6 steps to create your own meal plan
Type in ‘meal plan for weight loss’ and around 5 million results will pop up. That is a tonne of meal plans! It’s also common for those meal plans to be similar to each other, and honestly quite bland. Oats for breakfast, protein + veg for lunch and dinner and a handful of almonds for a snack. Of course, these foods are good, but not every day of the week. You’ve got to remember that all of them won’t be as reliable as seeing an Accredited Practising Dietitian or Accredited Sports Dietitian and getting that individualised plan. But we will list here some of the steps to help you create your own.
Figure out what your nutritional goals are. Are they the same day to day? Does your body and training require you eat more carbs and/or more protein? Do you know? Whatever your needs are, your plan will need to cater for it. This could mean planning to have a certain number of calories and protein per day or focusing on other nutritional aspects. How specific you go with this is up to you and your requirements, but you need to have this figured out before you start focusing on the actual food.
Focus on what will work for you. Will three meals suffice? Or do you need a different number of meals and snacks during the day keep the hunger at bay? Take some time to go through this and ensure you know exactly what you want and how you want the plan to be structured. Having a plan that is individualised towards what will work for you is key. You can have a plan that is perfect from a nutritional standpoint, but it is useless if you can’t follow it.
Plan out all your main meals for the week. Put some variety in there. Don’t just have chicken, brown rice and broccoli 3 times a day for 7 days and nights straight. A variety of meals is much better than sticking to the monotony of eating the same foods repeatedly and it also helps to ensure that you aren’t missing out on any key nutrients. From another perspective though, there is no point having a meal plan that introduces all new foods to you that you’ve never had or enjoyed (unless you are keen to try them of course!). Don’t decide to only eat salad for lunch when you have never consistently eaten salad. Most people try to make major adjustments which results in their planned diet being completely unsustainable, setting them up for failure right off the bat. For this step, you don’t have to focus on fitting the meals into your specific targets just yet, this is more to get the base of the plan in place. You can also use social media outlets like Instagram for inspiration if you are looking to mix in a few new meals. It is easy to find healthy meals, you just need to follow through and ACTUALLY make them.
Once you have this sorted, you can plan for snacks – almonds/walnuts/cashews, yoghurt, rice cakes with peanut butter, veggie sticks with hummus, air-popped popcorn or a piece of fruit are just a few of the choices you could make. Well-planned snacks can make it easier to manage your hunger, while also adding other key nutrients that you might not be including enough of in your main meals. This is where you should tailor the plan to fit your specific goals. Do your main meals not meet your protein requirements on a certain day? Maybe add a high protein yoghurt, or some nuts, or a tin of flavoured tuna. Fill in the gaps with these snacks. If you have overshot something just through the main meals you can adjust the portion sizes. Too many carbs on a certain day? Maybe have less rice or pasta with your meals to bring it in line with your goals.
Have the fridge/freezer/pantry stocked with the healthy foods that you will be using regularly. Brown rice, wholemeal pasta, fresh/tinned/frozen fruit and vegetables, nuts, low fat Greek yoghurt, tinned fish, legumes, herbs and spices are all examples of things to have on hand that can help you make a healthy meal or snack. If you want to be super prepared, you can even chop or peeling your fruit and vegetables in advance to save time later when you might be feeling less motivated. Because you might not always want to come home from work and peel and chop a load of veg at night…
View healthy eating as a lifestyle. Moderation is key and including a wide-variety of foods and not a lot of just one thing. Including flexibility of some kind into the meal plan is crucial as well. It is almost impossible to stick to a meal plan that only has meals and snacks laid out without other guidance for a long period of time.
What happens when a social occasion comes up that involves food? Or you have a craving for a specific food not in the plan? Most people fall off the wagon when this happens and then never get back on track. If you have an allowance in your plan for this, you meet this need without sacrificing anything that will prevent you from reaching your goals.
The perfect meal plan will be different for everybody, since we all have individual needs, food preferences, preparation skills, social occasions, cooking equipment and so many other reasons. Some people will prefer a meal plan with specific portion sizes to meet their specific nutrition goals, whereas other people don’t do well with that level of restriction and just want to have something that guides their choices and ensures they stay on track.
When it comes to creating a meal plan that is perfect for you as an individual, you need to be honest with yourself and know what it is that you actually want out of it. Seeing a dietitian can really take the guesswork out of meal planning, and is really the quickest, easiest and most successful way to create the perfect meal plan for YOU and YOUR life.