how to create effective meal plans

How to Make a Meal Plan, The Ultimate Guide

34 mins to read.

Tired of meal plans that look fancy but are not practical or effective? Want to know how to make a meal plan that actually works and drives results? Perhaps you have tried creating meal plans for clients as a dietitian, nutritionist, or coach before, but were disappointed by the results. Whether you need to create a diet plan for weight loss, fitness performance, or to manage a medical condition you will find the answer here.

There are many questions regarding how to create a meal plan. Are you daunted by the task and the prospect of hours of time down the drain? How do you get accurate nutritional information? What strategies do professional nutritionists use to ensure meal plans are manageable and easy to follow? This is the definitive guide on diet plans that are effective and easy to follow.

If you stick to the end you will be able to download meal planning templates, a shopping list template, an example meal plan, and more!

This guide is a collaboration between Diego, the co-founder of NutriAdmin, a leading meal planning software and Lucy, a Registered Nutritionist Dietitian. Diego has ample experience when it comes to software and tools for meal planning. On the other hand, Lucy is the newest member at NutriAdmin. She oversees anything nutrition-related in NutriAdmin and assists nutrition and wellness professionals who use the software on a daily basis. Lucy also has extensive experience creating meal plans for clients in her previous work in public health and private practice.

Check out the NutriAdmin Team page to learn more about who we are and our backgrounds.

Table Of Contents
  1. Who is this guide for
  2. What is a Meal Plan?
  3. Why are Meal Plans Important?
  4. How to Make a Meal Plan Effective
  5. How to make a meal plan easy to follow
  6. How a Nutritionist Makes Meal Plans
  7. Understanding the Target Person for the Meal Plan
  8. How to do a dietary analysis when working on a meal plan
  9. Practical Steps on How to Create a Meal Plan
  10. Following Up and Getting Feedback
  11. How to handle a client failing to follow the meal plan?
  12. Watch on YouTube
  13. Key Takeaways
  14. Frequently Asked Questions

Who is this guide for

Whether you’re a nutrition expert, a coach, or a personal trainer, this guide will help tailor your meal plan approach for your clients. This will help achieve several goals like weight management, muscle building, or general wellness. Individuals seeking to improve health can also benefit from this comprehensive guide.

What is a Meal Plan?

Think of a meal plan as a comprehensive guide for your eating habits. It’s essentially a schedule that outlines what you’ll eat, when you’ll eat it, and how much you should eat.

how to create a meal plan

This plan is tailored to align with your health and lifestyle goals. It addresses important aspects such as food choices, portion sizes, meal timings, and ensuring you receive the necessary nutrients.

Meal plans can be customized to suit various objectives. Whether you’re aiming for weight management, weight gain, improved fitness, or addressing specific health concerns. It can also accommodate dietary restrictions effectively helping you avoid unwanted foods that might not align with your nutritional needs.

Difference Between a Meal Plan and a Food Diary

Meal plans and food diaries, though related to diet management, have different functions. A meal plan is a pre-arranged guide for what and when you’ll eat, aimed at meeting specific nutritional goals. It’s a planned approach to your diet. In contrast, a food diary is where you record what you’ve already eaten, often using apps like MyFitnessPal. This helps track your calorie and nutrient intake. So, while meal plans are about planning your diet in advance, food diaries are about tracking what you’ve already eaten. Both are useful, but they serve different purposes.

Difference Between a Diet Plan and a Food Diary

Weekly vs. Monthly Meal Plans

When it comes to designing meal plans, there’s flexibility to cater to individual preferences and lifestyles. You can opt for weekly or monthly meal planning, each with its unique advantages.

Weekly Meal Planning

Weekly meal planning is often more suitable for individuals managing their own diets. The benefits include:

  • Immediate Guidance: A weekly plan provides a clear, short-term guide. It helps you stay focused on your immediate dietary goals.
  • Grocery Shopping Efficiency: Planning weekly allows you to buy fresh ingredients regularly, reducing waste and ensuring variety.
  • Adaptability: Weekly plans are easier to adjust based on changing schedules or dietary preferences.

Monthly Meal Planning

Conversely, professionals like personal trainers, nutritionists, and dietitians often prefer monthly meal plans. Here’s why:

  • Time Efficiency: Planning meals for a month saves time. It reduces the frequency of planning sessions.
  • Consistency in Client Management: For client-based work, a monthly plan allows for consistent monitoring and adjustment based on client progress.
  • Long-Term Focus: A monthly approach aligns with the goal of achieving significant, long-term dietary changes and health outcomes.

Each person’s goals with a dietary plan are unique, ranging from fitness-related objectives to managing specific health conditions. The choice between weekly and monthly meal planning depends on personal circumstances, preferences, and one’s lifestyle or professional practice.

Why are Meal Plans Important?

Meal plans are important for practical reasons. They provide structure to eating habits, ensuring that individuals consume a balanced variety of nutrients. Diet plans help achieve health goals, manage weight, manage health conditions, and simplify grocery shopping. Additionally, it aids in maintaining a consistent and sustainable healthy lifestyle without daily meal planning guesswork.

person making a meal

Achieving Weight Loss

Meal plans can help in losing weight by acting as a roadmap, showing what and how much to eat and when. This guidance helps people follow their weight loss journey more easily. It’s like having a personal guide for eating right, keeping you on track.

Managing Health Conditions

For individuals managing health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure or autoimmune diseases, meal plans can be incredibly effective. By strategically planning meals, you actively limit foods that could worsen your condition. Simultaneously, you increase the intake of foods that may alleviate symptoms or enhance your overall health.

Consulting with a dietitian is important. Dietitians provide a tailored meal plan, uniquely designed to suit your specific health needs. This approach ensures that your diet directly supports your health goals, creating a positive impact on your well-being.

Planning Ahead: Saving Time and Money

Meal planning is a strategic way to budget time and resources. Think of meal planning as a smart way to manage your kitchen budget.

