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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Create a Delicious and Healthy Meal Plan for the Week

How to Create a Delicious and Healthy Meal Plan for the Week

Meal plans are a great way to cut down waste, make shopping for food quicker and easier, and stick to healthy choices. But what makes a healthy meal plan for the week, and how do you know what to include?

Firstly, there is no healthy meal plan that works for everyone. At different stages of your life, you will need different levels of nutrients, but there are some general principles that you can follow, and then adjust as necessary. Here’s how to create a healthy meal plan for the week.

The Backbone of Your Healthy Meal Plan

For the vast majority of adults, these practical tips should be the backbone of your meal plan:

  • A range of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grain carbohydrates (brown rice, brown bread, millet, bulgar wheat, etc.)
  • Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut
  • Unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, and nuts
  • Two portions of oily fish, such as salmon, per week (or nuts and seeds if you don’t eat fish)
  • A handful of nuts and seeds a day
  • Aim for 30g of fiber a day
  • Eat a range of beans and pulses (such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and lentils)
  • Drink approximately 8 glasses of water a day[1]

Calorie Counting

A calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of 1g water from 14.5 to 15.5°Celsius. This is calculated in a laboratory, by burning the food. However, the food is not “burnt” in our bodies, and people’s metabolism and energy expenditure vary, so it’s a very rough estimate. This is also why losing weight can be a tricky process.

The absorption and, therefore, how much energy is available for you to use, is also affected by how the food is processed. An example of this is sweetcorn. If you grind it down into a powder and make a tortilla, you will absorb far more calories than if you eat whole sweetcorn kernels.

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Another concern with calories is that instead of thinking about nutrient quality, it promotes prioritizing quantity. For example, there is a huge difference in the number of nutrients you could consume in 500 calories of fruit and vegetables, versus 500 calories of ice cream, so you need to think about this when creating your healthy meal plan for the week.

Also the number of calories you need varies according to so many factors, such as age, gender, lifestyle, and activity level, that it is hard to accurately predict exactly how many you need. Instead, I prefer to recommend a general principle of how to balance your plate and a reminder to eat mindfully when you are physically hungry, not because of an emotional trigger.

How to Balance Your Plate

When thinking of your healthy meal plan for weight loss or just a healthier lifestyle, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, your plate should contain approximately:

  • Fruit and vegetables (1/2 plate)
  • Whole grains (1/4 plate)
  • Lean protein (1/4 plate)
  • A spoon of unsaturated oil

How to build a balanced plate

    This will help you when you think of each meal to work out what to include and approximate portion sizes[2].

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    If all of this feels overwhelming, and you’re convinced that you just don’t have time for all of this planning, check out Lifehack’s 4 Step Guide to Creating More Time Out of a Busy Schedule. It will help you get organized and find the time you need to start living a healthier life.

    Your Healthy Meal Plan for the Week

    Check out the following healthy meal plan for seven days of meals and snacks to get you started with meal prep and planning done the right way.

    Monday

    Breakfast
    • Overnight oats, with chia seeds, quinoa, and milk or fortified plant-based milk
    • 1 grapefruit
    Snack
    • A handful of mixed nuts
    Lunch
    • Grilled tofu with a green salad and bulgar wheat
    • A piece of fruit
    Snack
    • Apple slices with nut butter
    Dinner
    • Tofu and salmon
    • Miso brown rice
    • Spring greens

    Tuesday

    Breakfast
    • Two hard-boiled eggs
    • Two slices whole wheat toast
    • 1 cup of low-fat milk or plant-based milk
    • 1 banana
    Snack
    • 1 cup of plain yogurt with a spoonful of honey
    Lunch
    • A turkey sandwich (turkey breast meat, tomato slices, lettuce, on two slices of whole wheat bread)
    • 1 small cup of vegetable soup
    Snack
    • 1 cup of grapes
    Dinner
    • Vegetable curry
    • Daal
    • Brown rice

