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How to Plan a Weight Loss Diet Menu

Updated on January 30, 2016
prairieprincess profile image

Sharilee and her husband, Vern, live with two cats. Due to Vern's cat allergies, she has done extensive research on the subject.

Planning a weight loss menu takes some math but it's worth the effort!
Planning a weight loss menu takes some math but it's worth the effort! | Source

Why Bother Planning Your Weight Loss Menu?

Learning how to plan a weight loss menu is one of the most important components of losing weight. Knowing what to eat, on your own, gives you freedom and a sense of competence. If you are trying to lose weight, and have not been successful, take the time to educate yourself and increase your knowledge. The more you learn on your own, the more tools you will have. As someone on the journey to lose weight myself, I am sharing from my own experience.

Planning your menu is one of the most important components of weight loss. Why is it important to plan? Because unplanned days lead to a much greater possibility of bad decisions. Let's face it. If we made all the right decisions, on our own, we wouldn't be trying to lose weight. We have a problem with discipline when it comes to eating. We need to plan, to circumvent our own tendency to make decisions, or to be tempted.

What follows is the basics of how to plan a weight loss menu. This hub will explain how to decide how many calories you need, and then how to decide how many calories to eat at each meal. I will also give you some more pointers at the end to help you plan your menu.

Daily Calories Example

Let's do an example of the calculation so you can see how it looks. Let's say Georgina is 49 years old. She is 5'2" and weighs 210 pounds.

We input these numbers into the BMR calculator, and find out that her BMR is 1629.6 calories. This means that if she was put into a coma and was laying in a bed all day long, her body would still burn 1629.6 calories.

Now, we put that number into the Harris Benedict Equation calculator. Georgina does not do much physical exercise, so we multiply her BMR by 1.2. We then find out that her daily calorie use is 1956 calories.

Georgina wants to lose one pound a week. So, we mulitply her desired weight loss by 3500 calories. Therefore, she must have a deficit of 3500 calories per week.

We divide 3500 calories by 7 and that gives us a deficit of 500 calories per day.

We then subtract 500 calories from 1956 calories, for a total of 1456 calories and that gives us her daily calorie goal to lose one pound a week.

STEP ONE: Calculate Your Daily Calories

The first step in planning the menu for weight loss is to calculate how many calories you need to eat every day. Now, step up for some math!

  1. Figure out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate.) in other words, how many calories you would use in a day if you did nothing all day -- just laid there in bed, inert. To figure this out, there are a number of calculators online. Here is a BMR calculator that is easy to use. You can also get these calculators as apps, through Amazon or other places. Just enter in the numbers of your current height, weight, and age. Write that figure down.
  2. Next, calculate your daily calorie use, using the Harris Benedict Equation. This equation gives you the number of calories you will use on a daily basis, taking into account the amount of exercise you get during the week.

    You can either use this calculator, or do the calculation yourself. Here are the numbers:

    --If you are sendentary, multiply your BMR by 1.2
    --If you exercise 1-3 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.375
    --If you exercise 3-5 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.55
    --If you exercise 6-7 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.9
    Write this number down. This is approximately how many calories you will burn every day. If you eat this amount, you will maintain your weight.
  3. Next, decide on a weekly weight loss goal. A reasonable goal is from 1-2 pounds, although there are exceptions. The more you plan to exercise, the higher you can set your goal. And don't worry -- if you find it too difficult, you can always go back and change your goal.
  4. Now, multiply your weekly weight loss goal by 3500. That is because one pound is equal to 3500 calories. So, to lose one pound in a week, you must have a deficit of 3500 calories a week. To lose two pounds in a week, you need to eat 7000 calories less than you take in. This amount is your desired weekly calorie deficit.
  5. Now, divide the your desired weekly calorie deficit by seven. This number is now your desired daily calorie deficit.
  6. Finally, subtract desired daily calorie deficit (step 5) from your daily calorie use. This will give you the number of calories to eat every day. If this number seems too high or too low, you may need to go back and change your goals.

    This number should never be any less than 1200 calories. Make this number a range of at least 200, especially to start. Giving yourself a range allows yourself some grace, and will let you stay the course for a longer time.

