Your Comprehensive Guide to Meal Planning

Counting macros can be overwhelming at first. Nobody wants to be sitting at their table using macro tracking app in an attempt to figure out what foods to eat all day long. Luckily, by using a few simple strategies, you don't have to be! Here is your stress-free, time-saving comprehensive guide to meal planning and tracking macros.

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Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is intended to help you prepare your meals ahead of time. It involves food preparation and packing cooked foods in airtight containers and/or reusable bags in the fridge. Many successful people, especially with fitness enthusiasts, prepare their meals ahead of time because it saves them time, money, and helps them hit their nutritional goals on the go.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

Why is it important to meal prep?

Saves Time: You may spend an hour or two in the kitchen on the day of your choice (although we recommend choosing Sundays and/or Thursdays). This helps you to save you from hours being spent in the kitchen; therefore enabling you to spend quality time with something else, such as fun activities, being with your loved ones, etc. It also helps you have fewer clean-ups throughout the week!

Saves Money: If you're able to know what you'll want to eat ahead of time, you'll be able to stay within your financial budget and purchase ingredients accordingly. For example, you can purchase meat, fruits, and veggies (as well as rice and oats) in bulk and divide them into multiple meals by placing them in airtight containers or reusable bags in the fridge for the week. This strategy helps you save money by stretching each dollar you spend by helping you be mindful of eating at home and taking fewer trips to the grocery store.

Manage Macros: When you plan your meals, you're able to simplify your tracking by knowing each meal's macros ahead of time. This enables you to know the remaining amount of macros you'll need to consume that day in order to meet your macro totals and stay on track with your goals!

Done With Less Effort: We all are busy people doing countless hours of tasks every day... the last thing we want to do is to meal prep daily. By getting most of our meals cooked and prepped ahead allows us to juggle less and focus more attention towards our careers, training, and cardio sessions, and hanging out with our loved ones. It also helps us enjoy our life and manage stress with ease.

Eats Better: When we food prep, we have a higher rate of success in consuming food from nutrient-dense food sources; thus, we can achieve an 80/20 balance with the treats we'd like to have in the afternoons or evenings. It also helps us obtain vitamins and minerals we need to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. With meals prepped ahead of time, it gives us more flexibility to adjust our macros to weather through day-to-day activities.

Improve Multi-tasking Skills: Doing meal planning and prepping helps improve our abilities to multi-task by managing 2-3 different ingredients to cook and/or bake with including packing, storing them away, and cleaning our kitchen. At the end of each meal prep, it will teach us to find ways to save time and money in other areas of our lives.

Achieve Goals: All of these benefits above will help bring you closer to your goals through body, mind, and soul at a much quicker rate compared to individuals being unprepared. Preparation enables you to manage your stress with ease, and get your quantity back. When people tell you that you cannot have a balanced lifestyle – you can! It all comes down to planning and prepping. 

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

Feeling overwhelmed or don't know where to start?

Here's a step-by-step guideline for meal planning from start to finish below:

1. How to calculate your macros

If you don't know your macros or know how to calculate your macros, we recommend checking out this article, "Your Comprehensive Guide to Macro Counting".

2. How to divide your macros into meals and/or snacks

How to Divide Your Macros Into Meals and Snacks

How to Divide Your Macros Into Meals and Snacks

Once you know your total macros, you then can divide your macros by the number of meals or snacks that you'd prefer or that works with your day's schedule. Our recommendation is to aim for 70% of your macros toward meals and 30% toward snacks. Here is a step-by-step guide to calculations below:

A. If my macros are: P-145g; C-200g; F-48g then I'll multiply it by 70% to get total macros toward the meals:

Step One: Finding macros for meals. - Protein: 145g x .70 (%) = 101.5 (rounded up to) 102 grams.- Carbs: 200g x .70 (%) = 140 grams.- Fats: 48g x .70 (%) = 33.6 (rounded up to) 34 grams.

Step Two: Divide these grams into 2-3 meals. - Protein: 102g / 3 meals = 34 grams each meal.- Carbs: 140g / 3 meals = 47 grams each meal.- Fats: 34g / 3 meals = 11 grams each meal.

