I’ve heard way too much hate on meal plans lately – some of it even coming from my own mouth. The intention behind dissing meal plans is good. If you create a meal plan full of food someone hates, it’s a terrible plan and they won’t follow it. But, honestly, who does that? As a nutrition coach, it’s my job to understand what foods you like and dislike and then to create a meal plan which addresses your goals without making you eat food you despise. So, with that in mind, I no longer will no longer trash meal plans. In fact, I’m giving you this 4 step plan to create your meal plan just to show how effective they can be. If you need help, feel free to reach out and I can walk you through how to create your meal plan directly.
Create Your Meal Plan: Step 1
The first thing you have to define when you create your meal plan is exactly what your goals are. We have a specific process we go through to help you decide on and commit to your goals at Summit, but you can do this on your own, as well.
Determine why you’re starting a nutrition plan in the first place. Sure, we all want to be more healthy, but that isn’t going to help you say no to the ice cream on Sunday evening. What is your why? What goal are you chasing and why does it matter to you? Answer those two questions very clearly before moving onto step 2.
Create Your Meal Plan: Step 2
After you have a clear goal, you have to determine the plan for making that goal happen. To do this, create a list of all the foods you like, and all the foods you dislike. This doesn’t have to be exhaustive. You almost certainly will forget foods you like and dislike the first time around. Spend five minutes on each column.
After you’ve done this, group these foods into three categories: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, and all grains. Proteins are chicken breast and thighs, beef, pork, fish, tofu, seitan, and other meat substitutes. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, beans will also be in this category. Fats are oils, butter, and nuts and seeds.
Create Your Meal Plan: Step 3
After you’ve grouped your foods into three categories, you can start matching up foods with your goal. For example, if you are interested in fat loss, you will need to pick higher volume lower calorie foods such as bell peppers, arugula or spinach, and lean protein like chicken breast or pork tenderloin.
This is the step at which a coach can be very helpful. If you’ve never been around a nutrition plan before, matching your goals with the foods you use can be tough. As a general rule of thumb, here are three goals and what sorts of food you’d want for each:
- Fat Loss: High volume, low calorie food (vegetables and lean protein)
- Muscle Gain: Low volume, high calorie food (starchy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, oats and rice, plus a lot of protein of all varieties, and a healthy serving of fat)
- Optimizing Performance: Balanced amount of high volume and low volume food (include quick carbohydrates like white rice around workouts, focus on complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and vegetables outside of workouts, moderate amount of fat, and lean protein options)
Create Your Meal Plan: Step 4
Once you understand the balance of food on your plate, begin crafting what your standard meal will look like. Determine when you eat more dense carbohydrates like grains versus when you leave these off your plate. I recommend building a plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and listing foods which would fill in for all three. For example, a breakfast plate could be the following:
- 2x Protein (4 egg whites, or 2 egg whites and 1 slice breakfast ham)
- 2x Carbohydrate (1 medium apple and 1 slice whole wheat toast)
- 1x Fat (1 whole egg, 1/4 medium avocado, 1 thumb almond butter)
Is this easy?
Honestly, it’s not easy to do this on your own, but it can be done. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to crafting your meal plan effectively. If you get stuck, reach out. Or check out some of our videos or blogs on healthy eating. There’s a lot of content on nutrition, but keep it simple and always remember: eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, and avoid added sugar. Simple as that.