Healthy Meal Plans for Weight Loss

Weight loss meal plans can be complicated to put together on your own. Of course, you can follow a meal plan to lose weight that you see in a magazine or online. But you never know if the diet plan is based on scientific evidence. Following a plan created by an expert nutritionist or dietitian is usually the smartest, safest choice. These downloadable schedules and simple tips can help you reach and maintain your goal weight. 

Choosing a Weight Loss Meal Plan

Before you choose the best low-calorie diet plan, it's important to know how many calories you need to eat each day. The number can vary depending on your size, sex, and activity level. Weight loss does not occur without a calorie deficit, which means you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Many commercial weight-loss plans limit women to 1,200 calories per day. The number might be higher, however, if the woman is physically active. This is based on total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). For example, you might see that your weight loss calorie goal is 1,200 calories per day. But, for example, if you choose to burn an extra 300 calories per day through exercise, you can eat 1,500 calories and likely still lose weight.

Men are often assigned to a 1,500- to 1,800-calorie daily diet plan. Again, size and activity level play a role in the number of calories a man should eat. The ideal number for you may be much higher if you are active, especially if your job is mostly on your feet and you also participate in regular intentional exercise.

The body does not always work like a calculator and metabolic adaptations to weight loss occur during the losing process. You will likely need to adjust your calorie deficit over time to continue seeing results.

Portion Size As an Alternative Method

Instead of weighing and measuring everything to count calories, you can use portion sizes to moderate what you are eating. If you are eating a certain portion size currently and maintaining your weight, remove a little from each of your regular portions to reduce calories. If this does not lead to weight loss, remove a little more.

Estimate Portion Sizes Using Your Hands

Each of the following equals one serving size. You may need more than one serving per meal, depending on your sex, weight, activity level, and other factors.

Protein: 1 palm

Carbohydrates: 1 cupped hand

Fats: 1 thumb

Vegetables: 1 fist

Free Meal Plans for Weight Loss

Below is a sample of a 7-day meal plan you could use for weight loss. Modify serving sizes and add snacks to suit your specific calorie needs. This is a sample only and there may be meals that suit your dietary needs and preferences better.

  • Day 1: Granola, Greek yogurt, mixed berries; chicken breast, spring greens, apple, walnuts, honey mustard dressing, whole-grain roll; whole grain pasta, marinara sauce, extra-lean ground turkey, green beans
  • Day 2: Egg omelet with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, grapefruit, toast; chili with beans, cornbread, side green salad; halibut, lemon, green beans, roasted potatoes
  • Day 3: Egg and ham breakfast burrito with cheese, spinach, orange juice; whole wheat sandwich with tuna, Greek yogurt, mayo, arugula, side green salad; sirloin steak, broccoli, baked sweet potato
  • Day 4: Almond flour waffles with peanut butter, banana, Greek yogurt; turkey noodle soup with vegetables, whole-grain roll, side green salad, apple; baked chicken parmesan, green beans, rice pilaf
  • Day 5: Oatmeal with flaxseed, egg white, berries, almond butter; sirloin steak salad with blue cheese, walnuts, strawberries, cup of tomato soup; lean ground beef enchiladas with whole wheat tortilla, lettuce, tomato, hot peppers, broccoli
  • Day 6: Protein pancakes, mixed berries, cottage cheese; baked sweet potato filled with shredded chicken, chickpeas, tahini yogurt sauce, cucumber and tomato salad; fish tacos with corn tortillas, cabbage slaw; side green salad
  • Day 7: Scrambled eggs, multi-grain toast, sauteed asparagus; chicken salad made with Greek yogurt, mayo grapes, slivered almonds, apple on whole-wheat bread, side spinach salad; salmon, dill sauce, roasted potatoes, green beans

Alternatively, if you know how many calories you plan to eat each day, you could choose one of these meal plans for weight loss. Keep in mind that these calorie-per-day plans could be too low for you if you are active, are a larger individual, have a substantial amount of muscle mass, or have other factors. Check with your doctor to determine whether a low-calorie diet is right for you.

For instance, 1,200 calorie diets are typically reserved for inactive females; they are inappropriate for most males or for active people of any gender. Speak to your doctor before beginning any new diet plan.

Planning Your Meals

Once you've chosen a meal plan, then it's time to schedule and track your meals. If you plan each meal in advance and have foods ready to go, you'll be more likely to stick to your diet.

Downloadable Weekly Planner

Use a printable weekly weight loss meal planner form to schedule your meals.

The meal plan you've chosen above will provide what to eat, but you'll still need to decide when to eat. Is there an ideal time to eat each meal during the day? Not really. For weight loss, the number of calories you eat each day matters more than when you eat them.

Of course, that doesn't mean meal timing doesn't matter at all. Try to plan meals no more than five hours apart. Then schedule a light snack in between each meal. That way, you won't get so hungry that you overeat or go for unhealthy choices. Use your intuition, follow your own personal schedule, and listen to your own needs as your guide.

Tips for Meal Planning

Find weight-loss success by following a few strategies that'll make meal prepping easier. By prepping ahead of time, it's easier to eat healthfully and therefore, lose weight. 

  1. Schedule time to plan. Set aside 30 minutes each week to plan your meals and create a shopping list. Schedule your meal planning time just like you schedule all other important events in your life. This is also the best time to schedule your workouts so you're sure that you get enough exercise to lose weight faster.
  2. Shop and cook. After you've planned healthy meals, then it's time to go shopping. Many people do this immediately after they fill out their meal plan so that they are fully stocked for a week of healthy eating. Then you can organize your refrigerator with diet-friendly foods.
  3. Post your plan. Your healthy weight loss plan won't do any good if it's sitting in a drawer. So once you've filled out your plan, post it in a place where you see it every day. It will serve as a reminder of your food choices and your commitment to reach a healthy weight.
  4. Prep foods in advance. After dinner, in the evening, lay out the foods you'll eat for breakfast so they are ready to go when you wake up. Then, pack your lunch and snacks for the next day. Finally, do any meal prep for the next night's healthy dinner so that it's easy to throw together.

Additional Weight Loss Tips

Weight loss is about more than following a meal plan or a specific calorie count. Exercise is advisable for the best results, to help create a calorie deficit that does not come only from limiting food intake as well as (and most importantly), all of the other benefits that come from being active such as reduced risks of disease, healthy metabolism, stronger muscles and bones, longer life span, and healthier heart and lungs.

It is vital to consume enough calories with a focus on nutrient-dense foods so that you can fuel your daily activities and perform at your best mentally and physically. A slow and steady rate of weight loss is easier psychologically as well as physically and is easier to maintain.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that the first time that you sit down and plan meals to lose weight the process will take a little longer. But once you have a system in place, you'll breeze through the ritual—you might even start to enjoy it. Getting organized feels good and reaching your weight loss goals feels even better. So, take enough time to follow through with the prep steps to get used to your diet plan and stay on track. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the best foods for weight loss?

    Nutrient-dense foods that provide a variety of vitamins and minerals are key for healthy weight loss. Including foods high in fiber and protein is wise since these foods can help you feel full for longer and provide several other health benefits.

  • What meal plans help you lose weight fast?

    Some very low-calorie meal plans may cause fast weight loss. However, fast weight loss is typically not recommended and is unlikely to be sustainable long-term.

  • How can you lose 20 pounds in a month?

    Losing 20 pounds in a month is not a healthy goal. This rate of weight loss is very unlikely to be sustainable long-term and could cause adverse side effects. Instead, choose a healthy rate of weight loss (for most people, from 2 to 8 pounds in a month, depending on your current body composition and lifestyle).

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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