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Meal Planning Meets Intuitive Eating: Can They Coexist?

Updated: Jun 10

calendar and pen for meal planning

Today, we’re diving into a hot topic: How does meal planning fit into the framework of Intuitive Eating?

At first glance, these concepts might seem contradictory.

Intuitive Eating evokes feelings of flexibility, freedom, spontaneity, and a flowy approach to food with no rigid rules. While meal plans are often associated with rigidity and rules.

👉How then, can one incorporate meal planning and organized grocery shopping into the Intuitive Eating framework?

That's what we'll explore in this blog post!


Can Intuitive Eating and Meal Planning Really Go Together?

YES! Absolutely!

One of the key differences between diet-culture meal planning and Intuitive Eating meal planning is the intention behind it.

Traditional meal planning often stems from a place of rigidity and control, serving as a set of rules to follow. This approach emphasizes what types of food to eat, the nutritional value of those foods, and ensures daily and weekly plans are “balanced.”

This type of meal planning does not support an Intuitive Eating journey.

One of the fundamental principles of Intuitive Eating is to "Reject the Diet Mentality." So, when incorporating meal planning into your Intuitive Eating practice, it must be done with grace, flexibility, and the understanding that all foods are welcome.

knife cutting herbs as part of meal planning and meal prep


Benefits of Meal Planning in Intuitive Eating

Incorporating meal planning into your Intuitive Eating journey can enhance your experience in several ways:

Increasing Satisfaction with Food

Rather than adhering to a plan based on nutritional quotas, you can create a meal plan around foods that sound appealing and appetizing to you. Think of it as "meal dreaming" rather than meal planning.

Take time at the beginning of the week to consider:

  • What sounds good to me this week?

  • What foods have I been craving recently?

  • What foods have I missed?

  • What seasonal foods would be enjoyable?

  • What's my favorite type of cuisine and when would I like to enjoy it this week?

By brainstorming what you want to eat based on what sounds good, you can enhance your satisfaction with food. Seeing your desired meals written down can be supportive and exciting, aligning with the Intuitive Eating principle of "Finding Satisfaction with Food."

Minimizing Decision Fatigue

With all foods now available to you, the abundance of choices can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Constantly checking in with your body and deciding what to eat can lead to decision fatigue. This occurs when the mental energy required to make choices feels exhausting. Having some structure in place around grocery shopping and meal prep can simplify this process, making it easier to decide what to eat without overwhelming yourself.

Considering the Realities of Your Life

grocery bag with lemons after meal planning and grocery shopping

Intuitive Eating doesn’t mean you think about what sounds good at every meal and then do whatever it takes at all costs to go get that food. We need to honor the practicalities of your life.

It's important to consider:

  • Do you live near a grocery store?

  • Do you have a short or long lunch break?

  • How much money do you have set aside for dining out versus grocery shopping?

  • Do you even enjoy cooking or is it more of a chore?

By answering these questions and coming up with some sort of a plan that works for your lifestyle, you’re actually making Intuitive Eating more feasible for yourself.

By considering your individual life and needs, you can fit intuitive eating into your life rather than the other way around.

Intuitive Eating is nuanced (unlike diet culture) and you can use your meal plan to create a structure and system that works for you.


The Importance of Structure

Everyone benefits from some level of structure in their lives, even the most free-spirited individuals. Too many options with no guidance can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Creating a loose structure around meal planning and grocery shopping can provide the boundaries needed to create space for creativity and spontaneity.

Setting parameters like eating breakfast between 7-9 am is an example of a loose structure that reduces mental noise and decision fatigue. Rather than waking up to a sea of endless possibilities, you have a starting point that makes it easier to intuitively choose what you want to eat within those parameters.

If you plan for certain variables, it frees up time and energy for you to spontaneously and intuitively lean into some of the other aspects of your dining experience.


Ideas for Creating Loose Structure

Themed Nights

Consider setting themed nights such as Pizza Night, Breakfast for Dinner, or Mexican Cuisine Night. This introduces a playful structure while allowing flexibility within the theme.

Set Meal Time Ranges

Aim for meal time ranges, like breakfast between 7-9 am, lunch from 12-2 pm, and dinner from 5-7 pm. This helps you schedule your day while still providing flexibility.

Delegating Cooking Duties

Decide who cooks on which nights. Whether you and your partner take turns or you order takeout some nights, this can reduce the daily decision-making load.

Cooking Versus Dining Out

At the beginning of the week, decide how many nights you want to cook versus dine out. This can help you plan meals and grocery shopping more effectively.

Meal Delivery Services

Utilize meal delivery services that provide a few meals per week. This gives you structure while still allowing daily flexibility to choose which of the meals you feel like eating each night.

Organizational Systems

Develop systems for creating grocery lists, grocery shopping, meal planning, and collecting recipes. This can significantly decrease overwhelm and make meal planning feel more manageable.


Experiment and Play

You don’t need to use all these ideas at once. Experiment with different methods to find what brings you joy and ease. The goal is to create a meal planning system that supports your Intuitive Eating journey, allowing room for spontaneity and honoring your body’s cravings and hunger levels.

I hope these tips help you find a balance between structure and flexibility in your meal planning. Please share what you try and how it works for you!

If you’d like to stay connected, drop your email below to receive monthly updates and support on Intuitive Eating, mindfulness, and mental health.

May your future cooking and grocery shopping endeavors be filled with joy!


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