Food for thought on healthy eating

“Fit, healthy people who have a good relationship with food don’t need other people to tell them exactly what to eat at all times,” writes our wellness columnist Giovanni Roselli. Here’s how you can play the “meal transformation game.”

“Your diet is a bank  account. Good food choices are good investments.” 

— Bethenny Frankel, author

As a certified Precision Nutrition coach, I firmly believe in the company’s philosophies.  One of them is that meal plans don’t usually work and aren’t the best solution to your dietary problems.  I’d like to summarize a recent article on this topic written by Brian St. Pierre, director of nutrition for Precision Nutrition.  

“Do I get a meal plan?” 

This is one of the most common questions from people who are considering, or just started out in PN’s nutrition coaching program.  

Traditional meal plans are an explicit prescription:  Eat this exact thing in this exact amount at this exact time.  You might be thinking, “Good. I want a plan. I’m sick of trying to figure all this stuff out. Just tell me what to eat.” Unfortunately, when we try to follow rigid prescriptions like this, lots can (and often does) go wrong.  No matter how enthusiastic you are, meal plans can be tough to follow.  This is normal. Life can get in the way.

  • People get busy;
  • We’re not always prepared;
  • Kids get sick;
  • Bosses expect you to work late;
  • It’s always someone’s birthday (or a special holiday); and
  • Sometimes you just don’t feel like having a protein bar at 10 a.m.

The meal transformation game

You need to think about what you’re already eating, and how you could make it a little bit better.  Think about a spectrum of food quality rather than “bad” or “good” foods.  Think of this as a game.  How can you play “make this meal just a little bit better” in every situation?  In which situations is that easier or harder?  When your choices are limited, how can you shoot for “a little bit better” while still being realistic and without trying to be “perfect”?

Here’s how that “food spectrum” might look in daily life for dinner.  

Stage one

It’s 8 p.m. You’ve just gotten home after an insane day at work.  All you want to do is put food into your face and zone out in front of the TV.  You can’t even imagine making anything more complicated than boxed macaroni ’n’ cheese right now.  Ketchup and hot dogs are as fancy as it gets.

Stage two

Same concept, but:

  • You’re adding some extra protein with the help of a rotisserie chicken leg that you grabbed at the grocery store on the way home.
  • You’ve added a side salad, just grabbing a few handfuls of prewashed greens out of a bag.
  • You’ve whipped up your own pasta.
  • Work is still on your mind, and a couple drinks will take the edge off.

Stage three

Things are getting fancy:

  • You’re upping the protein with a little more chicken.
  • You’re having a little less pasta.
  • You’ve also added a nice big salad to the mix.
  • You’ve cut the booze to 1 drink.
  • Plus, you’re sitting at the dinner table, instead of flopping down on your couch or standing over the sink.

Stage four

We’re playing at pro level here.

With your meal planning and prep strategies, even a weeknight dinner looks good.

  • You can whip up a delicious salad in three minutes flat and you have some pre-cooked quinoa on hand.
  • That rotisserie chicken is still a fast, convenient option, but now it’s got some healthy buddies.
  • You’re indulging in a single glass of good wine these days, and you take time to savor it.

What to do next

Start small, taking one step at a time.  Pick one meal to transform and focus on that.  Concentrate on improving that one meal each day. You might think about things like:

  • adding protein;
  • adding veggies or fruits;
  • eating less processed food;
  • eating more nutrient-dense, whole foods;
  • drinking less alcohol or fewer sweet drinks;
  • drinking more water;
  • eating in a calmer, more relaxed setting; and/or,
  • eating more slowly and mindfully.  

Of course, don’t try to do all these at once.  Try just fiddling with one or two, and see which ones work best for you.

Add things slowly. Once you’ve improved one meal a day, try another.  Or, once you’ve improved one factor in a meal (such as adding more protein), try another.  Be patient and know that small steps add up.  

Set yourself up for success. Notice what makes it easier and simpler for you to eat better.  Then figure out how to do or get more of that.  For instance:

  • Is planning helping you? How could you do more of that?
  • Is a healthy meal-delivery service making it easy? Could you set aside a little more cash to get two meals a day instead of one?
  • Is setting aside time on Sunday afternoon to cook some protein a good idea? Great, keep on doing that. Book it in your calendar.

There’s no “right” way to do this. Do what works for you.

Think long-term. What do you want to happen over the next few months? Year? 10 years? Do you want to be on a meal plan for the next few decades? Today, if you were to take one small step toward the “better” end of the meal spectrum, what might that look like? How can you start playing the “meal transformation game” today?

Experiment with systems, skills and strategies that work for you and your life.  The real goal of a meal plan is to stop using a meal plan.  Fit, healthy people who have a good relationship with food don’t need other people to tell them exactly what to eat at all times.  Living a fit and healthy life doesn’t require perfection either.

Reach Giovanni at

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