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The Little Black Dress Method™ to Meal Planning

There are two main obstacles that trip up meal planning for busy professionals: 1) Time; 2) Decision fatigue. I have a solution for both in this article. If you need a guide to planning meals that won’t be a second full-time job, you are in the right place.

This is the DAO Little Black Dress Method for Meal Planning. ™

The challenges of meal planning for fit professionals

As part of a successful nutrition strategy, meal planning is important. But for us, there are obstacles. There are three main obstacles that trip up meal planning for busy professionals: 

1) Time constraints

2) Decision fatigue

3) A lack of flexibility

Without a plan, you are at the whim of your busy schedule and the most convenient food to eat. If you don’t make healthy choices convenient to eat, you probably won’t eat them. Most healthy food needs to be washed and chopped. Food from the vending machine, on the other hand, is already wrapped and ready to go. 

With being home, we can fall into the pantry and fridge surfing trap. Not only is this a timesuck, but without a structured approach, you may end up eating a little bit here, a little bit there, and this grazing pattern will result in never being satisfied and feeling like you haven’t eaten all day. 

So this is the magic of meal planning—it is about making healthy and nourishing foods convenient for you to eat when you get hungry. For those of us who are also expected to keep 100 trains running on time, this seems like a luxury of trainers and Youtube stars. 

But it’s not! I have figured out a method that does not involve crazy meticulous prepping and allows for flexibility based on food you know you like and can chow down on quickly when you have 5 minutes between Zoom calls and need time to check your teeth. 

What’s the Little Black Dress method?

 My Little Black Dress method revolves around the concept of eliminating decision fatigue and saving time.

Think about it. From the second we wake up, all we do is make decisions. What to wear. Whether to drink coffee or tea. Whether to get in a workout or check email. So many decisions clutter the brain and actually make us feel exhausted and paralyzed with indecision. This is why Steve Jobs always wore the black turtleneck and jeans look; he wasn’t making a fashion statement (I don’t think), but he was taking out the decision-making from his wardrobe so he could focus on his creativity and his vision.

The same concept extends to the Little Black Dress. Take a second and visualize your closet. You probably have at least two or three “little black dresses” that you can just grab off the rack and know that it will go with any kind of shoe or coat, and that it will fit perfectly and be appropriate for almost any occasion. You may even have different versions of a little black dress by occasion (work, cocktail party, or church), or by season (short sleeves for summer, long sleeves and thicker fabrics for winter). Or it may be a go-to power suit, jeans that always fit, or a blouse you can always throw on for a last minute zoom meeting with your boss. 

This is the idea behind the “Little Black Dress” meal planning method. It’s a collection of “black turtlenecks,” “little black dresses,” go-to suits, and jeans that you can grab off of the “rack” for any kind of meal or snack, any time of day. 

Why the Little Black Dress is a better solution that traditional meal planning

Most meal planning guides contain fixed recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Here’s my problem with this from a business woman’s perspective:

  1. I don’t have time for complicated recipes
  2. I don’t want to eat foods I don’t like
  3. I don’t want to be on a rigid schedule of a meal plan when my schedule is unpredictable.

In other words, I need flexibility. We may only have 5 minutes to quickly stuff down a meal between Zoom calls. Which makes it sensible to prepare meals in advance. That leads me to the next topic: meal prep.

Meal prep is out on the LBD method

There is a big difference between meal planning and meal prep. Meal prep entails what you see on Instagram with the individual containers and meals and snacks all pre-portioned out. 

I bought into meal prep for a period of time. I bought all the glass divided containers, portioned out my meals, and stored them in my fridge. Here was why I couldn’t sustain it: 1) taking a whole Sunday to meal prep was a huge timesuck; 2) by the third day of the same lunch, I was bored out of my mind. 

We generally have, if we are lucky, a Sunday a week to do what we please with our time—and I do not want to spend it preparing 14-20 little glass containers. In addition, even if we go through this trouble, it is possible that your body just won’t feel like the particular meal you have prepared for the day. Which leads you right to the fast-food place across the street. 

