There is no single best meal plan for weight loss. However, adopting a diet rich in whole foods and limiting processed foods is a good starting point.

This article explains how to plan a meal for weight loss and includes a 7-day meal plan for people to consider. It also discusses other helpful approaches to weight loss for different groups and those with different dietary requirements.

Preparing a weight loss meal planShare on Pinterest
Fevzille / Shutterstock

A person should plan their meals according to their requirements. They should consider:

  • how much weight they need to lose
  • their activity levels
  • any dietary requirements for health conditions
  • any personal, cultural, or religious dietary requirements
  • how much available time they have for food preparation and shopping
  • their level of cooking expertise and the difficulty of recipes
  • whether the meal plan needs to include other members of the household

Online resources are available that can help a person plan their meals. However, each plan’s nutrient content can vary greatly, so a person must ensure they receive a sufficient amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The following section contains a healthy meal plan for weight loss that a person can adapt as necessary.

The following meal plan provides options for 7 days of meals and snacks. The plan consists of nutrient-dense whole foods.

A person should determine the appropriate portion sizes, according to their weight loss goals, activity levels, and individual requirements.

DayBreakfastLunch DinnerSnacks
1scrambled egg with spinach and tomatotuna salad with lettuce, cucumber, and tomatobean chili with cauliflower ‘rice’apple slices and peanut butter
2oatmeal with blueberries, milk, and seedshummus and vegetable wrapsesame salmon, purple sprouting broccoli, and sweet potato mashtangerine and cashew nuts
3mashed avocado and a fried egg on a slice of rye toastbroccoli quinoa and toasted almondschicken stir fry and soba noodlesblueberries and coconut yogurt
4smoothie made with protein powder, berries, and oat milkchicken salad with lettuce and cornroasted Mediterranean vegetables, puy lentils, and tahini dressingwhole grain rice cake with nut butter
5buckwheat pancakes with raspberries and Greek yogurtvegetable soup with two oatcakesfish tacos with slawboiled egg with pita slices
6apple slices with peanut butterminted pea and feta omelet baked sweet potato, chicken breast, greenscocoa protein ball
7breakfast muffin with eggs and vegetablescrispy tofu bowllentil Bolognese with zucchini noodlescarrot sticks and hummus

Grocery list

A weight-loss diet plan can often begin in the grocery store.

Planning ahead can help when it comes to purchasing and eating the right foods. If a person can visualize their shelves and refrigerator full of healthy foods, they may also be less tempted to add unhealthy varieties to their stock.

A person can consider the following tips:

  • Creating a meal plan for the week ahead featuring healthy meals and basing a grocery list only on what those meals need. Then, committing to purchase only what is on the list to avoid choosing unhealthy snacks.
  • Visualizing the store layout beforehand and avoiding the ice cream and candy aisles to reduce temptation.
  • Reducing trips to the grocery store by stocking up on healthy items that are easy to store, such as lentils, oatmeal, quinoa, and rice.
  • Ordering groceries for collection to avoid temptation when walking past the baked goods aisle.

Healthy additions to add to any grocery list include:

  • canned or dried beans and lentils
  • grains, such as brown rice and quinoa
  • fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables
  • fish and lean meats, including turkey
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • oatmeal

Understanding exactly what is needed and cutting out snacks high in added sugar and fat can make grocery shopping easier.

When considering ways to lose weight, vegetarians and vegans should include whole foods and limit refined carbohydrates and processed foods. People should pay particular attention to packaging labels when purchasing meat alternatives, as many of these products contain added sugar and fat.

People who eat a plant-based diet will also need to ensure that their meals contain enough protein. Some good sources of plant protein include:

Vegan meal plan

Research shows that people who follow a vegan diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to omnivorous diets and pescatarian diets.

Vegan diets are entirely plant-based, which means they do not include meat, eggs, or dairy products.

Vegan diets eliminate many foods high in fat, cholesterol, calories, and saturated fat. However, since animal diets contain vitamin B12, individuals following a vegan diet will need to find other sources of B12, such as supplements or fortified plant milks and cereals.

The following provides an example of a 1-day vegan meal plan.

oatmeal with one-quarter cup of cooked rolled oats, a half cup of sliced banana, one-quarter cup of peanut butter, and soy or almond milkgrain bowl with 1 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of mixed vegetables including chick peas, Brussels sprouts, and broccolisweet potato tacos with avocado, onion, and tomatohummus with carrot and celery sticks

Vegetarian meal plan

Those who follow a vegetarian diet avoid meat and fish but may continue to eat eggs and dairy products.

Research shows that following a vegetarian diet can be an effective way to lose weight. However, individuals who follow a vegetarian diet need to be careful about what they eat to ensure they meet their nutritional requirements.

The below meal plan provides an example of what one day following a vegetarian diet might encompass.

2 hard-boiled eggs with a dash of hot sauce and saltkale salad with raisins, chickpeas, walnuts, and roasted sweet potatoesblack bean burgers with avocado and roasted Brussels sprouts on the sideplain yogurt with granola

Learn more about vegan and vegetarian diets here.

Losing weight can help a person with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels and avoid complications.

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes should lose weight through a combination of exercise, diet, and portion control. Low glycemic index (GI) foods can help someone avoid spikes in blood sugar while they lose weight.

