Happy Doc Student Podcast

#36 Meal Planning Hacks with Ben Mastracco

July 14, 2021 Episode 36
Happy Doc Student Podcast
#36 Meal Planning Hacks with Ben Mastracco
Show Notes Transcript

Ben Mastracco is a Plant-Based Food Coach based out of San Diego California. He specializes in helping overwhelmed dieters transition to a (mostly) plant-based diet, become meal planning pro's, and find confidence, ease, and enjoyment in healthy eating. 

Planning meals is a time-saver AND when you plan you are more likely to eat better (and you need to take care of YOU during this process).

Meal planning can be SIMPLE and FUN!

Ten Tips:

1.    Approach meal planning and cooking from the lens of “How can I have more fun?” Ask yourself: What do I want to eat? What would be FUN to eat?

2.    Do not over-complicate things (buy healthy pre-made items, like pizza crust and sauce versus making those from scratch)

3.    Find 3-4 recipes (that’s it!) You can find recipes on Ben’s website (below), google or use the app Epicurious

4.    When searching recipes, add the keyword phrases “20 minutes” or “fast” or “simple”

5.    Get the whole family involved (from finding recipes, to shopping, to prepping, cooking and clean-up!)

6.    Make a grocery list based on the recipes

7.    Make extra so you have left-overs

8.    Prep one day/week

9.    Try the Buddha Bowl (ebook below)

10. Stick with it (like all new habits you need to be consistent)

Buddha Bowl eBook: www.BenMastracco.com/Buddha

Connect with Ben:

https://www.benmastracco.com/

@benmastracco

Other resources available at: http://Expandyourhappy.com

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Ben Mastracco:

I always try to approach it from a lens of how can we have more fun because when you're having fun, you're going to want to do it.

Heather Frederick:

You're listening to the Happy Doc, Student Podcast, a, podcast dedicated to providing clarity to the often mysterious doctoral process. Do you feel like you're losing your mind? Let me and my guests show you how to put more joy in your journey. And graduate with your sanity, health and relationships intact. Your host, Dr. Heather Frederick. And this is episode 36. In this episode, I chat with Ben. Mastracco a plant-based food coach out of San Diego, California. He specializes in helping overwhelmed dieters transition to a mostly plant-based diet become meal planning pros and find confidence, ease and enjoyment in healthy eating. I asked him to be on the show because meal planning can be such a huge time saver. And meal planning increases the chances that you will be eating better. And that is such an important part of taking care of you during this process in welcome to the show.

Ben Mastracco:

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Heather Frederick:

I met you about a year ago when you were conducting some virtual cooking classes during the pandemic. And I loved her teaching style. I loved all the things that I was learning. And so when I had the idea for this podcast, I reached out and I said something like, Hey, Ben, Would you be willing to come on and talk to my audience about healthy snacking and kind of like tips around stress eating because they just don't have time to plan their meals. And that's when you kind of stopped me in my tracks. And you were like, whoa, do you remember that

Ben Mastracco:

conversation? Yes, absolutely. Because it was exactly that where I was like, no, no, this helps you save time. It shouldn't be something that adds more time and more stress onto your plate meal planning, in my opinion. Is a huge time saver when you know how to do it correctly.

Heather Frederick:

And one of the things I love to bring to this audience are ways to save time, because I know everyone's busy, but in particular, my audience, and you've got a way of introducing foods and using foods. So that you're really eating better. What I loved was when we were having our conversation was this idea of, Hey, how could you actually save time? And eat better than if you were going to Panda express or McDonald's or ordering a pizza.

Ben Mastracco:

It's hard to make anything as fast as just picking up the phone. But that doesn't mean that we can't make things very fast. And instead of five minutes, it might take 15 minutes, but Hey, that's not a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things to have a much higher quality meal. And, you know, in that sense to put better fuel into your body. So you can get more out of, you know, yourself from whatever you're trying to achieve. Yeah.

