Welcome back Ninjas!  In Episode I, I challenged you to become a Master Observer, by identifying the ‘friend’, ‘frenemy’, and ‘enemy’ behaviors of your nutrition-related goal.  I also dared you to practice mastering your environment by starting to make changes in your behavior, connecting positive stimuli with ‘friend’ behaviors, and removing barriers to make it easier to practice them on a regular basis.  In this episode, we’ll expand on those ideas by developing a plan of attack for the week.

I’m going to say it again, no one becomes a Nutrition Ninja overnight.  This training program demands a great deal of effort and energy on your part.  Now is a good time to really dig deep and think about the long-term benefits of combating the dietary demons that have weighed you down.  Let’s say you’re up against the cookie-loving zombie you become every morning at 3 AM.  A successful attack strategy will likely take tweaking, and might not go so hot the first time.  However, if you’re diligent about getting your food stores and attack moves in order, you will be victorious when the cookie-zombie apocalypse strikes!

The Chicken and the Egg

A Nutrition Ninja must become a master of provision storage, utilizing everything at their disposal.  However, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start.  Making a weekly food plan for me has become a “chicken and the egg” situation.  To make best use of my time, money, and energy, I need to simultaneously consider the food inventory I have on hand as I consider my shopping plan, and it’s hard to think about one without the other.

My Mom, the Master of Inventory

Growing up as the eldest of 11 children, I am still amazed by my mom’s frugal mastery.  Even though I know she never thought of herself as a great cook, she challenged herself to creatively use what she had on hand, and seldom let anything go to waste.  Although my childhood diet has gone through a nutrition makeover, my mom’s creativity and ‘can do’ attitude surrounding cooking continue to be an inspiration to me.

It’s time to ask, “What’s in your pantry?”  Perhaps more importantly, what’s in your refrigerator?  Go through the fridge, freezer, and cabinets and assess what you have on hand.  You know the drill: throw the extremely expired and the moldy.  Do you have frozen fruit or vegetables on hand?  Great! What’s in the cupboard that you’ve forgotten about?  Do you have any great sauces or marinades hiding in the back, feeling sad and underappreciated?  It’s time to make a plan to use them.

Time to Attack

Now that you’ve taken inventory, it’s time to pull your attack plan together.  I have found that it works best to write down my plan of attack in a list.  My list tells me what I will use from my inventory, what I plan to cook this week, and what I need to purchase at which store.  Sometimes I will even note what day I will prep certain foods, so that I can evaluate if my plan realistically uses the time I have this week.

Composing a realistic food plan for me requires using familiar recipes that I could almost throw together in my sleep, while incorporating enough variety to keep things interesting and mitigate cravings.  I have some staple sides like frozen green beans that I can nuke as a side in 2 minutes.  I also need staple snacks like Apples, Greek yogurt with fruit, and veggies and hummus that are healthful and involve little to no prep work.

Here are my suggestions for formulating a successful plan of attack:

Plan to treat yourself

Be honest with yourself about your cravings, and you plan a treat for yourself this week.  It may seem funny to start here, but this is a great place to put last week’s observation training into action.  If your issue is that you have trouble making time for healthful meals, this could be something you allow yourself to have this treat after a day of healthy eating.  If you struggle with overeating treats at home, perhaps this is a treat that you eat out.

Maybe you find moderation impossible when you have a half gallon of Horny Chocolate Rhino Surprise ice cream in the freezer, but make sure you find a compromise you can live with.  Ignoring cravings can lead to a midnight run to the store later in the week for that same tub of ice cream.

Become a Master Shopper

Whenever possible, plan your ‘cook this week’ meals using items that are on sale or in season at the grocery store and local farmer’s markets.  I take a look through the grocery store circulars as I make my plan of attack.  If it works into my schedule, I visit our local farmer’s market prior to hitting the grocery store, as their pricing and availability can fluctuate more unpredictably.

Strategically plan your shopping days to make the most of your time and money.  Friday is our main shopping day, because we can make it to the store in the middle of the day before the large crowds, and before things look ‘picked over’.  We usually shop twice a week, because we buy a lot of produce, which can go bad pretty fast.  Our second shopping day is generally Wednesday, as the supermarket we purchase a lot of our produce from has overlapping sales that day.

Buy in bulk, but only when it makes sense.  If lean pork or chicken breasts are on a great sale, I buy what my freezer can handle and portion enough for two to three meals in gallon sized freezer bags. I usually take a bag out of the freezer two days before I want to cook it.  I make a marinade right in the bag, so all I have to do is take it out of the fridge and cook it.

Add to your Inventory

Think about leaving yourself in a better situation next week than you were in this week.  When I cook, I plan to make enough for at least two meals.  When I make something that freezes well, like soup, I make a huge pot.  Once it cools, I portion some into Tupperware for that week, and some into gallon freezer bags, and add to my inventory.  This week’s soup can be on the menu again once this week, and can make another guest appearance 2 to 4 weeks from now without seeming redundant.

Incorporate Variety

Plan to try one new recipe or food each week.  This is a really good one for me when I get stuck in a rut.  Sometimes even a new spin an old favorite recipe that hasn’t made it into the rotation lately can qualify.

Allow other members of your household to have input into the food plan.  They need to eat too, and it’s important that they embrace some of the changes you’re making, even if it’s not overnight.  If you have their support, your plan will be more likely to succeed.

Get Real

Be realistic about how want to spend your precious effort and energy this week.  Go over your plan and consider whether or not you will actually do the chopping and cooking you are setting yourself up for.  Pushing yourself to make one labor-of-love meal each week is a great way to get outside your comfort zone, but resist the temptation to over-commit yourself.

My schedule can erratically change from week to week can be erratic, and I don’t plan to do meal prep every day.  Trust me, I’ve been in situations where I needed to buy pre-cooked chicken too.  You probably don’t feel you have time to create a multi-course five star dinner every night.  Your biggest challenge will be to find ways to take advantage of the time you do have.

Stick to the Plan

Don’t buy 10 items that aren’t on your list. If you’re tempted to, come back to your observation training, and ask yourself why.

Patience, Practice, and the Pursuit of Ninjahood

I wash and dry my laundry, but I really hate folding, sorting, and putting it away. Mt. Laundry feels like an insurmountable task that takes time and energy that I don’t have.  I know that rifling through my massive clothes pile to find my favorite sloth shirts over the next week arguably adds up to more time than if I just put it all away in the first place.  My takeaway observation?  My natural inclination is to use my time in the way I’ve become most acclimated to use it, in an “all or nothing” fashion.

“Something is almost always better than nothing” is a mantra I used it to make exercise a daily habit.  I continue to use it, as it reminds me that I always have a choice to do something, however small that something may seem.  Becoming a Nutrition Ninja wasn’t a seamless process for me, and I don’t anticipate it will be for you either.  If you haven’t had to clean grapefruit juice out of the carpet yet, consider yourself fortunate.  Give yourself permission to let things get a little messy this week.  As you continue your journey into Ninjahood, I hope you begin to appreciate your hard work, even the messy bits.  Allow yourself to take pride in all of your little ‘somethings’ this week as they add up to a big wave of change that carries you closer to the shore of completing your goal.

That’s all for this week, Ninjas!  Be sure to tune in next week for Episode III.  Thanks for reading, and if you have a topic you’d like to hear me cover, comment below or shoot me a message on Facebook.  Nutrition Ninja out!