A few days ago I was chatting to my friend K and telling her excitedly about the new Menu Planning Evenings I will be running in London from February, when she interrupted me with a look of surprise:
"But hang on," she said, "doesn't that clash with the Beyond Chocolate approach and the intuitive eating ethos in general? I thought the whole point was to free yourself from constraints such as meal plans and diety stuff like that! How can you make sure you eat whatever you want on Friday if you've already decided on Monday what you're having for lunch!?"
I suppose I've never thought of it that way, I just know that having a plan works for me and has been much more of a help than a hindrance in having a balanced relationship with food and feeling happy with the way I eat.
For me, it's about control and choice: two concepts which are at the core Beyond Chocolate. Back in the days when I was yo-yoing wildly between trying to eat as little as possible and eating everything in sight, the lack of control I felt around food was the most painful aspect of it all. I was never in control of what I ate. If I was on a diet or trying to 'be good' I would follow whichever plan I'd decided was 'the one'. If the magazine, or book or doctor told me that I had to have half a grapefruit at breakfast, a carrot salad for lunch and grilled fish for dinner then that is what would I have. No questions asked. I often ate meals I didn't like or didn't fancy for weeks on end in an attempt to stick to someone else's menu plan which had nothing to do with my appetite and tastes.
The flip side of that was when I was in-between diets. At those times I would eat all the foods I'd been depriving myself of for days or weeks. There was no real choice involved, I didn't choose to eat those foods because I liked them or fancied them in the moment. I ate them as a reaction to past (and future!) deprivation. I crammed them in, driven by my overeating gremlin who hounded me into eating as much as I could of just about anything.
These days, when I sit down on a Monday morning to do my menu planning for the week ahead what I savour the most is the feeling of control and choice. I love the fact that food no longer has a hold on me, that I am totally in control and that I can make choices that work for me, day in, day out.
I love the fact that planning meals means I make sure that I am eating only the foods I love, that I can make a point of experimenting with new foods and recipes that I am interested in. Menu planning means that I can make sure I have a varied diet, that I include as many of the foods that I consider 'healthy' as I can. After years of following other people's rules on what I could or could not eat, after years of chaotic and emotionally driven eating, menu planning gives me the power to take control and make decisions on what I want.
I have a busy and stressful life, like most of you I imagine. Taking a little time to plan meals means I don't end up eating toast and peanut butter or cheesy pasta 3 nights a week because I haven't had time to go shopping and I haven't got anything else in house. When I know I've got puddings on the menu, I don't need to root around the kitchen cupboards for 'something sweet' later on. On the weeks I know will be particularly busy and rushed, I make sure I have meals which are easy and quick to prepare as well as satisfying and tasty so that I don't end up eating ready-meals and snacking on loads of processed junk on the run.
Of course my friend K is right: I don't always fancy what I've planned for days in advance or life gets in the way and the plan doesn't fit. And so, true to Beyond Chocolate, I am flexible and always ready and willing to adapt. Tonight is a case in point: my meal planner says it's Thai pork patties but it's freezing I what I really fancy is a hearty, warming soup. Which is great because I've got a lovely carrot and butternut squash one I made some time ago and that I ended up freezing because I fancied pasta instead.
On a purely practical level menu planning works for me because it saves me time and money. Being organised means I spend less time doing the things I don't like (shopping) and more time doing the stuff I enjoy (cooking). I waste less food and that feels good too.
The Kitchen Fairy's (that's me!) next Menu Planning Party is on 16th February in Stoke Newington, if you want more control and choice around food and fancy a fun girl's night out, why not join me? Or how about hosting a Menu Planning Party for you and some friends in your own home? All you need to do is send out the invites, I'll do the rest.