Meal Planning & Metabolic Health

Meal Planning & Metabolic Health

What Is Meal Planning? 

Meal planning is a simple yet a powerful tool of deciding in advance the foods and meals that will be consumed for the next few days.1 It can be as effortless as deciding which recipes to use and creating a grocery list, or as intricate as using artificial intelligence to create personalized meal planning to suit one’s dietary and nutritional goals.1,2


Meal Planning & Its Impact on Metabolic Health

Although simple in nature, meal planning can have noteworthy impact on weight as well as probable benefits on metabolic health.1,3 For instance, one cross-sectional study of 40,554 participants assessed the association between meal planning and dietary intakes, adherence to nutritional guidelines, and weight.1 The study found that more than half of the participants meal planned, and that those who did meal plan were more likely to consume a greater variety of food and more likely to adhere to nutritional guidelines. In women, meal planning was associated with lower risk of being overweight and obese, and in men, with lower risk of being obese. Meal planning may lead to a more diversified and healthier eating pattern that can facilitate weight loss. Reverse causality in this study, however, cannot be excluded, meaning that individuals who are more interested in healthy eating behaviors may be more likely to meal plan. 

A smaller study involving 139 adults studied the impact of a 40-week worksite-based behavioral weight loss program by assessing how meal and exercise planning affected body mass index (BMI).3 The study concluded that higher average meal planning frequency was associated with greater weight loss. However, the study noted that individual fluctuations in meal planning frequency did not impact individual fluctuations in weight, concluding that meal planning should be a long-term goal, where its effects can best be seen when done in a consistent and frequent manner. 

Research is lacking on how meal planning impacts diabetes or cardiovascular health. However, its impact on weight shows promises that meal planning can have similar beneficial effects on metabolic conditions. Studies have consistently shown that diet and nutrition are key elements to managing diabetes and heart conditions and that healthy-eating and weight loss can help achieve glycemic control, delay the onset of type 2 diabetes mellitus, lower blood pressure, and improve blood lipid and cardiac biomarkers.4–12 More studies on the effects of meal planning on metabolic health should be conducted to establish that meal planning can improve overall health.


How Does Meal Planning Help?

Recent studies finding beneficial effects of meal planning hypothesize that meal planning can affect one’s eating behavior in several different ways.1,2 The act of planning for meals can ease the stress of preparing meals at home, which can promote healthier eating behaviors. For instance, having groceries and a recipe ready can address the problem of not knowing what to cook or the fear that cooking will take too long, which have been described as barriers to cooking at home. Additionally, meal planning can ensure that all ingredients needed for a meal are prepared beforehand and thus reduce the need to eat out or do takeout because meals cannot be cooked properly at home. 

Planning for meals can also allow positive changes in the foods people consume, allowing individuals to choose meals and recipes that are healthier.1,2 Meal planning can expand food variety by deciding which meals will be eaten throughout the week. Additionally, individuals can plan meals with balanced carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake, especially if they have chronic metabolic conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Eating balanced diets can help regulate blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.


How Can I Start Meal Planning?

Here are a few step-by-step guides on how you can get started on meal planning.13

1) Know What You Already Have – Before getting together a shopping list, it’s helpful to start by looking at what you already have at home. Look in your refrigerator, freezer, cabinets, and pantry to see how those food items can fit into meal(s). This can be a great cost- and time-saving strategy when planning meals.

2) Choose Your Meals & Recipes – Choose and write down which meals you plan to have for the upcoming week. Planning out what you will have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is an important part of meal planning. If you don’t already have recipes you like using, search for healthy recipes that you and your family can enjoy. If you have specific conditions like diabetes or heart disease, pick recipes that do not spike blood glucose levels and are heart healthy. 

3) Schedule – Knowing your schedule is key to meal planning. Know which days you have time to cook, which days you usually have social events and will eat out, and which days are busy and can use leftovers. 

4) Make Your Grocery List – Once you have your meals and recipes ready, start creating your grocery list. Listing every item needed for each recipe can help save both time and money by allowing you to shop all you need at once and maximize use of foods already at home. Organizing your list by sections, keeping a grocery list on your refrigerator, or using an app on your phone are all ways that can help make your grocery shopping easier.   

5) Cook & Eat & Enjoy Your Leftovers – Now cook and enjoy your delicious home-made meals! Making larger servings for certain dishes can be useful on busy days. This way, you can eat your home-made healthy leftovers instead of having to eat out. 


