One of the biggest issues with people learning how to get their eating better without the rigidity of cutting out whole food groups and the demonization of specific ingredients is learning how to create a meal plan.
It’s quite simple.
The best meal plan to follow is the one you can adhere to best.
This means – if you need to eat one Snickers every…single…day, do it.
So long as the rest of your eating is varied in nutrient-dense foods, you’re getting adequate protein, and hitting your calories, the quality of food comes second after quantity.
Now, before we get into the steps to create the plan, you have to understand why it’s important.
Creating a meal plan is important because:
It saves you time. If you already know what you’re going to eat, all you have to do is get the measurements. Your meal plan is essentially your own personal cookbook.
It teaches you exactly what are your carbs, proteins, and fats. Often times, when people first start tracking, I hear two common statements – “I didn’t know I ate so much fat” and “I didn’t know I ate so little protein.”
It teaches consistency. If you have a goal, you have to have a plan and one you can stick to. This means keeping it simple with foods you love that you can eat on a daily basis.
If you make 2 or 3 different meal plans using the same macro targets, you can alternate them each week so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing every day and every night until you reach your goal.
When you have a plan, you can prepare for those moments when you most likely struggle. Are you a late-night binger? Well then plan most of your calories for nighttime with foods you love. Do you go off the rails on the weekends? You have to have a plan so you can reach your goals while still having a social life.
Ultimately – having a plan
Keeps you on the right path.
Keeps you from having to “guess” what you’ll eat.
Gives YOU the control you need.
Helps you reach your goals faster than not having one.
Teaches you quantities
How you can have anything you want as long as it fits your plan.
This all said you’d need to know the easiest way to do this.
While even with this, there will be some learning and margin for error; you’ll be able to have a better understanding the first few times around.
RULE #1 – KEEP IT SIMPLE
The problem many people have is they try to do too much with different recipes and all these ingredients – and no, it makes prepping a nightmare. Keep it simple.
You will choose 3-4 proteins sources
You will choose 3-4 carbs sources
You will choose 3-4 fat sources
Really – that’s it. When you are starting, again, the more simple it is, the easier it is to adhere and the easier it is to make.
Save the complexities for meals out (more on this later).
I will use Harry as the example with macros and meals so you see exactly how I create the perfect meal plan and you can then use my methods to create your own.
150g protein (600kcals [150 * 4])
150g carbs (600kcals [150 * 4])
50g fat (450kcals [50 * 9])
RULE #2 – Choosing Foods
I know what Harry likes and he is a creature of habit as 99% of humans (so this most likely includes you).
Harry’s protein sources are:
Chicken breast (boneless/skinless)
Extra lean ground beef (note – in the US, this is 96% lean ground beef)
Harry’s carb sources are:
Fiber One granola bar
Harry’s fat sources are:
Harry doesn’t like many fat sources personally so he makes the most of the 2 I choose
RULE #3 – Searching For Foods
When searching for foods, you have 2 choices:
Choice 1 – Scanning the barcode on the label.
Choice 2 – Search for food by entering exactly what you are looking for then (the most important part) – add the letter ‘g’ after whatever it is you are searching for.
This will bring up all the options containing “grams” measurements.
You want this because measuring your food in grams is the easiest and most efficient way to build your plan.
*Note: use grams (g) for solids (including nut butters) and use ml or a measuring spoon for liquids. Liquids take up total volume (space). Solids do not. There’s your earth science lesson.
Just like doing a Google search for a specific topic to read, in MyFitnessPal when you add the letter ‘g’, it’ll act like a genius and bring the best results first.
Remember – you are searching for food source.
In this example, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to shred the chicken, bake it, or grill it. Chicken is chicken.
The same goes for other meat/fish/poultry protein sources.
I’m not mentioning fried foods because when dieting, this is simply not the smartest thing to try and do and trying to figure it out is a bigger pain in the ass then to just not eat it.
You can sacrifice fried foods while dieting. Trust me – you can.
RULE #4 – Putting It Together
Harry has figured out his macros, decided on the foods, and now it’s time to put it together.
Note: You’ll notice there’s no veggies here. That’s ok because up to 100g of fibrous veggies per meal yield so few calories, it doesn’t need to be tracked.
The first thing you’ll see is instead of the standard “meal 1, meal 2..” options MFP gives, Harry changed them to “Protein”, “Carbohydrates”, and “Fats”.
By doing this, it makes life so much easier because even though combine them as meals, you can look at it, again, as a cookbook and what you are getting in order are the ingredients for your meals in the proper quantities.
What Harry did was make sure he got enough of each ingredient to get him within his targets 5g +/-
With these quantities per food choice, Harry will be able to follow this meal plan for as long as he’d like until he gets tired of it, has a calorie drop, or both.
This is just one plan he can use.
One thing is for sure – humans are creatures of habit. Harry will eat this for a minimum of 7 days (Mon-Sun) and if he wants another plan, during the week, he can plan his next week’s meal plan.
If he likes these two plans, he can alternate them every other week so he’s not eating the same thing each month.
I hope using Harry as an example of how you should approach building your meal plan helps you understand that you need to:
Figure out your estimated starting point when it comes to figuring out your macros. For women, especially petite women, you can start anywhere from current body x9-11 kcals. For men, start bodyweight x10-12.
Picking an adequate amount of protein. An easy way to do this is target bodyweight in protein
Example: If you weight 150g protein and in an ideal world, you’d lose an average of 1lb in 12 weeks, your target bodyweight would 150 – 12 = 138. This means anywhere from 135g-140g protein would be more than enough or
you can just do .8-1g per pound of bodyweight. It all works out relatively the same.
After protein, choose 0.4-1.0g per pound in fat.
Example, if target bodyweight was 138, you could have anywhere 55-138g of fat. My advice – shoot for the lower range. You’ll want/need carbs for your training and to feel great.
After protein and fat are done whatever calories are remaining, that what you’ll have in carbs.
Example – if you have to eat 1400kcals to lose fat and you 140g protein (140 x 4kcals) and 55g fat (55 x 9kcals) that would equal 1,055kcals from protein and fat. You would subtract 1,055 from 1,400 which would leave you with 345kcals. 395kcals divided by 4kcals = 86g carbs (round up to 90g).
Macros for this person would be 140g protein, 50g fat, 90g carbs.
Once those are set, you make your plan with food you want and like so your adherence to the plan is much better.
3-4 protein sources
3-4 carbs sources
3-4 fat souces (even though Harry doesn’t like much fat, you may…again – adherence)
Measure in grams (g)
Adjust quantities of each food
Hit your total
*Now again, this purely hypothetical and these are made up macros but this is how you would determine it for yourself. You may need to eat more.