It’s like a shopping list with a plan. When you know what you’re going to cook, you buy only what you need. This means less waste and more savings, both in terms of money and time spent at the store and food preparation.

Avoiding Impulse Purchases

When we don’t plan our meals ahead of time, there is a tendency to rely on convenience foods. For instance, eating in a restaurant, or ordering fast food would be a common alternative. These are often high in preservatives, sodium, and fat which can have a negative effect on health when consumed often.

With a meal plan, it’s like having a defense against these impulsive decisions. You know what your next meal will be, making it easier to skip the convenience food.

Planning Groceries Ahead of Time

When you plan your meals, you also plan your grocery shopping. It’s like having a checklist for the supermarket. This way, you make sure you have all you need for your meals. You can also save time on choosing ingredients for your meals, reduce food waste, and choose healthier options.

How to Make a Meal Plan Effective

To create an effective meal plan for yourself or for clients, there are several key factors to consider. This way, you can ensure that the plan not only serves its intended purpose but is also practical and sustainable. Here’s a breakdown of how to make a meal plan effective:

Clear Goal

The most crucial step in effective meal planning is setting a clear and specific goal. It’s not just about having a vague desire, such as “I want to lose weight.”

Goal should adhere to the SMART criteria

  • Specific: Your goal should be precise and well-defined. For example, deciding to increase your vegetable intake in your diet plan for the week is a specific objective.
  • Measurable: Include a way to measure your progress. In this case, you can measure your success by tracking how many servings of vegetables you consume each day.
  • Achievable: Ensure that your goal is realistic and attainable. Setting small, achievable goals, like adding more vegetables to your meals, is a sensible starting point.
  • Relevant: Your goal should align with your overall objectives. If your broader aim is weight management, increasing vegetable intake is relevant to this goal.
  • Time-Bound: Establish a clear timeframe for when you intend to achieve your goal. Setting a goal for the week, as in eating more vegetables, provides a specific time frame for accomplishment.

While some individuals may do great on making drastic dietary changes overnight, this approach is generally not recommended. Such radical changes can lead to excessive hunger, low energy, and reduced adherence. Gradual changes, like incorporating more vegetables into your diet over time, are typically more sustainable and practical for most people

In summary, setting a clear, SMART goal is one of the important factors to consider when meal planning. It provides direction, helps measure progress, and ensures that your dietary choices align with your objectives. Hence, you can create a more successful and sustainable meal plan.

Designed by a Qualified Professional

Diego, having worked closely with various nutritionists, says that if you’re an individual looking to improve your health, attempting to create your own meal plan is an option. With time, self-education, and dedication, you can certainly improve. However, the invaluable assistance of a professional should not be underestimated.

Some of our customers, particularly dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers, create 50 or more meal plans weekly for their clients. These seasoned professionals have honed their skills over time. They possess a deep understanding of what works, practical steps, and the ability to tailor plans effectively.

Experience is vital in becoming skilled at meal planning. Professionals, through years of practice, keep getting better. While self-made plans are a beginning, experts’ guidance is transformative. They understand individual needs, making their plans effective.

Tailored to the Individual

Effective meal planning must be personalized to meet each person’s unique needs. This customization is important because everyone has different needs, lifestyles, health conditions, body builds, weights, and even genders. These factors significantly influence nutritional requirements and dietary choices.

Simply downloading a generic meal plan from the internet is not ideal. These plans may not align with your specific needs. For instance, if you’re diabetic, following a meal plan online with juices containing excessive simple carbohydrates. This may not negatively affect others but might harm your health.

Having an individualized meal plan is particularly crucial for those with health conditions. Consulting a professional, like a dietitian, ensures that your dietary plan is not only tailored to your unique situation. This can also make sure that you receive accurate and beneficial health advice. This personalized approach is essential for reaching your health and wellness goals efficiently and safely.

In essence, food can act as both medicine and poison, depending on how well it’s chosen and integrated into your diet. Therefore, choosing your meals carefully and strategically, with a plan designed specifically for you, is crucial. It’s not just about eating; it’s about eating right for your unique body and health circumstances.

Return on Investment on Meal Planning

It is important to consider the time and cost of creating a diet plan. If you’re someone who wants to create plans for yourself or your family, using free tools or manual methods is suitable. However, for nutritionists, dietitians, or coaches, creating meal plans for clients regularly, spending three to four hours for just one week might not be worth the investment of time and effort.

According to some nutrition professionals using NutriAdmin, the time it takes for an individual depends on their experience. Someone who has been creating diet plans for their clients can complete it in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. In contrast, if an individual has just started, lacking specialized tools or striving for perfectionism, they may spend an entire day creating a single meal plan for a client.

Having a software that allows you to quickly generate plans and reuse templates to streamline the process would be ideal. Without an efficient approach, the time spent on meal planning may not yield the desired results. Clients often don’t realize the extensive effort behind creating a meal plan, which can lead to frustration on both sides.

How long does it take to make a meal plan?

The time it takes to create a meal plan varies based on experience. Professionals with years of experience can complete it in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. However, beginners without specialized tools may spend an entire day creating a single plan.


How to make a meal plan easy to follow

There are several factors to consider in creating a meal plan that is easy to follow. Begin by selecting familiar and enjoyable foods, incorporating variety, and ensuring the plan aligns with the individual’s lifestyle and preferences.

Be crystal clear about who the plan is for

When creating a diet plan, it’s crucial to clearly define who it’s intended for. This involves understanding the unique preferences, habits, and goals of the individual. By tailoring the plan to align with their distinct tastes and objectives, we can create a personalized approach that makes the meal plan not only effective but also enjoyable for the client.

Pitfalls to Avoid in Meal Planning

Not everyone may succeed in creating effective meal plans due to several potential mistakes. The following factors highlight why a meal plan may not yield the desired results.

Too Complicated Recipes

Avoid overly elaborate recipes. Not everyone has the time for complex cooking daily. It’s more realistic to choose simpler, time-efficient recipes that fit into a busy schedule.

