A Guide to Successful Meal Planning
Page last updated: 10th October 2022
Meal planning is far and away one of the best ways of ensuring you meet your overall health and fitness goals. As the old saying goes, “you can’t out-train a bad diet,” and what you put in your body will have a direct and measurable impact on the kind of results you can expect to achieve in the gym, not to mention the way you’ll look and feel on a daily basis.
But, of course, meal planning can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the game. Here’s a look at some steps you can take to give you the edge in staying on target with your meal planning goals and having a good time doing it.
What Is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is the process of mapping out your main meals and maybe even snacks, for the days or week ahead. Generally, people will do this once a week, usually at the weekend, and use the meal plan to shape their food shop.
What Are The Benefits Of Meal Planning?
There are several reasons that meal planning is a great approach to eating, including:
Money saving - if you know what you’re planning to eat each week, then you can shape your supermarket shop around this and ensure you’re making the most of your order. You’ll be less likely to grab things you don’t need if you know exactly what you’ll be eating each day, and you can also buy some ingredients in bulk if you know it’s on the menu a couple of times
Less waste - not only will you save money at the supermarket, but you’ll be less likely to grab items you won’t need, so there’s less chance of finding unused vegetable rotting in the bottom of your fridge
Less hassle - figuring out what you’ll be having for dinner every day can take up a lot of brain space. If you plan your meals ahead, then all the hard thinking is done for you by the time you reach the end of the day
Easier to keep track of your nutrition - it’s much easier to eat well-rounded meals every day if you’re not panic-grabbing something from the cupboard or the shops. If you take the time to think about your breakfast, lunch and dinner ahead of time, then you can make sure you’re getting a healthy, even mix of all food types and fuelling your body in the right way
Helps with macros and calories - if you’re hoping to bulk up, tone down, or simply want to keep control of how much you’re eating, then meal planning means you can know ahead of time what you’ll be eating and can shape each day to suit your goals
How To Make A Meal Plan
Choose your recipes
Pick your meals for the week, thinking about breakfast (which may be the same or very similar every day), lunches and dinners. When choosing your recipes, make sure to cross reference with plans you have so the meals you choose are appropriate.
Over time, you’ll start to know which your favourite, go-to recipes are, but a good place to start is with common ingredients, so you can buy in bulk or use leftover items in other meals. For example, if a recipe calls for half a head of broccoli for a meal on Monday you could pick a recipe that uses the rest for your dinner or lunch later in the week.
If you’re keeping track of your macros or calories, then this is a good time to consider these and factor them into your plans.
Our recipes hub is packed full of healthy meal ideas to include in your weekly choices, head there if you’re looking for inspiration.
Make your shopping list
Note down all of the ingredients you’ll need for the recipes, along with how much of each item you’ll need. You can then use this to shape your shopping list. This is where savings come in, because if you need, say, 1kg of mince over the week, then you can buy a larger pack rather than several smaller ones.
Map out your meals
Once you’ve purchased everything you need, you can make a note of any ‘use by’ dates to help identify which meals will need making first. You can always freeze some items if needed.
Meal prep (optional)
Not everyone does this, but some people take their meal planning an extra step and also prep their ingredients and food ahead of time. Chopping all your veg in one go when you have a few hours spare, for example, will save you time when you’re exhausted after work or the gym. You can store them in freezer bags or water to keep them fresh for a few days. You can find some inspiration over on our Meal Prep pages.
Our Top Meal Planning Tips
Plan the whole weekend in advance before you do your food shop
The week is a pretty hectic time. Between work, family, day-to-day chores and other commitments it's difficult to find the time to properly plan your meals for the following day, let alone for the rest of the week.
Planning the entire week's worth of meals in one go means no matter how busy your day, you'll have the ingredients and plan in place to make your meals.
We recommend scheduling a time each weekend to put together your meal plan for the following week. Once you’ve practiced doing this for a few weeks, the whole process will become faster and more streamlined, as you’re able to recycle old, tested recipes rather than trying new things from scratch.
Keep the plan varied
They say variety is the spice of life, and that’s as true for your diet as for anything else. For one thing, studies have shown that a more varied diet is simply better for your health, and may reduce type 2 diabetes risk by a whopping 30%.
Health benefits aside, it's much nicer to have a variety of tasty meals to look forward to, rather than the same old chicken and rice each day. Planning meals that you enjoy and look forward to is key to being consistent - if you are sick of your lunches by day 2, you're much more likely to go off plan and buy a lunch by day 4!
Varying your meals also allows you to try different recipes, learn what you enjoy making and eating, and find some firm favourites.
Plan meals that match your health and fitness goals
If you’re currently aiming for a particular strength, fitness or aesthetic goal, meal planning is a helpful way to track your calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats to make sure your diet works with your goals.
Calorie and nutrient tracking can be a helpful habit to develop whatever your fitness goals, as any muscle- building effort will require a caloric surplus (as well as enough protein), and any major weight loss mission will require a caloric deficit.
Planning your meals with the nutritional content in mind helps to keep you on track to reach your goals, without stressing over every meal in the heat of the moment.
Planning your meals to match your daily caloric and macronutrient goals in advance is also a great defence against over or undereating, as you’ll begin each day knowing just what, and how much, you should be eating.
Planning your meals like this also allows you to go back to the drawing board with a big picture overview if you find you aren’t meeting your overall fitness goals after a while. Still not gaining weight? Tweak your meal plan here and there, adding in some extra calories and protein. Not losing weight? Do the same thing, but this time shave a couple of hundred calories off your daily total.
Complement your well-planned weekly meals with a solid fitness routine by finding a PureGym near you and becoming a member. If you’d like some support as you’re getting started, or some ideas on how to improve, then you can book a session with one of our expert Personal Trainers who will be able to guide you on your journey.