How to create a meal plan: the ultimate step-by-step guide
Learning how to create a meal plan is a valuable skill that will benefit both you, as a dietitian, and your nutrition clients. Here’s the ultimate step-by-step guide to help you create meal plans that your clients will actually stick to.
Creating realistic and effective meal plans is one of the most valuable things you can do for your nutrition clients. When you create a customized meal plan and work with them on an individualized basis, your clients feel supported and guided to make the right decisions for their health goals.
However, many dietitians fear creating meal plans, as it can be a daunting task. Meal plans tend to be tedious, and clients may not follow through if it doesn’t mesh with their lifestyle or dietary preferences. This leaves both the dietitian and client feeling frustrated.
So, how can you design a great meal plan that will support your client’s health and wellness goals while having them stick to it? Before diving into how you can create a meal plan, let’s understand what the benefits of meal plans are and why you should consider using them in your nutrition business.
Benefits of meal plans
Whether your client wants to gain more muscle, sleep better, improve immunity, or eat more vegetables, meal plans can be a valuable tool. Here are some other benefits of using meal plans in your nutrition business.
- Creates less stress. A custom meal plan removes any guesswork surrounding food, as it gives your clients a specific outline of what (and when) to eat. This will also help alleviate any anxiety your client may have around food and cooking, as they won’t be stressed out about each meal.
- Saves money. Having a meal plan will simplify your client’s trip to the grocery store. They will know how much of each item to buy based on what you set for them. This will help eliminate impulse buys and save them money in the long run.
- Prevents food waste. When clients follow a custom meal plan, they will be less likely to waste food, as the goal would be for them to eat what has been outlined.
- Saves time. Meal plans can be a serious time saver when it comes to planning ahead. Whether that’s meal prepping, batch cooking, or shopping in advance, your clients can decide what works best for them and plan accordingly to stay on track.
Step by step guide to creating a meal plan
It may seem difficult to create a meal plan for your clients. By following our step-by-step process, you can design a straightforward, easy-to-follow plan that your clients will stick to.
Step 1: Conduct a nutritional assessment.
Before starting the meal plan process, you should take note of your client’s height, weight, BMI, and current nutritional intake. This will help determine their nutritional needs and support their health and wellness goals. This will help you evaluate any nutritional deficiencies that you want the meal plan to address.
However, it’s important to understand that each client will have different nutritional needs, since everyone is different. As such, it’s important to work with clients on an individual basis to determine what works best for their goals and overall health. With that in mind, here are some general guidelines to consider before creating a customized meal plan.
For more specific details on how to create a meal plan for athletic clients, check out this article.
- Energy requirements: The average person requires about 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight and be properly nourished. Someone who is regularly active, such as an athlete, could require anywhere between 2,200 to 3,000 calories per day (depending on whether they are male or female) [1, 2].
- Carbohydrates: According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the RDA for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day . If your client is highly active, it’s recommended for their carbohydrate intake to range between 5 to 7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
- Protein: Current DGA recommendations suggest that adults should consume between 10% and 35% of their total calories from protein, or 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day . However, it’s recommended that athletes and highly active individuals should consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight/day to keep up with energy demands.
- Fat: The DGA no longer specifies an upper limit for how much total fat you should consume, as the appropriate amount of fat to eat will depend on your client’s health goals . However, if your client is highly active, it’s recommended that 30% of their daily caloric intake come from healthy fats .
- Hydration needs: For optimal hydration, it’s recommended to drink 2 liters (or half a gallon) each day. However, athletes and active individuals may need more depending on their activity level.
Pro tip: Nutrium’s nutrition software helps you keep this information in one spot so you can provide the best care for your clients.
Step 2: Take a deeper dive.
Another important factor to consider before creating a customized meal plan is to assess your client’s cooking and eating habits. After all, if you don’t take the time to understand your client’s lifestyle, goals, and food preferences, you may end up creating a plan that they don’t stick to. Here are a few questions to ask that go beyond specific nutrient needs.
- What foods do you like and dislike?
- How much time do you have to cook each day?
- What does your daily routine look like?
- Do you have any allergies?
- What is your typical grocery budget?
- Are there other people in your household to consider?
- What may hinder you from living a more healthful lifestyle?
- Do you have any specific goals (physical, mental, or otherwise)?
Asking the above questions can provide a deeper insight into your client’s dietary habits so you can formulate a custom meal plan that fits their lifestyle.
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Step 3: Create a general format.
Now that you’ve collected some important information, it’s time to start drafting a meal plan that will fit your client’s lifestyle and help meet their health and wellness goals.
While you can do this by hand, it’s easier to use a nutrition software to do some of the heavy lifting. Nutrium provides dozens of meal plan templates to make this process easier, as it provides certain nutritional needs and subsequent meal ideas. You can further customize each template to better suit your client’s goals, activity levels, grocery budget, lifestyle preferences, and any allergies or intolerances they may have.
Nutrium also offers a macro- and micronutrient breakdown of each recipe and meal plan so you can ensure your clients meet their nutritional needs.
Step 4: Develop a grocery list.
Thanks to Nutrium’s mobile app, it auto-generates a shopping list for each client based on the meal plan you created for them. Learn more about how this works with our step-by-step tutorial.
Step 5: Check-in, follow up, and make improvements
By following up with your clients in between sessions, it gives you an opportunity to see what’s working and what isn’t. This allows you to provide on-the-spot recommendations or other helpful tips to offer support until your client’s next session.
During these follow up sessions, feel free to ask for your client’s feedback on the meal plan and make any necessary adjustments to help them stick to your recommendations. Remind them that while it’s normal to have some bumps in the road, it’s important to focus on small steps and celebrate the small wins. This makes your client feel heard, while also excited to continue working with you on their goals.
Creating meal plans can be a difficult task. By following these steps, you will be able to create a customized meal plan that will help your nutrition clients meet their nutritional needs and reach their health goals.
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- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015.
- 4. Tiller, N. B., Roberts, J. D., Beasley, L., Chapman, S., Pinto, J. M., Smith, L., Wiffin, M., Russell, M., Sparks, S. A., Duckworth, L., O'Hara, J., Sutton, L., Antonio, J., Willoughby, D. S., Tarpey, M. D., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Ormsbee, M. J., Astorino, T. A., Kreider, R. B., McGinnis, G. R., … Bannock, L. (2019). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: nutritional considerations for single-stage ultra-marathon training and racing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 16(1), 50. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0312-9
- Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 - executive ... (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/DGA_2020-2025_ExecutiveSummary_English.pdf
- Pramuková, B., Szabadosová, V., & Soltésová, A. (2011). Current knowledge about sports nutrition. The Australasian medical journal, 4(3), 107–110. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3562955/