Too Expensive Ingredients

Be mindful of ingredient costs. Every region has its unique food availability. Opt for seasonal or locally available foods, making the plan more accessible and affordable.

Too Impractical

Ensure the meal plan is practical. Avoid suggesting unfamiliar foods that the client might not be inclined to try. Instead, include familiar ingredients to increase the likelihood of adherence to the plan.

Bland or Tasteless Meals

Meal plans need to be both healthy and delicious. Repetitive, bland meals can lead to dissatisfaction. Variety and flavor are key to keeping clients engaged and committed to the plan.

Lack of Buy-In from Family or Partner

Consider the client’s family or living situation. If they eat with others, the plan should accommodate everyone’s tastes and needs. This ensures the client doesn’t feel isolated or compelled to prepare separate meals.

How to Overcome Pitfalls

Understanding the Client

Use questionnaires or food diaries to understand the client’s preferences, allergies, and usual diet. People often misjudge their food intake, so a diary offers a more accurate picture of their eating habits.

Planning for Real-Life Scenarios

Anticipate and plan for unexpected situations. This includes eating out, attending social events, or dealing with unavailable ingredients.

During holidays or parties, rigid meal plans may not be practical. Advise clients on portion control and choosing healthier options in social settings. It’s about balance and making smart choices without feeling restricted.

Adapting to Client’s Lifestyle

Tailor the plan to fit the client’s daily routine, work environment, and family life. This includes considering their cooking skills, available time for meal prep, and their overall lifestyle.

Practical and Easy Recipes

Include only simple recipes that clients can easily prepare in a short amount of time. This is particularly important for individuals who may not excel in the kitchen or those with limited time for cooking. Simplifying recipes ensures accessibility and practicality. It increases the likelihood of successful meal plan adherence.

The Importance of a Shopping List

In meal planning, having a shopping list is crucial. It’s the first thing you’ll need because without the right ingredients, you can’t prepare the recipes. A well-organized shopping list specifies the exact amounts you require, preventing wasteful purchases.

This is especially helpful if you’re not used to cooking frequently or if you’re planning for clients. Wasting ingredients can be discouraging, so a shopping list ensures you buy what you need, reducing food waste and making meal preparation more efficient.

Including Meal Prep Options and Leftovers

In creating an effective diet plan, practical considerations are essential. Meal prep options and utilizing leftovers can make a big difference in real life. Many prefer cooking larger portions and splitting them into two or three meals to save time and effort. For instance, cooking dinner for yourself and your partner, then enjoy the same dish the following day. It’s a practical way to maintain a healthy diet.

These tips might seem like common sense, but they’re crucial when crafting a meal plan. Ensuring that your plan aligns with these practical aspects is vital for its effectiveness. Sometimes, recipes found online may not consider ingredient availability or the equipment people have, which can hinder success. Therefore, incorporating meal prep options and leftovers into your meal plan can enhance its practicality and feasibility for individuals.

Including Local and Seasonal Ingredients

In meal planning, it’s essential to include local and seasonal ingredients. Using local produce supports nearby farmers, reduces carbon footprint, and promotes fresher, tastier meals. Seasonal ingredients are at their peak flavor and nutritional value, making meals more delicious and nutritious. Plus, they are often more affordable.

Overall, incorporating local and seasonal ingredients not only benefits your health and the environment but also adds variety and flavor to your meals, making meal planning a more enjoyable and sustainable practice.

How a Nutritionist Makes Meal Plans

As a Nutritionist Dietitian with a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, the following meal planning information is based on what I have been taught in college. One crucial aspect in creating meal plans involves understanding diverse individual dietary needs and how to meet them.

This includes learning about food exchange lists, a method used to estimate portion sizes based on an individual’s calorie, macro, and micronutrient requirements, along with other tools. It also involves considering various health conditions and lifestyle factors.

Food Exchange Lists

Food exchange lists are a practical tool in dietetics. They help in categorizing foods into groups with similar nutritional content. This approach simplifies meal planning, ensuring balanced and varied diets. This is one of the ways that helps dietitians in the Philippines in creating meal plans for clients.

Rough Portion Sizes

Portion size estimation is crucial in meal planning. It helps in determining how much of each food type a person needs based on their caloric and nutritional requirements. This is particularly important when you’re following a specially when eating out where using measuring tools is not possible.

portion size estimates

Food Databases

The USDA, UK McCance and Widdowson’s, AUSNUT, and other food databases are examples of a reliable source for nutritional information. Such food databases are provided by government bodies. They offer detailed and accurate data on calories, macros, and micronutrients, essential for creating precise and effective meal plans.

Understanding Nutrition Facts

Understanding nutrition facts on food labels is a key skill taught in nutritional education. It enables dietitians and nutritionists to accurately gauge the nutritional value of food products, considering serving sizes and the total nutritional content when creating meal plans for clients.

Equivalents and DRIs Depending on Country

Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) vary by country. These guidelines provide detailed information on the required daily amounts of various nutrients. Dietitians and nutritionists are trained to use these guidelines to ensure their meal plans meet the specific nutritional needs based on regional standards.

Challenge with Accuracy, For Instance Branded Products

A significant challenge in meal planning is the accuracy of nutritional information, especially for branded products. Often, nutritional data from user-generated sources like MyFitnessPal can be inaccurate. Professionals learn to navigate these challenges, using reliable sources and adapting plans as necessary.

Providing Plans for Different Types of Clients

Creating meal plans for diverse clients involves understanding their unique preferences, dietary restrictions, and lifestyles. Since clients may have different goals and health issues that need to be addressed, it is important to understand this.

Plans for Weight Loss

For clients aiming for weight loss, the focus is typically on creating a calorie deficit in meal plans while ensuring nutritional balance. This often includes high-fiber foods, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to promote fullness and nutrient intake.

Hypertension

Clients with hypertension are generally advised to follow a low-salt, low-fat diet. To make meals appealing without salt, the use of herbs and spices is encouraged. This approach helps in managing blood pressure without compromising on taste.

