Real Food Whole Life

5 Meal Planning Myths (and Why It's Not as Complicated as You Think)

Best of Meal PlanRobyn DownsComment

Meal planning.

It’s one of those things you know you should be doing, but that many of us end up avoiding.

You know planning will help you eat well and feel good throughout the week, but still, it ends up on the dreaded chore list and often gets skipped.

If you know the benefits of meal planning, but avoid it because it seems complicated, overwhelming, or downright unpleasant, know that you’re not alone.

I hear from hundreds of readers each month with the same problem: an honest desire to meal plan, but a feeling of dread when it comes to the process.

Maybe you feel pressure to cook new and original recipes each night of the week, or maybe the idea of sifting through thousands of recipes makes you want to run the other way.

If this sounds like you, know that meal planning can actually be simple, seamless part of your weekly routine.

There are so many meal planning myths out there, reinforcing the idea that it has to be arduous or complicated. 

Today I’m breaking down the myths, sharing why it’s not as complicated as you might think, and giving you a game-plan to streamline the process in your every day. Let's get to it!

5 Meal Planning Myths & Why It's Not As Complicated As You Think

1 | Myth One: You Must Make a New Recipe Each Night of the Week

In the past traditional meal planning has required sifting through dozens of recipes and creating a new plan each week.

This method is not only time-consuming, but also impractical for weeknight cooking. 

It also makes grocery shopping tricky, since each recipe has a separate list of ingredients that may or may not work together after that particular recipe has been made.

The Simpler Way: Think of meals in terms of “The Essential Six.”

The Essential Six are the fundamental building blocks of any recipe: sauces, protein, cooked veggies, raw veggies, grains + bases, and toppings + extras. 

Thinking in terms of building blocks allows you to combine them into an infinite number different meals. Think bowls, tacos, pasta, salads, and stir-frys, just to name a few.

Using the Essential Six method allows you to efficiently shop, plan and prep, without wasted time or money. 

As an added bonus, you can create a fridge and pantry filled with ingredients that actually go together, no matter what you’re cooking. 

Plus, thinking of meals in terms of the Essential Six allows you to efficiently prep just part of a meal, without cooking the entire meals ahead. 

Try it: Create a meal map for the week using the Essential Six as your guide. Start with Slow Cooker Lemon Herb Pulled Chicken as an example.

2 | Meal Plans Are Complicated and Take Hours to Create

One meal planning myth that many of us believe is that planning is complicated and must take hours to do.

And, if you start from scratch with a pile of cookbooks and no process to guide you, planning can take forever.

The Simpler Way: Create a stress-free weekly meal map organized around meal types. 

Instead of setting out to create a complicated meal plan, think instead about creating a loose map to follow, with just enough structure to guide you. 

And, instead of planning for individual recipes, think about meal types such as tacos, pasta, bowls, stir-frys, and salads. 

Once you’ve decided on the meal types for the week, decide how you’re going to combine the Essential Six. 

Choose a sauce to use, then move through the list by selecting a protein, veggies, and so on.

Try it: Break your favorite meal type into its Essential Six parts, then add it to your meal map. Use Veggie Noodle Bowls with 5-Ingredient Peanut Sauce as your inspiration.

3 | Grocery Shopping Has to be Overwhelming and Time-Consuming

Do you ever find yourself wandering around the grocery store without a plan, grabbing whatever looks interesting, only to get home and not know what to do with what you bought?

Or, do you bring home bags of groceries only to throw out the majority of food at the end of the week because you don’t know what to do with it?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you are not alone. Grocery shopping without a plan can be challenging, and can lead to frustration and disappointment.

The Simpler Way: Streamline grocery shopping.

Think about the Essential Six and meal types when you’re grocery shopping. 

Bonus points for outlining a meal map and using the meal map to create a quick grocery list before you go shopping.

Try it: Next time you’re headed to the market, create your list in terms of the Essential Six and meal types. Then stock up on what you need, thinking ahead about how you’re going to use it. 

4 | Meal Planning Has to be a Dreaded Chore. 

Many of us think of meal planning as a dreaded chore, right up there with laundry folding or bathroom cleaning. 

And who wants to spend their precious weekend hours on a dreaded chore? I know I don’t.

The Simpler Way: Make prep an enjoyable part of your weekly routine.

By thinking of meal planning in terms of the Essential Six and meal types, you’ll automatically make the process simpler and more streamlined.

With practice, creating a meal map and grocery list can become an effortless part of your weekly routine.

A few of my favorite tips to make it more enjoyable:

Schedule a time that works for you. Maybe it’s during your child’s afternoon nap, a lazy Sunday afternoon, or late at night when everyone’s in bed.

