What to Eat When You Don’t Know What to Eat

Are you tired of spending energy on thinking about what to eat? Have you been staring blankly at your open fridge, trying to figure out what to eat when you don’t know what to eat?

Maybe you need inspiration or motivation to make your meals enjoyable. 

Or maybe you really just want someone to tell you what to eat and when to eat all day every day. If this is you, read on cause I’ve got some tips for you.

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What to Eat When You Don’t Know What to Eat

It can feel exhausting having to plan out and think about every food we eat all day every day…forever. 

As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve even had clients beg for a recommendation for a pill or a drink they can take instead of having to deal with food. 

I get it; cooking is not for everyone, and while some enjoy food immensely, others could care less. 

Don’t worry, I’ve got some ideas to make it a little easier for you.

Are you even hungry?

Let’s start with the most important question and this is a legitimate question. 

Often we stare into the cupboard looking to satisfy some urge, which may not even be related to hunger. 

Let’s first get a hold of triggers for eating that are likely not associated with physical hunger. 

Your Mind and Body Need Energy

Sure, food can give you a little energy if you haven’t eaten in a while. But let’s say you have recently eaten, and you’re still feeling like you need a pick me up. 

You need to get the blood pumping and moving more quickly in your system (blood carries oxygen to your cells). 

This can give your mind and body the pick-me-up it needs. Through a little movement, it’s easy to do. 

Try going for a short walk outside, heading up and down the stairs, or if you don’t want to go too far, then even a handful of squats could do the trick. 

When you’re done, recognize how that made you feel. 

It likely made a difference in your energy level, which should be noted so that you’re more inclined to continue trying movement before food to get that boost of energy. 

Emotional Triggers

If low energy isn’t what’s driving you to eat and you’re not actually hungry, then perhaps it’s an emotional trigger. 

Habits around food can be created from repetitive actions in how we manage our emotions. 

If every time you are bored, you reach for a snack, then eventually, you will develop a very strong neurological pathway in your brain. 

This would result in a desire for food whenever the thought of being bored enters your brain. 

Being sad, lonely, angry, or stressed can be cured with options other than food. But this needs to be practiced in order to build a new habit. 

Things to try (instead of food) to manage emotional triggers: 

  • Call a friend or family member
  • Take some deep breaths
  • Do some coloring
  • Listen to music 
  • Open up a book or turn on an audiobook
  • Go for a walk
  • Get the mail
  • Organize a drawer or shelf in your house
  • Vacuum or clean
  • Take a shower/bath

It won’t be easy at first since you are trying to override the previous habit, but with lots of practice, you’ll get there. 

You’re Hungry and You Don’t Know What to Eat

It’s Already Dinner Time

It’s 6 pm and you are so ready to eat. 

Maybe you had a long day with the kids or a long day at work, and you finally have the time and energy to think about food. 

You open the fridge and just stare blankly; nothing in there is calling your name. 

At this point, it’s just trying to make something work. 

Forget trying to appease the part of you that just wants food that you’re in the mood for. At this point, you’re likely over-hungry, and cravings are starting to take over your brain. 

Once you start eating something, those cravings will subside, and your body will just be thankful to have been refueled. 

You’ve got a few options here:

  1. Grab something super simple – leftovers or an easy-to-prep fresh or frozen meal. Check out the Quick Meals Idea list. 
  1. Run to your local grocery store and browse the deli or hot foods section for ready-made salads, soups, or entrees to see if one gauges your interest.
  1. Text a few friends or family members to see what they’re eating that night; maybe it’ll inspire you.  
list of quick meal ideas

Planning Ahead

Ideally, we would be planning ahead so when it is time for a meal or snack, we know exactly what we are going to eat. 

I realize that this part is the annoying part, having to think and plan ahead. As well as be organized enough to make time to get this done. 

But if we don’t? Then, we’re constantly stuck in this reactive state where we are trying to find the best last-minute solution to a problem that will inevitably come up multiple times a day. 

Planning will be ESPECIALLY imperative if you are trying to improve your health and/or lose weight. 