B. I'll be able to find 30% of remaining macros by subtracting total macros from macros I calculated to find for my snacks:

Step One: Finding macros for the snack(s). - Protein: 145 (total grams) - 102 grams (for meals) = 43 grams for snack(s). - Carbs: 200 (total grams) - 140 grams (for meals) = 60 grams for snack(s). - Fats: 48 (total grams) - 34 grams (for meals) = 14 grams for snack(s).

Step Two: You can divide these grams into two possible snacks. - Protein: 43 (total grams) divided by 2 snacks = 22 grams each snack. - Carbs: 60 (total grams) divided by 2 snacks = 30 grams each snack. - Fats: 14 (total grams) divided by 2 snacks = 7 grams each snack.

3. How to create your meal plan

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

Now that you know about how many meals in which to divide your macros, you can begin creating your meal plan. With your total grams of protein, carbs, and fat, you'll want to create a list of meals you'd like to have for the following week. You can get meal ideas from recipes books or ebooks, and/or recipes from Pinterest. You can even have your favorite family recipe meals!

You can also check out our recipes' section by clicking here.

Look at your schedule for the week and determine how many meals you can realistically cook and plan for. Is it one, two, or three meals? As you determine which recipes to make, consider, "Will I mind eating this more than once?" If you answer yes, try finding a recipe/meal that you love enough to eat again.

After creating your list of one or two breakfasts, one or two lunches, and one or two dinners (including one or two snacks in between these meals), it's time to make sure the meals are meeting your macro requirements. This will help assure that the meals you're planning to eat will fulfill your intake requirements and be satisfying your taste buds.

Important Tips!

It is important to start with much simpler recipes with fewer ingredients to help you ease into meal planning before moving on to more complex meals with more ingredients. Think: simple meals first, variety second!

Keep a few non-perishable snacks in your car and/or in your gym bag. Our favorite macro-friendly snacks are beef jerky, protein bars (PEScience - Select Protein Bars), etc.

Having macro friendly snacks at work (like string cheese, Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, and veggies) can always come in handy.

Beginning with one meal, find the macros for that meal using your tracking app as described above. This will help you really see how that meal will fit in your day's allotment. The app will then automatically subtract the macros spent on that one meal allowing you to fill in the remaining meals/macros.

How Does It Work?

When you are figuring out how to create meals that fit your macros, it may be difficult at first... but rest assured! It will be easier as you become more experienced with macro tracking and begin to build a collection of foods and meals you enjoy eating. Let's start with an example for lunch.

Let's say out of your daily allowance, you decide you'd like to have 50 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of fat for lunch. You are craving something wrapped and with ground turkey. To build and track this meal, we need to look at the nutrition facts for each ingredient's serving size.

Using a macro tracking app like MyMacros+ or MyFitnessPal will expedite the process of logging this information. Simply search each food item in the app's database or automatically log a food by scanning the barcode on the package (if available).

If you use the scanner feature, be sure to compare the information in your tracking app with the label on the package as they can be off sometimes. If this happens, you can try searching for another option or simply enter the numbers manually.

Sample Lunch Meal

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

With the ingredients in our refrigerator, we only have lean ground turkey, shredded mozzarella cheese, light sour cream, lavash bread, and shredded iceberg lettuce. Let's put it to work.

- 98% Lean Ground Turkey (79.5 grams cooked): P-26g; C-0g; F-1.5g- Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (28 grams): P-8g; C-0g; F-5g.- Light Sour Cream, Pure & Natural (30 grams): P-2g; C-2g; F-2.5g- Joseph's Flatbread - Honey Wheat (One Tortilla): P-8g; C-14g; F-3g- Cabela's Seasoning (Parmesan & Garlic French Fry): P-0g; C-0g; F-0g.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

Total Macros: P-44g; C-16g; F-12g- Protein: 26 + 8 + 2 + 8 + 0 = 44 total grams- Carbs: 0 + 0 + 2 + 14 + 0 = 16 total grams- Fat: 1.5 + 5 + 2.5 + 3 + 0 = 12 total grams

Compare Goal (G) Versus Actual (A) Macros - Protein: (G) 50g vs. (A) 44g = -6g (under)- Carbs: (G) 20g vs. (A) 16g = -4g (under)- Fat: (G) 10g vs. (A) 12g = +2g (over)

You will see that this meal went under with protein and carbs while going over fat by two grams. However, our focus is to hit our "total daily macros" as closely as possible; how we split up our macros meal to meal is based on our personal preferences. Try to use per-meal macro goals as a guideline to stay on track rather than an absolute rule.

