As a registered dietician, a common request I get is helping clients create meal plans. Theoretically, meal plans are easy, right? Get a plan and follow it. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. A plan written on a piece of paper still requires shopping, cooking, and planning. Successful meal planning starts by taking an active role. You have to find the perfect meals for your needs. By perfect, I mean ones that you can realistically make that keep you satisfied. To help, let’s break down foods into three categories that you can construct back together to form meals.


  • Protein examples: beef, chicken, turkey, fish and any seafood, eggs, tofu, soy tempeh, beans, powders, and dairy products such as Greek yogurt.
  • Fat examples: avocado, cooking oils (olive, coconut, tallow, grapeseed, among others), bacon (yes, bacon), dairy and coconut creams, and cheese.
  • Carbohydrate examples: quinoa, rice, pasta, brown rice pasta, bread, potato, cereal, and fruit.


You need all three categories for each meal, but the amount depends on variables like genetics, taste preferences, food allergies, and activity levels.



Sure, you can go online for recipes, but having your favorite recipes at your fingertips makes meal planning easy. [Photo credit: Pixabay]


Craft Your Personal Cookbook

To know if a new recipe works for you, ask yourself the following questions:


  1. Did it keep me full until my next meal?
  2. Was it easy to prepare (or bulk prep and heat up)?


If it’s a winner, keep the recipe, and start making your own book of go-to meal options. Even with recipes all over the Internet, I like recipe books because it simplifies things and it makes it easier to save your favorites. Call me old fashioned, but books are nice.


If a recipe just missed the mark, find ways to upgrade it (more protein, different portions, etc.). To help get you started, here are a few ways to upgrade common meals.


A Twist on Your Favorites

An easy breakfast is cereal; however, cereal is usually carbohydrate heavy. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you need some protein and perhaps some fat to help keep you from being ravenous an hour later. Being hungry after a meal leads to snacking, which leads to more calories eaten over the course of the day than you would expect. One way to make cereal more satisfying is to add in a handful of almonds and vanilla protein powder. Or perhaps try coconut milk instead of skim milk. The extra fat may help keep you feeling fuller, longer. For breakfast, it’s nice to keep options limited and make it more routine. Cycle between two and three options so you never feel overwhelmed when you’re short on time.


You must be realistic about preparing food. For lunch or dinner, a sandwich is easy. Chicken marsala from scratch is not easy. Boiled chicken and lettuce is easy but also won’t last very long on your plan. Dinners can vary and be creative, or they can be simple and routine depending on your schedule and preferences. The point is, keep options limited to what you know and slowly add things in to “test” them and see if it’s a fit. When creating your meal plan, you don’t have to abandon your favorites like sandwiches, tacos, and pasta dishes. You just need tweaks to help them fit into your system better.


Turkey sandwich: Have two vegetables (onion, lettuce, perhaps a tomato or cucumber). Measure out your mayonnaise and condiments. Chances are you don’t need as much as you think.


Tacos: In addition to the typical lettuce, tomato, onion, also add a side salad so that when the inevitable sloppiness occurs you eat the pieces as more of a taco salad. When on a diet, it’s common to skip the taco shell and put the taco ingredients over a salad. However, without a carb source, many will be left hungry. If you skip the shell, add a small side of rice.


Macaroni and cheese: I know, macaroni and cheese on a “healthy” plan? Absolutely. It’s all about portion here. Add sun dried tomatoes and cooked broccoli for a boost of fiber and to slow you down while eating. Keep your portion under control. Eat off of a smaller plate, and keep the serving dish out of sight. If this still doesn’t work in terms of keeping you full, add a chicken breast or shrimp for extra protein.


You Know What You Like

Nothing is ever as easy as someone handing you a meal plan, but you know your preferences best. Exercise some patience and good note keeping, and after three months you’ll have your own personal meal-planning cookbook


Check this out for recipe inspiration:

A Week of Healthy Dinner Recipes to Support Your Workout

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