  • Set aside a special time to plan in your favorite comfy spot. Create rituals around this time to make it something you look forward to.
  • Play your favorite music or podcast and pour yourself a glass of wine or warm cup of tea.
  • Celebrate the time invested by enjoying the food all week long.

Try it: Put on your favorite tunes, pour yourself a glass of something yummy, and figure out a time that works best for you each week.

5 Meal Planning Myths & Why It's Not As Complicated As You Think

5 | You Must Plan Seven Meals Each Week

There is definitely a misconception out there that if you’re going to meal plan, it needs to be for the entire week.

For most, planning seven days worth of meals is an impossible standard, and one that discourages many from even getting started.

The Simpler Way: Anything is Better Than Nothing.

If you’re new to meal planning, or have struggled with complicated systems in the past, try reducing the number of meals you map.

Two or three is a great number to start with. Experiment with the number that works for you and that is actually sustainable in your weekly routine.

Try it: Map two or three meals this week and see how it feels. Does it feel good to take the pressure off? Do you notice a benefit to having the first few meals of the week mapped?


Thinking in terms of the Essential Six and meal types has been a game changer in my own life as a busy working mom, and I hope that this shift in thinking can help you streamline your own process, too.

If you want to take this process next-level, and receive guidance, recipes, and planning sheets, to make it easy, then Real Food Fix is your answer.

Real Food Fix is your system to help you plan less, eat well, and feel good, every day. Here’s what it’s all about:

  • A streamlined, flexible process to make meal planning & prep fail-proof and fun
  • Over 50 easy-to-make, mix-and-match recipes that can be combined in a variety of ways
  • Over 30 examples of how to use the mix-and-match recipes to create real-life meals for really busy people
  • Tips for success, including how to set up your kitchen, reduce food waste, and more
  • Bonus customized plans for families, couples, and singles plus printable PDFs to stay organized

10 Things I’m Afraid to Tell You

Whole LifeRobyn Downs34 Comments

There are some things I’ve been meaning to tell you.

It’s not really that I’m afraid to tell you them. It’s more that I haven’t had the chance. 

Or, to be honest, that I haven’t created the chance. 

To be fair, it can be hard here on the interweb to speak clearly and honestly. 

Difficult, too, to walk the line of what’s private and what’s public, of what to share, and what to keep to oneself.

That said, if you come here often, if you’re part of this community, there are some things I want to tell you. 

10 Things I'm Afraid to Tell You. www.realfoodwholelife.com

1 | I Don’t Want to Talk About Weight Loss

That’s right. I don’t want to talk about weight loss. It just is not my goal, in my own life, or here on Real Food Whole Life.

I should note that there have been times in the past when I shared my weight loss story, and even a before-and-after picture or two. 

Skim through blog post archives and I’m sure you’ll find the evidence. All of that is part of my journey, and I don’t regret any of it. 

And to be clear, I absolutely do not judge or look down on anyone who is trying to lose weight. I was right there with you, and understand the struggle very intimately. I get it. Trust me, I totally get it.

But I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.

Can I tell you what I do want to talk about?

I want to talk about feeling good. 

About eating nourishing foods because they make you feel amazing.

About moving because doing so makes your body and mind strong, and calm, and filled with vitality.

About self-love, and empowerment, and living life based on what is truly important.


2 | The Autoimmune Disease No One Has Heard Of

Okay, so I mentioned in this post that in the past year I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. 

I haven’t shared details or the full story primarily because it’s something I’m still figuring out myself. 

The entire process has been full of some pretty big ups and downs and I honestly haven’t had the energy to put it all out there.

That said, there’s such a lack of information about this particular autoimmune disease that sharing my story will likely help others.

So, I’m working on writing up the experience and will be sharing it here very soon.


3 | And on the Subject of Health

Since we’re in full-on honesty mode here, we might as well go for it, right?

In addition to the autoimmune diagnosis, I’ve also been having some health issues related to painful ovarian cysts.

Ovarian cysts are extremely common for many women, and don’t generally cause problems. 

Mine, on the other hand, seem to be the painful, complex, rupturing type and have landed me in the ER due to excruciating pain.

I’ve been to several doctors, endured more ultrasounds than I’d like to count, and am currently working with both my OB-GYN and a Naturopath to get a handle on the situation.

There have been rather unsettling diagnoses floated my way such as endometriosis, but for now everything is just a working theory.

As someone who considers herself a healthy person, the combination of these two health issues has been somewhat unsettling.

It stinks when you feel like something is going wrong with your body, and it’s equally troubling to not know exactly what to do about it.

I haven’t mentioned the ovary stuff here, because, well, it’s kind of a conversation killer. Not everyone wants to talk about ovaries, you know?

Also, it’s not usually directly relevant to the day-to-day recipe or how-to post. 

I share it now for those of you who are going through something similar, to let you know that you are not alone. 