Heather Frederick:

I guess now I'm thinking, you know, And things like that nature,

Ben Mastracco:

it's hard to compete with ass, but you know,

Heather Frederick:

yeah. I'm a little old school. I'm thinking you still have to think about where you're going to go. You have to get in your car. So I'm kind of coming at it from that place. But I would love to have you just talk to me about where do you start with people when you're talking to them? Planning your meals in a way that you're going to be nourishing your body and staying on top of your game. Usually

Ben Mastracco:

we have to start by talking a little bit about what a healthy diet looks like, because strangely enough, it is something that people are very confused about right now, because there are so many different diets and different voices and different opinions on that. I am a plant-based food coach. I'm not fully vegan, I'm not fully vegetarian, but my goal is always to get. Neil's to be as much fresh, healthy whole foods as I can. And, you know, as many plants as I can get into my body, that's typically the goal for my meals. So that's always kind of just laying the foundation for meal planning, meal planning, in my opinion, it's really very simple. It's just a few steps. It's kind of like picking out what you want to eat, making a grocery list, figuring out some things to prep ahead of time. And then just following through throughout the week, but what I'll say, the challenge that comes up for a lot of people, and I think maybe what you were referring to when you're saying they don't have time to meal plan. I Googled healthy meal plan the other day. And I found this meal plan that was a breakfast, lunch, dinner snack. And it was like the whole week had 15 different things on it. And they wanted you to make each of these things like when I see four recipes in one day, I think that's so unrealistic to do so. What we're trying to do with meal planning is create something that's really simple and easy to follow through on. And the way that I do that is map out. Three or four recipes a week. For the most part, I am not choosing different breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Every day. I am really batch cooking and trying to find the right balance between variety and efficiency. A really efficient meal plan is only going to have like a couple of things on there. And it might be lacking a little bit in variety, but it'll be really easy to follow through it. Whereas a meal plan that has a lot of variety. Is going to be challenging to follow through on if you want to have different things every day, it's going to slow you down. But the goal for every person is just trying to find that right balance of what's realistic for them and what they're actually going to be able to easily follow through on if that makes sense. Yeah,

Heather Frederick:

it does. And I know one of the things that you'll be sharing as a free download later is a recipe we use multiple times a week. And if people think that sounds boring, I got to say, it's not because you show simple ways to add variety. And one of those was through different sauces and it completely changes the whole taste of the meal. So do you want to talk about. The Buddha bowl idea for me, it feels like it's my staple meal of the

Ben Mastracco:

week. Yeah. And it is for me as well for the most part. And I know a number of other people that I've worked with when we take the meat out of the equation, a lot of people are like, I don't know what to eat anymore. So the Buddha bowl is meant to simplify things. It's six different categories. You have a whole grain, a being. A nut, a roasted vegetable, a raw green, and then a sauce. And in the ebook I have kind of theme. So like there's a Mexican bowl that uses rice and black beans and salsa and that sort of thing. And there's a tie bowl which uses a Thai peanut sauce and roasted broccoli and that sort of thing. But the goal was that you can always kind of just mix and match and whenever you get bored, you can just say, okay, I'll do keenwah instead of brown rice this week, or I'll do roasted. Cauliflower instead of roasted broccoli. And honestly, the only thing that matters is the sauce on some level. That is what makes everything work that, and I guess I would just say the variety in textures and flavors, right? It's not a one dimensional dish. It's got all these different components that come together to make it good. And you can really easily mix and match. Swap one grain out, swap a vegetable and get something that feels new and different without actually learning a whole new risk. And, you

Heather Frederick:

know, every single time I make this, when people come over, like where can I get the recipe for this? And I'm like, it is so simple. And it's so satisfying. I love eating plants and I love salads, but I love it when it's something warm. And I can eat a salad, but then I'll still, it's like something hasn't been satisfied in me. I like something, I like something warm. I also like something crunchy. So with the bootable I can throw on some pumpkin seeds or a Walnut and it is so satisfying in the book you have put together is beautiful besides full of information. So we'll make sure that we link to this in the show notes so people can see exactly. What do you mean when you add a bean in a nut? But I think that kind of goes to this idea of having a grocery shopping list. Something I don't really like to do is grocery shop. And I think it's because I end up in this store full of all these items and I have no idea what I really need for the week. And then I get home and it feels like there's nothing for dinner.

Ben Mastracco:

Yeah. And I'll say this, nobody likes grocery shopping. Even I, as much as I love food, I like going to the farmer's mark. But I don't like grocery shopping. It's not a super happy place all the time, but so many people approach the week they cook the same things and they kind of know they have maybe a rough idea in their head of just like, well, I make this every week, I'll buy these ingredients and I'll throw them together. And you're kind of wandering around the grocery store and you end up with just throwing the same things in your basket and you kind of figure it out as you go along. I find that when you know what you're going to do, You can make a grocery list. And I always split my list up. Usually for me, it's just produce and everything else, because I don't really go into the dairy section or the meat section that much. But when you can split it into each section, you can go to the grocery store, make your rounds and get out of there because I also find that if I just make one big long list, And it's not organized by section. You were like, oh, okay. Oops. I forgot to get this. Now I got to go back to the produce section like, oh, I got to go back there. I was just over there sort of thing. So nobody wants to spend more time grocery shopping than they have to. And so the more efficient you can be, the more prepared you can be ahead of time, the faster it can be. Really, I think the challenge for a lot of people is just wrapping your mind around the fact that a little bit of prep work in advance will save you time. It's one of those things where like, I don't have time to figure this out, but if you spend 15 minutes to figure out a very easy meal plan and get your grocery lists, you can save hours in your week. And I can give you examples of people that have done just that. Yeah,

Heather Frederick:

I think that'd be great. Let's give some practical, real life stories.