A person who has type 1 diabetes should consult their doctor or dietitian for help devising a weight loss plan. People will need to manage their diet to work alongside any medications they take to control their blood sugar levels.

Diabetes meal plan

For individuals with diabetes, a healthy meal plan should focus on whole foods rather than processed foods to help manage blood sugar levels as much as possible.

It will include non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and green beans. It will also incorporate fewer added sugars and refined grains, such as white bread, rice, or pasta.

Below is an example of what one day following a diabetes meal plan might entail.

2-egg omelet with vegetables (spinach, mushrooms, bell pepper, avocado), and 1 cup blueberries on the sidesandwich: 2 regular slices high fiber whole grain bread, 2 oz canned tuna in water mixed with 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 1 mashed avocado1 cup cooked lentil penne pasta, 1.5 cups veggie tomato sauce (cook garlic, mushrooms, greens, zucchini, and eggplant into it), 2 oz ground lean turkey15–20 baby carrots with 2 tbsp plain hummus

Dietary choices can contribute to obesity and type 2 diabetes, which can increase person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

A heart-healthy meal plan emphasizes foods that support cardiovascular benefits, such as vegetables, whole grains, and oily fish. It also limits red and processed meats, alcohol, and foods high in sugar and salt.

Examples of heart-healthy diets include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, the Mediterranean diet, and vegetarian diets. Research shows all of these diets can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Below are some meal options for a heart-healthy diet.

Heart-healthy meal plan

mixed fruit parfait (cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi) with a side of whole grain toast1 cup whole grain pasta with mixed vegetables (tomato, onion, kale) cooked in a skillet with 1 tbsp lemon and olive oil2 oz serving of salmon, with a side of green beans1 cup of mixed nuts — almonds, walnuts, and cashews

Dietary requirements vary. There is a range of approaches to weight loss that may benefit different people.

A 2017 systematic review investigated the effectiveness of weight loss interventions in men. The review found that the following strategies were the most effective at promoting weight loss:

  • a calorie-restricted diet
  • physical activity advice
  • an activity and behavior-change program

However, while this review looked specifically at strategies for males, these approaches work for females too.

The review also notes that participants preferred face-based language and personal feedback. People who prefer this type of support and advice may benefit from using apps such as My Fitness Pal or receiving help from a personal trainer or registered dietitian.

Weight loss during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Dieting during pregnancy and breastfeeding may not be appropriate. Anyone concerned about their weight or general fitness during pregnancy or breastfeeding should talk with a doctor or midwife for further advice.

Weight loss and menopause

People going through menopause may find it more challenging to lose weight. A 2019 study found that fat mass and body weight tend to increase during the menopause transition.

The study found that the women had an average fat mass increase from 1–1.7% per year of the transition, resulting in a 6% total gain in fat mass over the 3.5 year transition period. The average weight gain among the participants was 1.6 kilograms.

Females who aim to lose weight during menopause should ensure that they consume enough nutrients to support their bone health. Nutrients include:

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), to lose weight successfully and safely, people should aim to lose 1–2 pounds per week for 6 months. A person can achieve this level of weight loss by reducing their calorie intake by 500–1,000 calories per day.

However, the body can also make hormonal adaptations when a person cuts their calorie intake, and their weight loss may plateau as a result.

Many low calorie diets restrict fats, but fats help a person feel full. As such, some people may not be able to sustain a low fat diet.

People should also consider that calorie reduction alone may not be sufficient for maintaining weight loss. This is because foods with the same amount of calories can have different effects on a person’s metabolism.

For example, high GI foods could have detrimental effects on a person’s weight loss goals. According to a 2014 randomized controlled trial, these foods could cause:

  • spikes in blood glucose levels and insulin levels
  • cravings for high carbohydrate foods
  • increased fat storage

Some examples of high GI foods include:

In addition to cutting calories and eating healthy foods, individuals may want to consider incorporating an exercise routine to support their weight loss goals.

A 2020 study comparing diet versus a diet and exercise program for health enhancement and weight loss among overweight women aged 40–60 years found that a combined diet and exercise approach showed the best results.

A 2018 review examined the optimal dietary approach for effective and sustainable weight loss among people who were overweight or obese. The review concluded that there is no single fit-for-all diet and that the best approach is individualization.

The same review emphasizes the importance of the following approaches for weight loss:

  • avoiding added sugars
  • limiting processed foods
  • consuming whole grain products
  • eating more fruit and vegetables

Alongside meal planning and following a shopping list, some additional tips that may help a person lose weight include:

  • being aware of portion size and the ratios of different macronutrients
  • including protein and fiber in every meal
  • exploring new herbs and spices to add variety to meals and reducing the need for extra sugar, salt, and fat
  • batch-cooking healthy meals for the freezer
  • avoiding long periods without food to reduce cravings for unhealthy snacks
  • maintaining hydration to reduce cravings for sugary drinks
  • performing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most or all days of the week
  • partnering with a diet and exercise buddy
  • using weighing scales no more than once a week at a consistent time of the day

Combining a healthy diet with an active lifestyle can help a person maintain a moderate weight. Planning meals and shopping is beneficial for successful weight loss.

Counting calories may not be the only useful approach to weight loss. A weight loss program is more successful when a person adapts it to their individual requirements.

A registered dietitian or certified nutrition specialist can work with a person to devise an optimal meal plan and support the person while working toward their weight loss goals.