Meal Planning

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 (, we need to incorporate the following three items in our meal planning routines:

  1. Developing a healthy eating pattern
  2. Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods and practicing portion control
  3. Limiting calorie intake from added sugars, saturated fats and reducing sodium intake

What goes into meal planning?

What is the desired end goal?

In order to maintain weight: number of calories obtained from food is the same as the number of calories burned

In order to lose weight: number of calories from food is less than what is burned

In order to gain weight: number of calories obtained from food is more than what is being burned. The extra calories will be stored as fat

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (, 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week is what we need. In order to lose 1-2 pounds/ week, a calorie reduction of 500-1000 calories per day is needed.

It is important to consult with your healthcare provider about any changes you plan to make in your diet so that there is no interference with medications or other procedures that a person may be involved in.

Meal planning:

If cooking with children, involve them in planning meals and with shopping

Decide how much of the meals will be cooked from scratch, if you will combine any prepared foods or if you will be eating out (business meetings, sports events, other entertainment events that will need you to dine out, going to restaurant for special events)

Write plan down. It doesn’t have to be formal or very fancy.

Why do we need to plan our meals?

  • Healthier meal options
  • Saves money and allows you to stay within your budget (Healthy body, Healthy pocketbook)
  • Avoid impulse purchases
  • Know what you are eating, how it is prepared, how much salt, sugar and fats are in the meal
  • Can help with portion control
  • Can help with weight loss plans or maintaining weight/weight control
  • If there are special needs for the diet e. g. diabetic, gluten sensitivity; can control the ingredients used in meal preparation
  • Ensure that everyone is getting the proper nutrients as recommended for daily values for meals that are anywhere from 1200- 2000 calories depending on a person’s level of activity and nutritional requirements
  • Read food labels; check for salt, sugar, fat and fiber information, also number of calories per serving.

Plan the meals a week at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed

Be flexible

  1. What meals do you want to prepare?
    • Plan around your meats (chicken, fish or other sea food, beef, pork) and plan for some meatless dishes
    • Meals need to be balanced and need to have variety
    • Your plan can include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and beverages
    • Do you already have recipes or do you need to gather recipes or come up with your own?
  • Meals should include protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients


  1. Do you have plans to eat out during the week? If so plan your meals with this in mind so that food is not cooked that will not be eaten.
  2. What is available in your pantry, fridge and freezer? Prepare a grocery list to get those items that you will need for preparing recipes. Think of the preparation time and decide to include one pot meals, side dishes that can be easily prepared, fruit and vegetable salads to get more fruit and vegetable variety throughout the week.
  3. Always check what is available at home (canned foods, dry foods, oils, spices, herbs, vegetables in the fridge…)
  4. What do you need to purchase? Where will you go? (Grocery store, farmers market…)
  • Buy produce from the day old rack
  • Use coupons
  • Buy items on sale that you can use for several meals
  • Buy ingredients in season
  • Read food labels whenever possible
  • Use leftover food to create new meals
  • Cook one pot meals
  • Remember to think of calorie balance versus calorie reduction as you plan meals
  • Regardless of the food item consumed, calories will be consumed
  • The calories can either come from nutrient dense foods or calorie dense (energy dense foods)
  • Examples of calorie dense foods: processed foods, salty and sugary snacks, cured meats/ cuts of meat with fat (bacon, corned beef, marbled steaks…), processed snack foods/pastries such as cakes, candy bars…these foods may be filling but lack healthy nutrients.
  • Examples of nutrient dense foods: Legumes, peas, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains…these foods are filling but are without the high calories.
  • When and how will you prepare the meals? 
  1. Some individuals pick a day of the week to shop, prep and cook the food items that can be cooked in bulk. Chopped vegetables that are not cooked can be stored in the fridge of frozen in portions to make it easier during the week.
  2. If you already have recipes, which ones would you like to start off with? Think of the food flavors, textures and colors… All of these factors help keep the meals healthy, attractive and inviting. Increase the variety to keep from getting bored.
  3. It is tempting to try new recipes every night but that may become overwhelming. It is better to keep plans simple and keep the number of ingredients to about 5 to keep things manageable.