Updated: Feb 22
In today's blog I look at the advantages and disadvantages of meal plans, and why it might be better to gain the skills and knowledge to create your own rather than ask someone to do it for you.
When you decide to make healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle it is common to look for guidance. This might be from a psychologist or counsellor for mood and wellbeing, a personal trainer for physical activity and a dietitian for healthy dietary changes.
A personal trainer will create you an exercise program and update it for you as your fitness improves, or you find that a particular exercise needs adapting to suit your needs. So, it’s common for someone to ask a dietitian to create a meal plan for them detailing what they should buy, cook and eat.
Having a meal plan created for you does have a number of obvious benefits:
A good meal plan will provide a balanced diet with lots of variety,
It will be portion and calorie controlled and so help you meet your goals such as losing weight or improving your blood glucose control,
Planning what you are going to eat, rather than just thinking about what you won’t eat makes it easier to make healthy choices,
A shopping list will help you get the shopping done in one visit, rather than finding yourself popping in daily to buy meals one at a time when you are hungry,
It also reduces food waste and saves money as you only buy what you are going to eat,
It saves time thinking about what to eat and avoids decision fatigue, arguing about what to eat and ending up grabbing a takeaway to make life easy.
However, there are also disadvantages to having someone else prepare you a meal plan:
It can be very expensive. Developing an individual meal plan taking into account someone’s likes, dislikes and personal situation takes many hours to create well, It is possible for a professional to create one more quickly putting together existing templates, but this is less likely to be customised for you,
The meal plan created for you might not be agreed by other members of the family. You can end up cooking separate meals for everyone so that you can stick to your plan,
It’s good to try new things, but a meal plan might contain recipes that you find you don’t enjoy or need small amounts of expensive ingredients that you won’t use again.
It also can be inflexible on special occasions or when plans go awry. You might find that you end up not eating the food that you have bought,
Having a rigid diet plan can lead to all or nothing thinking. This is where one slip up, such as grabbing a chocolate bar when you buy petrol, can lead to you feeling that you have failed and might as well give up.
Most importantly, what do you do when you have finished following the meal plan? It might get boring just following it again. Most likely you will just end up going back to old habits.
Rather than paying someone to produce you a meal plan telling you what to eat, it is much better to work with a dietitian to develop the knowledge and skills to create your own meal plans.
A dietitian can work with you to identify what things in your life influence what you eat, for example who you live with, where you work, what sorts of foods you enjoy and why you might eat less healthily in certain situations. They are also specialists at translating the science about healthy eating and eating to address a specific health conditions into easy to understand, straightforward advice.
They will support you to be able to plan your own meal plan that fits around the things in your life that are important to you, and is flexible enough to cope with the unexpected or just wanting to have a treat now and again. This might include finding new recipes or learning to adapt the recipes you already enjoy to make them healthier or work for a health condition that requires dietary changes.
For more information on what a dietitian considers when giving dietary advice see my blog: Just tell me what I can and can't eat.
Find out more about the services I provide here.
If you still feel that you would like a meal plan to start off with there are plenty out on the internet for free. Diabetes UK has some good ones here, that would be suitable for anyone with raised either with diabetes or just wanting to eat more healthily:
There are also lots of sources of recipes out there. Try these to start with:
For more information on how to adapt your own recipes to eat more healthily see my blog about the Mediterranean Diet.
Short Video: What is a Dietitian?