Meal Calculation Example

Now that we know Georgina's weight loss calorie goal, we can go about planning her meals.

First, we take 1456 calories and divide it by four. That means that each meal will be approximately 364 calories, with the snacks being 182 calories.

Now, we allow Georgina a daily range of 200 calories. In this case, we'll give her a daily range of 1400-1600 calories.

For meals, allow her to eat from 300-400 for each meal, and each snack can be from 150-200 calories, with a total of 1400-1600 calories.

STEP TWO: Divide Daily Calories Into Meals

How's everyone doing so far? Are you still with me? I know that was a lot of math, but math is part of losing weight. You do have to take in less, than you burn off. It is after all, losing weight: it's subtraction!

All right, now just a little bit more math for you, and you're good to go. The next part of the equation is some modified advice I received from a visit with a dietitian. Don't worry ... it gets easier, and doing your own math means you don't have pay a fancy weight loss company to do your math for you!

  1. Divide the number of desired daily calories by four. This will give you a target for the amount of calories you need per meal, with one meal divided into two snacks. For example, if your desired daily calories is 1600 calories, divide 1600 by 4 for 400 calories for each meal. (Snacks divided into two.) Snacks will be 200 calories each.
  2. Approximate the numbers. Use approximate numbers for your planning. For example, if your goal is to have 400 calorie meals, allow yourself a range of 350-450 calories. You need to do this to avoid frustration, because you won't always be able to get it perfect.

    As well, allow yourself a range of 200 calories for your daily calorie number.
  3. Plan out three main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try to make each meal approximately 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbohydrates and 1/2 vegetables or fruits.
  4. Plan out two snacks. Snacks should be a combination of protein and fibre.
  5. Throughout the day, track your food. Use a weight loss journal or some kind to record how you did. You can use a paper journal. There are also several free online sites that help you track your food, including apps for your phone that will track your eating.

Healthy Cooking

Blueberry-Flax Sandwich
Blueberry-Flax Sandwich | Source

More Pointers on Planning Your Weight Loss Menu

Okay, now that you have the math down, here are some more pointers for planning out your weight loss menu.

  • Measure your food! This is a whole art of its own but do invest in some measuring spoons and cups as soon as you can. In order meet your goals, you need to know how you are doing.
  • Plan for the week. Figure out what you need for the week, make a list, and take that to the grocery store.
  • If you are cooking for others, you don't have to necessarily cook separate meals, but you can modify the family meal to make it more "weight loss friendly."
  • For carbohydrates, plan to eat whole grains as much as possible. Include fibre in your meals as much as you can.
  • Start off with a healthy breakfast. I find a weight loss smoothie to be very effective. I also made up a recipe for a blueberry-flax sandwich which is chock full of nutrients.
  • Add vegetables to your meals in creative ways. I have written about how to add vegetables to scrambled eggs.
  • If you are eating a meal at a restaurant, check online to see if they have nutrition guidelines online.
  • Don't expect perfection out of yourself. Use all of this as a guideline, but don't worry if you go over your target. This is an approximation, not an exact science.

And remember, that planning your menu is only part of the picture. For more about all the aspects of losing weight, see this article about the A-Z of Weight Loss.

Very Inspiring Video: Transformation Road. A Doctor Comes Back From 500 Pounds

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    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Lizam, that would be wonderful! I will have a look at that hub, too. Have a great night.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      :-) Hi Patty I'd like to link your hub to mine about how to loose 20lbs and keep it off. Are you OK with that?

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Lizam, the math can be a bit off-putting, but it does help to ensure you are on the right track. You are correct, though, that it all boils down to more exercise and less food. Simple, right But it's the doing it that makes it difficult.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      aaaah I really like the title but I got caught up in the math! I did it though and confirmed what I kinda knew - more exercise and less calories! Thanks for the hub and the links. Very helpful.

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Carol, you are so right. It is a LOT of work, and you do need commitment for any weight loss program. Change is very difficult. I have been off program this last bit, but I am gearing up to get myself back on the losing track again. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. Have a great day!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      9 years ago from Arizona

      Though there is a lot of planning and some work here this will add to someone's commitment. All losing weight programs need one major ingredient and that is commitment. You did a great job in working out a good program...Voted UP.