Diabetes

For diabetic clients, meal plans usually emphasize low or no simple sugars. It’s crucial to manage blood sugar levels through a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats. Portion control and consistent meal timing can also play a significant role.

Children

Meal planning for children presents unique challenges, especially considering their developmental needs and often picky eating habits. For very young children, food needs to be in small, manageable pieces. Additionally, nutritional balance is key, ensuring they get the necessary vitamins and minerals for growth. Moreover, finding creative ways to incorporate healthy foods, such as sneaking vegetables into more favorable dishes, can be effective.

Understanding the Target Person for the Meal Plan

Understanding the person you’re creating a meal plan for is crucial. Whether it is for yourself or for clients that are aiming to lose weight, build muscle, or enhance overall well-being, someone who crafts meal plans, we need to consider their unique goals and preferences. Age, gender, activity level, and any health conditions also matter. By tailoring meal plans to these specifics, we ensure they’re not just nutritious but also fit seamlessly into our clients’ lives. It’s about making health personal, practical, and enjoyable.

diet plans for different individuals

Make a Questionnaire

Creating an effective meal plan begins with understanding the client’s dietary habits, preferences, and health needs. A well-structured questionnaire is an essential tool for gathering this information. It should cover key questions such as:

  • Food Preferences: What foods does the client enjoy? This helps in incorporating their favorite foods into the plan, increasing the likelihood of adherence.
  • Typical Diet: What does the client normally eat? Understanding their usual diet provides a baseline for changes and improvements.
  • Allergies and Intolerances: Are there any food allergies or intolerances? This is crucial for ensuring the meal plan is safe and suitable for the client.
  • Health Conditions: Does the client have any health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, that need to be considered in the meal planning?
  • Lifestyle and Schedule: What is the client’s daily routine? This includes work schedule, physical activity level, and cooking habits, which impact meal planning.

Getting a food diary from client to get a feel for what they like

Besides the questionnaire, requesting a food diary for a week offers valuable insights into the client’s actual eating habits. Studies have shown that self-reported food intake can be inaccurate, with people often underestimating their caloric intake. A food diary provides a more realistic picture, allowing for a more accurate and personalized meal plan.

Once this information is gathered, a consultation and interview with the client can further refine the understanding of their needs and preferences. This comprehensive approach ensures that the meal plan is not only nutritionally balanced but also practical, enjoyable, and tailored to the individual’s unique lifestyle and health requirements.

Is this for yourself or someone else?

If you’re creating a meal plan for yourself, it’s easier because you know your likes, allergies, intolerances, budget, available time for food preparation, and other important factors. However, when planning meals for someone else, questionnaires or a food diary may be more suitable to effectively create an individualized diet plan.

Calories and Macronutrient Needs

Determining the client’s calorie and macronutrient requirements is a fundamental step on how to create an effective meal plan. This involves understanding their specific needs for calories, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates based on factors such as age, gender, activity level, and health goals.

By tailoring the dietary plan to meet these nutritional needs, we can ensure that the client’s energy levels, muscle maintenance, and overall health are supported. This personalized approach sets the foundation for a balanced and sustainable dietary strategy that aligns with their individual goals.

Dietary Requirements and Medical Conditions

When creating meal plans for individuals with specific dietary requirements or medical conditions, it’s crucial to take into account any exclusions or restrictions inherent in their chosen diet. For instance, someone following a ketogenic diet requires a plan that significantly limits carbohydrates while emphasizing fats and proteins.

Similarly, for those on a vegan diet, the meal plan must exclude all animal products, focusing on plant-based foods to meet nutritional needs. Ensuring adequate intake of nutrients typically found in animal products, like Vitamin B12, iron, and calcium, is essential in this case. This might involve incorporating fortified foods or supplements.

In both scenarios, the challenge is to create a nutritionally complete and balanced diet within the constraints of the dietary preferences or requirements. This involves a thorough understanding of various food groups and their nutritional profiles, as well as creativity in meal planning to ensure variety and satisfaction.

Additionally, for clients with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or food allergies, their meal plans must be carefully designed to manage their conditions effectively. This means considering factors like blood sugar control for diabetics or low sodium for those with hypertension.

Number of Meals per Day

Consider their daily eating habits, including the number of meals, intermittent fasting patterns, snack preferences, and timing preferences. Whether they adhere to a traditional three-meal routine, practice intermittent fasting, or incorporate snacks, these details are crucial in creating a meal plan that aligns seamlessly with their lifestyle and dietary choices.

Preparing Meals vs. Eating Out

Understanding your client’s eating habits is a key starting point for creating a personalized meal plan. Find out whether they enjoy preparing their own meals or if they often opt for dining out. This information helps tailor a plan that suits their lifestyle, ensuring it’s both practical and enjoyable for them.

Time Willing to Spend on Cooking

Considering the time a client is willing to spend on cooking is crucial for a well-rounded meal plan. This involves aligning recipes with their availability to prepare meals.

If they have a busy schedule, it’s important to include quick and easy meal options. Additionally, understanding if they prefer to prepare meals in advance allows for the incorporation of time-efficient strategies into the plan, ensuring that healthy eating fits seamlessly into their lifestyle.

Allergies and Intolerances

Taking allergies and intolerances into account is vital for meal planning because they can seriously affect health, sometimes even in life-threatening ways. Knowing and understanding these dietary restrictions is crucial for creating a personalized and safe nutrition plan. This ensures the well-being of the client, helping them achieve their health goals while avoiding any potential negative reactions. It’s a proactive and professional approach that builds trust and confidence in the meal plan you design.

Budget Available

Taking budget into account is a key factor in meal planning. It involves crafting a nutritious and balanced meal plan that aligns with the financial resources available to the individual. By being mindful of budget constraints, we can create practical and sustainable meal options that not only support health goals but also make healthy eating accessible and affordable.

Religious Beliefs

Considering dietary restrictions based on religious beliefs is important. It involves excluding certain foods or ingredients that go against those beliefs. This helps create a meal plan that respects and aligns with an individual’s religious practices and ensures their dietary preferences are honored.

