Why You Don’t Need a Meal Plan

Why You Don’t Need a Meal Plan

It seems like a reasonable request.

I mean, financial planners will write you an investment plan, personal trainers will give you an exercise plan (and most will probably give you a meal plan too, but I digress.) So, it should only make sense that a dietitian would give you a meal plan, right?


Sliding in just behind “Aren’t dietitians required by the government to teach Canada’s Food Guide?” and “Do you think I should try this detox/cleanse/diet/expensive MLM protein shake?”, the phrase “Can you make me a meal plan?” probably rounds out the top 3 questions that dietitians hate hearing the most.

While I’m more than happy to teach you how to meal plan (“Teach a man to fish…”), I will do everything in my power to talk you out of getting me to make a meal plan for you. It’s not that I’m trying to get out of work, (OK, maybe a little.) Here’s why:

Why Dietitians Actually HATE Meal Plans #rdchat Click To Tweet

Top 3 Reasons Why Meal Plans Don’t Work

1. You’re Not Going to Follow It

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing you of being uncommitted or lazy, but there’s a lot that goes into how we decide what to eat – taste, nutritional needs, health concerns, wellness goals, schedule, lifestyle, access to ingredients, grocery budget, cooking ability, other eaters in the household, random cravings, just to name a few. Even if I was somehow able to magically capture all of that in a week’s worth of meals and snacks, there’s the unexpected – holidays, birthdays, snacks in the breakroom, traffic, emergency meetings, grocery stores running out of stock, power outages, illness, natural disasters, or just a plain ol’ crappy day can throw a wrench into things.

The result? Instead of actually eating better and moving toward your health and wellness goals, it turns into a blame game. Blaming the plan, and me, for things not working out, or worse, blaming yourself for not being able to stick to it.

2. Meal Plans Don’t Actually Help You Eat Healthfully

The diet industry has set this lofty expectation that if you could just find and follow the “right” meal plan, you will magically lose weight and feel better. Forever.

Here’s the truth: most meal plans only tell you two things – what to eat and how much to eat. Eating well encompasses so much more than that. A meal plan can’t help you explore why you eat; it just assumes that you do it because it told you. It doesn’t teach you how to eat mindfully, or how to improve your relationship with food and your body. Heck, it can’t even tell you what to do when things don’t go according to plan. (See #1 above)

While meal plans can be used in a more well-rounded nutrition counselling approach that also includes some of the above concepts, I still prefer not to use them because of the time it takes to get one “just right” (again, see #1 above) and because it directly flies in the face of one of my core nutrition philosophies (see #3 below)

Meal plans only tell you what/how much to eat. How can you expect them to actually help you eat well? Click To Tweet

3. Meal Plans Don’t Honour Your Inner Wisdom

When I meet my clients for the first time, many of them say, “I know what I need to do, I just can’t seem to get myself to do it.” You have decades of experience as an eater; why throw it all away for a meal plan that only tells you what and how much to eat based on what is “expected” for your height, weight, age, sex, activity level, etc?

Why don’t we listen to you?

Before you pooh-pooh that experience and say, “Well, aren’t you the expert?” Sure, dietitians are experts when it comes to the science behind food and nutrients as they relate to health, but you are the expert on the eating habits that meet your unique needs. Why would you need a piece of paper to tell you what and how much food you need when your stomach and brain can already tell you that?

You don't need a meal plan to tell you what your stomach and brain already know. Click To Tweet

So, What Are You Going to Do if You Won’t Give Me a Meal Plan?

Glad you asked! I’ve already alluded to some of the things that I help my clients with earlier in this post – exploring why we eat, practicing mindful eating, helping people improve their relationship with food, and most importantly, helping people tap into their inner wisdom to discover and honour their unique needs. I’ve also written about What A Dietitian Can Do For You and How Dietitians Can Help in previous blog posts.

Ready to eat better, sans meal plan? Book an appointment with me, or try the FREE 10-Day 4-3-2-1 Countdown to Wellness Challenge.


  • Adina on Jun 25, 2017 Reply

    Yes! All the important reasons and said so well. The most I will do is, WITH the client’s help and input, I will create a sample menu using what they would like to eat. But even that I’m sure feels constraining as soon as they get home and think “ugh, I don’t WANT to eat that right now!”

    • Vincci Tsui on Jun 25, 2017 Reply

      Thank you! I’ve definitely had clients do a meal plan *with* me in session before, and the great thing about it is, they’re always pleasantly surprised at how quickly it comes together. I’ve also given people lists of meal *ideas*, again with their input.

  • Jess Salinas on Mar 19, 2017 Reply

    Hey Ms Vincci Tsui,

    Glad I came across your article! I literally was throwing the towel on the dietitian career because of meal plans and switch to a doctor. I DETEST meal plans becasue you’re right. I love nutrition(especially clinical) and all but when it comes to meal plans…nope. I also approach it with that ” teach a man…” proverb…Glad to hear other dietitians have the same view…..

    • Vincci Tsui on Mar 20, 2017 Reply

      Hello Jess,

      Thank you for your comment! I’m grateful to hear that my article resonated with you, and I hope you will continue on the path to becoming a dietitian! One of the things that I have discovered in my career is that there are so many different areas to work in, and different ways to practice. I know you will find a way of working that fits with your talents and beliefs. Best of luck!

  • Beth Rosen, MS, RD, CDN on Dec 06, 2016 Reply

    Totally agree and I am glad to see a fellow Dietitian teaching clients to use their intuition to know how much and when to eat. Great article!

    • Vincci Tsui on Dec 06, 2016 Reply

      Thanks for your kind words, Beth!

  • Jen @ pretty little grub on Dec 01, 2016 Reply

    I agree with this so much Vincci. I’d actually love to talk to you more about how you work with your clients. I find it such a struggle when people are always asking for meal plans and trying to get still want to book an appointment, if that’s not the end goal.

  • Michelle Jaelin on Nov 30, 2016 Reply

    Totally agree, Vincci!

    • Vincci Tsui on Dec 01, 2016 Reply

      Thanks, Michelle!

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