If you’re on a weight loss journey, you’re probably following a specific diet plan or buying certain kinds of foods to support your efforts. But if you’re serious about achieving your weight loss goals, take it one step further and start planning your meals! Meal planning is all about having more control over what you eat, not necessarily by restricting or limiting any foods, but by being aware of what you put in your body and consciously making an effort to keep it healthy. Does this mean you need to say goodbye to your favorite meals forever? Well, not at all! With good meal planning, you can eat your favorite foods in moderation while still losing that extra weight that you’ve been meaning to get rid of.
As you can see, meal planning can be a very useful tool when done correctly, but creating a meal plan from scratch by yourself isn’t the easiest task. This is why we’ve put together a how-to guide on creating a healthy and sustainable meal plan for your weight loss journey so that you can start planning your meals in an efficient way for your health and goals.
What does a healthy meal plan look like?
Meal planning isn’t only for people that are looking to lose weight. Those who are looking to gain weight, bulk up and grow muscle, or even just stay healthy also tend to follow a meal plan because it’s an effective way to achieve any goal that you set your mind to! They can be very different depending on what you’re looking for, but what all of these meal plans have in common is that they prioritize whole foods over processed foods. When it comes to weight loss, this is particularly important because you’re trying to get those extra calories off, and it’s easier to stay in a calorie deficit when you’re eating whole foods that are filled with nutrients and not that many calories. Your meal plan should be well-balanced, prioritizing fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats (or meat substitutes if you’re vegan or vegetarian) so that you get enough protein, fiber, complex carbs, and healthy fats in your body, instead of relying on heavily processed foods with high-fat contents or added sugar. Protein and fiber specifically will help you stay full for longer, reducing your cravings and preventing you from eating bigger portions to fill your stomach later in the day.
Now, counting calories isn’t completely necessary, but since being in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn) is what will make you lose weight, then it might be a good idea to know how many calories you should be eating in a day to make sure you’re not going too overboard and hindering your progress! This will help you create a healthy and effective meal plan for your goals that works for you without being too restrictive because you’ll know exactly what your body needs instead of just following a general rule. You can find out how many calories and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) you need daily by going to the Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator and answering a few questions about yourself, such as your age, weight, goal, and activity level. Then you’ll get the number of calories and macros that you need to eat in a day for your specific weight loss goals so you can start planning your meals!
Setting up your meals
Once you know how many calories and macros a day you need to eat, you can begin building your meals in a way that works for you so you can make sure you hit your daily calorie count. You don’t need to worry too much about hitting the exact number of calories, but working around that number will prevent you from falling short or going too overboard with your calories in order to have a more effective journey. So, when creating your healthy meal plan, try to include different whole food groups that’ll help you meet the calorie quota and fill your body with the nutrients and minerals that you need!
There are many, many healthy foods that you can choose to include in your meal plan, you just need to find the ones that you like or enjoy the most so it’s easier for you to stick to your plan. If you don’t like carrots but blindly follow a meal plan that you found online that includes carrots in almost every meal, you’re not going to enjoy your plan and might end up quitting - because nothing’s worse than having to eat something that you hate!
So make sure your meal plan works for you. Here are some healthy ideas of how each meal can look like for some inspiration...
- Egg omelet with veggies and a side of your favorite sliced fruit.
- Smoothie made with spinach, banana, blueberries, chia seeds, and your milk of choice.
- Whole-grain avocado toast topped with seeds.
- Overnight oats with sliced fruit and chia seeds.
- Grilled chicken breast and a side of garlic butter asparagus.
- Stuffed peppers with brown rice.
- Homemade veggie spring rolls.
- Shrimp or black bean fajitas with guacamole, red pepper, and red onion.
- Grilled salmon with sauteed broccoli, carrot, zucchini, and sweet potato.
- Homemade cauliflower pizza with veggies.
- Arugula and chicken salad with parmesan cheese and olive oil.
- Chickpea, quinoa, and cherry tomato salad with lime.
For a midday snack:
- A handful of trail mix made with your favorite nuts.
- Small fruit bowl with Greek yogurt.
- Veggie sticks with hummus or peanut butter.
- One serving of chia pudding.
These are just a few ideas that you can include in your daily menus, and you can modify them to your liking! You just need to adjust the portions to make sure you’re hitting your end-of-the-day macros and calories.
Tips to create a successful meal plan
Now that you know how a healthy meal plan looks, the next step is actually carrying it out! It might sound difficult at first, but if you make sure to follow these tips then you’ll set yourself up for success from the start.
Setting some time aside to schedule your meals for the week can go a long way. A meal plan isn’t just looking up recipes on the spot and trying to eat healthily, but actually scheduling your week so that you have all bases covered for a successful weight loss journey. If you don’t plan ahead, you might overestimate your free time during the week and end up grabbing whatever you find in your fridge or pantry when you don’t have time to cook something and don’t have anything else planned. Grab a journal or your notes app and write down your meal ideas, ideally quick and easy recipes so that you can stick to your plan without struggling too much. Make sure to list every ingredient that you’ll need so you don’t have to make a change of plans at the last minute, and keep your fridge and pantry stocked! Seeing lots of food can be overwhelming because it’s hard to decide where to start, but by keeping a meal plan, you’ll know exactly what to grab every time. Make sure that you bring a shopping list with you when you go to the grocery store so you don’t forget anything, this way you’ll have an easier time avoiding unhealthy foods because you won’t be roaming around the aisles thinking about what to buy. And if you don’t have time to go grocery shopping yet, plan meals that you can prepare with what you already have until you can refill your kitchen.