    Wednesday

    Breakfast
    • 1 whole-wheat English muffin with peanut or almond butter
    • 1 orange
    • A glass of non-fat milk or plant-based milk
    Snack
    • 1 cup carrot slices
    • Hummus
    • 1/2 piece of pita bread
    Lunch
    • Chicken breast (6-ounce portion), baked or roasted
    • Garden salad with tomato, onion, and quinoa
    Snack
    • 1 cup of blueberries and an apple
    Dinner
    • Stuffed eggplant
    • Mixed vegetables
    • Millet or quinoa

    Thursday

    Breakfast
    • 1 bran muffin
    • 1 serving turkey breakfast sausage
    • 1 orange
    • 1 cup non-fat milk
    Snack
    • 1 pear
    • 1 cup of flavored soy milk
    Lunch
    • Chicken noodle soup
    • Saltine crackers
    • 1 apple
    Snack
    • Celery sticks
    • Hummus or peanut butter
    Dinner
    • 5 oz sirloin steak
    • Mashed potatoes
    • Cooked spinach
    • Green beans

    Friday

    Breakfast
    • 1 cup whole wheat cereal with non-fat milk
    • 1 banana
    • 1 slice whole-grain toast with peanut or almond butter
    Snack
    • 1 cup cottage cheese
    • 1 fresh pineapple slice
    Lunch
    • Tuna wrap with wheat flour tortilla, mayonnaise, lettuce, and sliced tomato
    • 1 sliced avocado
    Snack
    • 1/2 cup of blueberries
    • Non-fat yogurt
    Dinner
    • Trout or salmon fillet
    • Boiled carrots
    • 1 cup quinoa
    • Small garden salad with bulgar wheat

    Saturday

    Breakfast
    • 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup non-fat milk, and almond slivers
    • 2 slices turkey bacon
    • Non-fat milk or plant-based milk
    Snack
    • Raw broccoli florets
    • 2 tablespoons hummus
    • 1 peach
    Lunch
    • 1 cup whole wheat pasta with red pasta sauce
    • Medium garden salad
    Snack
    • 1 cup plain yogurt
    • 1/2 cup strawberries
    • 2 tablespoons nuts
    Dinner
    • Vegetarian chili with kidney beans
    • Small garden salad
    • 1 baked sweet potato

    Sunday

    Breakfast
    • 2 slices whole wheat toast with avocado
    • 2 poached eggs
    • Low-fat milk or plant-based milk
    Snack
    • 1 orange
    Lunch
    • Baked macaroni and cheese
    • Small garden salad
    Snack
    • A handful of nuts
    Dinner
    • 8 oz turkey breast
    • 1 cup baked beans
    • Cooked carrots
    • Cooked kale or spinach

    How to Adjust Your Meal Plan

    There are certain phases when more or less nutrients are needed, so it is important to consider your changing needs.

    When You’re Pregnant

    During your pregnancy, as you create a special health meal plan for the week, you should limit oily fish to once a week, and only 2 tuna steaks or 4 medium-sized cans of tuna per week, because of the risk of pollution.

    You should also avoid the following food groups:

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    • Raw or undercooked eggs
    • Unpasteurized cheese
    • Raw or undercooked meat
    • Pâté
    • Swordfish, shark, and marlin
    • Homemade ice-cream with raw egg
    • Soft-serve ice cream from vans or kiosks
    • Vitamin A supplements
    • Liquorice root
    • Alcohol

    When You’re Breastfeeding

    While you are breastfeeding, your body needs more calcium (1250mg), selenium (70mcg), and iodine (200mcg). Ensure that you include these in your meal plan.

