The Pros and Cons of a Meal Plan
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photo and design by W Brian Duncan

Meal planning is a very important skill when on your fitness journey. For some, planning comes naturally. For others it can be very hard to integrate into their daily life. This fact is at the heart of an internal debate I am having.

I counsel my clients on nutrition. I give them guidelines and tools to help them make better choices and achieve their fitness goals. I do not, however, provide meal plans. My philosophy has always been to teach people to fish. I want them to learn how to do things on their own. I want them to not be a slave to a diet, but to instead find a way of eating that makes sense for both their goals and their lives.

Recently I’ve had to take a step back and remember it’s not about me. It’s about them. With this in mind, I have been weighing the idea of offering the option of customized meal plans with my coaching services.  Based on my client feed back, I can see some potential benefits (especially in the beginning) to having a meal plan for their unique goals and situation.


  • Some clients honestly have no idea what foods to eat.

    It’s true; many clients come to me without cooking skills and have been subsisting on fast food and packaged meals. The idea of cooking is scary. The idea of shopping scarier still. A meal plan with simple recipes and a grocery list can be a primer on eating healthy. As one learns how to do basic cooking tasks and how to navigate the grocery store, a meal plan should be needed less and less.

  • Habits are hard to break if you don’t have a replacement habit.

    The easiest way to make a new habit is to keep a que and reward, just change the action. With a meal plan, someone who is used to certain “go to” recipes or a has routine grocery list can easily replace old recipes with new healthier ones and a preplanned list to go with it. Sometimes my sample recipes aren’t enough to satisfy the need, making it easy to revert to old ways.

  • I know what to do I just don’t have time to do it.

    I have many clients who work long hours and have busy families. I encourage prioritization and organization but can also see how someone who is going to the office on Sunday to catch up may not find the time to make a meal plan for the week. If I can help them achieve their goals with a preplanned list (that they can recycle or pick and choose from) that can be a huge win.


  • Meal plans feel like diets.

    I want people to learn how to live healthy. I worry that meal plans are a crutch and a client may not be learning the elements that make the meal plan healthy so they can put the elements together themselves.

  • Meal plans can be restrictive.

    What if I plan has something a client doesn’t like? I would be fine if they followed it 80% of the time, but what if makes them chuck the whole think and revert to old habits?

So what to do you think? If you hired a personal trainer would the option of meal plan be something you welcomed? Do you think a meal plan is too restrictive?

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