Ben Mastracco:

Sure. I had these clients in San Francisco. They were a couple and they had kind of complicated needs. They actually contacted me just wondering if I would do meal prep for them. And I was like, Hey, that's not really what I do. I'm more on the coaching side of thing. So the wife had some health issues and so she was trying. Eat healthier. And she was pretty limited. She couldn't stand for long periods of time. So everything was on the husband. He was doing shopping, cooking and working full-time and their routine was, they would just kind of figure out something every day he would stop by trader Joe's on his way home, and then he would cook that and make it, and I don't know if you've ever been to trader Joe's in San Francisco, but it's packed it's it's a madhouse in there. Right. So that alone is kind of just this messy thing, but. When you calculate all this out, let's say you're spending 15 minutes figuring I got what you're going to make 30 minutes at the grocery store. And then you have to come home and put everything together. You know, you're talking about something that takes up a few hours every week, if not more. Right. Whereas what we were able to do with, we got a, we got a meal plan set up, we got the grocery list set up. They can go to the store once they would go to the farmer's market on Sunday. They would stop by trader Joe's and they would get everything that they needed in one swing. So they didn't have to go to the grocery store every day. They were able to cut so much time by just being a little bit more focused about it. And he gets to come home earlier and cook earlier and get food on the table faster. And it just created so much more harmony. And their lives, actually, their review is one of my favorites because it said that it meal planning, strengthened their relationship as a couple is what they'd said. And that's kind of one of the best things you can hear. Well,

Heather Frederick:

you know, it is a big part of, especially now everyone's at home, you know? And so. My partner and I will look at each of them and say, okay, what's for dinner tonight. And who's doing it. And having a plan would make things so much more seamless. So it sounds like what you recommend is sitting down and figuring out what you're going to be eating for your main meals. And then from that creating the grocery list.

Ben Mastracco:

Yes. I recommend figuring out what you want to make. And ideally which days you want to make things on, just because sometimes that'll play a role in your meal, prep, like certain ingredients don't last, as long as others and that sort of thing. So kind of figuring out a rough outline of what you want to make and when you want to. And

Heather Frederick:

so if someone says I'm just so bored with what we're eating and I get online and I look at these recipes and it says a half hour for prep, and it's got all these ingredients that I don't even know where I would find. Do you have some basic tips that you give for that type of

Ben Mastracco:

thing? Sure. I mean, you can always go to my website and get recipes there, but yeah, you, it's always a good idea to do a little recipe research. I know that people don't always have time to do this, but yeah. I always try to approach it from a lens of how can we have more fun because when you're having fun, you're going to want to do it. So for me, when I'm approaching a meal plan, you can approach it in two ways. You can say, what do I have to make this week to get through and to make myself healthy food every day? Or you can say, Ooh, what would be enjoyable for me to eat? What would be enjoyable not to cook? What would be enjoyable for me to eat? Because when you're coming from that place of joy, You get a little bit more excited and it just helps the whole process be a little bit smoother. So for me, it's typically like, I will literally say, okay, I'm in the mood for Thai food, for example. And it's maybe pad, Thai's your favorite? I will Google search shortcut pad Thai 20 minute pad Thai, and just sort of see what comes up and see what sort of things I find there. And it is tough because I oftentimes find that. My job is simplifying other people's more complex recipes cause people make stuff way more complicated than it needs to be. And I think that there are so many ways to simplify things, but I think that there's always a shortcut and there's always a healthier version of things. So pizza, for example, you can make pizza. That's big project. You can make your own crust. You can make your own sauce. You can cook stuff ahead of time, but if you buy a pre-made crust and there's plenty of healthy pizza crest options these days, and if you buy a pre-made sauce, All you have to do is top it and put it in the oven and it can be really so fast and easy. We can always make things more complicated. And unfortunately, I don't think enough of the blogger recipes out there focus enough on simplifying things I like to use. Epicurious it's an app whenever I'm bored. I just hop on there and I, I bookmark recipes I look through and if you've got five, 10 minutes in a day where you just have a little extra time, You're waiting for something pop on bookmark, a couple recipes, you know, whatever looks good and go from there.