    When Going Through Menopause

    Menopause

    changes your long-term risk of disease, so it is important to focus on items that help support bone and heart health. The healthy meal plan for the week you saw above already sets out a diet to support long-term heart health, but for bone health aim for:

    • 1200mg calcium per day
    • High-quality protein at every meal
    • Foods rich in Vitamin K
    • Foods rich in phosphorus
    • Foods rich in magnesium

    Organizing Your Shopping

    Once you have completed your healthy meal plan for the week, you can save the ingredients that you regularly need in an online shopping list in order to make repeat ordering simpler. Some recipe books also now have a QR code so that you can easily synchronize the ingredients needed with your online shopping.

    Try to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables where possible, but canned beans, frozen, dried, and freeze dried fruit make great substitutes for fresh, retaining most of the nutrients.

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    Final Thoughts

    Creating a healthy meal plan for the week may be daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll become a fun addition to your weekly planning, and one that will ultimately improve your overall lifestyle as you begin cooking at home more and utilizing healthy recipes. Try to use the general feedback above, and adapt it to your own specific needs. Enjoy looking for new and exciting recipes to include in your plan!

    More on Healthy Eating

    Featured photo credit: Ello via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Dr. Harriet Holme

    Registered Nutritionist, and doctor

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss for Beginners (A How-to Guide)

    Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss for Beginners (A How-to Guide)

    Intermittent fasting weight loss is a type of diet that’s rapidly growing in popularity and becoming the way to lose weight. Scientists and nutrition experts like it, too. New books and articles on the topic are being published daily. Intermittent fasting is also popular with followers of the Paleo diet since our ancestors appear to have eaten this way for thousands of years.

    I’ve been following this type of diet myself for 2 years. Doing so helped me lose and keep off 70 pounds without ever having to count calories, limit carbohydrates, or eat 6 to 7 meals a day.

    This article teaches you all about intermittent fasting weight loss and details why it is one of the best weight loss diet hacks around. Once you finish, you will be able to implement it into your diet and experience the benefits it offers almost immediately.

    What Is Intermittent Fasting?

    As you may have figured from its name, intermittent fasting weight loss is a diet plan where you set fasting periods during the day. This is usually between 16-20 consecutive hours, but it can be as little as 12 hours or as much as 24 hours (or even 36 hours).

    While fasting you can eat and drink low calorie or calorie-free foods. Think coffee, tea, water, and vegetables.

    The more time you spend fasting every day, the better your results. You can do these fasts as often as you like. Again, the more often you do so, the better[1].

    Getting Started With Intermittent Fasting

    Following this diet plan is super simple. All you have to do is choose a period of time during the day that you will fast. This should be between 16-20 hours.

    The longer you fast each day, the better. Don’t worry about calorie restriction or measuring carbohydrates. Just focus on going about your day until it’s time to eat.

    It’s best to choose a set period of time to conduct your fast. I like to fast from 8 PM to 4 PM the following afternoon. I’ll then have my first meal of the day and a snack or two a few hours later. Once 8 o’clock rolls around, it’s back to fasting.

    My experience with intermittent fasting is that it’s best to start with a 16 hour fast (i.e. 8 PM one evening to 12 PM the next day) for the first 1-2 weeks. Once you are comfortable with this schedule, you can increase the amount of time you spend fasting. Do this by adding 30 minutes to each fast until you get to where you are fasting for 20 hours at a time.

    You don’t have to fast every day in the beginning either. You may be more comfortable breaking in slowly with 2 or 3 days per week, or trying alternate day fasting. Add additional days of intermittent fasting as you become more comfortable with this style of eating.

    Intermittent Fasting Schedules

    There are several different fasting schedules you can choose from when you start an intermittent fasting diet. Here are some of the most popular.

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    The 16/8 Method

    This method of fasting involves fasting every day for 14-16 hours and eating during an 8-10 hour window. Many people who are getting started with intermittent fasting will find this the easiest schedule to keep. You can eat your last meal around 8 PM and not eat again until noon the next day, for example. This sounds simple, as you’re really only skipping breakfast, but you’re actually fasting for 16 hours in this case![2]

    16/8 Method of Intermittent Fasting

      The 5:2 Method

      This fasting method involves eating normally five days each week and restricting calorie intake to 500-600 calories for two (non-consecutive) days. On fasting days, women should eat around 500 calories, and men should eat around 600 calories.

