Do-It-Yourself: Meal Planning

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As a registered dietitian, people are always asking me to create meal plans for them. While daily menus work for some, I prefer to show people the resources for a do-it-yourself version. I like to think eventually they won't need me anymore, and I want to be sure they feel confident in paving their own way in the kitchen or dining out. That said; let's take a look at a few great resources to help you jump start your meal planning at home.

First, determine the number of calories you need. There are several calculators for this online, but comes highly recommended as it has numerous resources at the click of a mouse. Here you'll enter your height, weight, age, sex, and minutes per day of daily activity.

I also like the new Interactive DRI Tool for Healthcare Professionalsput out by the Food and Nutrition Information Center. Here you'll enter your height, weight, sex, and activity level, then click the boxes for information desired. At a minimum, you'll want to select body mass index, daily calorie needs, and probably macronutrients. Use the "What's This?" link to help determine the fitness level that best describes you. A word of caution: Aim low on activity amounts if you find yourself unsure or have inconsistent exercise habits. It's better to lowball it than to generate an estimate that is too generous when it comes to calories.

So what do you get? With the DRI tool, you will get everything you'd ever want to know about your recommended nutrition intake (assuming you select all the boxes). Most importantly, it will calculate your body mass index (BMI) and your estimated daily calorie needs. (Note: to determine which BMI category you're in- underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese- click the "About BMI" link).

How is this useful? Having a general idea of the number of calories you need per day is something everyone should know. It's like knowing how much gas to put in your car.

Next, macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) can help with meal planning- it's like knowing what type of gas to put in your car. While the output for micronutrients can serve as a good reference, I don't recommend scouring food labels to ensure you're getting adequate selenium, for example. For one, it won't be on the label and two, micromanaging your intake will drive you crazy. When it comes to micronutrients, eat a variety. If you don't, or doubt your ability to meet nutrient needs through food, take a multivitamin for added insurance.

Now back to where the My Pyramid Plan will also give you an output of calories per day, along with a recommended number of servings per food group you should consume. MyFoodapedia provides quick access to need-to-know info about the food you eat such as the food group it belongs to, the number of calories in a portion size of your choice (or the default serving size), and the ability to compare it to another food of your choice.

MyPyramid is for everyone- there are sections for pregnant women, preschoolers, kids, and beyond. You can trust these recommendations as a solid foundation for your meal plan as they're based on the Dietary Recommendations for Americans, which are updated every five years and used as the building block for the vast majority of American nutrition standards.

As always, contact a registered dietitian for more personalized suggestions.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of

. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto