As a wellness professional, offering meal planning as a service can be an extremely powerful tool in helping your clients reach their health goals. A meal plan can map out the advice you are giving into an easy-to-execute framework. Meal plans have the power to guide your clients into the kitchen, get them making their own food and recognizing what a big difference it can make in the way they feel.
But have you ever spent hours creating a meal plan for a client, only to find out later that they didn't use it?
The frustrating reality is that many nutritionists make terrible meal plans. We say this from a place of love, because we know that your plans are thoughtfully put together with all the foods your client needs to feel amazing. But it’s easy for us as wellness professionals to get so caught up in the science, that we totally forget about the human element. We then risk creating a plan that isn't right for our clients, or even worse, will scare them away. This is obviously not what we want.
Set aside intake forms for a moment, look your client in the eyes and commit to deeply understanding their relationship with food and cooking.
If you want to provide meal planning as a service, it's crucial to conduct a meal planning assessment. A meal planning assessment tool can guide your assessment and help you ask the right questions and capture the best information.
Meal Planning Assessment Timing
One-on-One: You can conduct a meal planning assessment during your private consultation. Speaking one-on-one will allow things to come up in conversation that may not be captured on a written questionnaire.
As a Part of Your Intake Forms: If conducting the meal planning assessment one-on-one doesn't fit your practice style, you can opt to create an assessment questionnaire as a part of your intake forms.
Setting Up Your Meal Planning Assessment Tool
If you use a software program like Better or Nutriadmin to manage your client's files, you can easily upload your meal planning assessment questions to include in your consultation. You can also set up your meal planning assessment questions in a simple Word document or Google Doc.
The beauty of creating a meal planning assessment tool is that you only need to do it once. Once you have your initial meal planning assessment tool setup, you can simply make small adjustments overtime to help capture even better information.
Questions to Include In Your Meal Planning Assessment
Here are some questions to include in your meal planning assessment that will help capture the information you need to create amazing plans that your clients will love.
1. Ask Your Client About Their Current Relationship With Cooking
With an understanding of their current relationship with cooking, you can provide recipes accordingly. Some people love to cook and others find it stressful. Understanding what category your client falls into is key for building a plan they’ll follow.
Ask your clients about their food experiences as a child. If a person grew up with a parent who ran the kitchen like a Michelin Star restaurant, they will probably be more comfortable in the kitchen than a person whose parents usually picked up Subway on their way home from work.
If your client barely knows their way around boxed Mac ‘n Cheese, you can't expect them to make a 15-ingredient curry with anti-inflammatory spices from halfway around the globe. On the other hand, if your client has cooked their way through Julia Child's recipe index and watches The Food Network religiously, you should include some more complex recipes that will keep them excited.
Questions You Might Want to Ask
- Who taught you to cook when you were a child?
- What was the first meal you learned to make?
- Is cooking therapeutic for you, or does it cause you stress?
- What are your childhood comfort foods?
- How much time do you typically spend cooking per day?
Key Takeaway: Understanding your client's relationship with cooking will help you provide meal ideas that are realistic and achievable.
2. Ask Your Clients About What Foods They Like and Dislike
This one is painfully obvious, but it can’t go unmentioned.
If your client hates vegetables, don’t hand them a plan with a huge salad for every day of the week, and hope for the best. We know you want them to eat their veggies. We know it's what they need! But this approach is not going to help.
Begin by encouraging clients who are skeptical of veggies to sneak a handful of spinach into their smoothie. Maybe they’ll enjoy a plate of brussels sprouts if they’re cooked up with some bacon. Can they commit to trying just one salad recipe per week for now?
Let go of your superfood mentality and meet your client where they are at. Allow them to find ways to combine foods they want to eat with the foods you want them to eat. If their favourite breakfast is a coffee shop muffin, maybe start them with a homemade version rather than throwing a chia pudding recipe at them.
Questions You Might Want to Ask
- What are your favourite foods?
- Are there any foods you won't eat for personal, ethical, or religious reasons?
- Do you think you eat enough fruits and vegetables?
- What is your ultimate comfort food?
Key Takeaway: Set aside your own preferences and really listen to your clients about what foods they like and dislike.
3. Ask Your Client About Their Lifestyle
Understanding your client's lifestyle will have a big impact on how you build a meal plan for them. Again, you will need to start with where they are at. For example:
- If your client is a busy professional who regularly has lunch meetings, counsel them on how to order healthy at restaurants and focus on providing healthy breakfast and dinner recipes to fit in around their restaurant meals.
- If your client is a nurse who works 12-hour shifts, focus on batch-cooking and meal prep so he or she can just relax and put their feet up at the end of a long day.
- If your client tends to get a lot of takeout, help them order healthier options, while encouraging them to try cooking some meals at home.
Questions You Might Want to Ask
- How often do you eat out?
- What time of day do you find it most difficult to eat healthy?
- How much time do you realistically want to spend in the kitchen?
- Do you mind eating similar meals over-and-over?
- Describe to me what you eat in a typical day?
Key Takeaway: Match the meal plan and recipe suggestions to your client's current lifestyle, not the lifestyle you hope they will have after working with you.
Use What Worked and What Didn't Work to Improve
Providing meal plans is a skill that will get easier over time. So make note of the recipes that worked well for clients in relation to their lifestyle. For example, know which meals are family-friendly or great for taking on-the-go. Be aware of what meals make awesome leftovers, what meals freeze well, and what is best eaten fresh.
Keep track of the feedback your clients provide you (whether it's positive or negative) and use it to improve your service.
Key Takeaway: As a wellness professional, a lot of business can come from word of mouth. So when you provide your clients with a plan that they love and makes them feel awesome, they will naturally tell their friends about you.
Take Every Opportunity to Provide Value and Educate
We've all heard the age-old saying: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a night. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for the rest of his life.”
Most of your clients will see you for a specified period of time before going out on their own. Make sure you send them out educated and ready to succeed. Explain why you chose to include specific foods in their plans. Teach them about ideal plate composition. Show them where to find healthy recipes online, and how they can modify not-so-healthy recipes to make them more nourishing.
Many tips may seem obvious to you, but are likely new knowledge to your clients. The more knowledge you can provide, the more value they will get from your time together.
Key Takeaway: Happy, healthy clients are the best advertisement you can possibly have, so spare no detail in ensuring your clients are successful.
Having a solid approach to conducting a meal planning assessment in place will not only make your client more successful, but will make you more successful too. The best part is, once you have created your meal planning assessment, you can use it as a foundation that will grow and evolve with your business over time. Now go forth and get your meal planning assessment tool set up!