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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

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