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Are you wondering how to get started and plan meals on THM (Trim Healthy Mama)? Are you hungry or caving to unhealthy options because you don’t know what to eat or how to pair foods together? This post is for you!
This post is geared towards beginners but I invite all seasoned pros to comment below with advice and encouragement for the newbies who might be reading this!
My top tips for Starting Trim Healthy Mama
1) Read the THM plan book. This is nonnegotiable, in my opinion. I recommend this book for a condensed but still complete version of the plan. If you don’t want to purchase it, check your library and see if they have it. I personally feel that this book is a must read to get the plan to make sense. It contains lists of what ingredients fall into which fuel category and explains the science behind how it all works in a clear, concise way!
Trim Healthy Table, one of the THM cookbooks, has a quick start guide in the front. This is a great resource, but I personally feel like it’s not quite enough information to fully understand the plan. It’s a great place to get started but might leave you with questions that would be more completely answered in the THM plan book.
2) Print off Gwen’s quick start guide.
3) Download the free THM Food Analyzer app to help you figure out where certain foods fall on plan. This wasn’t around back in my day, but I can imagine that it’s super helpful when you’re first learning the ropes!
How to plan meals on THM
1) Actually plan. Even if you don’t typically plan out your menus, doing so when you’re first starting THM might be helpful! That way you can spend one chunk of time doing all the thinking for the week so you don’t end up in a bind some evening with 30 minutes before mealtime and NO IDEA what to make. It’s at moments like those that pizza delivery is unfortunately the easiest option….
HOW I WOULD DO THIS:
- Come up with 2 breakfast options that sound good to you. Alternate those all week long. Try an S option like scrambled eggs with sautéed veggies (or an egg casserole made ahead and cut into squares for a grab and go option) + an E option like my go-to, this Easy Chocolate Oatmeal. Baked oatmeal is an easy make ahead E breakfast. You can scale recipes like this for the whole family, or you can let them keep doing their usual thing for now while you get established and make yourself something separate (and quick!). If you get bored with only 2 options, start branching out and adding a few more into the rotation.
- Plan to eat leftovers for lunches. Make enough extra of your evening meals to accommodate this. Again, make enough extra that the whole family can eat leftovers or let them keep doing their usual thing for a little while until you figure things out. You can branch out and add some shakes, or cold cuts “sandwiches” in low carb wraps with a side of celery and natural peanut butter, or salads with all the (THM) fixings if you’re out of leftovers or want to change things up. You could also make a big pot of soup meant for lunches all week long.
- Make a list of S, E, and FP snacks to keep on hand for the week. I’ll give you some ideas for those below.
- Write down a dinner main dish and side or two for each night of the week. I highly recommend using dinner as a springboard to get your family started with healthier eating. More on how to do that down below. Feel free to add an extra side dish for your children and husband that will turn their meals into a crossover! If they’re not super excited about this new way of eating, a) don’t make a big deal out of it and just slip it in under the radar as much as you can, and b) occasionally offer them a “normal” side dish to keep ’em happy. Big changes take time.
- If you have a sweet tooth, pick an on-plan dessert to make and keep on hand for the week.
Once you get the hang of the plan, abandon the meal planning if you’d rather freestyle things! I don’t meal plan – I just make what I’m hungry for based on what I have on hand (or am testing for the blog). Sometimes I write down a few dinner ideas for the week so I know what groceries to get.
2) Use another person’s meal plan as a guide to help you get the hang of things. There are so many meal plans available these days! If you don’t like the sound of a recipe that’s included, swap it out for something of the same fuel type.
- menus on the THM membership site
- my sample menus
- Darcie’s Dish
- The Well Planned Kitchen
- Northern Nester
3) Work with a THM coach if you want one-on-one help. (CLICK HERE for the coaching directory.) While this isn’t necessary to learn the plan and isn’t financially feasible for some, for others it might be a lifesaver.
4) KEEP IT SIMPLE. I can’t emphasize this enough. Pick only a few things to try when you’re just getting started, and eat them a lot. Once you get that down, add more. I’ve been on the THM plan for 6+ years and I eat Easy Chocolate Oatmeal basically every morning. Is it more advantageous to switch up fuel types once in awhile? Probably. Is it worth changing something super simple that I love and never get tired of? No, not for me.
