A goal without a plan is just a wish. Let's talk planning, meal planning to be exact. Do you know what you’re eating for lunch or dinner 2 days from now? Being hungry after a long day and realizing you have nothing to eat is without question stressful. Instead of making your 3rd last minute trip to the grocery store or drive thru for the week, maybe a meal plan is what you need.
Meal planning is the act of planning your meals and snacks in advance, typically for the upcoming week. This makes clean eating and portion control one less thing to worry about throughout your busy week. Having a meal plan can be key to reaching your health and fitness goals, and also carries other wonderful benefits.
Key Benefits of Planning Your Meals
Because you get to choose your meals ahead of time, this makes it easier to eat nutritionally balanced meals. You can make sure that you’re getting an adequate amount of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals necessary to reach or maintain your personal health goals. Planning ahead can also make it easier to limit things such as added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
Although you will need to invest some time into coming up with a meal plan that works well for you, planning your meals ahead will ultimately save you a ton of time. Imagine coming home from a long day at work and not having to think twice about what’s for dinner. Nice huh? Planning your meals ahead is as easy as taking the meal out of the fridge and heating it up for a couple minutes in the microwave.
Eating healthy does not have to be expensive if you plan ahead! Planning your meals in advance can prevent you from buying pricey meals at lunchtime or last minute takeout for dinner. You’re less likely to buy extra food that you do not need, and in turn this also cuts down on waste which saves you money as well.
Stress can affect your sleep, weight, immune system, and even cause digestive issues. Eating healthy and staying on track can be hard and super stressful. Not with a plan, though! You can relax knowing your next meal is already prepared and ready to eat when you are.
Now that you’re reminded of why meal planning can be so helpful, let’s get planning!
5 Steps to Plan Your Meals
1. Determine your goal
First things first, you want to determine your goal. What is the point of your meal plan? No two meal plans will be the same because not everyone has the same goal. Someone who is meal planning for weight loss will have a completely different plan than someone who is meal planning for weight gain. Or maybe you just want to maintain your current weight. Whatever your goal is, identify it first because this is what you will base your meal plan off of.
2. Calculate your daily energy needs
Next you’ll need to calculate your daily energy needs. This is how much energy your body needs to power through the day, while also catering to your goal that you identified above. We consume energy in the form of calories, so you need to determine how many calories your meal plan should provide you with daily in order to reach your goal.
If you don’t already have your calorie needs calculated, use this calorie calculator to determine how many calories to consume daily based on if you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight.
Alternatively, if calorie counting isn’t for you or you prefer a more intuitive way of eating, you can always stick with portions. We recommend meals contain a protein, starch and vegetable, and snacks contain 2 of the 3 macronutrients. For help with portions, download our Hand Portions Guide here.
3. Divide daily energy (calorie) needs into meals and snacks
Now that you have an idea of how many calories you should eat each day to reach your goal, you can create your meal plan based on that. We like to stick to 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, but you should divide your calories in the way that works best for your schedule.
If you used the calculator above, you already have the calories for 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. If you didn’t use the calculator above, do the following to find calories per meal and snack:
- To find calories per meal: divide total calories by 4
- To find calories per snack: divide one of those 4 parts in half
Example with 1800 calories per day:
- Calories per meal: 1800 calories / 4 = 450 calories
- Calories per snack: 450 calories / 2 = 225 calories
So, 1800 calories per day divided into 3 meals and 2 snacks would look like this:
- Meal 1: 450 cal
- Snack 1: 225 cal
- Meal 2: 450 cal
- Snack 2: 225 cal
- Meal 3: 450 cal
Note that not every meal and snack needs to be that precise amount of calories. As long as you’re close you will be good to go!
Beyond calories, your meals and snacks should always have a balance of macronutrients from quality food sources, including lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and heart healthy fat.
Continuing with our example, here’s what 1800 calories per day could look like with balanced, quality fit-flavors meals and snacks:
- Meal 1: Farmer’s Breakfast (420 calories)
- Snack 1: Momma Mary Raw Bar (200 calories)
- Meal 2: Chicken, Broccoli & Rice (450 calories)
- Snack 2: Momma Mary Raw Bar (200 calories)
- Meal 3: Cheeseburger Bowl (520 calories)
Alternatively, like I mentioned earlier, if calorie counting isn’t for you or you prefer a more intuitive way of eating, you can always stick with portions. We recommend meals contain a protein, starch and vegetable, and snacks contain 2 of the 3 macronutrients. For help with portions, download our Hand Portions Guide.
4. Write down your meals for the week or next few days
Write down what you’re going to eat for the next week or few days, either with the same meals and snacks or different ones for more variety. Try using the Winning Week Meal Planning Worksheet to also account for life! Things like parties, happy hours, travel, meetings, date nights, etc are going to happen...you might as well plan for them. Follow the 80/20 rule and aim for consistency, not perfection.
80/20 Rule: 80% of your meals should be healthy and balanced, 20% can be unbalanced (things you wouldn’t normally have) to live a healthy lifestyle.
5. Go food shopping
Last but not least, it’s time to put the plan into action and do some shopping! You can shop for your meals for the next week or start out slow with a couple days at a time. I’m sure we can all agree that there’s not enough time in the day and preparing a week's worth of food can be extremely time consuming.
Thankfully, meal planning can be easier with meals already cooked, portioned, and ready to eat. fit-flavors has over 60 seasonally rotating options of fully prepared meals and snacks to choose from. This is also a great option if you don’t like eating the same thing everyday and enjoy some variety!
Meal planning takes practice but with time and consistency it can become a habit to help you reach your goals and live a healthy lifestyle. So if you want to save some time, money, and eliminate the dreaded question “what’s for dinner,” give meal planning a try!
And if you didn’t already, download the Winning Week Meal Planning Worksheet and start making progress toward your goals.