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 busy woman’s guide to meals
I don’t know about you, but whenever I consult fitness books, magazines, apps or sites I am overwhelmed by the complication of meals and snacks. Here are some examples I have run across, just the titles convey my point:
- Zucchini and caramelized onion egg muffins;
- Tropical salad with blackberry vinaigrette;
- Crock-pot low carb buffalo chicken soup;
- Apple crisp smoothie;
- West African Peanut Stew;
- Buckwheat soba noodles with honey-sesame tempeh;
- Lemon poppy seed pancakes;
- Fried Cricket tacos with chipotle cow brains.
The last one was a joke, just to see if you were still with me! One major problem I have with this approach is that it jumps straigh into the recipes without having a PROCESS.
Have you ever been to a restaurant with an extensive menu, and felt overwhelmed by the choices? Then paralyzed in making a choice? This is a psychological phenomenon called “decision fatigue“. It is what it sounds like – a huge exhausting timesuck. This is why successful CEOs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wore the same signature black turtleneck and grey shirt. It wasn’t about the statement – it was about not having to waste time making a decision that could be diverted to running a successful company. In a similar vein, you don’t want to divert your energy towards a time-sucking rabbit hole like trying to follow all these recipes before having a core process in place. The recipes are great, and I have some links to good sites here, but jumping to a cookbook or a bunch of sites is like going shopping for clothes without knowing your size or what colors you generally look good in And this is where my process and how it fits into something you easily understand comes in.
The DAOFitLife Little Black Dress (LBD) Meal Planning Method™
What, then, can us #fitprofessionals do for easy meal prep when we don’t always have time to research and create all kind of recipes? First, before focusing on process and jumping to a bunch of recipes, we can talk about a process.
What is the LBD Method?
The LBD 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 and a general organization for how the meal is put together.
This should be a concept that you can relate to in the corporate context. For women, we all have a little black dress that we can throw on when we are running late to the office, the one you know will fit even if you gained a little weight, or one you can always wear to a party or on a date if nothing else looks good. Besides your LBD, you have a couple of other go-to outfits. Like I always have a pair of stretch jeans I can always throw on, and we definitely have go-to yoga pants.
If you are a man reading this, you similarly have those go-to khakis or jeans and polo that you know you can change into in a pinch. Or you may have had in your office a suit you always kept on the back of the door just in case there was an important impromptu client meeting.
So the LBD method is kind of like that. You have this rotating list of “outfits” that you can easily throw together. It’s different from meal prep, which I would compare to laying out every single outfit you are going to wear every single day a week in advance. It may work for you, but it personally made me miserable. If I have a free Sunday, I want to be able to use it for spending time with family and friends, or just doing something I like to do, like reading, streaming or painting. I don’t want to be stuck in a kitchen with a dozen little containers and meal prepping all day. If you have success with that, though, keep doing it! You probably don’t even need this LBD method. It’s just my way of looking at things.
The other advantage of the LBD method is its flexibility. If you look at the template you will see that I organized snacks by how they taste. You know when you want a snack, it’s usually in a category – like 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.
LBD also can be exported to travel and eating out. There are certain chain restaurants/on the go places where you probably frequent locally or on the road. Having an “LBD” for each of these locations will help you with decision fatigue. For example, many of these locations have a “build a bowl” model, whether it be a salad joint, Mediterranean, Asian or Mexican (like CAVA or Sweetgreens for example). So visualize it like this – your base, protein, vegetables, fats and type of dressing. Then you can flex it based on what you may particularly want at the time.
I have examples of healthy foods to order for chain restaurants and orderig in below:
The LBD method
Under the LBD method, you have 3-4 options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that are your “go tos” when you are compressed for time – which may be all the time. But with this method, you don’t have to give up your Sunday meticulously meal prepping and you have flexibility to choose based on how your body feels.
You can put together a meal in several ways: shop for the ingredients and make it, order it delivered, or go out and eat it. For each of these ways, you can have an LBD on hand. For example, we all regularly frequent chain food options like ready to go “bowl” places, whether that be Chipotle, Roti, Sweetgreens, Chop’t, or even options on the road like Wendy’s. You can figure out what your “LBD” is for those meals by simply looking at the menu ahead of time, or storing your orders on the app online.
I personally like to plan and track my meals in a spreadsheet, using my DAOFitLIfe template, where I have a tab for my little black dress meals. And that looks something like this:
LITTLE BLACK DRESS MEAL EXAMPLES – SEE DAOFITLIFE MEAL PLAN TEMPLATE TAB 3
So to recap: A LBD meal is one you can throw together without even thinking about it, whose ingredients you mostly shop for every week or have around in bulk, and that you know will hit the spot and make it easy for you to go back to whatever you were in the middle of doing.
Meal shopping and meal prep
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-Sunday of a given week. From the calendar, work backwards from the nights you don’t have to cook (that’s an easy place to start).
So for example, if you know you usually order in Friday nights, and go out to dinner Saturday nights, you can cross off having to be responsible for those meals. So for that, just scan your LBD list and divide the ingredients by these categories:
First, start with protein, and make it a goal to add two more of the FAB 5 to each snack or meal.
Then add the carbs – whole grains, legumes, whole wheat bread, fruit, vegetables, etc.
Then the fats – olives, cheeses, avocado, nuts
Then the sauces and condiments – dressings for salad, hot sauces, cooking sauces, oils
Then the snacks – so whatever is on your LBD of snacks, make sure you have those.
You can see my google sheet template for the shopping lists in my meal plan google template here to have an idea of how I break it down (and here’s a screenshot). If you have trouble accessing google sheets, please scroll to the bottom for the alternative links to excel and PDF!
For each category, start with the ingredient for your LBD, but then just like a restaurant does have alternative proteins. So you may envision a dish with salmon, but you could also grab some chicken and/or tofu to make the same dish the following time so there is some variety. Same with carbs – your LBD may have brown rice, but if you also get sweet potato, you can make that change. That’s mix and match 101. It makes sense when you compare it to fashion. For example if you find a shirt or pants where you like the fit and the cut, you will usually buy one in several colors (I KNOW THIS IS NOT JUST ME!!)
The stretch method
Once I have my general meals planned, I see how many days I can stretch a particular meal, particularly with dinner. For example, if I am making a salmon recipe, I make several filets at a time so there is enough for leftovers the next night. Then for my veggie/carb, I will make a one-pot or one-pan dish like a stir-fry, stew. Rotisserie chicken is also a lifesaver. You can make it last at least 3 or 4 days in the fridge.
If it’s a lunch, like a salad, I will chop up more ingredients than I need and then store those for the next meal (you can’t really save a salad once you make it because it will go soggy. Plus, if I don’t feel like a salad the next day I can save it for later in the week.
The kitchen sink and frozen meal stopgap
Finally, I have what I call the “kitchen sink” meal. When you have a bunch of food that will imminently spoil, literally 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 omelette where you can add veggies and proteins. Totally cool to do 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 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 this post precisely came from!
There is also no shame in having 2-3 frozen meal options for lunch and dinner. Now a days, it’s not just frozen pizza or lean cuisine. You can get frozen veggie and protein bowls, frozen cauliflower pizzas, frozen pre-made omelette ingredients, frizen eggwhite and egg sandwiches. Have this on hand for when you are in a jam. My go-to is frozen cauliflower mac and cheese, which you can even find at Target.
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.
In the next post, we will review easy meals for fit professionals, including what to buy and how to put it together.