A Meal Plan (but Not a Meal Plan)

I often start out the latest posts stating “It’s been way too long.” I think I suffice to say this may simply be how things are for lettucetalk. I will accept that fact; and I plan to send you some insights as they come – however sparse that may be! Thanks for being loyal and hanging in there with me! I will defend my dissertation in March, so things have been a little…wild. With any luck, I will write the next post as “Dr. Colin.” 

Today I want to talk about meal planning. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked to “create a meal plan” for someone, I would be a very rich girl. I have never created a detailed meal plan for anyone, nor will I ever. I don’t shun this request to be cruel. I very firmly believe that creating a “meal plan” does not teach the recipient anything about healthy eating for the long-term. I prefer to teach the roots of meal planning so the recipient can, instead, create a custom meal plan.

If I’ve learned one thing in the past 12+ years as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve learned that people will not follow advice that is complicated. It’s not for lack of intelligence; it’s simply human nature. The simpler the plan, the more likely the person is to implement it. Without diving into a full review of the literature supporting my theory, I think my observation is supported by quite a lot of behavioral research.

So, here it goes: my simple template for meal planning. I want to introduce you to my Olympic medal approach. This template is built upon a Gold, Silver, and Bronze tiered structure.

Every meal and snack should include 
protein, fat, and fiber.

Casey colin

Now, let’s dive into each level.


Gold-level eating is relatively difficult for many of us to achieve, but certainly not impossible. Gold level consists of half the meal being dark, colorful, non-starchy vegetables; one-fourth of the meal consisting of either whole, starchy vegetables or 100% whole grains or fruit or milk/yogurt; one-fourth of the meal consisting of a protein-rich food source; and a hearty dose of healthy fats intermingled within each of these sections. Please note, sometimes your meal may not be split into sections. For instance, you may have a huge salad for a meal, or you may just have a bowl of soup. The premise here is the ratio of food types, so how you smoosh them together is up to your preferences. 

Here’s an illustration of this to help you:

Don’t forget about fat – include some.

Some examples of Gold meals:

  • Eggs scrambled with peppers and greens with avocado and a slice of 100% whole grain toast with real butter
  • Sliced, fresh tomatoes with cottage cheese and 100% whole grain crackers
  • Fresh greens, avocado, and tuna (I like it with a splash of olive oil & balsamic vinegar)
  • Vegetable & meat soup – I made this one recently with RAVE reviews from myself and my kids (although I subbed homemade taco seasoning and homemade ranch seasoning instead of packets for less additives)
  • Spaghetti & meat sauce made with 100% whole grain pasta, added vegetables to the sauce (spinach, peppers, mushrooms, whatever), and with a small salad or cooked vegetable on the side
  • Fresh vegetables and 100% whole grain crackers dipped in hummus or tuna salad
  • Most meat/potato/vegetable meals can be Gold meals, provided the meat isn’t deep-fat-fried, the potato portion is about one-fourth of the meal, and half the plate is non-starchy vegetables
  • Nuts and cheese with a pile of raw vegetables
  • Really, most of your favorite meals can be repurposed into Gold meals by simply reducing some of the meat and/or starch portions and jacking up the non-starchy vegetable portions. Be creative, and eat things that taste good!


Silver-level meals are those which may not fit the mold of the non-starchy-vegetable-rich Gold-level meals, but still make a deep dent in providing quality nutrients. Silver meals at least contain protein, fat, and fiber, even if they aren’t considered truly “balanced” from lack of vegetables, for instance.

Some examples of Silver meals:

  • Oatmeal with nuts or nut butter
  • 4% Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Tuna or chicken salad with 100% whole grain crackers or on 100% whole grain bread
  • Chili with meat and/or beans
  • Grilled cheese (100% whole grain bread, real cheese, real butter)
  • 100% whole grain cereal with whole milk or yogurt and fruit


Bronze-level meals occur as a last resort, when Gold and Silver meals or snacks are not possible. Please keep in mind, although Bronze situations are going to occur in real-life, planning ahead can avoid having to rely upon them. Bronze meals are things like pre-mixed protein shakes, pre-packaged meals, canned soups, etc. Remember, all food is nourishing in some way (think desert island scenario), but planning ahead can make most meals fall within Gold or Silver tiers.

Also, remember snacks are just tiny little meals. To make any snack a Gold or Silver snack, follow the same guidelines noted above, and simply make smaller portions. Furthermore, try to consider if you’re snacking because you’re actually physically hungry, or if you are snacking because of another reason (habit, boredom, etc.). We should nourish our bodies when we are physically hungry. We should nourish our minds if we discover we are eating for reasons other than hunger.

There are so many other details and directions this conversation could take, but I will digress in the spirit of simplicity. I hope you find this meal planning template helpful with improving your perspective and efficiency with healthy eating. It does not have to be complicated. For more information, please take a look at my two books here: Shop.


It’s bean a long time, so I brought you chili.

WOW, everyone…it has been WAY TOO long since I’ve spent some time with you. WAYYYY too long. But, as they say, “better late than never,” right? Things have been pretty wild since my last posting, to say the least. 