Availability of Local Ingredients

Taking into account the availability of local ingredients is essential in crafting a realistic and sustainable meal plan. This involves selecting foods that are easily accessible in the client’s local area.

By incorporating locally sourced ingredients, the meal plan becomes more practical, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. It ensures that clients can easily find and afford the items recommended, fostering a seamless integration of healthy choices into their daily routine.

Available Cooking Equipment and Cooking Preferences

Considering the available cooking equipment and understanding cooking preferences are vital aspects of tailoring a practical meal plan. This involves aligning recipes with the tools and appliances the individual has access to, ensuring that meal preparation is convenient and achievable. Additionally, knowing cooking preferences allows for the inclusion of recipes that match the individual’s preferred cooking methods, making the meal plan more enjoyable and sustainable.

Favorite Foods and Dislikes

Considering your client’s favorite foods and dislikes is a key aspect of creating a personalized and enjoyable meal plan. By incorporating foods they love, the meal plan becomes more appealing and sustainable. Likewise, being aware of dislikes allows for the exclusion of items that may hinder adherence to the plan.

If you are a nutritionist, dietitian, or coach, using a food preference questionnaire can assist you in understanding your clients’ likes and dislikes and help you create effective, customized meal plans tailored to their preferences and eating habits.

Adapting to Picky Eaters

Picky eating, especially in children, poses a significant challenge. It’s important to gradually introduce new foods in a non-threatening way, perhaps by pairing them with familiar favorites. Involving children in meal preparation can also increase their willingness to try new foods.

Older Adults that Struggle with Chewing

Taking into consideration the challenges that some older individuals may face with chewing hard foods is crucial in developing a meal plan that meets their unique needs. This involves selecting softer, easily chewable options to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients without difficulty. Incorporating cooked vegetables, tender meats, and softer grains can make meals more manageable and enjoyable for individuals who may struggle with chewing.

This thoughtful approach not only supports their nutritional requirements but also enhances the overall dining experience for older individuals, promoting both health and comfort.


How to do a dietary analysis when working on a meal plan

Detailed dietary analysis is crucial for tailored diet plans, especially for specific goals or medical conditions.

Define Target Macronutrients and Calories

Determine the client’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and daily calorie needs based on factors like age, gender, activity level, and weight goals. You can use free BMR calculators online to save time.

For weight loss, a caloric deficit is required, but it should be realistic to avoid hunger or side effects.

Ensure Enough Fiber and Protein for Satiety

High fiber and protein content in meals can promote fullness, which is especially important in calorie-restricted diets. This helps in managing hunger and ensuring nutritional adequacy.

Ensure Micronutrient Requirements are Met

Use Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) or equivalent guidelines to ensure the meal plan meets the client’s micronutrient needs. This is crucial to prevent deficiencies, especially in diets with restrictions.

Tools for Calculation and Analysis

  • USDA Database: For comprehensive nutritional information on a wide range of foods, ideal for clients in the United States.
  • AUSNUT Food Nutrient Database: For Australian-specific food data.
  • McCance and Widdowson’s Database: For UK-specific nutritional information.
  • Canadian Nutrient File: Accessible for Canadian food nutrient profiles.
  • Other Regional Databases: Other regions and countries may have their own food databases not mentioned here. Conducting your research to determine the availability of these resources in your specific region or country may be necessary.
  • Spoonacular: Useful for finding recipes with nutritional breakdowns.
  • MyFitnessPal: Good for tracking daily food intake and analyzing nutritional content.
  • NutriAdmin and Competitors: Professional software tools designed for nutritionists, dietitians, personal trainers, and other wellness professionals to streamline meal planning and dietary analysis. It is important to try different software and tools to find what works best for you. This includes exploring free trials and comparing features.

Consultation and Personalization

It’s important to consult with the client, understand their specific needs, and personalize the meal plan. This might include using a food diary for a week to get an accurate picture of their current eating habits.

Consideration for Specific Diets

When conducting a dietary analysis for clients following specific diets like ketogenic or vegan, it’s crucial to modify the plan to accommodate their dietary restrictions. For instance, a ketogenic diet involves low carbohydrate intake and high fat, while a vegan diet excludes all animal products. The challenge lies in ensuring that these diets are nutritionally balanced. Particularly in vegan diets, there’s a risk of deficiencies in nutrients like Vitamin B12, commonly found in animal products. A thorough dietary assessment can help identify potential nutrient gaps.

This analysis ensures the client receives a well-rounded diet, supplementing, if necessary, to avoid any deficiencies and negative health impacts on their health. By carefully evaluating and adjusting the meal plan, clients can enjoy the benefits of their chosen diet while maintaining optimal health.

Practical Steps on How to Create a Meal Plan

Creating a meal plan can be approached in various ways. You can choose to use something as simple as pen and paper, or if you create numerous meal plans daily, professional meal planning software is also available. Once implemented, regular follow-ups and feedback are crucial for success. If a client struggles to follow the plan, approach the issue with understanding and adaptability, exploring alternatives to better align with their needs and preferences.

Selecting the Right Tool

If you are an individual wanting to make dietary changes or improve your eating habits by following a meal plan, you can easily make one using as simple as a pen and paper.

If you are a nutrition, wellness, or fitness professional who makes dozens of meal plans in a week, opting for a specialized software would be more ideal. This way you can be more organized and save time on creating meal plans and crafting recipes for every client with unique needs. You can learn more about this from our best meal planning app guide.

Option 1. How to make a diet plan for free

It is understandable that not all of us will have a need or an initial resource to invest in a specialized meal planning software. Whether you’re an individual seeking health improvements through nutrition or a nutrition professional just starting out your own business. Here, we’ll give you practical tips on how to make meal plans for free.

Use free tools like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs in making diet plans

If you’re just starting out and want to create a meal plan for yourself without any cost, a simple pen and paper would be enough to assist you in planning. Utilizing tools like MS Excel or Google Docs can also be practical if you want to keep it accessible, organized, and easily editable.

