownie-batter-overnight-protein-oatmeal/
    otal cost per serving: $2.54 
  • Thursday: Old fashioned oats with 2 egg whites stirred in as they just finish cooking – you can’t even taste them and it makes them creamy. I like to sprinkle in blueberries, a half banana, and sometimes just a tablespoon of granola for crunch.
    Total cost per serving: 82 cents. 
  • Friday: Egg fried in pam with turkey sausage on a Thomas High Fiber English muffin and slice of Sargento ultra-thin cheese.
    Total cost per serving:  $1.17
  • Saturday: Steel cut oatmeal for family – made with apples, a bit of brown sugar, and for me, scrambled eggs with just a little oatmeal.
    Total cost for serving the family: $2.38
  • Sunday: Family fun breakfast: I double this recipe because I have hungry boys. This classic pancake recipe is still our go to.   I might add an apple topping if we have extra fruit. Serving with bacon.
    Total cost for a doubled recipe of pancakes and pound of bacon: $6.00 



My lunches aren’t all that exciting. I don’t take time during the day to do much cooking. If I don’t have fun leftovers to munch, I’ll have my go-to “cheaper than Chipotle” salsa chicken to use for my own salad bowls. They’re just a combo of spinach or mixed greens, chicken,  and black beans mixed with a sprinkle of cheese and extra salsa. Sometimes I dice some onion on top too.

My kids need lunches too – they are way less adventurous than all the people pinning lunch ideas for kids seem to think. It’s typically homemade “lunchables”, turkey and cheese sandwiches, or PB&J with sides of yogurt, fruit, and whatever other random thing we might have sitting around that they’ll eat. Their drink is always water.

My husband just scavenges for leftovers or eats what I’m eating. Heh!
Total cost per lunches: Hard to say. The kids are probably less than $1 each per week day for lunch. My cost per meal is probably $1-$2 considering I’m using leftovers from other meals. Weekend lunches are usually leftovers or frozen. Costco tilapia/chicken is an emergency backup. I’ll estimate around $30 per week on lunches to feed everyone. 


  • Saturday: Cincinnati Chili  – 3 batches so that we can have 2 in the freezer to just add spaghetti to later. My recipe adaptation is from Cooking Light.
    Total cost per single recipe for 6 servings: $7.73
  • Sunday: Crockpot salsa chicken – great recipe from the Eating on a Dime blog. I’ll do a double batch so that I have chicken to make “Chipotle Bowls” out of for several days. Serving over rice for the kids, over spinach for me. Adding in a bit of cheese.
    Total cost for 1 batch using a package of chicken: $5.32
  • Monday: Pork steaks grilled with a spice rub, butternut squash, and sauteed apples. I’m doing these because pork steak is only $1.99 per pound at the grocery store this week. Apples and squash are cheap right now too. Yay, fall!
    Total cost for feeding 2 adults and 3 boys (1.5 lbs meat): $7.00
  • Tuesday: Crockpot White Chicken Chili from New Leaf Wellness. I’ll make enough for  2 meals if possible so i don’t waste the other half bag of corn.
    Total cost for 1 recipe: $4.80
  • Wednesday: Fish Cakes from Bon Appetit. Hopefully my kids won’t hate this one.  A friend said her kid loved it. Eat it up, punks! I’m subbing in tilapia because we have some frozen that we need to use. I’ll serve some frozen veggies on the side.
    Total cost of cakes and veggies: $8.67
  • Thursday: Leftover salsa chicken made into high protein quesadillas with Flatout Protein wraps that I have on hand and reduced fat cheese leftover from chili recipe. Spinach salad will by my side with whatever fruit I have sitting around and homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
    Total cost for salad plus 5 quesadillas not including chicken because I already accounted for it: $6.53
  • Friday: Random leftovers night. Occasionally popcorn for dinner night or pizza night. Likely there will be some leftover chili of some sort. Friday night is “I will die if I have to cook dinner” night because we’re all usually burned out by then and need a break.
  • Saturday: Grilled chicken thighs or drumsticks that were spice rubbed.  I chose these because bone-in thighs and drumsticks are on sale at the store for 99 cents per pound. Also, my 8 year old loves them. I’ll serve them with whatever frozen veggies I find on sale if I didn’t already have a bag of frozen asparagus. I’ll also make homemade bread for little money and just a little bit more time because I have a bread machine.
    Total cost of meal for 5: $3.61
  • Sunday: Turkey tacos. I’ll cook 3 batches of lean ground turkey with homemade taco seasoning . I’ll stash 2 extra batches into the freezer for busy days.  For some bizarre reason I have 3 packages of flour tortillas sitting in my pantry. It’s a taco conspiracy, but I’ll go with it because tacos are freaking good. We’ll cut up the last of the garden tomatoes if we still have any, use up bits of extra greens that my 10 year old will claim ruin his tacos, and some cheese to round out Taco Sunday.
    Total price for a pound of meat plus tortillas, salsa and cheese: $5.94

Total dollars estimated on dinners for the week for a family of 5: $49.60

Snacks and treats:

Photo credit: Christopher Cornelius

Photo credit: Christopher Cornelius

Typically I make a homemade dessert once or twice per week. I try to use low cost things that I have on hand, often using up fruit that may go bad (hello, banana bread).  I leave money in my budget for little indulgences like ice cream and really good chocolate. A few bites of something sweet before bed is an almost daily event.

For daytime snacks, I sometimes have nearly nothing and other days I feel snacky and need munchies. I also need small meals or snacks to fuel my workouts if they fall at a time that isn’t near meal time.  I’ll eat Greek yogurt with a bit of fruit or PB2 in it, protein shakes, rice cakes with a bit of peanut butter, or string cheese. The remainder of my grocery budget usually goes to snacks. The kids also like granola bars, homemade popcorn with the Whirley Pop, and fruit. Who am I kidding, they like to eat whatever tasty thing is in the house. They are ALWAYS hungry!

Weekly snacks/treats budget: $10-$15. 

So that’s the food – now I have to actually cook it. For the double or triple batch items, I don’t have to do any extra work – just allocate a freezer bag to stick in the extra recipe for another meal. When I do this consistently, I can count on a few already prepped meals each week. These are lifesavers for the evenings when I work or for when I am too tired and lazy to think about dinner. It beats the drive through for staying on my nutrition plan too.

How I Chose My Meals
I made a point of choosing meals with a relatively high protein count and smaller amounts of carbohydrate and fat. Protein is the macronutrient target that I find the hardest to hit, but as I detail in my book, it’s a powerhouse for helping my body composition as well as helping me feel full.

What I Actually Spent
I meant to take an artful picture of my receipts and make it look glorious. Except then I cleaned out my purse and accidentally tossed the receipts. UGH! I ended up spending about $90 this week, which included not only things I needed for my meals for this week: I also stocked up on a few things for future meals. We made it work on $75-$80 a week when we had to. I know of families who have tighter budgets and make it work on even less.  Your available time to really work deals will play a role too. I managed to get my stuff without any couponing this week and I feel good about how we did.

What’s your meal plan? My challenge to you is to create one and post it here or on the thread I’ve created on my Facebook page. I can’t wait to see it! (Plus new ideas for meals rock. Thanks!)

Want to read more articles that help you create healthy habits?

You can join my Insider Newsletter for free and have my latest articles, workouts, and tips delivered to your inbox weekly. Just fill out the form below and you’ll be all set: you’ll also get my new e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget!