Starting a weight-loss plan is pretty much like the first day of school. Everything is fresh and new. And you’re excited, nervous—and overwhelmed. That’s where a weekly meal plan could come in handy. Mapping out your meals can help give you direction, keep you on track, and may even save time by helping you shop and prep more efficiently.
If you’ve never created a meal plan before, it’s easier than you might think. Here’s everything you need to know in five simple steps.
Step 1: Make a playbook.
Job one: Decide how you’re going to plot out your meals for the week. You can go high- tech with a computer spreadsheet or old-school with a notebook and paper. It doesn’t matter which method you pick, as long as it’s one that’s easy for you to use. Or download the worksheet at the end of this article.
Step 2: Do the math.
Regular meals and snacks throughout the day reduce the risk for getting overly hungry. To make sure you’re eating the optimal amount of food at the right time, divvy up your daily SmartPoints among meals and snacks. Let’s say you have 23 daily SmartPoints. You might want to use three points for breakfast, another seven for lunch, three for an afternoon snack, and 10 for dinner. You can use zero SmartPoints value fruits, veggies, and some proteins to fill in any gaps.
Step 3: Plan to Indulge.
It also helps to think about your plans for the coming week. Do they include date night, happy hour, or Sunday brunch? The beauty of the SmartPoints system is that it allows you the flexibility to spend your budget the way you want. Whether that’s a glass of wine with dinner or a slice of birthday cake, using your Weekly SmartPoints to plan for events makes it easier to work them into your SmartPoints budget and less likely that you’ll be unprepared.
Step 4: Plug and chug
Now that you know how many SmartPoints you’re going to allot for each meal, it’s time to decide how to spend them. Some people are happy to eat the same meals day in and day out, while others prefer to mix things up. Either way, now is the time to fill in exactly what you plan to eat for each meal.
When doing this, you might want to consider where you’ll be at mealtimes. For instance, eggs can be a great pick if you do breakfast at home, and hard-cooked are great if you’re on the go or at your desk. And don’t forget about beverages as their calories can add up quickly. If you’ll be drinking anything other than water, take a minute to figure out how drinks fit into your weekly quota.
Finally, give a little thought to when you’ll be eating out and—if possible—do a little sleuth work and decide what you’ll order in advance.
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Step 5: Keep it balanced.
Whether you’re crafting your own recipes or choosing from our collection, you’ll want to make sure that each meal contains key food groups that help you stay comfortably full throughout the day, namely fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
In addition to keeping you satisfied, these foods deliver benefits that go far beyond weight loss. For instance, whole-grains fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, plus fiber for better gut and overall health. Aim for at least one serving with each meal and snack.
Then there’s protein for building bones, muscles, hormones, and antibodies. Go for lean picks such as white-meat chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, and low-fat milk and yogurt. While a good daily goal is about 4 grams of protein for every 10 pounds you weigh, you don’t need to obsess about counting grams. Instead, simply try to include a serving of lean protein with every meal and you’ll get plenty. For an example of what this will look like, check out Your Go-To Protein Meal Plan.