Try your best to stick to your allotted daily grams of protein, carbs, and fat, but don't stress if you're not spot on every single day. Consistency will always triumph over perfection! The longer you prep, the easier hitting those goals will become. The beauty of planning ahead is that you see the number before you consume them. This allows you to play with serving sizes and foods in your day to meet your goals.

You do not need to write out the macronutrients for each item like we showed you above; your macro tracking app will do this for you. The above example was just to show you how to break down the macro content of each item in order to track a full meal.

When you plan ahead like this, you aren't spending time during cooking or before cooking wondering what to make to fit the macros for your day; thus taking the stress and "hassle" out of daily macro counting. Once you feel your meals have fulfilled your requirements, it's time to build your grocery list.

Do you need some meal recipe ideas? Click here.

4. How to build your grocery list

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

Look through your week's meal plan and recipes and write down ingredients that you need for your meals.

Make substitutions whenever possible for ingredients you already have (i.e. tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes because they still provide similar flavor) helping you buy less and save more during this process. (Not to mention using the foods you already have before they spoil!)

Then, browse your kitchen inventory (pantry, refrigerator, etc.) and check off any ingredients you already have in your kitchen. It doesn't hurt to double check your grocery list to make sure you're not missing any ingredients that you need on your list.

It's nice to keep your pantry well stocked with common ingredients for cooking and baking, including spices, olive oil, coconut oil, flour, baking soda, baking powder, etc.

If you're trying to save calories, we recommend Pam cooking spray, Mrs. Dash Spices, and Stevia or Truvia as a sugar substitute. Don't forget that you can include fresh herbs, garlic, lemons, and limes to have readily available in your fridge.

Organize ingredients that you need to purchase by the stores you're planning to visit. For example, we like to buy groceries from three different places: Costco, King Soopers, and Walmart. We decide which is the closest destination to visit first, this way we can finish up our grocery shopping and drive back home with everything in our car.

We open one of the notes on our phone to write out each store like this:

Step By Step Groceries List

Step By Step Groceries List

  • 1st: Walmart

  • 2nd: King Soopers

  • 3rd: Costco

After writing down the stores, organize the ingredients you'll need to purchase to help you navigate through the store as quickly as possible. Organize into departments before writing out the ingredients.

Second Step By Step Groceries List

Second Step By Step Groceries List

Categories:

  • Produce

  • Dairy

  • Meat

  • Bread/Bakery

  • Pantry/Dry Good

  • Frozen Foods

  • Canned/Jarred

  • Household

  • Personal Care

  • Other

Third Step By Step Groceries List

Third Step By Step Groceries List

It is important for you to keep these notes in your mobile app. This way, when you're done with your shopping, simply uncheck the items and you have a staple list ready for next week's grocery haul!

5. How to grocery shop

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

This could be obvious... but do not go grocery shopping when you're hungry. It leads to impulse purchases and more money spent. Plan to eat a small meal, snack, or drink a protein shake before leaving the house.

It also doesn't hurt to make sure you'll have plenty of time to shop without being rushed (wrong purchases, more money spent, etc.) so you are able to explore your options. While shopping, you'll be able to take your time to read nutritional labels, compare prices, and make informed choices about what you're buying.

6. How to food prep

When you get home, think about what ingredients or meals you can prepare in advance. The advantage of preparing parts of your meals ahead lies in the simplicity it creates to meet your macros. You've done the work to plan your meals to fit your allotments, so now put in the work to make it happen.

You may not be motivated because you're not hungry or would rather watch a show on television. Think of it this way: by the time you're finished preparing your meals, you'll be hungry and one of your meals is ready to go and fits your macros!