4 | I Don’t Eat Perfectly

Just wanted to get this out there, in case there was any confusion. 

I don’t eat perfectly.

For the record, I don’t think there is a perfect way to eat.

Sometimes I eat dairy. Sometimes I eat refined sugar. I’ll eat an occasional burger from Five Guys. I eat gluten, too, though I’m trying to cut that out for reasons related to #2.

I share this because I worry that the current "health and wellness" industry is, perhaps unintentionally, creating a culture of aspirational, unattainable ideals of perfect eating.

It’s an attempt in inspire, at least I think that's what's behind this push toward perfect.

But, I want to make sure that I'm not contributing to this unreachable standard upon which you might be measuring your own efforts.

So, I eat real food to feel good as often as I can. Sometimes I don't.

And all in all, I am more concerned with feeling good overall than following a a so-called perfect way of eating.


5 | More Than Just Recipes

Okay, here’s the thing guys. I absolutely love creating and sharing free recipes for you. 

There’s something really special about going into the kitchen, experimenting with real food ingredients, and knowing that you and your family are enjoying the results.

And there’s nothing that makes me happier than hearing that my recipes have changed the way you eat. And I mean nothing.

But after 2+ years of creating, testing, photographing, and posting recipes every single week I’m ready for more.

Ready to write about how to incorporate real food into your real life, and more broadly about whole living.

Which, I admit, is a little scary.

Because so many of you know me for my recipes, (which, like I said, is awesome), writing about other things can feel like a risk. 

I feel so strongly that whole + healthy living is about more than just food, though, that I’m willing to go for it. 

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

And don’t worry, I’ll still be sharing plenty of recipes. 


6 | I’d Rather Play Then Plan

Also wanted to get this one out there. I’d rather be playing than meal planning.

Don’t get me wrong. I think meal planning is absolutely essential to making real, healthy food a part of your everyday.

But I’d definitely rather be playing outside than spending hours meal planning. 

I’m not going for perfect when it comes to planning, either. Just a quick map of what we’re going to eat and enough of a plan to get what we need at the grocery store. 

That’s actually the real reason I created Real Food Fix. I couldn’t find anything out there that appealed to my desire to plan less. 

So I made something for you, my community, whom I'm guessing would also rather play than plan. 


7 | Sometimes I Workout for An Hour a Day. More Often, I Don’t.

Again, my life isn’t about striving toward a perfect ideal. 

Some days I have time for an hour workout, but most days I don’t.

Often my day includes a quick 5 minutes in the morning, a quick walk during the day, and 5 minutes at night. 

The something-is-better than nothing mentality has done wonders when it comes to adding movement to my daily routine.

I still love to take a full barre3 studio class or sweat it out in a 60-minute hot yoga class, but when an hour isn’t possible I’ve found 5 minutes works, too.


8 | I’m Learning to Meditate

This is something I thought I’d never do.

I always thought meditation was too hard, too boring, and just a little too out there.

The practice is admittedly challenging, but I’ve experienced so many benefits within my daily life already that I’m inspired to keep going.

In the future, I’m looking forward to sharing more of my practice, what’s working (and what’s not), and how you might be able to incorporate mindfulness practices into your own life.


9 | I’m Working on Something New. And It Scares Me.

How’s that for a teaser?

For now, all I can say is that I’m working on a big new project and I am all at once bursting at the seams with excitement and also completely terrified by the process.

I not quite ready to share details until the project is a little further along, but I hope to announce within the next few months. 

Details will go out to the Real Food Whole Life community newsletter first, so if you want the scoop before anyone else, you can hop on the list.


10 | Feel Good. That is All.

This is my focus, my mantra, my everything right now.

Feel Good. That is all.

More on this soon, too. I promise.

Special thanks to The Lively Show and The Goal Digger podcasts for inspiring the title of this post.

One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies

RecipesRobyn Downs4 Comments

Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go, or as a sweet snack anytime!

Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a sweet snack anytime!

The breakfast cookie obsession continues around here, you guys.

We started with Blackberry Oatmeal, then Banana Oat Chocolate Chip (still possibly our favorite--because, chocolate), and of course Blueberry Zucchini, followed by Pumpkin Chocolate Chip, and then Cranberry Chocolate

And today we're rolling out the newest flavor: Carrot Cake!

I like to change up the breakfast cookie flavor profile with the seasons, and will often take the opportunity to pack in as many fruits and veggies as possible.

With spring just around the corner, carrot cake seemed perfect.

I mean, what better way to get more veggies in your diet (or your children's) than with cookies?

These power-packed bites are just slightly sweet from the combination of maple syrup and apple sauce, and are packed with oats, carrots, and raisins.

I like to nibble on a few with tea in the afternoon, and they pack perfectly into little lunch boxes as well.

