Why Planning a Meal is Better Than Using a Meal Plan

Clients often will ask me for a meal plan to help them eat healthy. They say they want to take the guesswork out of healthy eating and keep it as simple and concrete as possible. They say they want me to tell them exactly what to eat and when to eat it. And I wince whenever they say those 2 little words: “meal plan”. Don’t get me wrong – I certainly understand their desire to make it simple and I also respect their aim to stick with a disciplined plan – that’s not the problem. The problem is that meal plans in my experience (whether it’s for 5-days, 7-days, or 2-weeks) simply don’t work. They’re just not effective at getting people to eat healthy for the long-term.

One of the reasons meal plans don’t work is because human beings have very personalized tastes that have been developed over their entire lifetime. If you definitely don’t like cauliflower, for example, do you think you’re really going to start eating it every week just because it’s listed as part of the dinner meal for Wednesday nights on the meal plan? Probably not! And maybe you love having a grilled hot dog once a week and have been in the habit of having one every week for several years. Do you think you’re suddenly going to stop having that juicy, mouthwatering hot dog just because it’s not listed on the meal plan? Unlikely! And even if you do cut it out of your diet for a couple of weeks, how long do you think that’s going to last? And is it even important or necessary?

The truth…(drum roll please)…is you can have a relatively healthy, balanced diet even if you continue to enjoy a hot dog once a week and even if you never eat cauliflower in your life again. Prescribing individual foods or eliminating specific foods is not necessary and can be counterproductive. Because the goal is not to eat cauliflower. The goal is to learn how to eat in a healthy, balanced way that you can reasonably sustain for the long-term. Cauliflower can certainly be part of that (if you’d like) but it doesn’t have to be and any one food is not going to make or break your diet. You’re simply not going to learn how to eat healthy by someone handing you a list of specific meals to make over the next 2 weeks.

Instead, a better, more individualized approach would be to work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist one-on-one to understand what parts of your diet could benefit from making changes. Because the good news is that you probably don’t need to change everything about your diet (unless you’re eating Captain Crunch for every meal). It’s very likely that there are certain key aspects and patterns of your diet (some that you might not even be aware of) that are less healthy and possibly damaging to your health. A Dietitian will be able to identify these areas for you, often in the 1st session. From that point, you can work together on deciding and prioritizing which areas to focus on.

The next step is critical for today’s topic. Your Dietitian will then help you brainstorm and strategize how to improve in those areas and together you will create smart, reasonable goals to get you where you want to go. Often, that will involve planning specific meals based on your tastes, goals, current health and lifestyle – your unique situation. This is the type of planning that is useful because it’s a targeted plan just for you, and, because of that, it’s much more likely to work.

Effective meal planning could involve setting a goal for making a new recipe for Monday night’s dinner that is both healthy and appealing to you. Or, it could involve tweaking parts of your meals – for example, planning on making quinoa instead of white rice to have with a stir-fry or planning on adding an extra serving of veggies in your sandwich for lunch. Or, for someone with limited time during the busy workweek, planning how to make healthy meals for the entire week on Sunday mornings. These are just a few examples of the ways that a Dietitian can help you effectively plan meals to reach your nutrition and health goals.

Another reason why generic, static meal plans don’t work is because they’re too passive. They’re simply a list of meals on a paper or a screen that you had no active role in deciding on or creating. Change happens when you’re actively involved in the process. Working with a Dietitian will require your active input and involvement. Lazy dogs be advised!

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can be an invaluable support and guide on your journey to better nutrition and health. Contact me today to get started with planning meals effectively as well as improving your overall nutrition, health and sense of vitality through highly personalized nutrition sessions. Email me at: vitalitahealth@gmail.com to connect with me and schedule a free, 10 minute introductory consultation.

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