Meal planning can help dancers build a supportive routine for their busy schedules. Dancers who meal plan are more likely to fuel sufficiently, which can reduce their risk for injury. But what does meal planning look like for dancers? And how can dancers, who already feel overwhelmed by food, learn how to meal plan in a way that’s fun and sustainable? This article will teach you how.
Healthy meal plans for dancers: quick start
Before we dive into what a dancer’s meal plan involves, here’s a quick starter guide to bookmark as you begin meal planning:
- Start with consistency: plan for at least 3 meals and 2 snacks throughout your day.
- Prioritize balance: this involves the 3 macronutrients at each meal and snack: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Scan your body for feedback: what is its response after eating? Notice your fullness cues and when they begin to kick in.
- Assess your energy in class and after eating certain foods. Compare this to other foods.
- Always remember food flexibility: this makes room for variety in your day and week.
- Skip the comparative mindset. All dancers’ needs will vary. The amount of food your body needs will not be the same for another dancer.
Meal plans for dancers: what’s involved?
Meal planning involves setting time aside to plan your day’s or week’s meals and snacks. For some, planning a week’s meals and snacks helps to make sure certain foods and ingredients are on hand. This helps with budgeting both time and money. to start, dancers can pick just one meal or 2-to-3 snacks to plan ahead for their day.
As a dancer, your approach to meal planning is individual. If you struggle to remember snacks throughout your day, then consider how you can plan ahead. If you struggle to find time for your lunch or dinner, then start there. This intention will be an integral first step in utilizing meal planning as a tool to optimize your dance training.
Should dancers meal plan?
Since dancers are at risk for disordered eating habits, those with a history of restrictive eating may benefit from meal planning as a way to provide external structure when interoceptive awareness (AKA innate hunger/fullness cues) is diminished. Think of it like a cast that is placed on a broken arm: meal planning offers temporary support to ensure that the body is adequately nourished while simultaneously allowing for internal healing. Years (even months!) of restrictive eating can damage our innate ability to feel and listen to hunger and fullness cues.
As mentioned earlier, busy schedules and high levels of physical activity can also result in intentional undereating. Creating a flexible daily meal plan assures that we are meeting our body’s primitive needs for nourishment while working to repair our instinctual clock.
Meal planning vs. meal tracking: there’s a difference
I’ve previously discussed the differences between meal planning and food journaling (read about them here). It’s important to decipher between these tools in order to ensure that your habit is helpful and not obsessive.
Ask yourself: is your focus on adding or taking away food? If the goal is to ensure that you are eating enough food, then yes- it’s a helpful tool. But if your goal is to avoid any type of food group or macronutrient, or to limit the overall amount you’re eating in a day, then you’ll need to reassess ASAP. A major sign of disordered eating is the feeling of overwhelming scrutiny upon your daily food choices
3 meal planning tips for dancers
#1: Remember Flexibility
There’s a difference between meal planning and downloading a meal plan. Caution with downloadable meal plans that dictate what you can (and cannot) eat. Rather, build a flexible framework that reminds you to nourish consistently throughout the day. Remember, life happens. We cannot control every aspect of our schedule.
You’ll also want to assess whether or not you are choosing foods because you genuinely enjoy eating them or because you’ve heard they’re “healthy” or “good.” Often, but not always, people choose foods because they “think” they’re what they “should” be eating. This can drive you further away from finding true satisfaction. Learn more about food flexibility here.
#2: Consider Variety
Meal planning can be a helpful guide for meal prep. Consider your preferences and stock your pantry with versatile options. Examples include whole grains, veggies (frozen or fresh), fruit (frozen or fresh), dairy (unless intolerant), and other proteins (like beans, legumes, nuts, poultry, and meat).
#3: Plan for Emergencies
This is often the bulk of the meal planning that I do with clients. Emergency snacks help to manage long time stretches. Coordinate daily snacks as a means to stabilize blood sugar between meals.
Here is a list of emergency staples to add to your meal planning checklist:
10 foods every dancer needs to add to their meal plan
- Packable fruit (like oranges, bananas, and apples) are convenient and budget-friendly.
- Turkey Snack Sticks are a tasty protein source and easy on the go.
- Nut Butter Packets are heart-healthy options that can be paired with a piece of fruit or pretzels.
- Crackers or pretzels store easily in your dorm.
- Dried Edamame is a balanced option for plant-based (and non-plant-based) dancers.
- Trail Mix can be eaten on its own or added to oatmeal, yogurt, or salads.
- Dark Chocolate Almonds are an awesome sweet treat that is rich in magnesium and fiber.
- Popcorn is a fibrous whole grain and easy to pack.
- Fruit Squeeze packs offer quick energy between classes.
- Fruit-based bars contain naturally occurring fats to satisfy your hunger between meals.
Now tell me. How will you incorporate meal planning and/or food journaling while rebuilding your relationship with food? Let’s say you’re navigating an afternoon of classes, which is then followed by rehearsals, calls, and emails. Before you know it, it’s 8 PM and you’re ravenous. Your schedule didn’t lend time for a break and now you’re scrambling through the kitchen in search of anything to fill your gnawing hunger.
This scenario is today’s reality. How often can we find time to actually sit down for a meal? While this is a goal, having tools to manage busy days is essential. Remember, we’re building habits that are not only balanced but are also practical (and sustainable). To learn more about meal prep for busy dancers, read this article.