Here are some options for planning ahead: choose what works best for you and your household. 

Make a Meal Plan

Make a meal plan every week and write it down somewhere visible. Then, if you are wondering what to eat, you can just reference this meal plan to tell you what to do. 

Better yet, you could do a whole month’s worth of planning and get it done and out of the way. I can walk you through that in my Master Monthly Meal Planning blog post. 

You can also make it easy to know what to eat for lunch by having leftovers. 

After dinner, pack up leftovers into single-serving portion containers. This makes it super easy to grab from the fridge for lunch the next day.  

These glass containers are a great find, perfect size, good price, and fun colors. 

I DO NOT recommend putting your leftovers in any container that is not clear. It is way too easy to forget what is in there, and then your poor leftovers sit in the fridge all week just to be thrown away. 

And glass is the way to go to avoid chemicals and be able to safely put it straight in the microwave or oven to heat and eat. 

Stock the Freezer and Pantry for Backup Supplies

Even when you’re used to meal planning for the week or the month, there are times when it won’t happen, and we have to plan for that, too!

Make sure to keep these easy-to-prepare foods on hand to make some of the meals from my Quick Meals Idea list above. 

Freezer

  • Stir Fry Veggie Mix
  • Fajita Veggie Mix
  • Frozen Fruit
  • Salmon Burger Patties
  • Turkey or Veggie Burger Patties

Pantry

  • Canned Beans
  • Packaged Microwaveable Rice
  • Breadcrumbs 
  • Noodles 
  • Pasta Sauce

And don’t forget to freeze some of your hard work for later. 

For instance, if you’re spending the time to make enchiladas, then double the filling part of the recipe and freeze half of the filling to use later. 

The same goes for stuffed peppers. Double the stuffing part and freeze half for later. 

Be smart and save time…and energy. 

Use Meal Planning Software

I love and use a meal planning program with my clients that makes it super easy. 

It does ALL the planning for you and helps you reach your health goals.  

Your profile is set up by a dietitian so that all meals it recommends meet your personalized nutrition prescription or nutrition needs (calories, protein, fats, fiber, sodium, etc.) 

Plus, it autogenerates a grocery list from your weekly meal plan that you can send straight to the grocery store for pick up!

Check out the EatLove Meal Planner from my nutrition services page.

Cell phone showing Eat Love meal planning app

Sign Up for a Meal Kit Delivery Service 

If you’ve run out of motivation and inspiration, this is a good option for making homemade meals as easy as possible without having frozen pizza every night. 

Most of these are still super fresh and whole foods based (perfect for your health and waistline) because you are cooking the meal at home vs. getting a packaged and processed meal.  

The meal kit comes with all of the ingredients you need (in the perfect amount) along with instructions to cook a homemade meal. 

Often, you get to choose what types of meals you prefer, which may include low-calorie, low-carb, vegetarian, paleo, etc. 

There are some great reviews online to help you decide which option may be the best option for you. Check out The Best Meal Kits of 2023

Making Decisions Around Food

Based on research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and Brian Wansink, PhD, we make about 200 different decisions around food each day. 

Holy Moly! That’s a lot. No wonder we’re standing in the pantry mid-day just staring at the food. 

Who wants to make another decision around food when we’ve already made 100 or so for the day?

You can make the best (and least) daily decisions around food if you opt for planning ahead. 

Yes, I gave you some options for quick and easy in the spur of the moment because you’ll still need that sometimes. 

BUT, you will be much happier setting up a plan to know what you’ll have for some of your meals every day. 

And some days, honestly, you’re going to have to suck it up and eat something just to nourish your body.

You may not be excited about it and that’s okay. Food is fuel, and your body deserves to be replenished for all its hard work.

Try some of the options (discussed above) out and let me know how it goes. 

I highly recommend that you make it easier on yourself by adopting monthly meal plans. I explain how to do that in my Master Monthly Meal Planning blog post. 

For more tips, join my community in the Facebook Group: Weight Loss Support for Moms with (and without) Insulin Resistance.

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