The Power of Planning

When it comes to eating healthy, good intentions aren’t enough. Planning ahead is the secret to staying on track.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #233

The Power of Planning

I’ll bet that a lot of you are just like me. I wake up every morning with the best of intentions. I’m going to nourish my body with wholesome nutritious foods and avoid junk food and mindless snacking. But sometimes, as the day goes on, I end up going off track. I impulsively order an oversized muffin at the coffee shop. I find myself munching on pretzels or M&Ms at my desk. I get to the end of the day and realize I haven’t had a single vegetable.

Of course, we all have those days once in a while. But the other day I realized that this has been happening to me more often than not lately. Obviously, I still believe in the importance of making healthy food choices. After all, I’ve made an entire career out of helping people improve their diets. And yet my own choices aren’t always as good as they should be.


And that’s when I realized—or actually, remembered something that I’ve realized before: The reason that my days don’t go as planned is usually because I haven’t actually got a plan. Starting the day with the generic intention to “eat healthy” isn’t enough. And waiting until you’re hungry to start thinking about what you’ll eat next is usually a bad idea. I find I make far better choices when I plan ahead—and I bet the same is true for you.

Do Your Choices Support Your Goals?

One of the interesting things about human nature is that we tend to make different choices for our “future selves” than we do for our “present selves.” Choices that we make for our future selves are more likely to be in line with our larger goals, such as eating healthy or saving money. Decisions that we make in the moment tend to focus more on short-term desires and instant gratification and discount the long-term consequences.

If you find that your moment-to-moment choices aren’t in line with your goals, try making more of your choices ahead of time.

4 Ways to Leverage the Power of Planning

1. Shop Smarter. Set your future self up for success by leaving all those tempting but non-nutritious snacks and treats on the shelves and stocking up on wholesome foods. If you don’t bring it into the house, it won’t take any willpower to keep from eating it later. It’s a good idea to avoid grocery shopping when you’re stressed and/or hungry. As you head into the store, think what you want your food to do for you and how you want to feel after you eat it. (Listen to a Nutrition Diva podcast on your way to the store to put you in the right frame of mind!) 

2. Plan Your Day. Take a few moments at the beginning of the day (or before you go to bed the night before) to think through your day. When will you be leaving the house? Where will you be at lunch time? What’s the plan for dinner? What’s in the fridge? Now, sketch out a plan for the days meals—one that involves vegetables—and stick to it! I work at home, for example, so I have the luxury of being able to make myself a nice salad for lunch. But that’s far more likely to happen if I plan to stop working at noon or 12:30 and make lunch. Otherwise, I’m likely to work straight through until 2pm. When I suddenly realize I’m starving, I don’t have the patience to make a salad so I eat cheese and crackers instead. Likewise, if the plan is to grill some chicken for dinner, take it out of the freezer so it’s thawed and ready when it’s time make dinner—and there’s less temptation to call for a pizza.

See also: Domestic CEO’s Easy Tips for Meal Planning


3. Pack Your Lunch. If you don’t work at home, save your future self from the food court by packing a lunch. You can even do this the night before when clearing up from dinner. Package up a little container of left-overs from dinner or make some tuna salad. Put some baby carrots and snow peas into a bag. Fill up an old Altoids tin with some almonds. Wash an apple or some grapes. Stack it all up in the front of the fridge where you can easily grab it on your way out the door in the morning.

4. Preview the Menu. If you do decide to eat out (or carry out), take a few minutes to check out the menu online beforehand. Almost every restaurant now posts their menu on their website. Even better, most chain restaurants have nutrition information available as well. You may be shocked to see just how big a difference there is between the various choices on the menu. Ignorance may be bliss but it’s also the source of a lot of unwanted calories! Decide what you want to order before you head to the restaurant.

See also: Tips for Eating Out

To Make Better Choices, Make Them Ahead of Time

This strategy may seem kind of simple or even obvious. And if you’re one of those deliberate, disciplined types who never take their eye off the ball, it may be completely unnecessary for you. But if, like me, you sometimes find yourself drifting off course, you might find it helpful to be a little more concrete about your planning. Try it for a few days and see if it helps. After you get yourself back in the groove, you can even plan to take your future self out for a little treat!

Keep in Touch

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic or would like to find out about having me speak at your conference or event, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com. You can also post comments and questions on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.