My Little Black Dress method has a more flexible approach that does provide for planning and doing some prep ahead, but nothing so meticulous that you lose a chance to binge watch Emily in Paris when you finally have a few free hours on Sunday. 

How the DAOFitLife Little Black Dress (LBD) Meal Planning Method™ works

Instead of focusing on content, my approach focuses on a method: the Little Black Dress method.  

The LBD (Little Black Dress) method of meal planning is a scripted meal or snack that has ingredients you know you like and that you can easily throw together. The key is to make sure you always have these “staples” around, ready to heat up or eat, and a general organization for how the meal is put together. 

Here is an outline of the method, step by step:

1. Build a menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, with 3-4 choices of Little Black Dress for each. All of these should be foods you can throw together easily or do not have to prep at all. If you have a certain place you like to order from for lunch, like CAVA or Sweetgreens, then write down what your go-to order is. So it could look something like this:

Write out the ingredients shorthand for this, because this is what you would  use for grocery lists. 

2. For snacks, organize them by type of craving. Whenever we want a snack, it’s usually not a specific thing but more like a category of sweet, salty, or sour. If you box yourself in with planning too far ahead, you may get to a meal or a snack and not feel like having that particular category—for example, with a meal, you may want something hot instead of cold, or crunchy instead of soft. LBD gives you the options to quickly “switch” out your wardrobe . 

3. Once you build your LBD menu, prep your shopping list.

Putting together a shopping list is an art, not a science. The easiest approach for me is to organize my list by the way I would organize a meal, into the different building blocks, as follows:

  • Proteins 
  • Fruits
  • Leafy Greens
  • Grains 
  • Vegetables
  • Condiments and spices 

Here is a sample of what that list may look like (I provie links to templates you can use at the end of this post).

4. When you have your groceries, pre-chop vegetables you use for cooking, put them in one big pyrex container. Then place any protein—like chicken or fish—you will want to eat during the week in a second container (if you want chicken AND fish, three containers). The same applies if you are planning on having beans, tofu or tempeh. Once everything is cooked, you can portion out whatever is for dinner that night and store the rest in your fridge. That way you have dinner ready to throw together. And you can mix it up—like for example, if you have chicken breast and vegetables, one night you can make tacos, another you can make a salad, another night you can make a stir fry with brown rice. 

For snacks, position those in the front of the pantry or the fridge, and wash everything that needs to be taken out of the containers. For example, if you open the fridge and see a bowl of nice juicy blueberries, you are more likely to eat that than if you see it in the original container knowing that they need to be washed and dried and put into a bowl. 

Another key ally: shortcuts

Your time is more valuable than any extra money you may spend. You can save time by purchasing pre-frozen fruits and vegetables, or ones that are pre-chopped and pre-washed. Yes, they are more expensive, but the time you can save is more valuable. 

You also want to make sure you have one or two quick prep frozen meals on hand, like a cauliflower pizza or a few frozen entrées. It’s not just lean cuisine anymore; there are a lot of healthy options, like from Saffron Road and Kashi. These can also be frozen whole grain waffles or pre-made chia pudding. 

One thing I have not addressed is meal delivery services. This is certainly an option for several nights a week. I personally don’t use them because I hate being at the mercy of a delivery service that may or may not be timely, but I know other people that do and enjoy it. 

Planning meals by the week

Clearly, most of what you eat, you shop for. I would look at this from a weekly view, because generally, you have an idea of your schedule Monday through Sunday of a given week. From the calendar, work backward from the nights you don’t have to cook (that’s an easy place to start). 

Where to start

The easiest place to start is with the days or nights where you don’t have to figure out a meal. For example, if you have a scheduled lunch or dinner out, or you usually order in on Friday nights, you can cross off those days. 

Map this out on a template that is a Monday through Sunday format with categories for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. My templates (available in excel, PDF, and google)  for meal planning and grocery lists  are available in my blog post here: https://daofitlife.com/tools/the-daofitlife-meal-plan/

Then, for the rest of the meals and snacks, spread out your LBD choices. You can always make a last minute change if in the moment you want something else or something you wanted is not available. 

The easiest way to put meals together: The PFC framework to combining food 

Some of us are accomplished chefs and some of us burn eggs. And sometimes, we are just at a loss for what to eat.