I will spare you the nitty-gritty details, but I’ve been finishing my dissertation (still in progress, ETA this coming March); teaching an undergrad course; and taking over as a platoon leader in the Army Reserve. And, most recently, I survived the arduous interview process for an assistant professor position, accepting an offer just yesterday! Things are getting interesting!

I would like to make up for all this lost time with you by posting some elaborate, trendy nutrition buzzworthy info. But, I just don’t have it in me yet! Momma is tired! I did want to jump back on here to thank all of you reading this. Without your support, I couldn’t have made it through some of the moments of self-doubt along this journey. You all mean a lot to me, and I am grateful for each of you.

The best I can do today is to share what I feel is my coveted chili recipe. I do not consider my blog to be a “recipe blog;” but it seems fitting for this fall season, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. You can make it on the stovetop or Crockpot, whichever is easier for you! Fun fact: the reason I encourage you to drain and rinse the beans has nothing to do with sodium. It actually reduces some of the gas-producing compounds from the beans. You. Are. Welcome. 

Thanks for sticking with me all this time, you rock. Please comment if you try my chili, and let me know what you thought!

Also, just a shameless reminder that you can find both my books on Amazon! ‘Tis the holiday season, gift yourself or a loved one!
Book #1: https://amzn.to/3bBLAjk
Book #2: https://amzn.to/2uPWTnv


No Stove? No Problem!

Hello wonderful readers! I realize it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted something. Although I feel this statement is completely overused, here goes: I have been crazy busy. Army training, doctorate work, and family-ing have been in the forefront throughout the past few months, especially in light of the current global pandemic. But, it’s good to be back for a minute.

And, I’m excited to say all I have left of my doctorate is the last two chapters of my dissertation…and then it’s a wrap! It’s not been easy, but it’s been quite fulfilling. Thank you to you all for being such faithful supporters. I will lean on that support heavily during these last 6-8ish months to finish this doctoral journey!

I’m sure you’re hoping I have a point to this post; I do! Due to some Army training that had to happen (yep, the show must go on, even during COVID-19, just…more carefully) I have been living in a hotel room for an extended period. This experience has inspired me to share with you tips on unconventional healthy eating ideas.


I often hear people use the excuse that they can’t eat healthy because they don’t have much kitchen space. Or they can’t eat healthy because they travel a lot. Or they can’t eat healthy because “cooking for one is impossible.” Well, these are usually perceived barriers, not actual barriers. With some ingenuity, anything is possible.

I realize my examples are built for my palate and preferences, and therefore they may not be exactly what will work for you. This just underscores the importance of working with a registered dietitian nutritionist for a truly tailor-made plan that is customized for YOU!

What I have in my hotel room for a “kitchen” is a microwave and mini-fridge. It’s like a walk down memory lane from being in my college dorm!

Here are some supplies I found particularly helpful:

  • Camping dishware and utensils: a reusable/washable plate, bowl, cup, knife, fork and spoon.
  • Reusable water bottles
  • A small bottle of dish soap
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Paper towels

Here are some makeshift meals I have found simple and tasty so far:

Salmon or tuna, cottage cheese, avocado, and greens
Safe Catch salmon or tuna pouch
– Full-fat cottage cheese
– A small, ripe avocado
– Greens of choice (I love arugula)


A classic (but healthier) peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Dave’s Killer Bread (any variety, I bought the teensy ones this time, but I often prefer the “regular” slices). Natural peanut butter = only ingredients are peanuts and salt if it’s truly “natural.”
– Real fruit jelly


Noosa with granola
– If you’re wondering if Noosa is healthy or not…I wrote an entire chapter about this in my second book!
– There are plenty of great granolas which exist, just try to find one that’s not caked with added sugar and/or artificial ingredients. Recently I have been using this one, which has been awesome.


Granola, milk, berries
– A long-time favorite of mine when eating granola more like a bowl of cereal has been this one.


A few other ideas I plan to incorporate are:

  • Walnuts, pears, gorgonzola, balsamic vinegar, greens
  • A classic (but healthier) deli meat sandwich: Dave’s Killer Bread, mashed avocado, deli meat, greens
  • Caprese salad: fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, sliced tomatoes, greens, balsamic vinegar
  • Mixed nuts coupled with fresh fruit
  • Rotisserie chicken with raw, cut vegetables and Triscuits

The gold standard of eating is half a plate of dark, colorful, non-starchy vegetables; a quarter of the plate a protein-rich food; a quarter of the plate a nutrient-dense carbohydrate-rich food; and inclusion of a small amount of healthy fat in one or all of these sections.

The silver standard of eating is to make sure you at least have the three most important pillars of healthy eating included: protein, fat, and fiber. All of the examples I provided meet either the gold or silver standard of eating.

As stated previously, these tastes and ideas may not suit you. But, hopefully they spark some creative ideas you can use either at home or on the road. Please feel free to comment with your experiences with makeshift, on-the-go meal ideas!


Cheers! Xoxo – Casey