Make a double batch, pop the leftovers in the freezer, and you'll always have a stash of breakfast cookies ready and waiting.

These also make a great after school snack, or after dinner bite. I hope you'll make a batch soon. Now, let's make some One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies!

Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a sweet snack anytime!
Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a sweet snack anytime!
Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a sweet snack anytime!
Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a sweet snack anytime!

RECIPE & KID-FRIENDLY ADAPTATIONS


1 | Skip the raisins or swap in dairy-free chocolate chips.

2 | Add ⅓ cup chopped walnuts for extra crunch and protein. 


THIS RECIPE IS . . .


Naturally Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegetarian, Nut-Free and Naturally Sweetened 


Naturally sweet and packed with plant goodness, One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a sweet snack anytime!

One-Bowl Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies

Ingredients

⅓ cup melted coconut oil

2 large eggs

⅓ cup pure maple syrup or honey

⅓ cup applesauce

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups oat flour*

1 cup whole rolled oats

½ cup flaked, unsweetened coconut

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup grated carrot, plus more for topping

⅓ cup raisins 

Coconut oil to grease the baking sheets

Instructions 

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, maple syrup, applesauce and vanilla extract until well combined. It’s okay if the coconut oil solidifies a bit.

3. Add the oat flour, whole oats, coconut, salt, baking powder and cinnamon, stirring until just combined.

4. Add the carrots and raisins, stirring again until just combined. 

5. Spoon a scant ¼ cup of the dough onto 2 greased baking sheets, using your fingers to lightly flatten each cookie. Sprinkle each with grated carrot. Continue with the remaining dough.

6. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

7. Serve the cookies immediately, store in an airtight container, or freeze for breakfasts or snacks. 

Makes about 16 medium cookies.

Notes: *Make your own oat flour for this recipe by placing 2 cups whole rolled oats in a blender and blending until coarse flour forms. You can also purchase pre-made oat flour at many grocery stores and natural food markets or online. If you are gluten-free be sure to buy oats that are specifically labeled gluten-free.

20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad

RecipesRobyn Downs3 Comments

Bright, colorful, and super tasty, 20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad is just the thing for picnics, potlucks, or as a side any night of the week.

Bright, colorful, and super tasty, 20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad is just the thing for picnics, potlucks, or as a healthy side any night of the week.

This is one of those recipes that comes together so simply, yet is full of big flavor and gorgeous color.

I love a good pasta salad, but find that they are often bland and lacking flavor. And, unfortunately, many are bathed in processed dressing and sadly missing any trace of veggie.

This one, though? This one is the exact opposite.

Packed with crunchy veggies and a tangy, flavorful homemade dressing, this pasta salad comes together easily and stands out on any buffet or potluck due to it's gorgeous color.

Plus it's dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and full of tons of veggies.

Also, it tastes really good, which is the most important part, right?

I hope you'll make this one soon. Now, let's make some 20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad!

Bright, colorful, and super tasty, 20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad is just the thing for picnics, potlucks, or as a healthy side any night of the week.
Bright, colorful, and super tasty, 20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad is just the thing for picnics, potlucks, or as a healthy side any night of the week.

RECIPE & KID-FRIENDLY ADAPTATIONS


1 | Use any combination of raw, crunchy veggies you like and have on hand.

2 | Skip the chickpeas if you want a more straightforward pasta salad, add a sprinkle of feta for an extra salty bite.


THIS RECIPE IS . . .


Naturally Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Nut-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free, Vegetarian, and Plant-Based


Bright, colorful, and super tasty, 20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad is just the thing for picnics, potlucks, or as a healthy side any night of the week.

20-Minute Rainbow Veggie Pasta Salad (Gluten-Free)

Ingredients

For the Pasta

8-oz gluten-free penne pasta (or any shape you like) 

½ cup thinly sliced purple cabbage

½ cup chopped carrot

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped bell pepper

⅓ cup sliced black olives

1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

¼ cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)

For the Dressing

¼ cup white wine vinegar (or substitute fresh lemon juice)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for salting the pasta water

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Instructions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta, a generous pinch of salt, and stir to separate the pasta. Cook according to package directions until just cooked through, being careful not to overcook, stirring occasionally. Drain, rinse, and add to a large bowl.

2. Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar or lemon juice, oil, maple syrup, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined.

3. Pour the dressing over the warm pasta, tossing to coat. It’s okay if some dressing is left in the bottom of the bowl, the pasta will absorb it as it sits.

4. Add the veggies, olives, and green onion, tossing to combine. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.

5. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, covered, for up to 1-3 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.*

Makes 8-10 side servings.

Note: If making ahead, you may need to add a splash more vinegar, olive oil, and extra pinch of salt before serving to freshen the flavors. You may also want to add the purple cabbage at the time of serving (not before), as it has the tendency to stain the pasta.