Ultimate Guide to Creating a Balanced Meal Plan
We’ve all heard the term “balanced meal plan” before. And in theory, we also know what that means: getting enough of everything you need to be eating on a daily and weekly basis in order to stay healthy.
However, when it comes to the actual meal planning part, we are not quite as sure of ourselves. After all, what is it we are trying to balance here?
Let’s take a look at some of the steps and premises involved in creating an actually balanced meal plan, and take a lot of the unknown out of the equation.
Define Your Goal First
Before you begin you will need to determine how much you want and need to be eating.
For example, if you want to lose weight, you need to spend more calories than you consume. A 500-calorie deficit is what most people go for and what is considered the safest route.
Hopefully, you’re also exercising, so you need to take that calorie expenditure into account too, and make sure you are eating enough to fuel your workouts and remain healthy.
If you are looking to put on weight, you should be eating more than you spend. If you are looking to build muscle, you should be eating more protein. And so on.
Use a calorie calculator to help you figure these numbers out.
Once you have your goal in mind and you’ve identified your target caloric intake, you should consider your macros.
Define Your Macros
Carbs, proteins, and fats are considered macronutrients. To stay healthy and balance your diet, you need to eat enough of each of your macros every day. Slightly more or less per day will not be a huge issue, as long as you’re mostly hitting your targets on a weekly basis.
The usual recommended macro distribution is:
- 45-65% of your calories from carbs
- 20-35% of your calories from fats
- 10-35% of your calories from proteins
Do bear in mind that all three are a must – no cutting out fats or carbs. A balanced diet consists of all three.
When looking to build muscle, you will be eating more protein, for example. When looking to get more energy, you should focus on carbs. The goal should be to align your macros with your goal – and roughly figure out how much of which you should be eating daily.
Don’t Forget Your Micros
Remember that you also need to be getting plenty of vitamins and minerals – so fruit and veg are a must on every plate (either, not both).
You don’t need to count the macros in your fruit and veg unless you are on an extremely strict plan. Consider them a healthy option (as long as you don’t eat excessive amounts).
That does not mean fruit and vegetables don’t have any calories – of course, they do, but the plain options are just good for you and should not be frowned upon. If you are adding fats to them, then you should count the calories in the fats (oils, butter), but not the veggies themselves.
Write Out a Daily Plan
You want to also plan out a rough estimate of the calories you are eating on a given day.
For example, your plan for 1500 calories (which is what most people eat to lose weight) can look something like this:
- Breakfast – 350 calories
- Snack – 150 calories
- Lunch – 400 calories
- Snack – 150 calories
- Dinner – 450 calories
Naturally, you can switch this around however you like.
Find Recipes You Like
The actual key to a balanced diet is finding meals you actually like eating. You don’t want to be “on a diet” all your life and restrict all kinds of foods. You want to work around the foods you like, and eat the amounts you need to stay healthy and achieve your goals.
You can eat a heartier meal one day, and then compensate a bit the next by eating more fruits and veg. Or, better yet, you can turn the unhealthiest among your favorite meals into their healthier versions. Indulging in “bad food” every once in a while is perfectly fine, and it will not whack you out of balance.
Write out a Weekly Plan
Once you’ve compiled a list of recipes you like or would like to try, write them out in a weekly planner. Include all three major meals, as well as your snacks.
Try to do this as much in advance as feasible (early in the week for next week, ideally), so that you’ll have plenty of time to shop.
You can always use a meal planning app if you are too busy to plan it out for yourself, or when you’re just out of ideas.
Shop and Stock Your Pantry
The worst aspect of trying to eat a balanced diet is not having something you need at home and reaching for something you don’t actually want to be eating that day.
Eliminate this by keeping a pantry stocked with all the things you need most often – rice, beans, pasta, oils, seasoning, spices, and so on.
Shop in advance according to your meal plan for the week, as opposed to every day – this will save both time and money, as you will be minimizing waste.
To Sum It All Up
As you can see, crafting a balanced meal plan is not about restrictions or eating things you don’t like. It’s about figuring out what you want, what the best meal plan for you is, and then compiling a long list of foods you want to be eating on a daily and weekly basis.
You don’t have to become obsessed with counting every minute calorie. Yes, it can help, but it can also take over your life. Try to remember why you are focusing on balancing your diet – ideally, you want to be more healthy (with or without weight loss) – so eat what you love, within reasonable limits. You might have to limit your intake of certain foods, but you can easily find healthier and less calorie-dense replacements.