Cultural Barriers – Most culture’s diets are not heavily based on fat and protein and can make following the ketogenic diet difficult.6 For instance, Asian diets are typically carbohydrate-rich, being high in rice, noodles, potatoes, and flatbreads. Traditional Hispanic diets are also rich in carbohydrates such as rice, beans, and tortillas. Additionally, the Middle Eastern and North African region largely consume what is well-known as the Mediterranean diet rich in fibers and vegetable proteins. People’s preferences and cultural ties to foods can make it a challenge to follow the ketogenic diet. Studies show that when individuals adapt to dietary plans contrary to their traditional diets, joining community groups and receiving social support can be vital to overcoming cultural barriers.11 Additionally, reading about and experiencing the successes of the ketogenic diet can encourage individuals to start as well as to follow through with dietary plans that may go against their cultural or ethnic food preferences.12 


Cost – It is generally true and a widely accepted premise that the ketogenic diet is more expensive than high-carbohydrate eating patterns.6 Studies find that low-carbohydrate diets to indeed be more costly, some finding that the cheapest possible low-carbohydrate diet to be three times more expensive than the cheapest diet that has no carbohydrate restriction.13 However, thoughtful meal planning and looking for deals can help reduce the cost of the diet significantly. One descriptive case study designed two diets (a low-carbohydrate diet and a diet based on New Zealand national nutrition guidelines) for a hypothetical family of four and found that the daily cost difference to be $8.25, or $2.06 per person, concluding that this difference may be negligible.14 The study continues to suggest that making conscious choices on the types of fat, protein, and vegetables can make a substantial change to the cost of low-carbohydrate diets. For instance, extra virgin oil, macadamia nuts, fresh salmon, and broccoli commonly consumed in low-carbohydrate diets can be substituted with their less costly nutritional equivalents such as standard olive oil, linseed, sardines, and frozen spinach.


1. Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal Planning Is Associated with Food Variety, Diet Quality and Body Weight Status in a Large Sample of French Adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14:12. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7
2. Amiri M, Li J, Hasan W. Personalized Flexible Meal Planning for Individuals With Diet-Related Health Concerns: System Design and Feasibility Validation Study. JMIR Form Res. 2023;7:e46434. doi:10.2196/46434
3. Hayes JF, Balantekin KN, Fitzsimmons-Craft EE, et al. Greater Average Meal Planning Frequency Predicts Greater Weight Loss Outcomes in a Worksite-Based Behavioral Weight Loss Program. Ann Behav Med. 2020;55(1):14-23. doi:10.1093/abm/kaaa021
4. Franz MJ, MacLeod J, Evert A, et al. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Nutrition Practice Guideline for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in Adults: Systematic Review of Evidence for Medical Nutrition Therapy Effectiveness and Recommendations for Integration into the Nutrition Care Process. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017;117(10):1659-1679. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2017.03.022
5. Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, et al. Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention or Metformin. N Engl J Med. 2002;346(6):393-403. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa012512
6. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, Knowler WC, Fowler SE, et al. 10-Year Follow-Up of Diabetes Incidence and Weight Loss in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Lancet. 2009;374(9702):1677-1686. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61457-4
7. Nathan DM, Barrett-Connor E, Crandall JP, et al. Long-term Effects of Lifestyle Intervention or Metformin on Diabetes Development and Microvascular Complications: the DPP Outcomes Study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015;3(11):866-875. doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00291-0
8. Look AHEAD Research Group. Eight-Year Weight Losses with an Intensive Lifestyle Intervention: The Look Ahead Study. Obesity. 2014;22(1):5-13. doi:10.1002/oby.20662
9. Belanger MJ, Kovell LC, Turkson‐Ocran R, et al. Effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet on Change in Cardiac Biomarkers Over Time: Results From the DASH‐Sodium Trial. JAHA. 2023;12(2):e026684. doi:10.1161/JAHA.122.026684
10. Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A Clinical Trial of the Effects of Dietary Patterns on Blood Pressure. N Engl J Med. 1997;336(16):1117-1124. doi:10.1056/NEJM199704173361601
11. Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JHY, et al. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;136(3):e1-e23. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510
12. Filippou CD, Tsioufis CP, Thomopoulos CG, et al. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and Blood Pressure Reduction in Adults with and without Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(5):1150-1160. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa041
13. Make a Plan | MyPlate. Accessed March 21, 2024.



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