      5:2 Diet for Intermittent Fasting

        Alternate-Day Fasting

        As its name suggests, this type of intermittent fasting involves fasting every other day. As with the 5:2 method, some people find it easier to eat 500-600 calories instead of going on a full fast each fasting day.

        Alternate Day Fasting
          The Warrior Diet

          This type of fasting is considered by many to be the most difficult and follows a 20/4 eating schedule. For most of the day, you limit your food intake to small amounts of fruits and vegetables (low-calorie foods). For four hours each day, you eat large-portioned meals to get in your day’s calories.

          Because of the intense nature of this method, it’s only recommended for those who have been on an intermittent fasting diet for a while and feel comfortable with it.

          The Warrior Diet

            Tips to Make Intermittent Fasting Easier

            1. Drink Plenty of Water

            Squeeze a little lemon or lime juice into your water to help get rid of any cravings you experience. You can also drink coffee, tea, or other calorie-free beverages. After a few weeks, you will find that intermittent fasting keeps you from craving sugar entirely.

            2. Take in Caffeine in the Morning and Early Afternoon

            The caffeine in coffee and tea may actually make intermittent fasting weight loss a little easier since it’s good for curbing your appetite. Be careful not to overindulge, as this may lead to you feeling a little too wired. I also recommend these natural energy boosting tips to keep you going during the day.

            3. Avoid Artificially Flavored Drinks

            One type of calorie-free drink that should be avoided are diet sodas and other beverages that use artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Sweet & Low. Studies show that the can actually stimulate your appetite[3] like a drink that contains sugar and causes you to overeat.

            4. Don’t Gorge at Your First Meal

            The first meal after your fast should be the amount of food you typically eat. Binging will only make you feel awful and diminish the benefits you get from the fast.

            To avoid this, try creating meal plans, at least for the first few weeks. This will help you get into the rhythm of eating regularly portioned meals during your eating window.

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            5. Minimize Processed Carbohydrates and Sugars

            While intermittent fasting does make it possible to eat a little looser than normal, you should still eat as little bread, pasta, rice, etc. as possible.

            Focus instead on eating protein from beef, fish, or pork, carbohydrates from vegetables, fruit, and sweet potatoes, and healthy fats from foods like almonds, avocados, fish, and olive oil.

            You can find some carb sources that will aid your weight loss journey here.

            How Intermittent Fasting Helps You Lose Weight

            Eating this way has many benefits with regard to weight loss. The first is that when you’re fasting, your body will be forced to use its stored body fat for energy. After several hours of not eating, your body will use up its sugar stores, which will cause it to start burning fat for energy, a process known as metabolic switching. 

            Mark Mattson, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins explains this effect in simple terms:

            “Intermittent fasting contrasts with the normal eating pattern for most Americans, who eat throughout their waking hours…If someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores.”[4]

            Burning calories this way, instead of from the food you’re eating throughout the day, will help you experience significant weight loss, but specifically lose weight from any excess body fat you’re carrying.

            This means that you won’t just be thinner, but you will also look better and be much healthier than if you lose weight the old-fashioned way[5].

            Intermittent fasting can help optimize the release of the key fat-burning hormones in your body. This is especially true for the two most important hormones: human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin.

            Human growth hormone plays a key role in turning on your body’s fat-burning furnace so that it gets the calories you need to work and play from stored body fat. Studies show that fasting can significantly increase the production of HGH[6].

            The influence intermittent fasting has on insulin is just as impressive and possibly more important. Keeping your insulin levels low and steady is key to losing excess fat and keeping it off.

            Diets that are rich in processed carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) and simple sugars (candy, cookies, and soda) have the opposite effect. They cause your insulin levels to rapidly spike and then crash every time you eat one of these foods. The net result of this phenomenon is that your body will store more of what you eat as excess body fat instead of burning it off as energy.

