Meal Planning by Macros: Our Dietitian’s Secret Trick

You know the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”? I may be biased, but as a fitness dietitian, I think this statement is especially true when it comes to counting macros. Meal planning by macros is essential if you want to hit your goals, and I’ve devised a simple trick for doing that.

In this post, I’m going to share my super effective, incredibly nerdy hack for meal planning by macros. And here’s the best part–it works even if you don’t count macros (or follow any special diet at all!).

My Number One Tool for Meal Planning by Macros

What is this amazing tool that makes meal planning by macros so much easier?

Google Sheets.

I started using Google for meal planning shortly after my dietetic internship, during which I spent several weeks working in a school food service.

Large school districts have some pretty amazing meal-planning software—much more sophisticated than a spreadsheet. But for all its bells and whistles, the best part of the software was the “add to favorites” button.

As I’m sure you can appreciate, some school lunch recipes knocked it out of the park (and got the “add to favorites” button), while others were complete duds. Over time, I started planning more and more lunches around these crowdpleaser menu items.

I started trying to recreate this planning system to feed my family. Initially, I just printed recipes and filed them using the same categories you’d see in a cookbook–main dishes, side dishes, chicken, vegetarian, etc.

But it didn’t quite do the trick. Aside from printing the same recipe multiple times, I could never find a way to categorize recipes that fit into multiple categories.

More importantly, I wanted a way to search by calories, protein, and other nutritional concerns.

Enter: Google Sheets

How I Use Google Sheets to Meal Plan While Macro Counting

Google Sheets helps me keep all of the recipes my family loves in one place, where I can filter and sort them by macros, ingredients, prep time, and prep method.

It’s super easy to customize based on your needs. My sheet includes the following columns:

  1. Recipe name, with a hyperlink to the online recipe
  2. My portion size. This is where I note how much of the recipe I usually eat. Sometimes, it’s the recipe serving size, but I often adjust the portion size to meet my macro needs.
  3. Prep time, in minutes.
  4. Calories, based on my portion size
  5. Protein (in grams)
  6. Fat (in grams)
  7. Carbohydrates (in grams)
  8. Fiber (in grams)
  9. Category (breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc.)
  10. Category 2 (optional. Examples include slow cooker, meal prep)
  11. Main ingredient (chicken, fish, whey, etc.)
  12. Finally, any quick notes I want to remember (ingredient substitutions, etc.)

From there, I add recipes as I find ones I love, including any available nutrition data I have.

Then, I let Google work its incredible voodoo magic (which is basically just its sort button).

If I need a dinner with at least 35 grams of protein, I highlight the protein column and sort Z to A, which will rank my recipes from highest protein to lowest.

Or, if my priority is using up the 90 pounds of chicken in my freezer, I sort the main ingredient column alphabetically to search for chicken recipes.

I walk through my entire process in this video!

Pretty easy, right?

So now that we’ve talked about how to set up your meal planning spreadsheet, let me share a few more tips and tricks to really make it work for you.

Bonus Tips for Meal Planning by Macros

Now that you know how to set up your spreadsheet, let’s talk about a few things you can do to really make it work for you.

Decide on a Meal Planning Tool

My spreadsheet is great for sorting and organizing recipes, but you’ll still need a system for planning your meals.

You could try an app like MyFitnessPal or MacroFactor. You can also just write out your plan in a notebook or create a new tab in your spreadsheet for day-to-day meal plans.

Any method is fine as long as you can tally up your macros as you plan.

Work at Least 24 Hours in Advance

Spontaneity is not your friend when counting macros.

Winging it from meal to meal pretty much guarantees you won’t hit your targets.

Use your meal planning spreadsheet to plan all of your meals and snacks for the next day or even the next week! It’ll only take a few minutes, and it’ll make your life so much easier.

Keep Breakfasts and Lunches Boring

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or energy to plan and prep 21 unique meals each week.

It’s much easier for me to pick two breakfast options and two to three lunch options. This makes it so much easier to know my macro targets for dinner (and it allows me to cook my daytime meals once or twice for the entire week).

Crowdsource Your Recipe File

Google allows multiple editors on the same file, making it easier to crowdsource your meal planning! In fact, most of my all-time favorite recipes have been recommendations from friends.

Share the YouTube video above with your family, gym friends, or anyone else who loves to eat healthy. Then, invite them to edit your spreadsheet. Be sure to make a copy first, just to be safe.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly your file of tried-and-true healthy recipes grows (and, how quickly you can plan your meals by macros).

Want My Meal Planning by Macros Spreadsheet?

Hopefully, the process I’ve detailed in this post makes your life (or at least your meal planning) easier.

To simplify it even more, I’d love to give you a copy of my spreadsheet–totally free!

Once you have it, you can use it however you like. You can add your own recipes, edit the columns to suit your needs, play with the formatting–whatever you need.

Click here to get that file, and let me know how it works out for you!

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