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Meal Planning and Healthy Living: A Guide to Eating Well

April 12, 2023
6 min read

Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining good health. We believe that meal planning is a helpful tool that everyone can use to achieve their health goals. Whether you're trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or improve your overall well-being, meal planning can help you eat a healthy, balanced diet, meet your nutritional needs, and eat some delicious food along the way.

In this blog, we'll explore some of the health goals you can achieve with meal planning and provide tips to help you get started.

Weight Loss

For many, losing weight is the most common health goal. Meal planning can be instrumental in helping us to make healthier food choices; avoiding frivolous (and often unhealthy) purchases in the grocery store, cutting out takeaways, and controlling your calorie intake through the meals you plan.

When discussing weight loss, you may find your mind wandering to "clean eating", conjuring images of celery sticks and cucumber slices. But this isn't the case. Weight loss isn't (and never should be) about starving ourselves. Simply, your goal should be to eat at a calorie deficit while still providing your body enough food to function and thrive.

"Clean eating" means filling your plate with nutritious whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and legumes—all of which deliver important nutrients, like fibre—while keeping things like added sugars and saturated fats to a minimum.

Emily Lachtrupp

Registered Dietician, EatingWell

When meal planning for weight loss, it's useful to plan your meals around a few key rules:

1. Opt for lean-protein and fibre dense meals. Protein and fibre are proven to help you reduce cravings, and feel fuller for longer. This is especially helpful if you're looking to reduce your portion sizes, or stop yourself from snacking in between meals.

2. Eat your fruit and veggies! It won't come as much surprise, but getting as much fresh produce in our meals is a great way to eat and feel healthier. Both contain high amounts of fibre, water and nutrients, and can be instrumental in weight loss.

3. Portion control. Weight loss isn't just about what we eat, it's also about how much we eat. Reducing the amount of food on our plate can be a sure-fire way to reduce calories while still enjoying foods we love. But just remember, it's still important to not feel hungry after our meals (refer to points 1 and 2!)

ℹ️ Not sure what the correct portion size for you is? Find out here!

Stick to your plan and be consistent, and you'll start to see results!

Muscle Building

If your goal is to build muscle, there are generally two core tenets to follow: first, eating a diet rich in protein. Protein is crucial in muscle synthesis, repair, and growth following any form of excercise, and should be the top priority when meal planning for muscle building. The usual goal to aim for being around 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, each day. This means that meals containing lean meats is the default for many; chicken, fish, lean beef, or tofu and beans being the default options.

ℹ️ Find out what your protein goals should be here!

Second, is to eat enough. Along with having enough protein for muscle growth, the body needs ample calories for it's day-to-day function and recovery. This means that, in contrast to weight loss, you should be in a calorie surplus (or eating more calories than your body burns). Being in a deficit can severely hinder muscle growth. Eating a large amount of protein will get you a decent amount of the way to your calorie goals, the remainder should be filled with carbohydrates, healthy fats and vegetables.

Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of energy. Include complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain bread in your meals to fuel your workouts and support muscle growth. Healthy fats, like those found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish, can help improve muscle growth and overall health. Include these foods in your meal plan in moderation. And, as we've mentioned, fruit and veggies are important to feeling full and getting enough nutrients!

Managing Illness

If you're living with a chronic illness or managing a health condition, meal planning can be an essential tool to help you stay healthy. It can help you save time in the kitchen, reduce stress around planning and shopping for meals, and make eating a healthy, balanced diet simpler.

Studies have recently shown that with the proper diet, a person can fight off an infection, even in a weakened state, as well as help fight cancer.

Maintaining a balanced diet can be important in helping to manage symptoms, boost your immune system, and improve your overall quality of life. Work with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to create a meal plan that meets your specific needs. For example, if you have diabetes, you may need to plan meals that are low in sugar and carbohydrates. If you have celiac disease, you'll need to avoid gluten-containing foods. By planning ahead, you can make sure that you have healthy, satisfying meals on hand, even when you're busy or don't feel well.

Meal planning can alleviate some of the stress associated with food shopping and meal prepping when crafting a patient's diet. When food shopping, stock up on the patient’s favorite foods and items important for meeting their nutritional needs. This can reduce the need to shop often.

Tejal Parekh

Registered Dietician, The Mesothelioma Center

Better Digestion

Ever feel slow and lethargic after a big meal or certain foods? We've all been there - and it's more common than you think. It isn't always down to eating too much, but instead some of the foods we're putting into our bodies. A healthy diet has been shown to improve digestion and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and constipation. Incorporating more fibre-rich foods into your diet, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can be key, so make sure you're working enough of these in when you plan your week.

Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can also help regulate digestion and keep your energy levels stable, while adding probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or kefir to your diet to support a healthy gut.

Meal planning can also help you to identify and avoid 'trigger foods'. Trigger foods are different from person to person, but often include dairy, gluten and wheat, and can trigger digestive symptoms such as bloating and gas. If you notice that certain foods are causing issues for you, try to avoid them in your weekly meal plan.

Heart Health

Eating a heart-healthy diet is crucial for preventing heart disease; foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, and high in fibre, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. But, as long as you're following a healthy diet on a whole, there will only be a small few variations you'll need to make. Along with the general guide of lots of fruit, vegetables and healthy grains, try including more foods like salmon, nuts, and leafy greens in your meals.

In contrast, it's important to cut back on food high in saturated and trans fats, sugar and salt, which are all identified as risk factors in heart disease.

In conclusion, meal planning can help you achieve a variety of health goals, from weight loss to heart health. By planning your meals in advance and making healthy food choices, you can ensure that you're meeting your nutritional needs and fueling your body for optimal health. Start small and be consistent, and you'll soon see the benefits of meal planning.

✅ Looking for other health goals to achieve in the coming winter? Check out this article!

Written by
Elise Hilliam
Hey, I'm Elise, the Co-Founder and COO of MenuAid. After completing my Bachelors in Sport & Excersice Nutrition, and a Post-Grad diploma in Human Nutrition, I founded MenuAid to solve the 'What's for dinner?' dilemma. My passion is to help break down the barriers to eating healthy, nutritious food at home.
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