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            Chronically elevating your insulin levels like this can also lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health problems. Intermittent fasting easily solves this problem.

            One study found that men who participated in intermittent fasting had “dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity”[7].

            This happens because you’re not giving your body food, so it will not produce insulin, allowing insulin levels to balance out until you eat again. This helps your body stay in a calorie and fat-burning state. You’ll also find that it gives you more energy throughout the day.

            Another great weight loss benefit of intermittent fasting is that hunger pangs and cravings that may normally plague you throughout the day will be reduced, if not altogether eliminated. This is probably due to its ability to balance your insulin and blood sugar levels and, in turn, help correct other hormonal imbalances.

            Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss FAQs

            Now that you know what intermittent fasting is and how to get started, it’s time to answer your other questions.

            Below are answers to the questions frequently asked about intermittent fasting. These answers should help you and make getting started a lot easier.

            How Much Weight Will I Lose?

            The amount of weight you lose with fasting is determined by how often and long your fasts are, what you eat afterward, and other factors.

            One study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that average weight loss on an intermittent fasting diet was around 9lbs after 12 months, and weight loss was most successful in those who strictly adhered to their chosen diet[8].

            Can I Work out While Fasting?

            Yes, you can. In fact, doing the right type of workout while fasting will help you lose weight faster and even build muscle.

            If you are a hardcore athlete who often exercises for an hour or more each day, intermittent fasting may not be the best choice for you as this amount of exercise requires fuel to keep you moving and build muscle. However, light to moderate intensity workouts 2 to 4 times a week should work with intermittent fasting.

            The best workouts to do while fasting for weight loss are strength training workouts. This means anything from standard strength training to kettlebell or body weight workouts. Combine these with lighter forms of exercise like walking, jogging, or yoga.

            You could also try this 30-Day Resistance Band Workout Challenge alongside your intermittent fasting diet. It will help you get into an exercise routine while easing into your new eating routine.

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            Focus on doing 3-4 total body exercises per workout with as little rest as possible between sets. Doing this will help you burn more calories during and after your workout. You’ll also build muscle, which will help you look and feel better as the weight comes off.

            Remember, exercising can increase hunger, so try working out in the hour or two right before you are scheduled to break your fast[9]. Your body will be primed for a meal, and your hunger won’t get the best of you.

            Won’t I Lose Muscle When I Fast?

            First of all, you aren’t fasting long enough for your body to start breaking down muscle for energy. You have, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of calories from your stored body fat to use before that will begin to happen.

            If you’re trying to build muscle while fasting, you’ll need to ensure you’re getting enough calories, especially through protein, at each meal between fasts.

            Is Fasting Safe?

            As long as you are healthy, not pregnant, and aren’t taking medications, fasting is safe. Like all diets, you should discuss it with your doctor before beginning an intermittent fasting diet.

            I also feel that it may not be smart to follow this type of diet when you’re especially stressed. Since this diet can be a little stress-inducing at first, doing so when you aren’t able to be relatively stress-free and rested probably isn’t a good idea.

            Are There Any Supplements I Can Take to Make Fasting Easier?

            As with any other weight loss plan, it’s a good idea to take a few nutritional supplements to make sure your daily requirements are met. This includes a once or twice daily multi-vitamin, fish oil, and vitamin D.I’ve also found taking 10 grams of branched-chain amino acids before and after my workouts really helps, too. They’re great for giving you more energy during your workout and decreasing post-workout muscle soreness.

            For supplements to specifically help with digestion, check out this article.

            The Bottom Line

            Now you know what intermittent fasting is and how it can help you lose weight quickly and safely. If you want to give it a try, find a fasting schedule that fits with your lifestyle, and give it a go.

            More About Intermittent Fasting

            Featured photo credit: Toa Heftiba via unsplash.com

            Reference

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