If you’re about to follow a meal plan, you might be feeling a little daunted about changing your eating patterns and reducing your usual calories. But with careful planning and support, you’ll find it easier as you continue.
Read on for advice on how to stay motivated whilst following a meal plan, no matter what your goals are. We also have information on what to do if you use insulin or medication to treat your diabetes.
Getting ready to follow a meal plan
Make sure you have all the ingredients for the week in your cupboards before you start. If you have a busy 9-5 job during the week, it might help to batch-cook your meals on a Sunday night, ready for the week ahead.
As long as the calorie content is similar, you can switch around the meal and snack suggestions for the week. If you’re not keen on Tuesday’s lunch ideas, why not swap it for a meal from another day?
Don't forget to include extras, such as sauces in your calorie counting. They can add a lot of calories, sugar and fat to your overall calorie content. You can read the nutritional labels to check these, but as an example, a tablespoon of tomato ketchup contains 15 calories.
Making your own meal plan
We have 12 meal plans for you to choose from, including a low-carb meal plan and meals for one. But you might like to create your own, especially if you have specific dietary requirements (or are just a fussy eater!)
Write a menu plan for the week ahead, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. If seven days is too long, do one for Monday to Friday and be flexible at weekends. Get the whole family involved, making sure their favourite (healthy) meals are included.
Base your meals on the main food groups with wholegrains, fruit and vegetables making up the biggest part. Then, add protein, such as chicken or fish – or beans and pulses for veggies or meat-free Mondays. Beans and pulses are also excellent for making meals go further – add them to lean mince for Bolognese or chicken for chicken curry.
Write down the meals for the week on a meal planner and stick it to your fridge, or somewhere where the whole family can see it, to remind you what you’re eating that week.
Dedicating an hour or two in the kitchen at the weekend can really pay off during the week. For example, cook up a batch of lean mince (or Quorn), making it go even further by adding beans or pulses, then create a shepherd’s pie for Sunday dinner and freeze the rest in two portions for lasagne and chilli con carne later in the week. Cooking more than you need for one meal is also a great way to use leftovers for lunch the following day.
Try these other smart tips:
- Use leftover chicken from a roast to make a risotto for the next day and use the bones to make stock for chicken broth another day.
- Blitz over-ripe tomatoes in a blender and use in place of canned tomatoes in pasta sauce or on top of pizza bases.
- Make your own smoothie or a fruit compote from over-ripe fruit – great topped with yogurt for kids.
- Friday night use-up meal – take whatever’s in the fridge and use in a pasta bake.
Keeping to your budget
Meal planning in advance is a great way to help you save money on food, as you’ll only buy the food you need to follow a particular plan. Bulk-buying non-perishable food will also help you save money. You could also try freezing your leftovers for later.
We have a budget meal plan which uses our own recipes, as well as cheap and easy options like scrambled eggs. We also have more information on eating well on a budget.
Who to talk to about your meal plan
We would highly recommend speaking to your healthcare professional to be asked to be referred to a dietitian.
Your GP or practice nurse may also be able to support you by reviewing your medication or doing extra blood glucose testing. Since following one of our meal plans could help you improve your glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure, it would be great for you to know what your numbers are before you start a new plan.
You could also speak to people you live with, friends or colleagues at work to support you with your new meal plan. They may offer you other foods which make it difficult to say no, but you could think about other ways to bond with them.
If you use insulin or medication
If you treat your diabetes with insulin, or any medication that puts you at risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels), you may need to alter the amount you are taking when you're making a big change to your diet.
Please check in with your healthcare team who are prescribing this medication to discuss necessary precautions or adjustments before you trial a new meal plan.
You may need to test your blood glucose levels more often when starting a new meal plan to safely support these adjustments.
You'll be cutting down your portion sizes, including the amount of carbs, which can increase your risk of hypoglycaemia. As you lose weight, you will probably need to adjust your insulin and diabetes medication too. Your healthcare professional is the best person to advise you on how to do this safely.
Following meal plans as a family
A great way to save time and money is to get the family involved with meal planning, so you won’t have to cook separate meals. Remember though that your family’s calorie and nutritional needs will be different to yours, so they may need different portion sizes. Have a look at our family of four meal plan.
You could also try taking on the next Fakeaway Feb challenge together to swap pre-packaged food with healthy, homemade meals for a month.
Perhaps you have a member of the family who’s not keen on vegetables. Here’s how to get them to up their intake:
- Add sliced bananas or sultanas to breakfast cereal or porridge.
- Add raisins or dried fruit to school lunchboxes.
- Provide two different coloured vegetables for supper, such as broccoli and carrots or courgettes and squash.
- Add canned sweetcorn or peas (in water with no added sugar) to a frittata or omelette.
Following a meal plan by yourself
If you live by yourself, or don’t have the time or inclination to cook, you can swap the recipe suggestions for a shop bought calorie-controlled meal. Check the label to make sure it has a similar amount of calories as the meals we use.
Sometimes these meals don’t have a whole serving of vegetables, so look out for the five-a-day logo for those that do. Aim to add an extra portion of veggies (frozen vegetables are a great, cost-saving option) to pair with the meal and keep it balanced.
Some of the recipes within our meal plans serve between 1-6 people. However, many of our recipes can be made in bulk and frozen for a later date, which can help reduce waste. You’ll see a symbol at the top of a recipe page to show whether it can be frozen.
How to monitor your progress
A good way to keep motivated whilst following a meal plan is to track your success. If you’re aiming to lose weight, you can track this by weighing yourself every week. You can log your progress using our weight loss planner (PDF, 534KB).
Only weigh yourself once a week at the same time of day, wearing similar clothes. Keep a log of your weight loss, which will give your healthcare team the information they need to see if your medication needs adjusting. It can also be more motivating than weighing yourself every day. Measuring your waist circumference may also help you to track your progress.
Keeping track of your meal plan
You may feel hungry on the meal plans initially, as your body gets used to less food. A good way to avoid this is to pile your plate with plenty of veggies. They are low in calories, add to your five-a-day and keep you fuller for longer.
Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water or low-calorie drinks, such as no-added-sugar squashes, tea or coffee. Swapping from full-fat milk to semi-skimmed milk can make a small difference in your total energy and saturated fat intake, depending on how much you drink.
Using smaller serving plates, bowls and glasses can be helpful. It will make it appear like there is more food on your plate.
How long should you follow a meal plan?
You should see health benefits after 12 weeks, so try not to worry if you’re not seeing results before this.
If you find it very difficult to follow a meal plan, or are struggling to achieve what you hoped, support is available. You can talk to our Helpline team for free and friendly advice, and can chat to other people just like you who are living with or affected by diabetes in the food section of our support forum.