Picture of Megan Boitano

Megan Boitano

Registered dietitian nutritionist Megan Boitano, MS, RD, helps dietitians leverage their expertise and generate income via creation and sale of online nutrition resources. She is the founder of Well Resourced Dietitian, a digital marketplace for dietitians to both sell and buy original, digital materials for use in their nutrition practices, including ebooks, handouts, presentations, webinars, worksheets and more.

How to Create Meal Plans for Clients (Tips for RDs!)

Meal plans are really common requests of dietitians – we are the experts after all, right?

But if you’ve never made one before…or have ever spent far too long making a meal plan, you are probably wondering how to create meal plans for clients in a way that feels simpler and less time-consuming. And: of course, we want our resources to help our clients to lead healthier lives, not be a crutch.

Good news: that isn’t too much to ask!

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through how to make meal plans for clients and connect you with resources to make this task simpler. Plus, we also have some done-for-you meal plans that you can start using today!

First off, let’s talk briefly about why you might consider having meal plans in your business.

Why provide a meal plan?

Is making a meal plan even worth your precious time? While getting asked to make meal plans is a really common request of dietitians, you might not be all that excited about making one if you are worried that a meal plan isn’t going to help your clients to make progress toward their goals.

Aren’t we supposed to be teaching people how to manage their nutrition…not just to follow directions, the old “teach a man to fish” instead of providing the fish?

Dietitian Diana Bruen can relate. “I once 100% dreaded, and avoided, creating meal plans for clients at all costs!  I now use them throughout my practice with clients both as support but also as an amazing teaching tool. Good conversations often happen around food and the table; that is how I like to view meal plans. They open up great conversations and action!”

background image of healthy foods with text overlay that reads why provide a meal plan?
background image of healthy foods with text overlay that reads why provide a meal plan?

Here’s the truth: a well-done meal plan can be a great tool to empower your clients. While anyone can make a run-of-the-mill meal plan (or any thing, even an AI software tool), your expertise, training, and credentials as a dietitian matter.

As a registered dietitian, you’re equipped to provide evidence-based recommendations that are rooted in the latest scientific findings, your wealth of experience, and your personal approach to wellness.

“Many people know the basics of how to eat healthily but don’t know how to implement it into their lives. This is where meal planning comes in!” –Melissa Mitri, MS, RDN, Nutrition Content Writer for Weight Loss Brands 

RDs can create higher-caliber products that are targeted to their specific audience. And although RDs can sometimes worry that a meal plan is taking away the opportunity for a client to learn new skills, a meal plan can actually provide the structure for them to learn how to manage their health with your guidance. And with less decision fatigue, your client may be better able to continue to make progress instead of burning out.

In addition to providing personalized recommendations to your individual clients, you can also use a meal plan to grow your business in other ways, such as offering a meal plan on your website as an opt-in to grow your email list.

Ready to go? Here are the steps you need to take in order to create helpful, personalized meal plans in less time.

7 Steps to Create a Meal Plan for Clients

No matter which software program you may choose to use to create your meal plans, these are the steps you might go through to make high-quality meal plans without taking all day.

1. Conduct your initial assessment

Get to know your client, their health history, their lifestyle, and their goals. That way you can tailor their meal plan to their unique needs, goals, and preferences.

The most impactful meal plan will take into account your client’s health history, wellness goals, and lifestyle. A few questions you might consider asking your client include:

  • Do you have any food allergies or sensitivities?
  • What is your budget for groceries?
  • What kitchen tools and appliances do you have? (e.g., slow cooker, air fryer, blender, etc.)
  • Do you have any cultural foods that you’d like me to include?
  • Do you follow any specific eating patterns, such as gluten-free or vegetarian?
  • What is your health history?
  • Do you take any medications?
  • What are your goals?
  • How much flexibility do you prefer in your meal plan?
  • Do you like leftovers?

Based on this information, you’re better equipped to craft a meal plan that your client will really love and actually use.

“A tailored meal plan is a plan clients can stick to long term. Get to know your client’s food preferences and mealtime needs before you even begin to sketch out ideas. Because a meal plan that not only incorporates a client’s favorite flavors and dishes but is also designed around their skill level, budget, and availability to cook and shop is what will ultimately get it followed. A meal plan that takes into account your client’s cooking abilities and feels truly doable will make them feel empowered and confident that they’ve got a good handle on their new way of eating.” -Andrea C Kirkland, MS RD, owner and founder of Culinary Med Ed.