Heather Frederick:

Yeah. You said two things. I want to talk a little bit more about first. I loved this approach of what would be fun. Because I think the whole world could use more fun, but especially my audience and this idea of, Hey, just hopping on and bookmarking recipes could be something that you asked your kids or your partner. Hey, let's have some fun let's experiment with some new recipes and here's some tips I never thought to Google shortcut or. Or actually put the minutes in there 20 minutes. That's a great tip when you're looking for a specific recipe, but this idea of not only having fun for yourself, but maybe bringing your whole family on, and then you talked about simplifying things and your website does have a number of recipes that people can check out. And again, yeah. Have all of Ben's contact information in the show notes, but finding some simple recipes sitting down to just map this out, do you say to people, Hey, every Sunday, sit down and just figure out what you're going to eat for the week and kind of pin it on the fridge.

Ben Mastracco:

I recommend that people do that. Yeah. And everybody has, I think, slightly different ways that they like to approach things. And, you know, I work with people from different ages, so some people are retired, they don't have to worry about it quite as much. Maybe they live near the market and they're happy to just go do things every day. And I think, again, that's the hard part. People go blank when they're thinking of what to do. And that's where that joy and that food, like, if you were going to go out to a rescue. What would you want to eat? What's your favorite style of food? I always start there, but I really think that ideally it should only take like 15 minutes, but that is of course, depending on how many recipes you want to make, because let me go off on a quick tangent and I'll talk about that because I think it'll simplify things a little bit. So the way that I will typically meal plan is the bootable that's lunch for four or five days. And maybe that's not enough variety for some people, but I find that the convenience of having something in the fridge. It just, it makes it so easy and it's so much easier to follow through and eat healthy when it's prepared and in the fridge. And then I'll double up on dinners Monday and Tuesday is the same thing. Wednesday, Thursday is the same thing. And then, you know, Thursday, Friday, or whatever you want to do. And in that sense, I'm planning one recipe for life. I'm planning two or three recipes for dinner, and I'm only picking like four things. Most people seem to have a pretty consistent breakfast. So I don't do a lot of meal prepping or meal planning for that because people usually have a good rhythm there. It seems. But overall, when you're trying to meal plan, a lot of people approach it by saying I'm gonna. This for dinner on Monday and this for dinner on Tuesday and that, and then you're trying to plan seven or eight meals, and that's so much more overwhelming than planning three or four meals, basically. Right? It's not that hard to necessarily choose a few things that sound good to you. It becomes quite a puzzle when you're trying to get all these things to line up when you're like, okay, well, I'm going to have leftover ingredients from this dish. How can I roll that over into the next night? So. That's where just creating a simple meal plan comes in because when you're only going to make three or four dishes, it's just so much easier to wrap your mind around it. And it's so much easier to follow through on, and you have days where you don't have to cook anything at all, where you're just eating leftovers and that those are the best days when you can just come home. And you're like, I don't have to do anything today. Great food is going to be on the table in five minutes. And that's always the way that I recommend approaching meal planning, being realistic. And making it simple.

Heather Frederick:

So you mentioned that you do the Buddha bowls for lunch, like four times a week. We actually do it for dinner. Pretty much a minimum of three times a week. We'd have not been bored. Ben, we've been eating this for a year and if there's a week, for whatever reason, I'll say to the family, Hey, you're on your own for dinner. And we don't have a bootable for three or four days, the kids will ask can we have Buddha bowls? They are so good. And this idea of making enough so that you have leftovers. I personally, I love leftovers. That's my favorite. And they often taste better, especially the recipes that you shared. There's like an infusion of the seasoning the second day. They're at least as good or better, but

Ben Mastracco:

leftovers. Yeah, that's true. There's certain types of cuisines. I always found my Chinese food was one of those where the next day it tasted even better. And that sort of thing. Yeah. The flavor is a little deeper and a little richer and oftentimes in a lot of these dishes, so yeah, absolutely.

Heather Frederick:

I think what I'm hearing here is that if people sat down, approach this with an attitude of fun, what do I want to eat? What sounds fun to eat picked a couple, just a couple. You're suggesting like three simple recipes, either going to your website, using your tips and then spending about 15 minutes on a Sunday or whatever day is your last day of the week to plan the meals, people would be eating better. And saving time and Hey, maybe even strengthening their relationships, right?

