By Gemady Langfelder, BS, CPT
Reviewed by Jinan Banna, PhD, RD
You’ve probably heard of meal plans for weight loss, but what are they and how can they help you lose weight?
What is meal planning?
The purpose of a meal plan is to outline foods and drinks that you will eat in a day. The foods listed should add up to a total number of calories for the day. If your goal is weight loss, the number of total calories selected should promote weight loss. So, people who follow a meal plan for this purpose can lose weight.
There are many free meal plans available on the Internet. However, these meal plans are generic and they do not consider your budget, preferences, time constraints and lifestyle. “Generic, cookie cutter meal plans often are unsustainable for those reasons and give meal plans a bad reputation”, according to the healthy weight loss dietitians.
What should a meal plan for weight loss look like?
A meal plan for weight loss should follow a healthy eating pattern similar to the USDA MyPlate guidelines. According to Myplate, a diet high in dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables and lean proteins promote weight loss. Fiber helps with weight loss because it can help you feel full to prevent overeating. Most high fiber foods like carrots, apples and beans are also lower in calories than foods low in fiber like candy and potato chips. Limiting foods high in saturated fat and added sugars and replacing them with high fiber foods can help you lose weight.
Keep serving sizes of food in mind as you meal plan for weight loss. Aim to eat 1-2 servings of fruit, and 3-4 servings of vegetables each day. One serving of fruit is equivalent to 1 cup of fruit or 1 cup of 100% fruit juice. One serving of vegetables is equivalent to 1 cup of cooked vegetables or 2 cups raw green leafy vegetables. Include plant proteins like tofu, beans, legumes and lentils in your meals. Plant proteins are generally lower in fat and high in fiber.
As a rule of thumb, aim for a healthy weight loss of 1-2 lbs per week. Drastic weight loss can lead to loss of muscle mass. Maintaining muscle mass while trying to lose weight is important because muscles burn more calories even at rest.
Plan ahead for success
Planning ahead is key to making meal planning simple and easy for women with busy schedules. Having a plan and a schedule can help you stay consistent with your weight loss goals. Prepare a shopping list to save time shopping and to be more cost-effective.
Schedule a time during the week when you plan to prepare and cook meals. Try to shop on the day you plan to cook to reduce food spoilage. Cut, slice and store fruits ahead of time for easy access. Fruits are great relatively low-calorie snacks to have handy throughout the day. Use sealed containers to ensure meals last longer. Having ready-to-eat home cooked meals can reduce instances of ordering take out or getting fast food.
Prepare and cook meals at home
Cooking meals at home may promote weight loss because you’re in control of how much oils or fats you add to your food. You can also choose how you want meals prepared. Choosing recipes that use healthy cooking methods are better for weight loss. Cooking methods like baking or poaching use minimal fats and oils so they are lower in calories. Make sure you have this equipment in your kitchen to make cooking a breeze.
Canned or frozen produce are good choices if you’re pressed for time since they’re already pre-cooked/fully cooked. Frozen produce is a nutritious alternative to fresh produce and it lasts longer. Choose unflavored/plain products and avoid those prepared in sauces because they are higher in calories.
Looking for ideas on what to cook next? Here are healthy dinner recipes that some dietitians use.
Advantages and disadvantages of meal planning for weight loss
Meal planning for weight loss may not fit every woman’s lifestyle and preferences. Meal planning is beneficial for weight loss because it simplifies eating healthy and provides structure. It also takes stress out of deciding what to cook or eat. “Meal plans can cut the guessing work out of what to eat day to day so that you can focus on more important things”, say the healthy weight loss dietitians.
For some people, meal plans may feel rigid and restrictive. Having a list of select foods to eat each day can become repetitive and boring. This can make meal plans hard to continue long-term and can take the fun out of eating. There’s no one perfect meal plan for everyone. A good meal plan is one that fits your lifestyle, goals and needs. A dietitian can create an individualized and flexible meal plan for you.
Meal plans for weight loss should be high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and be low in saturated fat and low in added sugars. Keep serving sizes in mind to keep within your calorie goal for the day. Women who want to lose weight with meal planning should learn what works best for them by exploring their lifestyle, preferences, goals and budget. Consult a dietitian who can provide you with tips and tools to help you eat healthy for weight loss.
If you would like to jump start your weight loss efforts, be sure to sign up for my 3-day challenge for busy working women starting on July 5, 2022 here.