P.S. If you use Practice Better, check out this Meal Plan Intake Form. It is coded to work with Practice Better and to collect the important information you need from clients quickly and efficiently.

recommended questions to ask clients when meal planning displayed around icon of meal plan
recommended questions to ask clients when meal planning displayed around icon of meal plan

Create your meal plan

Jasmine Westbrooks, MS, RD, CDCES, founder of Nourish Through Nutrition and EatWell Exchange starts with her client’s favorite foods when creating custom meal plans.

“Meal planning can be a daunting task, but also an opportunity for me to be creative. I use this strategy when creating customized meal plans for my clients.

  • I consider what their favorite foods are or get an idea of the top 30-40 foods that my clients routinely eat.
  • From there I make edits regarding their typical recommendations based on what goals they have for their nutrition journey. I also inform my clients that the meal plan is a resource or tool vs. ‘this is the only food you can eat’.
  • I make it very clear that this is a framework of foods to eat and should be used as such. With my meal plan, I give specific instructions for other behavioral modifications to implement when eating based on the meal plan.”

Our clients can be supported by different styles of meal planning. Some are far more formal and detailed, with specific recipes assigned to specific days. Others are more flexible or even based on portions or macros rather than specific recipes. The right meal plan will be a good fit for how your client thinks about meals and their specific goals.

Here are a few examples of different strategies you can use to create a meal plan for your clients:

Traditional: you select specific recipes and assign them to specific meals throughout the week.

A few examples of traditional meal plans available right here include:

Macros or portions: you craft a meal template of recommendations for calories, macros, or portions that your client can fill in to meet their goals. This kind of plan may be the right balance of structure and flexibility for someone managing their blood sugar, their weight, or learning to eat enough as they recover from extreme dieting or an eating disorder.

Flexible: You pick a few recipes for your client to make over the course of the week with some meals open for them to eat out. You can also plan for eating around a predictable pattern, as demonstrated here, Ultimate Meal Pattern Bundle: Calculator + Templates. Or one that minimizes cooking, such as this one: 4-Day No Cooking Required Meal Plan.

“I went this [flexible] route because I noticed how frustrated my patients felt trying to follow a rigid meal plan. Providing a pattern for my clients to follow, rather than a rigid plan with specific recipes, gives them an approach that feels more flexible and sustainable. Their personal pattern can more easily include their favorite and cultural foods.” – Lauren McCarthy, MS, RD, LD

woman sitting at desk in quiet thought holding a marker
woman sitting at desk in quiet thought holding a marker

Meal prep: your client does most of the labor of cooking their meals at once and eats them as leftovers throughout the week. Alternatively, your client may assemble the ingredients for recipes in gallon zip-top bags and have them available in the freezer to toss in the slow cooker for an easy dinner.

Specific health condition or goal: a meal plan can be the support that your clients need in order to achieve their goals of managing a specific condition or reducing the risk of developing a disease.

A few examples of this type of ready-to-use meal plan for a specific condition include:

In addition to the options listed above, our Canva Guide for Meal Planning is a great resource for making meal plans without a monthly subscription expense to meal planning software.

Don’t forget to keep a client’s cultural preferences in mind when planning meals. Our Ramadan and Diabetes Dietitian Handbook and the Balanced Latin Plate Guide are both great examples of how the resources you create can be culturally sensitive to diverse clients. 

Build in some flexibility

Real life doesn’t always unfold as expected and there are sure to be some last-minute changes to the schedule.

Empower your clients to still stay on track by talking through alternative options that they can do when the first draft of the plan is no longer feasible. For example, have some go-to options in the freezer or options at a local restaurant that are a good fit for their needs and goals.

You can share our free Freezer Inventory Tracker with your clients so that they know what is available at home.

Start with the basics

For some people, a menu plan that includes suggestions for every single meal and snack is exactly what they’re looking for. But for others, a more focused recommendation is what they need to start building skills without becoming overwhelmed.

Your clients may need help with weight gain and a High Calorie SHAKES e-Cookbook is just the right tool. Or maybe they need some support with planning some healthier snacks, or breakfasts first is what they need to build habits without getting overwhelmed.

Don’t feel like you have to plan out every single meal and snack for all of your menu plans; it might be information overload for your clients.

Consider providing a grocery list and prep guide

When you’re meal planning, it can take a lot of mental energy to then transfer each ingredient from each and every recipe onto a grocery list.

Your meal plans are more valuable with a grocery list that covers the plan. (Psst! This is your nudge to increase your rates if you’re providing more value.)

Accountability: the secret ingredient

So many people think that they’re stuck because they don’t have the right information, but in actuality, they need support on how to implement the information and, this is key, accountability on sticking with things that feel new and even a bit difficult.

If you’re working with clients 1-on-1 or in groups, your nutrition counseling sessions may be the accountability that they need to turn these new skills into a lifelong healthy habit. You may also consider tracking their progress in your EMR software or you could even have a community group for your clients to share tips, tricks, and recipes as they work through your meal plans.