Aside from being prepared with recipe ideas and enough ingredients, you should also schedule your meals! Write down what you’re going to eat each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just like having lots of food around and no idea where to start, having lots of recipe ideas and not knowing which one to choose can be overwhelming, especially for those who are just starting their journey. Having a schedule laid out is incredibly effective and it will help you stay motivated because you’ll know exactly what to do each time, so make sure you set about 30 minutes aside to plan for your week!
Variety in the kitchen is key when you’re trying to keep up with a plan because eating the same meals every day can get boring and demotivating. Ideally, your plan should include a variety of different whole foods, because you need all the vitamins and nutrients contained in them. But variety doesn’t just mean different foods, it’s also different recipes! Exploring different ways to prepare and cook your foods will make your meal plan more enjoyable because you’ll be playing with flavors and textures that will make each meal unique, helping you stick with your plan more easily and have a successful weight loss journey. Healthy foods can be incredibly delicious, you just need to find a variety of easy recipes that you enjoy so that you can create a sustainable meal plan, instead of eating the same meal every day and potentially throwing in the towel when you get bored. You can follow a cookbook that you found online, or ask your friends and family for their favorite recipes! It’s also good to keep quick no-cook recipes at hand for when you don’t have time to cook a proper meal, or you’re too tired to do it. Even when you’re just feeling lazy, no-cook meals can be a lifesaver to stay on track!
Allow for snacks
You might have heard that weight loss and snacks don’t go together, but that’s not true at all! Of course, healthy snacks are always the best way to go because they help supplement your diet with extra vitamins and nutrients since they’re usually high-protein, low-fat, and low-carb, but you can fit any kind of snack in your meal plan if it makes the journey easier or more enjoyable. As long as you keep a calorie deficit, snacks are a great addition to your meal plan because they help you stay flexible with your meals and prevent you from depriving yourself and eventually overindulging when those cravings hit. Snacks are also a great way of dealing with hunger when it’s not time for your next meal yet, and they’re a great option for when you’re not home to avoid stopping at any fast food place for a quick bite! Avoiding snacks and staying hungry for long periods can cause you to overeat when it’s time for your next meal. So, if you’re serious about your weight loss goals and want your meal plan to be as effective as possible, be kind with your body and allow for snacks in your diet - moderately of course!
Plan around your routine
Instead of restructuring your daily routine around your new meal plan, adjust your meal plan to your current routine! This will make it easier for you to stick to your new plan. When scheduling your meals for the week, keep in mind your lifestyle and the time you have available to prepare your meals each day. Cooking every day can work for you if you don’t live a hectic lifestyle, but if you’re a busy person, cooking in batches once or twice per week and doing mostly no-cook meals during the week might be better for you. Make sure that you don’t make too many changes at once because it can be too much for someone who’s just starting their journey. To make sure that you don’t rush your body to adapt to your new meal plan, be more flexible at first! You can set up a schedule for the first four days of the week, and then “rest” for the remaining three days without going too overboard, just so your body begins to adapt to the new method so you can eventually start planning for the whole week.
If you want to take your meal planning one step further, try meal prepping. Cooking and preparing your meals beforehand can go a long way if you organize your schedule, like making breakfast or lunch at night to leave it ready for the next day or cooking in batches for the week. But that’s not the only way to meal prep! Something as simple as washing your fruits and veggies, cutting them up, and storing them in small containers in your fridge right after you get back from grocery shopping will save you a lot of time when you actually need to cook, and they can double as healthy snacks! You can also have quick meals ready in their containers for those busy days where you know you won’t have time to prepare anything, so you can just grab one container and go. Not everything needs to be homemade, though! You can buy pre-packed foods if you think they will help you stay on track with your meal plan, just make sure to read the nutrition label to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients and not so many simple carbs or unhealthy fats. When making your meal plan, make sure to set aside some time for meal prepping so things are easier for you later in the week for a smoother journey.
Use a tracking app
Keeping track of your meal plan has never been easier because there are so many apps dedicated to just that! Using a tracking app will help you keep everything organized in one place, with your schedule, foods, and recipe ideas so you can stay motivated, as well as track your macros and calories for a more accurate weight loss journey. The secret behind every successful meal plan is knowing how to make it easier and effective for you, which is why using an app can be such a great help. Some apps even offer templates that you can fill with your meal ideas, or you can just start from scratch.
The Fit With Iulia app offers a great feature called Kitchen, which is essentially a food journal where you can plan your meals daily or weekly according to your macros so that you can keep track easily! To use the Kitchen, you need to either complete a 5-day assessment in which you add everything you eat to the app and it’ll calculate your actual macro results based on that, or calculate them yourself with the Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator. Once you get your macro results, you can start using the Kitchen! This feature has an expansive food library that you can use to log your daily meals to better visualize your macro and calorie intake, as well as create new meals for your daily or weekly meal plan since you’re able to search foods by macro, level of healthiness if they’re vegan or vegetarian, and even if they’re lactose or gluten-free!
The bottom line is: Creating a healthy meal plan can be stressful at first because there are a lot of things to keep in mind, but by slowly introducing these changes to your life you’ll be well on your way to a successful weight loss journey. Remember, healthy eating leads to healthy weight loss. All it takes is a little bit of dedication and a whole lot of motivation, so make sure that your meal plan fits your lifestyle and it’s accessible and sustainable enough for you to keep going without any setbacks! And don’t forget to consult a registered dietitian first before making any big changes to your diet.