How to Schedule Meals

With today’s busy lifestyles and high-powered rush of daily activities, it can be hard to stick to a routine of eating the right foods at the right times. Scheduling meals appropriately, however, can be a major factor in successful weight management, weight loss, chronic disease management, and general health pursuits. Fitting meals in when the chance arises or waiting until it is convenient to eat can lead to overeating, indulging in fast food or other unhealthy meal options, or even skipping a meal altogether. Having an unreliable meal schedule can lead to unpredictable calorie intake, inadequate nutrition, and even significant health risks. Learning how to schedule meals–even with a hectic lifestyle or a house full of kids–can make a positive difference in your and your family’s health.


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    Write down your nutritional needs and dietary aims. If you are a post-menopausal woman trying to shed a few pounds, your meal schedule may be different from that of a college-aged man looking to gain muscle mass.
    • Individuals attempting to lose weight should schedule about 4 meals per day with smaller portions, as well as 1 to 2 healthy snacks. Frequent eating with fewer calories can help regulate metabolism and keep blood sugar levels more even. Just be sure to balance the meals and snacks in terms of ingredients and calories.
    • If you are trying to maintain or gain weight, frequent eating is also important. People who skip meals or snacks often end up over-compensating when they next get the chance to eat. A dependable meal schedule with regular snacks and healthy, balanced foods can be key to maintaining or gaining weight. Those attempting to gain weight should add high-protein and nutrient dense foods at every meal and should snack frequently, while those trying to maintain a healthy weight should simply spread their calorie intake over the greater number of meals.
    • If you are pregnant or you have other special nutritional needs, including conditions such as hypoglycemia, speak with a medical professional or dietician and plan your meal schedule accordingly. In general, eating a small meal or snack every 2 to 3 hours should be your goal, with additional healthy options on hand for when you need a quick boost of energy.
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    Tackle your daily schedule to make space for regular meals. Fitting frequent meals and snacks into your day may be challenging, but with careful consideration and planning anyone can succeed.
    • Search your schedule for time that allows you to multi-task (snacking on carrot sticks and hummus while you answer email) or take a breather (walking to the water cooler allows time to eat a few crackers with cheese).
    • Plan to eat every 2 to 3 hours, whether it be a meal or a snack. The goal is to avoid fading energy or overwhelming hunger by keeping your metabolism activated and your blood sugar steady. Even a 5-minute break can allow time for a snack of celery sticks and peanut butter in mid-morning, and a 20-minute lunch break is plenty of time for soup and a slice of bread.
    • Build in time for meals, especially if you have children. Taking time to sit and focus on eating can be very important both to avoid weight gain and to promote healthy growth for your children. By forcing yourself and your family to take even 30 minutes for a meal together, you can reduce stress, connect with your loved ones, and avoid unmindful eating. Establishing a dinner or breakfast routine also ensures that you have a reliable and regular opportunity to get important nutrition and a break from your hectic schedule.
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    Plan meals and snacks ahead of time. This is especially important if your schedule necessitates multi-tasking or if you have children.
    • Proper portion sizes are essential for healthy eating, particularly if you are required to snack at work or on the go. By having pre-planned, pre-apportioned snacks you limit yourself to the quantity on hand and prevent yourself from overeating or opting for vending machine junk food, particularly if you must eat while working.
    • Pack lunches and snacks for work or school. By bringing food from home, you not only control the ingredients but also the quantity of food you or your children will eat. This makes unplanned fast food stops and soda purchases much less likely, and allows you to spend your entire break enjoying your food instead of waiting in line. It also saves money. If time is your main concern, pack lunches the night before or fix snacks in advance over the weekend so that you can grab it and go every morning.
    • Use grocery store advertisements to plan a weekly meal schedule. If you shop for exactly what you will need to eat 3 to 4 small meals and 1 to 2 snacks per day, you won’t be as tempted to pick up food on the go or eat out as often. Being mindful of what you have available to eat that week can also aid in motivating you to plan regular meals and adhering to a balanced diet.
    • If you will be away from home, bring a variety of snacks and drinks to tide you over until your next planned meal. Fruit, crackers, string cheese, veggie sticks, rice cakes, and tortilla chips make relatively healthy snacks that are easy to pack and convenient to eat no matter your location. If a meal is not feasible, at least you will have a few nutritious snacks to keep you from going hungry.


  • To get a better idea of the exact number of calories you need or how to measure proper portion sizes, take advantage of online calorie calculators and meal planners. Some insurance plans also offer free phone or in-person consultations with a dietician, particularly if you are trying to manage a health condition or lose weight.
  • When you must eat fast food or at a restaurant, opt for healthy, fresh choices and keep portion size in mind so that your daily meal routine doesn’t become unbalanced by a large, high-calorie meal.
  • When you purchase groceries, take a few minutes to divide it into multiple portion size packets that you can grab on your way out the door. Having broccoli or apples that are already washed, cut, and bagged into individual serving sizes makes healthy, regular snacking much easier on the busy professional or student.
  • If you have a health condition such as diabetes or hypoglycemia, use it as a motivator to yourself and an excuse to your boss for planning and consuming regular snacks and meals.


  • If you must snack or eat while doing something else, make sure your portions are set before you begin eating. Not paying attention to the quantity of your food makes you much more likely to overindulge; with predetermined portions you can focus on something else and guarantee that you won’t overeat.

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Categories: Meal Planning