There are lots of ways to prepare foods to help make meals simpler and easier throughout the week. Think through what will help you be successful and less-stressed and/or what is realistically possible for you and your lifestyle. Will it be beneficial to cook your lunch meals so you can just grab them from the fridge? Can you make a large batch of ground meat because two meals call for it? Choose a method that will work for you for that week.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Clean and organize fridge: Make sure to clean out the refrigerator by throwing away expired products. Encourage healthy eating by placing non-nutrient-dense foods on the bottom and nutrient-dense foods within easy reach and at eye-level.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Unpack groceries: You'll want to unpack groceries as soon as you get home because some of the ingredients need to be put away in the fridge or freezer. Putting things away also helps you get ready to start cooking by sorting through your ingredients and thinking through what you can prepare now.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Clean the kitchen: Having a clean kitchen helps set the mood when it comes to food preparation. Plus, who wants food to touch the bacteria on the kitchen countertops? Yuck! It is also a great idea to rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly while leaving the meat out to thaw (if frozen) in the sink.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Weigh food: Many individuals are confused when it comes to weighing food, and they wonder why not use measuring cups and spoons. With measuring cups and spoons, it can be under or over the nutritional label's recommendations, and it is more accurate to weigh foods in ounces and grams. Another tip is to weigh raw meat, rice, quinoa, pasta, etc. as they lose their weight through cooking due to evaporation. To do this, we encourage you to weigh before and after cooking to keep this information in your macro tracking app. Label them as "raw" or "cooked" to give you accurate macros from this point on. For example, with raw lean ground turkey, before cooking — weighed 447 grams. When we finished cooking, it weighted at 350 grams. We divided 350 grams by the number of servings to get correct macros and plug it in our macro tracking app.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Cook food in bulk: Preparing food in bulk will be a lifesaver. We suggest pre-chopping veggies and cooking 3-6 days worth of protein and sides. For example, if rice is a staple in your intake, cook a large batch at the beginning of the week and store it in Tupperware in the fridge. Whenever you need rice throughout the week, you can easily measure out a portion and microwave it for a quick meal.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Pack food in containers or bags: Some meals you prepare will need to be reheated. Find containers that can go from freezer to microwave. It will save you time with clean-ups if you have a dishwasher (make sure to use top rack only) if you're able to find containers that are safe from these three elements: microwave, dishwasher, and freezer.

When we had old airtight containers, we experienced the worst you can imagine — containers leaking all over the place in our bags, on our desks, etc. We always do a small test with our containers — when we food prep, we place a water and soap mixture in the container and shake it vigorously to inspect if there are any leaks. It is helpful if you are commuting to work or other places by airplane, car, bus, or train. It pays to double check to make sure it's able to endure through these conditions! Fortunately, we made it simple for you and wrote down several products for you to check out that we highly recommend.

Airtight Containers:

1.) Rubbermaid Brilliance Snack Food Storage Container - Medium: $13.09. Click here.

2.) Enther Meal Prep Containers: $16.99 for 20 Pack. Click here.

3.) Simple Houseware - Reusable Containers: $34.99 for 50 Pack. Click here.

4.) Enther Meal Prep - 3 Compartment Containers: $19.99 for 20 Pack. Click here.

Reusable Bags:

1.) Ziploc Bags (Variety): $16.59. Click here.

2.) Eco-Sis: 4-Pack Reusable Silicone Food Bags: $19.87. Click here.

3.) Smartake Silicone Stretch Lids: $8.99. Click here.

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

  • Freeze meals: Sometimes you end up cooking more than you can realistically eat in a few days. Instead of throwing out good food, keep about 1-2 days worth of food in the fridge and store the rest away in the freezer. This will help keep your prepped food fresh longer. You will still have easy access to it when you need it; simply thaw it and reheat when you're ready to eat.

Here are few ingredients you do not want to freeze: - Raw veggies such as cabbage, celery, watercress, cucumber, lettuce, and radishes- Plain cooked pasta, rice and/or oats- Cooked egg whites- Mayonnaise- Salad Dressings- Fried Food

Julie Ledbetter

Julie Ledbetter

Does this article help you get started with meal planning? Do you have anything else you'd like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!

Ledbetter Lifestyle Pocket Trainer

Ledbetter Lifestyle Pocket Trainer