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The 8 Best Free Meal Planners to Help You Lose Weight

The key to your dieting success may be right at your fingertips! These are the most effective and easy-to-use online resources that take the guesswork out of your meal-planning.

Pancakes with cinnamon and caramelized apples, selective focuspearl7/Shutterstock

Joy Bauer: Meal Plan to Drop 10 Pounds

The Today Show‘s resident health and nutrition expert has the skinny on smart eating with this weeklong meal plan. The lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats pack a serious nutritional punch and also fill you up. “There’s an emphasis on balanced meals and snacks, and on getting enough fiber,” says registered dietitian Maxine Yeung, RD, CPT, and owner of the Wellness Whisk, “which is the number one nutrient most people in America are lacking yet is so important to our health.” Yeung also likes that this plan explains the reasons for the food choices and things like how fast you eat affects your weight, so you learn how to eat properly and mindfully. Here’s a sample menu, chosen from Bauer’s mix-and-match plan:

Breakfast: Apple protein pancakes (can substitute an apple with 1/2 cup any fruit of choice)

Lunch: Curried chicken salad with green peas served on a bed of baby spinach leaves with 1/2 whole-grain pita

Dinner: Baked fish with broccoli and sweet potato: 5 ounces grilled, roasted or baked fish (cooked with 1 teaspoon olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, and preferred seasonings) + 2 cups steamed broccoli and 1/2 baked sweet potato

Snacks: String cheese and an orange; 4 cups light popcorn (or 150 calories of any brand)

Meal planning page for Diet Point Weight Lossvia itunes.apple.com

Diet Point Weight Loss app

Yep, there’s an app for that—and the Diet Point Weight Loss app is arguably one of the best. It offers 130 different diets with accompanying meal plans, many of which are free, so you can scroll through and see what might be appealing to you, says Paige Whitmire, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at One on One Fitness in Pennsylvania. It’s got everything from Paleo and vegetarian to Zone and Scarsdale diets, as well as quirkier celebrity diets and diets by blood type. Everything is presented in an easy-to-follow format and is based on your personal stats, though nutritional content isn’t listed for each meal. Other cool features: The app reminds you when it’s time to eat, as well as features diet and nutrition tips. Don’t miss these 10 non-diet foods that help you lose weight.

Meal planning page for Eat This Muchvia eatthismuch.com

Eat This Much

The Eat This Much meal planner is like the Stitch Fix of dieting: You answer questions not only about your current and desired weight, but also about what types of meals appeal to you and don’t. As a result, its suggestions are truly personalized. Yeung loves that you can pick how many times a day you want to eat and how large you want meals to be and that it takes into account how much time you have to prepare meals and whether you cook or eat out. “There are so many options to tailor your plan, and the program adjusts your plan as you go along, too,” she says. “That variety may help people stay on track. The most common reason I see people fall off a meal plan is that it’s too rigid and lacks variety.” The only issue is that the free plan only includes daily suggestions; you’ll need to subscribe to the premium service ($5 per month) to access the rest of the week’s meals ahead of time after a two-week free trial. Here’s a one-day sample menu for a 140-pound woman to eat around 1,600 calories:

Breakfast: Eggs, cheese, and mushroom omelet; 1 cup of strawberries

Lunch: Quick salsa tuna wrap; 1 ounce of almonds

Dinner: Pesto pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted asparagus; yogurt and banana chips

Snacks: Smashed avocado and garbanzo beans; cheese slices

Meal planning page for Everyday Healthvia everydayhealth.com

Everyday Health: Free meal planner

The meal planner from Everyday Health considers your food preferences, health goals, and cooking skills when creating a customized plan for you—and that can set you up for long-term success. “With the multiple options, you won’t get sick of having the same foods all the time,” explains Whitmire. “This plan seems not only realistic but also enjoyable. Nobody wants to feel like they’re on a diet.” You can also swap out proposed meals and add your own, which is especially helpful when eating out. The offerings are also solid, according to Whitmire: The meal plans “recommend an appropriate amount of calories and a proper breakdown of macronutrients, so that will make a person feel satisfied and energized.” Here’s a sample meal plan for an average-height, 140-pound woman looking to lose 20 pounds….

Breakfast: Mexican breakfast wrap; apple slices

Lunch: Chicken and apple mason jar salad

Snack: Celery and hummus boats

Dinner: Spicy garbanzo bean burgers; Greek yogurt cucumber salad

Check out these 42 other fast and easy tips to maximize your weight loss.

Meal planning page for CaloriesCount.comvia caloriescount.com

Calories Count

As the name of the site implies, the focus here is on limiting how many calories you take in. Calories Count features six meal-plan options—ranging from 1,400 to 2,400 calories—for six weeks. The site also lets you know what to eat when you’re out so you don’t feel chained to your house, something that can derail good dieting intentions, as well as allows sweets. “These plans are great starter plans,” says Yeung, “and there’s potential for someone to adjust them to meet their needs better.” For a more long-term diet, though, she says that more whole foods, whole grains, and healthy fats should be incorporated. This is a sample day based on the site’s 1,400-calorie-per-day meal plan:

Breakfast: French toast (with 1 tablespoon margarine-like spread and 1 tablespoon pancake syrup); 1 cup coffee; 1 cup milk (2%)

Morning snack: Berry blend drink mix (8 ounces, sugar-free); 1 small apple

Lunch: Italian salad with dressing; Parmesan angel hair pasta; 1 cup cubed cantaloupe; 1 cup green tea

Afternoon snack: Granola bar (80 calories); fruit-punch drink mix (sugar-free)

