By: Guest Blogger Priya Padmanabhan
Receiving a cancer diagnosis, moving through treatment, and getting through the journey can feel like conquering Mount Everest. That hike up and down the mountain is unique to each person. As a breast cancer thriver, I can vouch for that. In this article, I will share how self-care routines, specifically how meal planning and meal prepping, can help you take charge of your treatment and recovery.
Your diet plays a key role in supporting you through treatment by minimizing side effects and supporting healing. A healthy & balanced plate also provides you with the energy you need to fuel your treatment and recovery.
What does a healthy plate look like? Half of the plate is vegetables, ¼ of the plate is protein, and the remaining quarter whole grains or starches.
Now, this doesn’t have to be complicated at all. As simple as meal planning and prepping sounds, making it easy & doable for you involves some basic skills and knowhow. Easy and effective meal planning includes three primary steps:
- Step 1. Choose your meals
- Step 2. Go grocery shopping
- Step 3. Prep & cook your meals
Knowing that you have meals prepped or cooked ahead of time has many advantages. A few key ones are that it helps reduce overwhelm and stress, saves time, provides the energy you need when you need it the most, and most of all removes the guesswork around “what do I have in my fridge to eat”.
6 Steps For Success
Setting up some rituals and routines go a long way in making your self-care a priority. Here’s where I suggest you start:
Step 1. Mindset Matters
Frame your meal planning and prepping process as a meditation exercise. Instead of stressing over preparing meals, look at it as your own self care time, time that you invest to see how you can nourish your body. Listen to the rhythm of chopping vegetables on the cutting board, the sizzling sound of vegetables sauteing on the stove top, the smell of rice cooking, and visualizing the process as a dance or music sequence makes the experience much more enjoyable.
Step 2. Schedule Time For Planning
Be specific because you are finding time for your self-care. For me, when I was moving through treatment, weekends were the calmest times with no appointments, and I had weekends off from work. So, Saturday mornings ended up being the best time for me and my family to think about what lies ahead for the week.
Step 3. Choose Your Meals
There are many tools you can use to help you plan out your meals for the week. A simple meal mapping sheet can help. What’s most important though is that you KEEP YOUR MEALS SIMPLE! If you are new to meal planning, commit to just one meal, say breakfast or healthy snacks. Choose 2 recipes that are super easy to prep. Start simple and then gradually build in more! I suggest choosing recipes that have 5 ingredients or less, can be cooked in one pot, or cooked in 30 minutes or less; like the recipes you can find in The Cancer Diet Cookbook. This will keep meals quick and easy. Generating a grocery list is the goal of this step.
Step 4. Grocery Shopping
Take the grocery list you created from step #3 and check your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what you already have. Mark them off the list. If you need anything that is not already on your list, like kitchen towels, soap, etc. then add those items to the list. Take the list with you to the grocery store. This will help you stay focused and make your job easier at the store.
Sometimes picking the time you like to grocery shop will make the experience more enjoyable for you. I personally love to go grocery shopping in the wee hours of the day, because the store is so calm then, especially on Sunday mornings. This is another reason why I love to complete my meal planning on Saturday. Take a minute to consider when you would like to grocery shop?
On a side note, I’d suggest making sure you eat before you head to the store. This will make it easier to stay on track and not come home with a bunch of items you don’t really need (or want).
Another tip is to wash your vegetables and fruits as soon as you get home. Trim, peel, & chop veggies to get you a head start on prepping and cooking. Get your family involved with this step, kids are great helpers, or ask for help from a friend.
Step 5. Schedule In Meal Prepping
To build off of the last tip I just shared, having 2-3 hours in either one chunk of time or in smaller chunks depending on how you are feeling will help you prep efficiently. Doing as much prepping ahead of time makes it so much faster and easier to get food on the table when it’s time to eat. For me, I divide prepping and cooking over my Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Experiment and see what works for your routine? Involve family in this activity to keep it fun. Ask for help, maybe friends who want to help you. Turn on your favorite music. Do what you can to make the prepping process as enjoyable as possible.
Step 6. Prep Ahead
As soon as you get back from the grocery store wash the vegetables & fruits, trim & chop them as necessary so they are ready to use for cooking or for snacks.
I am a big fan of batch cooking. This helps in getting the components of a healthy plate ready or even in getting a full meal ready to go. There are many different components you can prepare ahead of time. Here are some examples to help you get started:
- Roasting vegetables with spices
- Bulk cooking proteins – chicken, meat, lentils, and beans
- Cooking soups or stews ahead of time and storing in the fridge or freezer
- Bulk cooking whole grains
- Packing snack packs with fruits and nuts or veggies and hummus
Here’s another neat little trick for you…gather the ingredients for a meal, place it all in freezer bags with the marinade or spices, and then place the bags in the freezer. This can come in super handy on those days when you did not have something planned ahead OR if you don’t feel like having what you had cooked. Dump the ingredients from the freezer bag onto a sheet pan or into an instant pot as soon as you get home. This strategy worked really well for me on some of my chemo days when I was feeling very tired. It allowed me to make a delicious & nourishing meal in just minutes.
Are You Ready To Take Action?
Approaching your meal planning & prepping as a meditative exercise, choosing meals that are SIMPLE, that will work for your lifestyle, and that have the components of a healthy plate, along with making the cooking and prepping process a joyful activity will all help to make this routine sustainable.
The most important thing is to start somewhere and gradually add in strategies that will help you get nourishing healing meals on your table and in your body. Hopefully the ideas in this article will help you get started.
If you’d like more support in putting this into practice, then we invite you to join us on Tuesday, June 29th, 2021 for a FREE workshop “Meal Plan & Prep Without Overwhelm: Strategies For Quick Nourishing Meals During and After Cancer Treatment”.
You will learn 3 simple meal strategies that can make your life easier and minimize your time in the kitchen. You will also receive a meal mapping worksheet to make it even easier for you to take action.