10 JulWhy I don’t like Meal Plans – Part 1

I’ve been a dietitian for nearly 10 years and it’s probably one of my most asked questions; ‘Can you do me a meal plan? I just need something I can follow…’
I don’t like meal plans. It’s not to say that I won’t write them or that they’re not useful, because they can be. It’s just that most of the time, they don’t work. And this is why…

1. Meal plans don’t get followed
There’s lots of reasons for this; you’re busy, you’re catering for a family, there’s been lots of late nights at work or social situations, you don’t like the food on the plan. These are all valid reasons, but can often means you end up feeling like you’ve failed.

2. Sometimes meal plans are followed too closely
They’re not intended to be your life long eating plan. No matter how well planned out, the repetition means sooner or later you’ll be missing out on key nutrients. And a restrictive eating plan (if it tells you what to eat, it’s restrictive) adds to diet culture and the subsequent negative implications. Eventually, you have to transition back to regular eating, and if you don’t have the skills and knowledge to do that without a meal plan, then what have you really achieved?

3. Meal plans don’t teach you real life eating
Life happens; there’s Christmas, birthdays, celebrations, holidays, office snacks, weekend picnics. It’s so important that you can participate and enjoy all these events without feeling stressed or guilty about your food choices. All a meal plan does is teach you how to say ‘No sorry I’m on a diet’. It doesn’t teach you how to find the balance and the enjoyment in eating.

4. Meal plans are expensive or impractical for real life situations
Nobody wants to buy 8 different types of meat for a week’s meal plan or spend $30 on chia seeds that you need 1 tsp for your breakfast smoothie. We don’t want to spend hours cooking up elaborate meals or meal prepping fancy snacks when a banana will do. Learning to use leftovers, meal prep efficiently, plan ahead and adapt on the go are really essential healthy eating skills that a meal plan just won’t teach you.

5. Meal plans don’t empower you
They take away the thinking and the decisions which can be good in the short term; long term however I like you to think about it and make your own decisions; nothing is more empowering than being responsible for your own decisions, and knowing you have the skills, knowledge and willpower to make good, balanced decisions.

Louise Cato – Accredited Practising Dietitian