when meal planning

The #1 Most Common Mistake People Make When Meal Planning

March 25, 2024

Meal planning can feel incredibly overwhelming to so many people. For most, the thought of planning a week's worth of meals is just another daunting chore on the to-do list. As both a bariatric registered dietitian and a bariatric patient myself, I can understand why meal planning can be so hard for so many. Personally, I can relate. It can feel frustrating when you don’t know what you want or what you “should” plan for the week. Professionally, I see one common theme amongst people who struggle with meal planning. The number one most common mistake people make when meal planning is they make it way too complicated! So let’s dive into how you can uncomplicate meal planning after weight loss surgery and make it a simple part of your routine versus something you dread.

Meal Planning - How to Make It Easier

Meal planning and meal prepping tend to give people a lot of anxiety. But you want to know a secret? There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to meal prep. Too many people put way too much pressure on themselves when it comes to meal planning and prepping. I think it’s also important to recognize that not everyone has the same abilities when it comes to meal planning and prepping. Especially for those who are neurodivergent or who have disabilities or physical limitations, finding quick meal planning and prepping hacks (such as having ready-made foods ordered) is necessary for so many.

When I think about meal prepping, the first thing that comes to mind is slaving away in the kitchen for an entire Sunday, perfectly portioning and weighing everything I’m going to eat for the whole week. I usually envision one of my favorite fitness influencers, with her perfectly lined-up glass containers and her food scale, making sure every bite is accounted for and tracked for the upcoming week.

Now, if that works for you and you genuinely enjoy it, all the power to you. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. But if the thought of having to do that makes you immediately just want to order takeout, then I’m with you.

Meal Prep Doesn’t Have To Be “Perfect”

Meal prep doesn’t have to be “perfect,” nor does it have to be complicated. And I just don’t think it’s realistic or sustainable to feel the need to always plan everything to a T. As humans, we want and need variety. Sometimes, you aren’t in the mood to eat certain things. I don’t want you to feel like you need to pigeonhole yourself into eating some perfectly prepped meal plan every week. That doesn’t leave room for any flexibility and, therefore, likely won’t be a realistic habit to keep up with. It also doesn’t help you learn to trust yourself with your day-to-day decision making or build confidence in listening to your body.

You also don’t need to make an elaborate meal every day of the week. Too many people choose overly complicated recipes that make it difficult since it is so much effort to prepare.

However, that’s not to say that planning ahead isn’t important. As humans, not even just bariatric patients, it’s important we have some kind of game plan for how we are going to feed ourselves each week. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a rigid meal plan to follow all the time. If meal plans alone worked, none of us would have struggled with our weight.

My motto is work smarter, not harder. This journey is hard enough; let's not further complicate it by trying to pre-plan and pre-track everything that goes into your mouth. And for the record, that just isn't necessary, especially if you don't enjoy it.

Meal prep can and SHOULD be simple. One of the things I always hear from my clients is "Ugh, I just don't want to think about food anymore!" And what they mean by that is that they don't want to spend every waking moment obsessing about what they will or will not eat every day.

Plan Ahead Or Plan To Fail

You may have heard the saying "Plan ahead or plan to fail." Will you automatically fail if you aren't planning ahead? No, not necessarily. Again, there are so many nuances in nutrition and lifestyle habits. The key is learning which habits suit you, your goals, and your lifestyle best.

More often than not, having food prepared ahead of time can really help us feel in control of our food choices. It can help minimize obsessing over what to choose and can help us avoid grazing, snacking, or running out for fast food. I'm excited to share with you how to do this in a quick and EASY way.

Meal prepping should be a part of your routine. If the term “meal prep” alone stresses you out, just think of it as meal planning.

By pre-planning your meals and getting a good idea of what you will eat throughout the week, you will:

  • Feel more in control of your routine;
  • Feel more confident building your meal plates and staying on track;
  • Feel empowered to make choices that align with your goals all week long;
  • Minimize stress, snacking, grazing, and mindlessly eating food.

Meal prepping should work with your routine. There is no one right way to go about it. Some people like to batch cook all their food to have ready to go, while others like to cook food every night as they move along.

Personally, my evenings are crunched for time, so I like to cook a couple of big batches of food to keep on hand to mix and match all week long. This is the approach I’m going to share with you, and hopefully you can take what you need from these tips.

Simple Meal Planning Strategy


You first need to decide what it is you would like to plan on having available to you for the week. Set aside some time either at the beginning or at the end of the week to think about what types of food you would like to prepare for the week, keeping in mind the bariatric meal plate method.


