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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

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

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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

    13 Fish Oil Benefits For Women And Men How to Create a Delicious and Healthy Meal Plan for the Week Krill Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Should You Take? 6 Health Benefits of Beetroot Powder (And How To Choose A Good One) What Is Emotional Eating And How To Stop It

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    Published on August 24, 2021

    What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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    What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

    I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

    Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

    A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

    • Fruit
    • Vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Lean protein
    • Nuts
    • Water

    This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

    Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

    What Is a Whole Food Diet?

    By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

    In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

    Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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    Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

    Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

    For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

    • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
    • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
    • Berries five times a week
    • Five or more servings of nuts a week
    • Olive oil five times a week
    • Whole grains five times a week
    • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
    • Legumes and pulses five times a week
    • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
    • Vitamin D supplement
    • Minimally processed foods
    • No more than one glass of wine a day
    • One or two coffee or tea a day max
    • Two liters of water a day

    That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

    Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

    And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

    Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

    Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

    For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

    So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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    As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

    Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

    In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

    A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

    In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

    Whole Foods and the Gut

    Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

    They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

    Whole Foods and the Brain

    The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

    In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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    Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

    • Oily fish
    • Nuts
    • Eggs
    • Berries
    • Broccoli
    • Whole grains

    Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

    Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

    It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

    Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

    This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

    Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

    Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

    Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

    Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

    Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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    1. Practice Batch Cooking

    Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

    For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

    I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

    2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

    Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

    Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

    If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

    Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

    If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

    Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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    Reference

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