Make a rough list of meals

You can create a rough list of meals based on your preferences and dietary needs, ensuring a personalized approach. Begin by listing foods that are convenient for you or your go-to recipes. If you find the your usual diet is lacking in certain aspects, such as calories, protein, or vegetables, you can easily make adjustments.

Use free databases to query the nutrients

There are free databases available that will allow you to check the nutrients in various foods. This way, you can ensure you are getting enough nutrients based on your goals and help you adjust portion sizes and move meals around to fit the macros/calories.

Keep in mind that different regions may have diverse databases, so choose one that aligns with your location. Apps like MyFitnessPal can also be handy, although their accuracy may vary. With these free tools, you can kickstart your journey to creating a budget-friendly and personalized diet plan.

Search for recipes based on your requirements

If you’re still learning how to cook your own meals or simply seeking new meal ideas to incorporate into your diet plan, numerous online resources can provide fresh ideas while also offering nutrient information to align with your goals.

For more accurate information, consider utilizing websites like Spoonacular or exploring recipe books from respected chefs or authors that include nutritional analysis. In cases where nutrient information is unavailable, such as when getting recipes from social media, you can utilize food databases to obtain accurate nutritional information.

You may also want to consider a recipes database from a paid service, such as NutriAdmin or a competitor.

Once you are satisfied with the whole diet plan, compile a shopping list

Once you’re content with the entire meal plan, compiling a shopping list is a crucial next step. If you’re using Excel, organizing it by columns can make the process seamless. For those planning to reuse the plan, setting up a template, possibly downloadable from the internet is advisable. By consolidating all the ingredients, you create a practical shopping list. This list can be easily printed or checked on a phone during shopping, especially convenient for online shopping to ensure you acquire all the necessary ingredients in the right portions.

You can use the downloadable shopping list below.

Format the document so that it looks professional and attractive

If you intend to sell or provide the diet plan as part of your service to a client, it’s ideal to format it in a professional and attractive manner. You can achieve this easily by downloading templates from the internet or creating your own.

Whether using simple tools like Google Docs or Excel Spreadsheets, or free editing tools like Canva, the process can be streamlined. If you use specialized meal planning software, formatting will be taken care of automatically, ensuring a polished and visually appealing presentation.

Keep the main summary of the meal plan on a single page

The importance of having a one-page summary of the entire meal plan is emphasized among our NutriAdmin users. Whether the plan spans 50 pages with in-depth analyses or condenses to a single page, the choice depends on your desired level of detail. However, having a concise overview for the week, printable and fridge-friendly, is invaluable.

This one-page summary serves as a daily reminder for individuals, offering clarity on what to eat each day. Whether it’s a scheduled meal or snacks for work, the list provides a practical reference, helping individuals stay on track and make informed choices.

You can download a sample weekly meal plan summary below.


Option 2: Creating a rough guideline of your meal plan

Over time, as you become more comfortable with meal planning, you may find that you don’t need to be overly strict.

The approach may vary for each individual as goals and lifestyles differ. Nutritionists and wellness professionals often develop their own rules of thumb based on distinct objectives.

A Rule of Thumb for Protein, Fat, Carbs, and Fiber on Your Plate

A rough assessment, such as having a certain amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber sources in your plate, can serve as a simple guideline.

An example for this is the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, which offers a visual guide on what to include in your meals.

It’s like a visual cheat sheet for building healthy and balanced meals. It shows you what kinds of foods to put on your plate and how much of each. It’s a helpful tool to make sure your meal plans are not just tasty but also good for you, ensuring a balanced mix of nutrients without the need for complicated calculations.

Simple Guidelines for Adding More Vegetables to Your Meals

For individuals who share meal preparation decisions with family members or partners and may not have full authority, there’s a practical workaround. You can adapt by adjusting the portion sizes of each food group on your own plate. Additionally, if vegetable options are limited, ensure you have quick and easy vegetable side ideas readily available. This way, you can still enjoy balanced and nutritious meals without the need to prepare a separate meal, which can be impractical.

Consider incorporating guidelines like including at least 30 different plant foods per week, a practice linked to improved gut health. Aligning with government recommendations, such as the UK’s ‘five a day‘ suggestion for fruits and vegetables, is also a beneficial goal to follow.

Instead of planning full meals, focus on quick breakfasts, snacks, or vegetable side dishes. By integrating these principles, you not only support your gut health but also ensure a more balanced and varied approach to your diet plan.

Eating in Moderation

Depriving yourself of the foods you love can lead to negative effects like eating excessively, where you might substitute a fruit for chocolate but still feel unsatisfied. Instead, consider enjoying small portions of your favorite treats to satisfy those cravings. If you’re used to devouring a whole chocolate bar, try having just one piece and maybe add in a bit of fruits or nuts to keep you full longer.

Finding a balance that works for you, whether it’s a complete ban or moderation, is a personal journey. Some people can go cold turkey, while others prefer a more gradual approach, gradually building healthy habits over time. It’s all about finding what suits your lifestyle and being patient with the process.

Option 3. How to generate a meal plan in 60s

NutriAdmin is an all-in-one software made specifically for nutrition and wellness professionals. It streamlines tasks such as keeping client records, meal planning, managing payments online or offline, sending questionnaires, reports, and appointment schedules. The automation feature eliminates the need for repetitive tasks, allowing you to focus on your work more efficiently.

Meal Plan Generator – make individualized meal plans in seconds

Many nutritionists and fitness professionals face the challenge of creating individualized meal plans, which can be time-consuming. Downloading premade templates often proves ineffective due to unrealistic recipes that clients may not follow.

NutriAdmin provides a solution by enabling you to generate personalized meal plans within just 60 seconds, thanks to its AI-powered engine. These plans include easy-to-follow recipes, professional photography, and are vetted by a nutritionist. Additionally, the generator allows customization based on calories, macros, diet, cuisine, cooking equipment, prep time, and more, ensuring each plan is tailored to the unique needs of every client.

