Creating a Meal Plan

I’m sure you’ve heard the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  I’m so thankful that my dietitian didn’t plan my meals for me, instead teaching me how to plan my own meals.  It has enabled me to be in charge of my food decisions, even as my caloric needs change.

Meal Prep

So how’s it done?  When using the exchange system, it’s pretty simple, actually.  You decide how many calories you need to consume to gain, lose, or maintain your weight, determine how many of each of the exchange categories you need to have to maintain your protein/carbohydrate/fat balance, and then work out how to distribute those throughout your day.  Let’s get started!

Figure Your Calories

This is done using “the unpronounceable formula.”  It’s something we do in maintenance class which involves calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body consumes at rest, and then scaling that up to your estimate based on how active you are.  I haven’t met a single person who enjoyed doing it by hand.  That’s why they made the online calculator.

Calculator Screenshot

Put in your age, gender, height, and current weight.  Honestly evaluate how active you are.  If you lie here, your answer will be askew.  Click Calculate.  The screen will show you how many calories to eat to gain or lose 1-2 pounds per week.  As a general rule, you don’t want to go under 1,200 calories.  You’ll get cranky, and your body will think it’s starving, which makes weight loss more difficult.

Look Up Your Exchanges

Generally, you need to eat 10-20 percent of your calories from protein, 15-30 percent from fat, and 50-70 percent from carbohydrate.  Using this table, you can cross-reference your desired calories and the recommended exchange system breakdown.

Calories Meat/Protein Milk Fat Fruit Starch Vegetable
1000-1100 4 2 2 3 4 4
1200-1300 5 2 2 4 5 4
1500-1600 6 2 4 4 7 4
1800-1900 7 2 6 4 9 4
2000 7 2 6 5 10 4

Distribute Your Food

Next, you should decide how you want to eat this food.  Do you want to have three big meals?  Do you want to have three small meals and several snacks?  Do you want something different?  It’s really up to you to decide what to eat and when.  Those who have diabetes must be mindful to distribute foods as directed by their doctor and/or dietitian.

I choose to have three meals and three snacks, as I’ve discussed before.  My current meal plan looks like this.

Breakfast Morning Snack Lunch Afternoon Snack Dinner Evening Snack
Meat/Protein 3 3
Milk 1 1
Fat 1 1 1 1
Fruit 1 1 1 1
Starch 1 1 2 1 1 1
Vegetable 1 1 1 1

I’ve posted many meal plans in the resources section which all begin with a page like this one, showing how the day’s exchanges break down.  In the plan above, I’ve stretched my starches out fairly evenly throughout the day.  My proteins are bunched around the afternoon and evening meals.  My milks are early and late.  It’s really up to you and your preferences.

Fill In The Blanks

So you have a meal that’s 3 proteins, 1 fat, 2 starches, and 1 vegetable.  What’s there to eat? I discussed this thoroughly in, “The Exchange System Explained.”

How about a Rockin’ Turkey Sandwich?

  • 3 Proteins – 2 oz. smoked turkey, 1 oz cheese
  • 2 Starches – 2 slices whole-wheat bread
  • 1 Vegetable – lettuce, pickles, and tomato
  • 1 Fat – 1 tsp. Miracle Whip

How about Fajitas?

  • 3 Proteins – 3 oz. grilled chicken
  • 2 Starches – 2 whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 Vegetable – 1/2 c. grilled onions and peppers, lettuce
  • 1 Fat – 2 tbsp. sour cream

How about Stir-Fry?

  • 3 Proteins – 2 oz. tofu, 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 2 Starches – 2/3 c. brown rice
  • 1 Vegetable – 1/2 c. steamed broccoli
  • 1 Fat – olive oil in recipe, chopped peanuts as garnish

I hope this helps provide the missing pieces of this puzzle to independently planning healthy meals based on your own caloric needs.  Be aware that the unpronounceable formula calculates an estimated number of calories.  Everyone is different.  My estimate is several hundred calories higher than my actual caloric needs.  Try out your meal plan for several days, and don’t feel bad if you need to monitor and adjust.  Now that you know how, it’s no big deal!

My Meal Planning Template

For some folks, planning meals is a back-of-the-napkin affair.  For me, I enjoy letting spreadsheets do the math for me.  If you’re comfortable with spreadsheets, you may find my meal planning template helpful.  Here are two versions — one in Excel, one in Google Spreadsheets.  They both operate identically.

Get to plannin’

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4 thoughts on “Creating a Meal Plan

  1. […] that I’ve created that help me track and maintain my weight and my food choices.  Meal Planner, Weight Tracker, and Meal Replacement Calculator are examples.  I use these spreadsheets not only […]

  2. This post has been a lifesaver for me.

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