You might also consider messaging tools to check in and troubleshoot if your clients are having trouble or feel stuck. No need for them to feel derailed searching for a specific ingredient if you can offer a quick substitute. 

page preview of meal planning template and social post
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Ready to put your toe in the meal planning waters? Grab our editable template above to make your first meal plan! 

Pro Tip: Meal plans make excellent marketing tools. You might offer a 3-day sample meal plan in exchange for signing up for your email list. Take the time to craft a helpful email nurture sequence that automatically gets sent to your new subscriber over a few days or weeks as they work through your sample meal plan. And then, once they’ve enjoyed that free tool and built trust with you, the next emails can be to invite them to become paid clients.

Empower your clients to meal plan themselves

You may offer your expertise to your clients as they learn to meal plan themselves. This could be a session that you offer in your group program, a free workshop that you offer to meet potential new clients or a paid program that you offer in corporate settings as a wellness activity.

Once you get into a rhythm with meal planning, you can explore more ways that this service can provide value AND boost your income. We have a LOT of lucrative ideas in this post: How to Sell Meal Plans: The Ultimate Guide for Dietitians

Empower your clients to meal plan themselves

As your clients use your free and paid tools, it is important to solicit their feedback. What was helpful, and what could be better? While it can be hard to hear constructive feedback, if you remember that your goal is to be helpful, this feedback will help you to improve.

Dietitian Diana Bruen explains, “After each meal plan, I like to loop back with clients, preferably in the next session, and ask:

  • What did you try?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?

Based on their answers we flush out some more details on what will work for them. It’s amazing to see them buy into what they are doing, come up with ideas and swaps, plus get inspired.  Even better – if they made something or tried something new, take a picture and send it to me.  Celebrating those small wins, laughing about the not-so-goods and all the while helping them learn what is good for them, how to do it, and forming trust in the process.”

Not only can client feedback help to improve your meal plans, your process, and your products, but it can also become testimonials that you can use to encourage new people to become clients.

Ready-to-use meal plans for clients

Interested in providing meal plans but don’t want to go through the labor yourself? That’s okay! In addition to the examples shared above, we have many options available for purchase with very specific audiences in mind. Here are a few examples:

You might also consider delegating the task of creating meal plans to an intern. If you’ve never precepted an intern before, this blog gives you a full rundown of the nuts and bolts (and benefits!) of hosting a dietetic intern: Precepting Interns as a Private Practice Dietitian.

Invest in software

If you’ve been trying meal planning with your clients and are enjoying things, you may well consider investing in a meal planning program.

“It really is worth it to invest in a software program. My clients love it, and it has saved me so much time and energy as well as serving as an additional source of income alongside my 1:1 and group coaching programs.” McKenzie Caldwell, MPH, RDN, LDN, Owner and Dietitian Feed Your Zest Nutrition & Wellness, LLC.

There are a LOT of options for meal-planning software these days. This blog post gives a helpful overview of the pros and cons of some of the most popular options: Choosing a Meal Planning Tool for Your Private Practice.

Boost your revenue

Once you’ve done the labor of crafting meal plans that your clients love, you can continue to benefit from your work. There are several different effective strategies to use meal plans to boost your bottom line.

“Meal plans area wonderful avenue to provide more value and make additional income. aren’t continue to be in high demand for clients and customers and are a wonderful avenue to provide more value and make additional income. 

For example, you can boost your bottom line by: 

  • Teaching meal planning and prep classes online or in person
  • Selling meal plans on your website
  • Providing them to corporate wellness clients

Many worksite wellness programs are looking for fresh ideas and meals they can share with their employees to boost their health. You can teach meal planning at corporate wellness centers to their employees and sell meal plans for their use.” – Melissa Mitri, MS, RDN, Nutrition Content Writer for Weight Loss Brands 

Our Meal Planning 101 presentation makes quick work of getting ready for your next corporate wellness event!

Check out this blog post for a comprehensive look at how meal plans can increase your revenue: How to Sell Meal Plans: The Ultimate Guide for Dietitians.

If you’ve created a great resource, you can also set up shop here on Well Resourced Dietitian and let your work work for you!

The bottom line

With the right strategy, meal plans can be a powerful tool to help your clients while growing your business.

When you take into account the unique needs and preferences of your target audience, you’re able to provide them with a meal plan that empowers them to achieve their best health and wellness. Save time and energy with the right software programs and high-quality resources available for purchase today!

And when you’ve made your own high-caliber menu plans for clients, be sure to list them in your own store here on Well Resourced Dietitian.

Recommended reading

Ready to learn more? We’ve hand-picked a few favorites from the blog. 

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