Try the meal plan generator for free

If you are curious how the generator can help you shorten your meal plan creation process, you can try generating one meal plan for free here.

If you want to try the NutriAdmin software including the meal plan builder, you can sign up for a 14-day free trial.

Option 4. Creating the plan from scratch with NutriAdmin

Creating a meal plan from scratch as a dietitian, nutritionist, or coach is easier with NutriAdmin. The meal planning software simplifies the process by allowing you to seamlessly search verified food databases and recipes. With automatic nutrient calculation, generating a plan tailored to specific dietary needs becomes efficient and accurate.

NutriAdmin goes the extra mile with features like automatic shopping list generation, professional formatting, and PDF export. Additionally, convenient tools like copy/pasting for meal prep save time, while the software’s micronutrient deficiency alerts ensure your plans are nutritionally well-rounded and comprehensive.

We are not only limited to nutritionists and dietitians. You can check our software for wellness coaches if you want to learn more about NutriAdmin as a coach. Likewise, check out the software for personal trainers page if that’s your profession!

Searching verified food databases

When using NutriAdmin for meal planning, you have the advantage of accessing various food databases tailored to your clients’ geographical locations. This feature is particularly useful for nutritionists and dietitians working with a diverse clientele. NutriAdmin offers access to the USDA database for clients in the United States, AUSNUT for those in Australia, and the Canadian Nutrient File for clients in Canada

This diversity in databases allows for more accurate and region-specific nutritional information, ensuring that the recipes and food items added to your meal plans are relevant and appropriate for each client’s dietary needs and local food availability. This customization enhances the effectiveness and relevance of the meal plans you create using NutriAdmin.

Searching verified recipes

NutriAdmin features a comprehensive recipe database, offering a convenient solution for those who wish to incorporate dishes into their meal plans without the time-consuming process of creating recipes from scratch. Also, all recipes in this database have been reviewed by a Registered Nutritionist Dietitian, ensuring they are both simple and easy to follow.

Similar to the meal plan generator, this feature includes filters that allow you to select recipes based on various criteria such as preparation and cooking time, dietary preferences, calorie count, cuisines, and more, tailored to meet your clients’ specific needs.

Automatic nutrient calculation

When creating meal plans in NutriAdmin, both macronutrients and micronutrients are automatically calculated. This feature can help in ensuring your meal plan aligns with your clients’ goals. Additionally, NutriAdmin includes a micronutrient deficiency alert feature. This tool highlights micronutrients in red if your diet plan falls short in specific areas, based on the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) guidelines. This helps in quickly identifying and addressing potential nutrient gaps in the meal plans you create.

Automatic shopping list

In NutriAdmin, compiling ingredients from recipes in your meal plan is streamlined for efficiency. When you create meal plans, the system automatically generates a shopping list based on the recipes included in the plan. This eliminates the need for manually listing every ingredient, saving time and ensuring accuracy in your meal planning process.

Professional formatting and PDF export

Once you have crafted an individualized meal plan for your client in NutriAdmin, you can conveniently download it as a PDF instantly. The platform offers flexibility in terms of the meal plan’s detail level. You can choose to make the plan comprehensive or more straightforward by including or excluding specific data, such as micronutrient and macronutrient content.

Additionally, the meal plan can be personalized with your branding elements, including your logo, name, and company name, making it look more professional.


Following Up and Getting Feedback

As a dietitian or wellness professional, providing clients with an effective meal plan doesn’t technically end once you create the actual plan. It is crucial to follow up and get feedback to ensure that the plan is feasible for them.

Regular check in with client (or with yourself)

Regular check-ins with clients are a crucial aspect of ensuring the effectiveness of the meal plan you created, especially for dietitians, nutritionists, or wellness professionals. These check-ins provide an opportunity to gather feedback and evaluate how well the meal plan is aligning with the client’s goals.

Nutrition and Wellness Professionals

Scheduling consistent appointments to discuss progress, challenges, and preferences is important. During these sessions, reviewing a food diary or log can offer valuable insights. It helps to identify which aspects of the meal plan you created for your client, as a dietitian or wellness professional, are working well and which might need adjustments. This could include changes in portion sizes, ingredient substitutions, or incorporating new recipes to add variety.

Self-Assessment

If you are managing your own meal plan, self-assessment through regular monitoring of your food diary is equally important. Reflect on your adherence to the plan, how you feel physically and emotionally, and any changes in your health metrics. This self-evaluation allows you to tweak your plan, making it more aligned with your personal goals and preferences.

Accountability

Accountability plays a significant role in the success of meal plans and achieving dietary goals. Partnering with a friend, family member, partner, or even a coach or nutritionist can provide the necessary motivation and support.

Additionally, joining online communities with similar health and dietary goals can be incredibly beneficial. These communities often offer a supportive environment that can help keep you on track and motivated towards your goals. This approach of shared accountability and community support is a powerful tool in maintaining commitment to a meal plan and achieving desired health outcomes.

Tracking progress towards goals

To evaluate the effectiveness of a diet plan you created, regularly monitoring progress in your clients’ goals is essential. This check helps determine whether the plan is yielding the desired results.

If there are significant changes aligned with their goals, it indicates the plan’s effectiveness. On the other hand, if there’s little to no progress towards their goals, it may be necessary to make appropriate adjustments to the client’s plan. This approach ensures the diet plan remains tailored to the client’s needs and is effective in achieving their specific health and wellness goals.

Hunger Levels

Monitoring hunger levels is an important aspect of assessing the effectiveness of a meal plan, whether for yourself or for a client. If you or your client frequently feel hungry, it may indicate that the meal plan isn’t sufficiently fulfilling, possibly due to a lack of protein or fiber, both of which contribute to satiety and fullness.

It’s essential to understand that perfecting a meal plan often requires an iterative process. You start with an initial version, observe the results, and make necessary refinements over time. If previous meal plans didn’t yield the desired results, it’s important to keep adjusting and trying different strategies. Regularly reassessing and tweaking the meal plan based on feedback, hunger levels, and overall progress helps in eventually achieving success.