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @Deborah, thank you so much! I appreciate the share and I am glad you found this useful. Have a great night.

      @Julie, it does take quite a bit of work! Thank you so much for the great comment and have a wonderful night.

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @BG, I know what you mean. I used to think I could just exercise my weight off, too, but it does take both, to get the success. It is hard to do. It takes so much work to try to plan everything out but it feels good when you are in the "sweet spot." Thanks so much for the great comment!

      RL, I am SO glad that it was useful. It took me a while to figure it all out, so I am happy to share with others. I appreciate the comments and share so much. Have a wonderful night!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 

      9 years ago from Clinton CT

      Very helpful hub. great job here...too bad I'm too lazy to diet ! :) Voting up!

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      9 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      this is a awesoem Hub.. I am posting this on facebook on TOPS. (TAKE OFF POUNDS SENSIBLY.. ) wonderful write


    • Rusticliving profile image

      Liz Rayen 

      9 years ago from California

      Bravo! What a great hub. I love the thorough information and the outline. You tips and suggestions are very beneficial. I believe that most people who are trying to shed weight don't really know how to set up a menu to help make it easier for them. Thank you for this wealth of information! Thumbs up and shared! Lisa

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 

      9 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      This is great advice. I will admit, I hate meal planning for weight loss. I am just lazy. In fact, I would prefer to exercise until my arms and legs fall off. However, I have learned the hard way that nutrition is vital. It doesn't matter how much you work out... if you are eating fast food and other junk, you will struggle to reach goal. So, they say 80 percent of weight loss is nutrition and 20 percent is exercise. That is 100 percent correct and I can testify as I was not careful with my food choices over the summer and wasn't able to hit goal. Ahh... but knowing is half the battle!

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @Teaches, thanks so much for the comment. I'm glad the hub was thought-provoking. Have a great night!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      9 years ago

      You have certainly given me some food for thought on how to plan out a good diet menu. Love your photos -- the scrambled eggs are my favorite. Voted up!

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @Thanks, Heather!

      @Maddie, thanks for the input! Yes, you are so right that snacking does cut down on the cravings so much. Have a great day!

      @Virginia, good for you for losing those 20 pounds. I have used MyFitnessPal, too, and think that it's really good. I'm with you on still needing to lose. Here's to good eating and losing! Have a good day.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      9 years ago from United States

      Great hub that explains very well how real weight loss works! I've been on a weight loss program since last Sept. I'm using MyFitnessPal, which basically figures out those formulas for you. I've lost 20 pounds and am staying there. So now I want to tackle those last 20 pounds! I totally agree that eating several smaller meals works. I'll have to check out your recipes. Voted up and pinned!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      9 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I love that you recommend that people break up their calorie allotment into 3 meals and 2 snacks. This really helps cut down on the blues often induced by low blood sugar, as well as cravings!

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 

      9 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      You too - I'll be trying your formulas to see how I'm doing today!

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Heather, thank you. Yes, that's a great way to do it, too. Either way, it has to be less calories overall. I found I need to count calories to make sure I don't "cheat" myself but different things work for different people. Have an awesome day!

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 

      9 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I appreciate the detailed directions to figure out daily calories and how to split them up. I usually plan by portion sizes and food groups, but it's good to know all the angles. Great job on this!

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Jools, I'm so glad the timing worked out! I wish you all the best in your weight loss efforts. A trip to Mexico is great motivation.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      9 years ago from North-East UK

      Very timely hub! I am starting my diet today cos I want to be a bit slimmer before my trip to Mexico in September. I am aiming to lose 18lbs in 6 weeks so I need all the info and help i can get. This hub is very comprehensive - well done.

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      @Beingwell, good for you, for having discipline in your eating. I appreciate your comments.

      @Billy, good for you! For some people, it's just not their "struggle," and for others of us, it is something we really have to watch. Have an awesome day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      9 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, I don't need this yet....crossing my fingers in hope....but will pass it along to some who do. Great info Sharilee!

    • beingwell profile image


      9 years ago from Bangkok

      Cool! This is such a helpful hub. I'm very watchful of the foods I eat, especially. Thanks!


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