I’ve written about meal planning quite a few times but I don’t believe I ever told you how I actually come up with the items that I’m going to build my meal plan around. My husband asked me to help him build a meal plan for him and based around is recommended daily calorie needs. Now, before we start, while I have taken classes in nutrition through my degrees – I am not a nutritionist – so please consult your own nutritionist or dietician before you start meal planning for weight loss.
Meal planning can be very intimidating especially when you want to look for items that are not only within your calorie budget but that will satisfy your taste buds every day and make you excited to pass up the 22 fast food restaurants you drive by on your way home from work. So to help my husband, I grabbed his old nutrition plan he got from the doctor years ago and used that as my guide. This gave him his recommended calorie intake as well as his recommended food group servings he should be eating each day. You can also print your own guide for your calorie needs at chooseyourplate.gov as that is the site most nutritionists use for default caloric and dietary needs). You can also find out your recommended calorie intake for your weight loss goals by using this calculator.
Remember, the healthy rate of weight loss is an average of 1-2 pounds a week.
Once I knew what his recommended calorie and food group needs were, we got to work.
Optional Step: Calculating weight loss goals more precisely
This is a very technical step, however, if you want to skip and just go with your generic calorie intake you were given from the link above, feel free to do that.
How we calculated his precise calorie goals: To do this we found out what his Basal Metabolic Rate was and subtracted his recommended daily calories for his meal plan from that – so his BMR was 4,215 calories (he’s a bigggg guy) – this is the amount of calories his body burns on each day – doing nothing. Then we subtracted his recommended daily calorie needs from his dietician (2800) and this gave us the number of calories he would be cutting from his BMR each day if he started this meal plan. So 4,215 (BMR) – 2,800(Calories on his new plan) = 1,615 (Deficit). Now to find out how much weight he would lose on his meal plan each week, we multiplied the calorie deficit by 7 days (for one week) and then divided by 3,500 (the amount of calories in 1 pound of fat. So 1,615 (deficit) *7 (days in a week) =11,305 (calories cut each week) and then divide 11,305 by 3,500 (amount of calories in one pound) = 3.23 pounds. This is the average weight he would lose on the meal plan each week. Now this is over the recommended 1-2 pounds a week that most dieticians recommend but as he loses weight his BMR will decrease and so will his weight loss but that’s fine. It will still be close to that 2-pound weekly average. Once we had that information we set our monthly goal of at least a 10-pound weight loss for the month which was slightly under the 3.23 pounds a week he should lose on the plan but we want to be realistic – there will be failures so as long as we hit that minimum – we’re good.
What foods to include in the meal plan
Next, we wanted to figure out what healthy foods that he already loved to eat and that he would love to add to his meal plan. He loves fried chicken, fried chicken tenders, steak, shrimp, and burgers. Typical fatty comfort foods. Now, obviously we won’t make our meal plan out of these but we can find healthier alternatives for those items. This also showed me what types of proteins he enjoyed – chicken, beef, and seafood. So we made a list of each food group and items that he liked.
Creating this list and breaking it down to main ingredients will also help me navigate store ads later when I go shopping.
Proteins: Chicken breast, chicken thighs, shrimp, salmon, flounder, pollock, crab, all beef
Next, we moved to vegetable side dishes and vegetables in general. I asked him to think of vegetables that he loved and that he could eat all the time. He loves broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, potatoes (though those are very starchy), peppers, onions, and salad vegetables like cucumbers and different types of lettuces. We added them all to our list.
Vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, onions, salad vegetables (cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms), green beans, asparagus, sugar snap peas, carrots
Then we moved to carbs and grain items. Now, on this, we had to figure out what foods he wouldn’t binge on because these were his weak spots. Through our conversation, we realized that if it’s a white pasta or white bread he will binge on it, however, he doesn’t binge on whole wheat kinds of pasta. So anything we added to this category had to be whole wheat. So we added whole wheat pasta, whole grain dark
Grains: Whole wheat pasta, whole grain dark breads, and things like quinoa, couscous, and wild rice.
Finally, we moved to fruits. These are great for snacks and to add to his breakfast. We love fruits like kiwi, watermelon, and pineapples but we do have to make sure that we aren’t going overboard on the sweets. I showed him a list of fruits that have a lower glycemic index (you can find that list here) and we picked fruits that he would like and added them to our list.
Fruits: Cherries, peaches, pears, kiwi, berries
Though dairy is part of the recommended food groups, outside of cheese, yogurt, and sour cream we aren’t big dairy fans….and 2 of those choices are horrible for your diet lol.
Dairy: Almond milk, greek yogurt, cheese
We now had the skeleton for his meal plan, based on foods that he loves.
Next: Look for sales
Now it was time to look for sales. Come on, did you really think I would skip this part? I’m a deal hunting diva remember?! You can skip this part if you’re balling out of control with funds, however, we ball on a budget soooo……
So to look for sales, I use an app called Flipp, that lists all the sales ads for stores around me. This helps me save because why spend $3 per pound on chicken when someone has it on sale for $1.99 a pound? I usually only shop at 3 stores so with the Flipp app I can either look at the sale ads by store or I can search by ingredient. So let’s say I want to know who has the best sale on chicken this week. I can type in chicken into the search bar and find the sales. Usually, most stores have similar sales but one store usually has hotter deals so I do all my grocery shopping at that one store….unless I have a coupon for another place and I need to stock up.
If you don’t care about sales or only shop at one store, that’s fine. You can jump right into meal building.
Building your meals
Using your favorite foods list and what’s on sale, start looking for recipes that incorporate those items. My favorite place to look for recipe inspiration is Pinterest (speaking of which, follow me using that link on the sidebar of this post). All you have to do is type in your protein of choice and add in some keywords to narrow your search. My last search was healthy easy chicken recipes. Easy usually means budget friendly because it’s simple but you can also add in budget healthy chicken meals. So go through, find some recipes and add them to your meal plan. Vegetables I can always swap out so if a recipe calls for green beans and he hates green beans, I can add asparagus. So protein is usually my main focus.
I find enough main and side dish ideas for 8 to 10 dinners, 2 lunch options that I can alternate, and 1 breakfast option. We can eat the same breakfast every day so one breakfast idea is good for us. If you can’t bear the thought of eating the same lunch each day, that’s fine, just flip your meals. Plan a few dinner options but keep your lunches varied – this will make it more difficult with meal prepping though as you will need to prep a different meal each day. For me – simple = less chance of failure. Once I have my meals, I make my list, and we head to the store to shop.
And that’s it! We meal prep each Sunday (it doesn’t nearly take as long as we already have our list of foods we love) on Sundays and in two weeks, we start the process again of finding what proteins and favorite list items are on sale and rebuilding our meals.
Want to see a meal plan from our previous trip? Check out my post here
So, how do you meal plan?