5) Stick with stuff your family already likes. There are THM or low carb options for pretty much any recipe under the sun these days. (Low carb recipes are generally on plan in a THM S setting, but of course use discernment and keep your eye out for off plan ingredients.) Often your favorite dinners only need a few simple tweaks to be on plan! Instead of trying brand new recipes and shocking your family, ease them into a new way of eating with healthier versions of stuff they’re already used to.
For pasta meals like spaghetti, make whole wheat spaghetti for the children and serve your own meat sauce over spaghetti squash, steamed or roasted broccoli, or Dreamfields pasta (personal choice item for occasional use). Use no sugar added pasta sauce and you’re good to go! For hamburgers, eat yours on a salad or in a low carb wrap. Make on plan meatballs or meatloaf using THM-friendly breadcrumb alternatives. Simple little swaps like these are all it takes!
6) Start with protein. Trim Healthy Mama meals center around protein, so pick your protein source for your meal or snack, then add either fats and carbs (or neither, for a neutral Fuel Pull). For S meals you can use an S or FP protein source. In an E meal you’ll need an E or FP protein source. For FP meals, pick a FP protein source. Jacinda from Northern Nester has a great article about THM protein sources RIGHT HERE!
7) Keep S (fats) with S and E (carbs) with E. There are tons of free THM friendly recipes online (check Google or Pinterest), as well as several official THM cookbooks. These all are marked with their THM fuel types to help you meal plan! Just remember to keep carbs and fats separated and include protein with every meal and you’re most of the way there. Fuel Pulls (FPs) are neutral with no significant sources of either carbs or fats and can be used with either S or E. “Crossover” is the term for recipes or meals that include both carbs and fats. These are still healthy but aren’t as conducive to weight loss as single fueled meals. Pregnant and nursing mamas, children, and people planning to maintain or gain weight can make more regular use of crossovers.
Use the THM Food Analyzer app to quickly tell you if certain ingredients or foods are S or E!
8) Include both S and E meals in your diet. There’s really no set formula for how many of each fuel to eat every day. Just make sure you get a good balance of S and E in a week’s time! Some days I flip flop between S and E every other meal, and some days I end up having mostly S or mostly E. It doesn’t really matter as long as you get a good mix of both in your diet.
When I first started THM I ate a lot of S meals because they were “easier” and E meals just didn’t seem to fill me up! Now that I’ve been on plan for several years, E meals make up almost half of my meals because I find them delicious, I crave them, and they DO fill me up! My nonscientific hypothesis is that my body just needed time at the beginning to get rid of some excess carbs and balance out, but eventually it adapted and needed those carbs for energy.
E meals are naturally lower in calories than S meals, so I’ve found that I now need a good mix of them in my diet to lose weight. You can CLICK HERE for a post I wrote about E meals with tips and recipe suggestions.
9) Cut out the bad stuff. Cut out processed junk, stay away from sugar and flour that isn’t sprouted or soured, and omit most corn and potatoes. (Sweet potatoes are fine in an E setting.)
10) Give yourself grace! You’re just starting out and you’re probably going to get some things “wrong” at the beginning (like we all did), but you’re headed in the right direction and all this will become second nature quicker than you think.
“I don’t know what to eat because I don’t know which category a food falls into.”
Read the plan book. It has lists of which ingredients fit into which category. Use the Food Analyzer app. Does it have off plan ingredients? Don’t eat it. Is it a fat? It’s an S. Is it a carb? It’s an E. Does it have no significant sources of either carbs or fats? It’s a FP and is therefore neutral. Does it have both fats and carbs? It’s a crossover. In general, keep fats with fats and carbs with carbs.
“I’m used to having all the food groups together in one meal. Meat, vegetable, starch, bread, etc. How do I create a complete Trim Healthy Mama friendly meal?”
