How to Create a Meal Plan

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Sep 14 2023.

Woman writing a weekly meal plan.

As a family caregiver, your work is never done. Whether you’re taking your loved one to doctor’s appointments or helping them get dressed, the demands on your time are never-ending. 

It’s no surprise then that these responsibilities can affect the way you eat. For example, you might rely on fast food rather than making meals at home. There’s nothing wrong with convenience, but if your loved one has special nutritional needs, healthy eating is essential. 

One of the best ways to take the stress out of grocery shopping and cooking is with a meal plan. With some research and preparation, you can save time and money and make healthy, delicious meals that your entire family loves. 

To learn more about meal planning, we reached out to two experts –– Kelsey Costa, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition specialist, and Mary-Ellen Sabat, RD, a registered dietitian and ACE-certified trainer.

What You’ll Need:

Making a meal plan doesn’t require special equipment. All you need is a complete picture of your loved one’s health and dietary needs. 

You can save yourself time and hassle by working with a registered dietitian. “A registered dietitian is an excellent resource for creating a meal plan. Dietitians are trained in nutrition science and understand the complexities of medical-related dietary needs,” explains Costa. 

“Furthermore, they have knowledge of the best food choices to promote health and wellness. By working with a dietitian, family caregivers can ensure their loved one’s diet is based on evidence-based research. Additionally, they can confirm the meals are tailored to both their preferences and health needs.”

How to Create a Meal Plan - A Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1: Research Your Loved One’s Specific Dietary Requirements

Before developing a meal plan, take the time to research your loved one’s unique dietary needs. 

“This understanding is particularly important if they have medical conditions,” says Costa. “This includes allergies, food sensitivities, and any doctor-recommended dietary restrictions.” 

Talk with your loved one’s healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns. They can alert you to important considerations, like medication side effects and food-drug interactions.

Step 2: Make Balanced Nutrition a Priority

A meal plan isn’t just about saving time. It’s also an effective way to get your loved one the vitamins and minerals they need. 

“Aim for balanced and varied meals that incorporate all essential nutrients,” Sabat says. “Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats to provide optimal nutrition.” 

Costa agrees, adding that “meal plans promote healthy eating habits by providing structure around dietary needs. You can ensure your loved one has access to nutritious meals without the hassle of meal prepping and cooking from scratch daily.” 

Step 3: Pay Attention To Your Loved One’s Preferences

Everyone has different tastes and food preferences. It’s important to consider these factors before diving into meal prep. Your loved one might eat only a little or refuse to eat altogether if they don’t like what’s served. 

“Be mindful of your loved one’s eating habits and preferences to ensure meals are appealing and satisfying,” says Costa.

“Personal touch and flexibility matter,” adds Sabat. “While meal planning is structured, it’s important to maintain flexibility. Occasionally, your loved one may have cravings or preferences that deviate from the plan. Don’t be afraid to adapt and make adjustments as needed.”

Step 4: Meet with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Nutrition Specialist

After you know more about your loved one’s dietary restrictions and preferences, meet with a qualified professional, like a registered dietitian (RD) or a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). 

“These authorities have the expertise to tailor a plan to your loved one’s specific medical needs, ensuring they receive the right nutrients while avoiding harmful foods,” Sabat says. For example, an RD can recommend specific recipes that include ingredients your loved one needs to thrive. 

Caregiver Tip

Most major health insurance companies cover at least some form of nutrition counseling. Medicare Part B covers 100% of medical nutrition therapy (MNT) services for people with certain conditions, including diabetes and kidney disease. 

You can read more about Medicare and medical nutrition therapy here.

Step 5: Think About the Meals You Want to Make

If you’re someone who likes to cook, you might decide to plan snacks and meals on your own, without a professional’s help. Even so, it’s important to be strategic.

“I always tell my clients to make a meal plan that outlines all the meals for the week –– breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks,” Costa explains. “Then, create a shopping list based on the items needed to make those meals. This ensures only necessary ingredients are purchased.”

There are several other ways to speed up meal planning.

“Opt for simple, easy-to-prepare recipes on days when you know you’ll be busy,” Sabat says. “You might also want to consider ‘theme nights’. Designating certain nights for specific types of meals, like pasta night or stir-fry night, helps streamline planning.”

If your loved one doesn’t have special dietary restrictions, “meal-planning apps or programs, and grocery-delivery services can make things more efficient and less stressful,” Costa adds. 

“Many of these services provide ready-made grocery lists, recipes, and even prepacked meals tailored to the individual’s needs. This removes the guesswork from menu selection and creates a streamlined shopping process.”

Some of the most popular meal-planning apps include Paprika, Yummly, and Cozi.

Step 6: Make a Grocery List and Go Shopping

After you know which snacks and meals you plan to make for the week, draft a grocery list.

“When creating your grocery list it’s important to group items by categories such as produce, dairy, frozen items, etc. This makes navigating the grocery store easier to find what you need quickly,” Costa explains. “Additionally, planning the route through the store can help save time and reduce impulse purchases.”

Step 7: Make Recipes in Bulk

Try and choose recipes that you can make in bulk so meal planning is less stressful. For example, foods made in a slow cooker or instant pot can serve 4-6 people. And, when you make larger quantities, you can freeze the leftovers.

“A really helpful hack is to double up on recipes –– making two or more of the same meal at once and freezing some for later use,” Costa says. “This helps save money and time in the long run, as family caregivers won’t have to cook from scratch as often.” 


Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to conserve your time and energy as a family caregiver while ensuring your loved one receives proper nutrition. 

“Collaborate with healthcare professionals and dietitians to create a suitable meal plan that meets their medical needs,” Sabat says. “And don’t hesitate to implement time-saving strategies to make the process more manageable.”

We’re Here to Make Your Life Easier!

We know that being a family caregiver is hard work. Our friendly Care Specialists are available round-the-clock to answer your questions, whether you need help choosing a mobility device or are confused about incontinence products. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to

How to Create a Meal Plan - Commonly Asked Questions

1) Is portion control part of meal planning?

Yes. “Portion control is particularly important if your loved one has a special diet and needs to reduce the intake of certain ingredients,” explains Sabat. “A registered dietitian can be a boon by helping you determine the appropriate portion sizes to help your loved one maintain their health and well-being.”

2) Is working with a professional necessary if I’m new to meal planning?

You don’t have to work with a professional if you’re new to meal planning, but it certainly helps.

“While dietary advice is widely available online, it’s best to consult an expert, like a registered dietitian for individualized advice,” Costa says. “This ensures the meals are tailored to your loved one’s needs and dietary restrictions.”

3) Where can I get inspiration for meal planning?

Preparing meals that are delicious and nutritious can be challenging, especially if your loved one is a picky eater. Get inspiration from cookbooks, social media, and YouTube. Or check out recipe ideas developed by fellow caregivers. A Place For Mom and Cook For Your Life both offer dozens of delicious meal ideas.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.