Ben Mastracco:

Yes. And there's one more thing that has been a pretty big sort of game changer for a lot of the people that I've worked with. And that is doing a little bit of prep on Sunday and Sunday, Monday, or whatever it depends on when you have the time to do this, it doesn't mean you have to make everything on site. But it's cutting a few things, chopping a few things, prepping a few things. Maybe you're going to make something later in the week, but you're going to use a sauce where you can make the sauce. Whenever you can do a little bit of work ahead of time, you can make the rest of the week so much smoother. So even if you shave off five, 10 minutes each day, it all adds up, especially because I just find on the weeknights, it's a lot harder than on the weekend. Sunday for me is always a great time to kind of reset and get myself prepared for the week. But sometimes just opening the fridge and seeing a lot of loose ingredients can be overwhelming if you've had a long day. And if you have a lot more to do that day, but when you open your fridge and you're like, I've got stuff already cut up, I've got this sauce already made and you can just kind of assemble things instead of cook. It makes things so much easier. Yeah. Most of my clients have said that is the number one thing that has helped them stay consistent is having a little bit of prep already done for them.

Heather Frederick:

And you know, when you put it that way, Hey, it's Sunday. It's my data reset. I'm going to get into the kitchen. Maybe I'm going to put on my favorite music. There's no pressure because the meal doesn't need to be. Served at any time you're chopping vegetables and it gives you this sense of I'm starting my week off. Right. I think it would be highly motivating to do that.

Ben Mastracco:

Yeah. And I think it can be somewhat addicting too, because it just feels so good. It feels so good to start your week and just be like, ah, I've already got a headstart. And especially when it's like healthy food, it just, it's a little bit of a weight lifted from your shoulders. And knowing that you've got really healthy food ready to go. It, it just feels fantastic. And I notice on the days that I don't meal prep, you kind of feel like you're playing catch up sometimes throughout the week, but when it's all ready for you, you're just like, cool. Well, now I can focus on all the other stuff I have to do in life without worrying about this and

Heather Frederick:

have the fuel to do all those other things. Right. I'm sure everyone out there who's listening can agree when you spend a week eating well. Your whole week turns out different it's it starts as downward spiral. When you're filling yourself full of processed foods and all the sugar in your mind, just isn't working the way it should be. It's not a difficult fix guys. Think about what's going in. Right. And Ben was here today, sharing ways to make this simple, to save you time and to even have some more fun. So, Ben, before I let you go, do you have any. Final words of wisdom. Do you want to leave with the audience

Ben Mastracco:

last tip? I've talked about this stuff so much, so I want to make sure I'm giving a full picture of meal planning and meal prep here. The one thing I'll say is the most challenging part for people is just consistency is just doing it, making it a habit, right? The the more you can kind of follow through on this, the easier it gets the first time you try a new recipe, it takes a little bit longer, but the second and third time it gets faster and faster. The hardest part of all of this is just doing it and staying consistent. And sometimes people find on those Sundays, they're like, ah, it took me two hours. It was way too much time. But then the next time, yeah. It takes an hour and a half. And the next time it takes an hour. And really the hardest part of all this is getting over the hump and creating habit changes. But when you can stay consistent to whatever extent that you can and make this a habit change, that's when everything changes and this just becomes automatic and no longer something that you're stressed about. It's just something that you do every Sunday. And when you hit that point, It frees up so much mental energy for you to, you know, chase everything else.

Heather Frederick:

I think this idea of establishing it as a habit is something as a doctoral student, guys are all out there. You're hearing your faculty say all the time, create a habit of writing, create a habit of being at your desk, writing your dissertation. This is no different. It's hard to get started sometime. Some people may be thinking, this sounds like a great way to procrastinate. I'm going to look for some recipes. In which case I completely promote that. Find ways to support yourself, eat healthy, be well. And Ben has so many resources on his website. He does webinars. He does classes. What I'm going to recommend that you do is check out the link for the bootable. You guys are going to be thinking me, this is such an incredible, this was our game changer, the Buddha bowl. And when you download that, you'll be put on his email list. And that way you can stay up to date on all the things he's doing, whether they're cooking classes or one-on-one coaching. And again, Ben, I just want to thank you so much for spending time with us today. Thank you for having me. If you love listening to the Happy. The student podcast, would you mind supporting me the best way you can do this is by sharing your favorite episodes with a friend or two for heck maybe three. All episodes are available on most podcast directories my YouTube channel and my website to make it easy. I'll pop these links in the show notes below. Now, if you really want to show me some love, then visit my website. And you're happy.com where you can buy me a yummy green tea and check out the resources I recommend until next time here's to more joy in your journey. Oh, Hey, one more thing. The information, opinions and recommendations presented in this podcast are for general information only.