The key is to focus on either fats or carbs in a meal. So for breakfast you wouldn’t have toast (carbs) and eggs (fats) in the same meal. Instead, you could have a piece or two of sprouted or sourdough toast with some low fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese for protein (E – carbs) OR eggs with cheese and bacon and sautéed mushrooms and onions (S – fats). There are some neutral ingredients that aren’t high in either carbs or fats that can go with either S or E. These are called “Fuel Pulls.” THM meals are centered around protein and have either fats or carbs as their fuel.
To start, pick a protein for your meal. Is it a fatty protein, like eggs, full fat Greek yogurt, or red meat? Make an S meal. For dinner, that might be pot roast + roasted non-starchy veggie like broccoli + salad with cheese, cucumbers, and Ranch dressing. Avoid your typical starch/bread since this is a fats meal. You can add an S dessert to finish things off if you want!
For an E meal you’ll need a lean protein like fish or chicken breast. Add a carb source to turn it into a true E meal (since an E meal isn’t an E meal without 20-45g net carbs!). This could look like a stirfry with chicken or shrimp, veggies, soy sauce, and your favorite Asian flavors over a bed of brown rice. Keep oil/fat to a minimum since you’re focusing on carbs. For dessert, try some yummy fruit!
Looking at some of the sample menus I linked above will help you better understand how to pair the different foods together, but put simply, just keep S with S and E with E and don’t combine the two. Make sure you have protein/entrée first, then add a side dish or two (of the same fuel type as your entrée) for a main meal and finish it off with a dessert (of the same fuel type as well) if you like.
“I need a snack but I don’t know what to eat.”
Here are some posts with great THM snack ideas. Remember to include at least a little protein!
- 30 THM Approved Snack Ideas – Darcie’s Dish
- Quick THM Snacks – Oh Sweet Mercy
- Trim Healthy Mama Snacks – Northern Nester
- THM Snacks – The Well Planned Kitchen
My favorite no special ingredients (NSI) snacks:
- deli meat and cheese (THM S) – you could add some sliced colorful peppers or some lettuce leaves to this for some veggies
- celery with natural peanut butter (THM S) – topped with some sugar free chocolate chips is amazing
- low fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with fruit (E) or berries (FP) – adding a little sweetener is great too, and I love using frozen fruit or berries in this
- homemade sourdough (or storebought sprouted) toast with a teaspoon of butter and some all fruit jam + some lean deli meat or low fat Greek yogurt for protein (THM E)
- rice cakes with natural peanut butter and all fruit jam (XO) – if you get some defatted peanut flour and mix up some peanut butter with it that would make this an E
My favorite no special ingredients (NSI) meals:
- Scrambled eggs topped with cheese + bacon + a salad on the side (THM S)
- Big ol’ salad with some kind of protein source (hardboiled eggs, leftover grilled chicken, canned sardines or salmon, chickpeas for an E carb source) + all the veggie toppings + cheese/nuts/olives if it’s an S + Ranch or Caesar dressing for an S or something low fat (like salsa, vinegar, or Ken’s Lite Northern Italian) for an E or FP
- BLTs with bacon + lettuce + tomato + avocado + cheese + mayo on low carb wraps (these can be found at most grocery stores these days – look for something with 5g net carbs or less) (THM S)
- Grilled chicken with a simple soy sauce – lemon juice – spices marinade + baked sweet potato with a teaspoon of butter – cinnamon – salt + roasted or steamed veggie (THM E)
- Soup made with homemade stock + whatever meat I have on hand + whatever needs used up in the fridge + lots of spices
Here are some pages from my website that might be helpful!
If you’re looking for family friendly easy recipes, check out my cookbooks!
Keep going and (re)reading and the Trim Healthy Mama way of life will soon make sense to you. All of us experience that learning curve at the beginning when we don’t know if something is S or E or if this pairs with that or CAN I EAT YET CUZ I’M HUNGRY! Like all good things, it takes time to figure out! You wouldn’t expect to learn a foreign language in a week, would you? You’re kind of figuring out a new food language here – and your newfound knowledge will probably affect you (in good ways) for the rest of your life.
Do you have words of encouragement or advice for those who are just starting out on Trim Healthy Mama? What strategies have helped you? Want to share just one or two of your favorite snacks or meals? Please comment below and let’s turn this into a community of helpful encouragement!