Back in Chapter X on macronutrients, we discussed the importance of the interaction of protein, fat, and carbs. By combining these  for a meal or snack, you will be satisfied and won’t have a blood sugar crash or be hungry an hour later. 

The PFC approach is a common tool dietitians use to help people see meals as building blocks of nutrients rather than collective dishes. This makes meal planning and grocery shopping easier. It’s also easier to understand the nutrition and calorie metrics when you break food down this way. 

The main guideline you want to follow is to try to combine at least 2 of these together. Some foods will naturally have all three. For example, Greek yogurt has protein, carbs, and fat. 

Combining P and C is easy, because inevitably, you will get at least a little fat from the protein. Post workout, this is the best way to approach the combination because you are going to be in need of quick carbs without fat slowing down your digestion and protein to replenish the muscles. A turkey sandwich or oatmeal with nuts and fruit is a good example of these options. 

Some foods only have one, for example, fruits and raw vegetables. While these are healthy on their own, combining them with fat is important in order for the body to absorb the vitamins and minerals in those foods. Generally, one should avoid eating carbs alone, including fruit, because this can lead to sugar crashes

Here are some examples of food combos and how it checks the boxes on PFC.

Food combo PFC
Snack: Cherries and nutsXXX
Meal: Chicken-papaya stir-fry with brown rice and peanut sauce X
Meal: Egg-eggwhite scramble with sprouted grain toast XXX
Watermelon and feta salad w XXX
Candy X
JuiceX

That is the basic framework to the DAO food life. You can throw a quick meal together or get the right foods even if the circumstances are not ideal. We HAVE to eat. Whether it is at the Hudson airport store, a gas station, or wherever you may need to improvise. We need a solution for long workdays even when our kitchen is accessible. It won’t ring-fence you around a specific meal prep or meal plan because it is a principled approach.

The “bowl” method

The “bowl” method is another application of PFC. that helps you put meals together.  So the way that I think of it is like I am going to a salad bar (or if you are familiar with it, a place like CAVA). You start making a “bowl” and have the different ingredients that you can combine ready to go. Like this:

  • Pick your “base”, which is usually leafy green and a grain, like rice, sweet potatoes, or quinoa;
  • Pick a lean protein: fish (salmon or tuna), chicken breast, skirt steak, tofu, tempeh, legumes, seeds
  • Then add the fruit and veggies: blueberries, blackberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli or carrots;
  • Then the fats: olives, cheeses, avocado, nuts.
  • Then the sauces and condiments: dressings for salad, hot sauces, cooking sauces, oils.

The kitchen sink stopgap

Finally, I have what I call the “kitchen sink” meal. When you have a bunch of food that will imminently spoil, just throw them together in a big pot or big pan. You would be surprised what you can combine and it can taste great. If this is too abstract, think of an omelet where you can add veggies and proteins. It’s totally cool to have breakfast for dinner. 

Also, have some fun with the kitchen sink option, like making it a family game. Just dump all the ingredients on the island or counter and then challenge everyone to invent a dish on the spot. I have done this and come up with some very interesting things, and if I can do it, anyone can. That is where some of my recipes on my blog came from, which you can find at  (https://daofitlife.com/tools/dao-recipes/).

One of my favorite examples of a “kitchen sink” meal is chili. Most people usually have canned beans and tomato paste in their pantry, and besides that you can add any leftover protein, vegetables and grains. Throw that all in a slow cooker of an Instant Pot  with some nice spices you probably already have (cayenne pepper, onion powder, and himalayan sea salt) and you have your kitchen sink meal!

More resources

You can find my meal planning and shopping list at these links:

More resources

For ordering in, please see my post on the DAO of ordering in for recommendations.

For eating on the go, see my post on the DAO of eating on the go.

More specific LBD options are in my DAO of Eating like a boss.

SHOPPING LISTS

Trader Joe’s

Whole foods

Costco and Safeway

In the next post, we will review easy meals for fit professionals, including what to buy and how to put it together.

Third-party articles

How to make grocery shopping less terrible
How expensive eating out really is

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