Summary of creating a great meal plan step by step

How to create an effective meal plan

Step 1. Understand the eating habits and preferences of the person you’re creating a meal plan for.
Step 2. Determine calorie and macros requirements. Use formulas like BMR if needed.
Step 3. Consider factors like health conditions, allergies and intolerances, dietary preferences, etc.
Step 4. Choose food items based on food groups – carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber. When planning meals, it is important to have variation. You can choose different food items based on the food groups and cycle it around to ensure variation.
Step 5. Make sure recipes are fit or doable based on clients’ lifestyle. Don’t overcomplicate recipes.
Step 6. Educate clients about substitutes and alternatives.
Step 7. Follow up with clients. Evaluate hunger levels, progress and compliance. Adjust as necessary.


How to handle a client failing to follow the meal plan?

Every individual is unique, and while some may find changing habits easy, others may encounter difficulties. Helping clients grasp this concept, offering support and motivation when things don’t go as planned, and providing practical solutions contribute to making the dietary plan realistically effective.

Expectations vs. Reality

When setting goals, it’s crucial to remind your clients to make them achievable and realistic. Ideal goals might sound great, but if they’re too ambitious for a short period, it can lead to disappointment and demotivation.

Setting expectations and being forgiving when they don’t follow the plan 100% is essential—acknowledge that it’s okay, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s important to recognize the positive changes they’ve made instead of focusing on the mistakes.

Changing Habits is Hard

Changing dietary habits is a challenging process. As highlighted in books like “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, understanding the rewards and cues associated with habits is key to successful change. It’s unrealistic to expect an overnight transformation in habits without facing any setbacks.

Typically, when someone starts to focus seriously on their health, they might follow the meal plan successfully on some days and struggle on others. However, with time and gradual improvements, more days will align with the meal plan, and deviations will become less frequent. It’s important to remember that a single deviation, such as indulging in an unplanned treat, doesn’t ruin the entire day. You can always make the next meal healthier.

Adding Instead of Removing

A more inclusive approach to improving dietary habits involves prioritizing the addition of healthier foods to meals rather than immediately eliminating unhealthy options. Recognizing that some individuals may find difficulty in accessing fresh and healthy ingredients, this method allows for a gradual and sustainable transition to a more nutritious diet.

Handling Social Occasions and Eating Out

Handling social occasions and eating out, especially during the holidays, presents unique challenges when following a meal plan. It’s important to balance enjoying time with family and friends without overthinking about deviating slightly from your meal plan. The key is not to restrict yourself excessively during these events but to enjoy them mindfully.

Planning Ahead and Choosing a Balanced Meal

When attending social gatherings, one strategy is to plan ahead. You can look at the menu in advance and decide what foods you’ll eat, focusing on maintaining a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and vegetables and watching your portion sizes. For instance, you might want to include vegetable-based dishes like a salad, a protein source, and a complex carbohydrate source to make you feel fuller, reducing the temptation to overindulge in desserts or other high-calorie dishes later.

Remember, it’s okay if you don’t follow your meal plan strictly on special occasions. Forgiving yourself and moving forward is better than dwelling on any deviations. What matters is the overall trend in your eating habits, not a single meal or event. By planning and being mindful, you can minimize the impact of these occasions on your dietary goals, making your journey towards health and wellness more enjoyable and sustainable.

Eating Mindfully

It’s common for people to eat with their eyes, being attracted to visually appealing and delicious-looking foods. To avoid overeating, consider having smaller portions of various items rather than large portions of everything. Additionally, it’s crucial to savor our meals and listen to your body’s signals and stop eating when you feel full.

Don’t try too many changes all at once

It’s nice to feel motivated and eager to achieve your goals. However, when it comes to making lifestyle changes, it’s often more effective to take a gradual approach. Setting manageable intermediate goals on your path to a larger objective can make it more realistic and sustainable.

Think of it as taking one step at a time rather than attempting to leap forward all at once. This way, you can build positive habits steadily and maintain your progress over the long term.

Willpower is a finite resource

Willpower is a finite resource, so when implementing a potentially challenging meal plan, it’s essential to consider the client’s current circumstances. If the individual is dealing with numerous stressors, such as moving, starting a new job, or managing family matters, introducing a drastic dietary change might be overwhelming.

On the other hand, if the client is experiencing a more stable period with fewer external pressures, it becomes an opportune time to initiate significant dietary adjustments. This strategic approach ensures that the limited daily reserves of willpower are optimally utilized for a successful dietary transition.

Watch on YouTube

You can watch Lucy and Diego’s discussion on how to make effective meal plans on Youtube. You can check out the video below.


Key Takeaways

Creating an effective meal plan requires a thoughtful and personalized approach. This is crucial whether you’re planning for weight loss, managing health conditions, or simply striving for a more organized and efficient lifestyle. The key factors include clarity, customization, and practicality.

Understanding the unique needs, preferences, and constraints of each individual is essential. For nutritionists and fitness professionals, utilizing tools that provide features like automatic meal plan and recipe generation, along with nutritional analysis, can streamline the process.

It’s important to set achievable goals, consider lifestyle challenges, and offer adaptable strategies to overcome potential pitfalls. A well-structured meal plan not only promotes health but also saves time, money, and reduces stress.

From selecting the right tools to creating plans from scratch or using advanced platforms like NutriAdmin and its competitors, this guide covers a range of options. Whether you are a dietitian, nutritionist, or coach creating a meal plan for a client, or an individual planning to make healthier food choices for yourself or a loved one, the guide provides insights on making informed and sustainable choices.. The ultimate goal is to make meal planning easy to follow, fostering positive dietary habits for long-term success.

Frequently Asked Questions

2 thoughts on “How to Make a Meal Plan, The Ultimate Guide”

  1. musclegaragefitness

    Great job on your blog post about creating meal plans! The step-by-step information is super clear and helpful. I appreciate how you break down the process, making it easy for anyone to follow. The pointers and examples make it even better. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

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