Back Up Eating Plan

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Let’s face it - it’s hard to make spur-of-the-moment healthy choices. And, when life gets busy or you are out of your normal routine, it’s even harder. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan and a back-up plan. A back-up plan minimizes temptations when unexpected roadblocks pop up, and prevents us from slipping back into old habits.

Take, for example, Emily, who consistently batch cooks meals on the weekend and packs her lunch the night before work. During a stressful day at the office, she forgot her lunch at home. If not prepared, she would have been tempted to go back to her old habit of eating fast food for lunch and grabbing sugary snacks from the vending machine in the afternoon. But in working with her health coach, she created a back-up drawer in her office desk, stocked with oatmeal, dried mangoes, a can of white beans, a small jar of sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and olives. These were plenty of options to keep her on track during breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack, for those days when life didn’t go according to plan.

A back-up plan can be as simple as learning which food options are healthful choices in-the-moment. Or, as involved as preparing meals to have on-hand when you need them. This is a key skill for long-lasting lifestyle change, but all skills take practice!

Expert Tips


  • Stash dried fruit and nuts or seeds in your bag, at work, or in your car.

  • Fresh fruits like oranges, apples and bananas are easily portable.

  • Pack plain old-fashioned oats, pre-portioned in ziplock bags. For a quick hot breakfast, just pour into a cup and add hot water.

  • Sweet potatoes can be packed in a bag and easily cooked in a microwave.

  • When traveling, research the local grocery store or farmers market options ahead of time. When you reach your destination, stock your rental or mini fridge with fresh local plant-based foods.

At Work

  • Keep raw veggies and hummus in the fridge for snacks during the week. 

  • Identify healthy lunch options near work, for days when it’s not possible to bring your lunch or if you forget it.

  • For potlucks, bring a favorite plant-based meal to share. You may be surprised how many other people love it too!

  • Every office has that one desk with a candy bowl. Combat that temptation by being known as the workmate with a bowl of mandarin oranges or other fresh fruit.

Dining Out

  • Before you dine out, check the online menu and have a plan going into the restaurant.

  • Combine plant-based sides to create a customized meal, like a baked potato, steamed broccoli and roasted veggies (even a steakhouse has plant-based sides!).

  • Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Ask for steamed, baked or grilled. Request no added oil, butter or cheese.

  • Trade up: Brown rice or quinoa for white rice. Side salad or greens for french fries. Baked potato for mashed or fried. Balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon for creamy dressings. Hummus, beans or guacamole instead of chicken, beef, or fish on a salad. Sparkling water with lemon or lime for soda.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Create a Back-Up Plan in 4 Easy Steps

  1. Expect the unexpected before it happens. Take 30 minutes to brainstorm and create your plan. To warm up, think about challenging situations in the past or upcoming situations that could trip you up.

  2. If you know about something coming up, like a vacation or longer work hours, brainstorm some backup options and select one to try.

  3. Scope out restaurants in your area with plant-based options, so you have a list of places that line up with how you eat. Often times, the restaurant choice is not up to you, so create a list of side dishes offered at most restaurants that you can turn into a meal (roasted veggies, brown rice, and hummus).

  4. When meal prepping for the week ahead, spend a few extra minutes to portion out non-perishable snacks. Keep the snacks in places where you’re likely to need a back-up option (like at work, or on a longer than usual hike).

EATNicole Landberg