  • Take a look at your week’s schedule.
  • Pick one day out of the week to plan out your meals. I like to suggest taking 20-30 minutes to write everything out and prepare a grocery list.
  • Think about the foods youLIKE to eat. Prepping chicken and broccoli every night gets OLD, so think about the foods you feel good about eating.


  • Choosing overly complicated meals and recipes.
  • Trying to eat something different for every meal/snack. Some variety is good, but too much can be overwhelming.

The “Choose 3 Rule:”

I'm not usually one for "rules." BUT this one "rule" can save you a LOT of frustration, time, and guess work. It's what I call the “Choose 3 Rule.”

I really encourage you to choose three of each food type (protein, veggie, and carb) to prepare and have ready to go in the fridge. This way, you can mix and match which foods you pair together all week long to create variety, all while using the same ingredients and foods. This can save you time, minimize waste, and help you cut down on the cost of groceries.

Example of the Choose 3 Rule


Rotisserie chicken


Grilled salmon


Pre-washed baby spinach

Bell peppers

Grilled zucchini



Whole wheat tortilla

Roasted sweet potato

*Notice how some of these options require ZERO prep work? Remember, think smarter, not harder!


Some items you won’t have to prepare. (In the example above, the chicken, spinach, clementines, and tortillas require no prep work.)

I’m a firm believer that meal prep should not take that long. If you are spending more than an hour per week meal prepping, it's likely you are overcomplicating things.


  • Set time in your week to prepare your meals.
  • You may need to also set aside time to either go to the grocery store or place a grocery order to make sure you are ready to prepare your food.
  • Pick a day that works for you to purchase food and prepare it. (The days you purchase and prepare can be different days!) Just hold yourself accountable to whatever you choose.
  • Pick a day to prepare your food that works for you. If you KNOW Sundays are busy with family activities, then maybe choose a day that is less hectic, as long as it fits into your routine.
  • MULTITASK! Cut your fruit while your eggs boil, your chicken cooks in the Instant Pot, and your veggies roast in the oven. Do it all at once! Trust me, you will cut down on prep time.
  • You don't have to put things into perfectly portioned containers. Throwing all your chicken into one big container to grab and go or portion later is just fine.
  • You can also partially prepare things. For example: maybe you wash and chop up some veggies you plan on stir frying later in the week. Perhaps doing just that one piece ahead of time will cut down on prep.


The goal is to take everything you have planned and prepared and mix and match the various ingredients and prepped items to create multiple different dishes and meals throughout the week. You can use different sauces (such as sugar-free BBQ, teriyaki, honey mustard, etc.) to add fat and flavor to these meals and variety in taste. For example, with different flavoring, you can change the taste of the chicken or the salmon all week long.

This is where mixing and matching the “Choose 3 Rule” really comes into play.

Again, the goal is to be realistic.

Some weeks you may want to plan out more elaborate meals, but sometimes, keeping it simple is best.

With the examples above, you likely will also want to think about having additional staples in the house to help create variety with the things you've created. Having extra condiments, as well as staples like shredded cheese or avocado, on hand can be helpful. The reason I didn't include the "fats" to prepare is because, as I mentioned earlier, those typically will find their way to our plate by adding flavor.

The "Choose 3 Rule" can be really great for a busy lifestyle. There are so many ways you can use it! This was just ONE way to do it. It all depends on you, your family, the foods you enjoy, and what will be most satisfying.

Remember, your meal prep is a way to keep you on track all week. But please also allow yourself flexibility.

Always listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and choose foods that sound good to you. Give yourself permission to choose in the moment, all while having the peace of mind of knowing you have a fridge full of options to make a quick bariatric plate on the fly!

when meal planning
Jaime Mills


Jamie Mills RDN, also known as The Sleeved Dietitian on social media, is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist who also had weight loss surgery! She has been supporting people through her T.R.I.B.E. Membership Program, which is a virtual membership where members have access to dozens of nutrition materials as well as 45+ virtual support groups each month led by professionals who have also had surgery. She is also a #1 best-selling author. Her book "The Easy Way Out: Why Bariatrics Isn't Cheating Obesity, It's Treating It" and is making waves in the bariatric community! To learn more, be sure to follow Jamie on Instagram and Tik Tok @thesleeveddietitian and head to her website www.thesleeveddietitian.com for more resources and information on how to work with her.