Dinner: Easy meatloaf; mashed potatoes; mixed peas and carrots; diet soda

Evening snack: 1 non-fat chocolate cookie; 1 cup milk (2%)

Meal planning page for the DASH Dietvia health.gov

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The DASH Diet

The DASH Diet, named as the “best overall” diet for eight years in a row by U.S. News & World Report, aims to treat or prevent high blood pressure. Even though it isn’t specifically designed for weight loss, people tend to shed pounds when following it. This seven-day meal planner designed by DHHS provides a good jumping-off point for people interested in this long-term lifestyle choice. However, cautions Yeung, it calls for 2,000 calories daily, which is not the right weight-loss number for everyone. She suggests getting your own counts from an online calorie calculator or a professional. Going to a doctor or a registered dietician is optimal, she says, because “there are many factors, such as level of activity, ethnicity, and medical history that should be taken into account.” One day on the DASH Diet looks like this:

Breakfast: 3/4 cup bran flakes cereal; 1 medium banana; 1 cup low-fat milk; 1 slice whole-wheat bread with 1 teaspoon soft margarine; 1 cup orange juice

Lunch: 3/4 cup chicken salad; 2 slices whole-wheat bread; 1/2 cup fruit cocktail

Dinner: 3 ounces beef (eye of the round); 1 cup green beans; 1 small baked potato (with 1 tablespoon fat-free sour cream; 1 tablespoon grated cheddar cheese; 1 tablespoon chopped scallions); 1 small whole-wheat roll with 1 teaspoon soft margarine; 1 small apple; 1 cup low-fat milk

Snacks: 1/3 cup almonds (unsalted); 1/4 cup raisins; 1/2 cup fruit yogurt (fat-free, no sugar added)

Here are 11 things you need to know about the DASH Diet.

Various vegetables on sale at a market.Jasni/Shutterstock

Hurry the Food Up: 7-Day Weight Loss Meal Plan for Vegetarians

Vegetarians, rejoice! This is a diet designed just for you. Hurry the Food Up‘s seven-day meal planner, with its individualized calorie recommendations, not only eschews meat—but it also makes sure that you get enough protein, omega-3s, iron, and vitamin B12. “These are key nutrients that can be easily missed in a typical vegetarian diet,” says Whitmire. And protein, in particular, should be a key component when dieting. “This plan highlights uncommon—and tasty—sources of protein such as lentils, quinoa, beans, yogurt, and cottage cheese,” she says, “and they will help you feel full.” Another bonus: This meal planner calls for you to make extras, so you can use them in other dishes or simply eat leftovers for some meals. That makes it more realistic because let’s be honest—no matter how dedicated you are, it’s really hard to cook every meal from scratch every day. Here’s a one-day sample menu:

Breakfast: Banana Egg Pancakes with 1 tablespoon flax seeds and 1 teaspoon of honey

Lunch: Tofu Pineapple Salad

Dinner: Spicy Black Bean Soup, garnished with a tortilla

Snacks: 1 orange, a good handful of nuts

Greek yogurt granola and blueberries on blue table top view. Healthy food nutrition, snack or breakfast.nadianb/Shutterstock

Very Well Fit: Easy Meal Plans to Lose Weight

This health and wellness website’s meal plans—which give you options for 1,200, 1,500 and 1,700 calories per day—focus on nutrient-dense foods. Still, as Whitmire notes, it is very difficult to get the correct amount of nutrients on a diet that’s less than 1,500 calories. “Very low-calorie diets do result in quick weight loss, which most people are looking for to jump-start their progress,” she says, “but I wouldn’t recommend them for longer than seven days.” She also gives some nice tips for sticking with a meal plan. Here’s a sample from the 1,500-calorie-per-day option:

Breakfast: 1 slice of 100-percent whole-grain toast with 1 tablespoon almond butter; 1 hard-boiled egg; 1 orange; 1 cup plain coffee or tea

Lunch: 2 slices 100-percent whole-grain bread, 2 ounces sliced roast beef, 1 slice Swiss cheese, and 1 tablespoon mustard; 1/2 cup sliced carrots; 1 cup non-fat milk

Dinner: 1 three-ounce chicken breast fillet with two tablespoons salsa; 1 cup cooked broccoli with lemon juice; 1/2 cup cooked black beans; 1 100-percent whole-wheat dinner roll with 1 teaspoon butter; 1 small glass white wine

Snacks: 1 nectarine; several glasses of water; 3/4 cup plain yogurt with 1 tablespoon honey; 1/2 cup blueberries; 10 pecan halves; 1 cup 100-percent grapefruit juice

Pair of running shoes and healthy food composition on a wooden table backgroundHalfpoint/Shutterstock

Bonus tips to maximize your weight-loss success

First and foremost, be realistic. While a restrictive meal plan may get you closer to your bathing-suit goal this month, it may sabotage you in the long run because you won’t stick to it; worse, it could even slow your metabolism. A healthy, long-term lifestyle choice is the best way to go. And while you may start out incredibly enthusiastic and have visions of cooking every night, life can get in the way. “It helps to have a few favorite go-to healthy dining-out options picked out ahead of time for those days you might not be able to cook,” says Yeung. And don’t forget that exercise will help optimize your efforts. “It’s important to exercise effectively,” adds Whitmire. “I recommend exercise that boosts metabolism, increases muscle mass, and burns calories for weight loss.” Check out these inspiring secrets from people who have lost more than 50 pounds—and kept it off.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Elisabetta Politi, CDE, MPH, RD, on August 11, 2019