10 Things I’ve Learned From Building Meal Plans for Four Years 

This article is a guest post by Abigail Hopkins

When I graduated as a Registered Nurse and started to work full-time, my health was at it’s absolute worst. I constantly felt tired, irritable, anxious. I felt like a stranger in my own body.  I knew I needed to make a serious change.

I set out on a journey to heal my mind, body and soul and decided that I would start with the food I was putting in my body. I transitioned myself from a heavily processed food diet to a real-food diet, and taught myself how to nourish my body with wholesome ingredients.

My entire life started to change for the better. I was more energetic, my mood felt more stable and I began to actually appreciate the strength and resiliency of my body.

My friends and colleagues started to notice a positive change in me. They were always asking, “What’s your secret?”. The constant questioning and genuine curiosity inspired me to write my first e-book with my typical weekly meal plan and all my favourite recipes. Little did I know that this would give birth to a new career and a thriving business.

I’ve now been creating meal plans for almost four years! Through our meal planning platform, That Clean Life, we have now helped tens of thousands of people make planning their meals much more simple and fun.

Needless to say, I’ve learned so much along the way. Here are 10 of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away from building meal plans over the past four years.

1. People Want to Eat Healthy, They Just Don’t Know Where to Start.

I totally live in a “health” bubble, and I’ve learned I need to always be mindful of that. While I understand the basics of nutrition and how to tell if a research study is valid, most people do not. In fact, most people are still very confused when it comes to food. They want to eat healthy, they just have no idea as to where they should start.

I’ve learned that providing someone with a meal plan that has everything laid out can act as the roadmap they need to start taking action and get on the path to better health.

2. You Need to Provide More Than Just a Meal Plan

With all of that being said, I’ve learned that I can’t simply hand someone a meal plan and expect that it will transform them into a green smoothie-loving, whole-food eating, energetic health nut. Those who want to change their eating habits usually require a lot more than a meal plan.

I’ve learned that even more important than the meal plan is the support and community we provide throughout their journey.

3. The Easier the Plan, the Better

I used to create elaborate plans that were beautiful and exciting to look at, but would require the user to spend hours in the kitchen. I’ve learned that this is not what people want. The easier you can make the plan, the better!

4. Keep the Plan Simple But Also Delicious and Exciting

While it is important to keep meal plans easy, I’ve learned that there is a fine line between simple and fun, and repetitive and boring. It took me a while to find this balance, but once I did, it improved our meal plans immensely. We’ve now mastered the art of creating plans that don’t require too much work, but are still exciting and delicious to follow.

5. Providing an Itemized Grocery List Makes a Big Difference

I used to provide a meal plan with recipes, but totally overlooked the grocery shopping piece. Big mistake! I realized that providing an itemized grocery list with the meal plan is a simple step, and will save clients a ton of time and money. Not to mention, an itemized grocery list eliminates barriers and makes it so much easier for clients to start executing on the plan we’ve made for them immediately, as opposed to them trying to figure out what they need to buy.

6. Incorporate Leftovers

Another key learning that has taken my meal planning skills to a next level is incorporating leftovers. Instead of creating a meal plan where the client has to prepare lunch and dinner, we instead include dinner recipes that yield enough food to be packed up for lunch the next day. We’ve learned that people love when they can cook once and get multiple meals out of it!

7. Always Add Suggestions for Modifications

When it comes to modifying recipes to use what you have on hand, I’m an expert. But I’ve learned that people who are new to preparing their own food don’t usually have the same insights. We now always provide simple modifications with each recipe. This is a great education opportunity and helps the client learn how to modify recipes to suit their unique preferences and needs.

8. Include Instructions For Meal Prep

I used to deliver meal plans only to see people take a glance at them and look completely overwhelmed. This is obviously not what I was going for. That is why we now provide a prep guide, which shows the client what and how to prepare food in advance to make their lives much easier throughout the week.

9. Good Photography Has a Big Impact

My original meal plans included recipes typed up in plain text, without any visuals. But when I started to provide beautiful photography with each recipe, I noticed people got much more excited to get in the kitchen. This is when I learned that drool-worthy photos can make all the difference when it comes to getting people inspired and actually using the plan.

10. Build Flexibility into Meal Plans

When I first started talking to people about the concept of meal planning, many expressed fears. They were worried that they wouldn’t be able to stick to the plan, or that having a meal plan was too rigid. This is when I realized the importance of building flexibility into meal plans.

When we started to build flexibility into our plans, and communicated that meal planning wasn’t some “all-or-nothing” habit, people were much more likely to get on board. Instead of providing 7-day meal plans where people felt like they had to follow the plan verbatim for the entire week, we leave some meals blank. This allows people to move meals around according to their schedule, and also fit in their social events like dinners out with friends, which is super important.

Building awesome meal plans is a skill that requires practice, and gets easier as you go. Do you build meal plans for clients? If so, what lessons have you learned along the way? Share your insights with us in the comments below!

Abigail Hopkins is the co-founder of That Clean Life a meal planning platform that gives you everything you need to meal plan for yourself, or your clients. Abigail is also a Culinary Nutrition Expert and a Registered Nurse. She loves helping people to change their perspective on what it means to “eat healthy” and showing them that it can be simple and fun.

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