Weight Loss NHS
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Meal planning help

Seriously, by the time you read all the advice that is about it feels like I need a phd just to plan a week's meals and know what to buy shopping. The "simple" quick meals offered on the meal mixer are probably nearly all more complicated than anything I have ever cooked.

I might sound clueless but that's because well... I am. I just want to be able to plan very simple stuff that won't cost much (I'm a student). Can somebody help out?

12 Replies


I made the decision early to try to stick with the meals I enjoy but adjust them to reduce calories. I researched all the calories in eat meal I made and then made some adjustments.

Portion size is a big deal and by reducing the portions it's a really easy change and will save money :) Another really simple change I made was to half the amount of mince I use in a bolognaise. I used to plop the meaty sauce on the top of the pasta but now I mix it all together with the pasta so you don't notice the reduced meat and again it saves money :) I am sure you can think of others changes.

It is up to you whether you want to follow a specific diet or just reduce what you eat. Obviously the latter is much easier and I have lost over 4.5 stones in the last year doing this.

Whatever you decide to do - good luck :)


Thanks for the reply. My problem with bolognese etc. has always been that I cook enough for 2 or 3 people or 2 or 3 days then end up eating it all haha

Well done on your weight loss btw, I have gained so much in the last 8 months, like a serious amount and it's so depressing to think it will probably take at least a year to lose it back



A year is nothing in the long term - so this time next year you will be happy with your weight so worth the commitment :) I still have loads to lose and expect to be doing this for another 2 years!

You are so sensible to tackle it now before you gain more.

Why not put the portions in the freezer for another day, then you don't have to cook so often :)

It will take you a while to adjust but I am sure you will manage it.

Also remember that recently gained weight does come off easier :)


I like this article for meal ideas. Easy and quick and mix and match.


Good luck



Some great advice from Sueper. If you tend to eat the same things each week then meal planning/calorie counting becomes easier, portion control is important so maybe start to cook much smaller amounts in the first place? A year might sound a long time but believe me it isn't so set yourself small, achievable targets along the way and use the forum for support and encouragement :-) John


You can get heaps of ideas on-line John and all of Sueper's tips are brill. I'm a great believer in freezing meals, it makes life a whole lot easier and prevents over eating :)

Try this site for some recipes that won't break the bank


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I have lost my spare 30 lbs in weight and have maintained it for 11 months. Some of the changes I made in the beginning , I have continued.

As the others have said, a main change was portion size. I switched to a smaller dinner plate, still have a plateful of food but its now about a third less overall than before. And on that plate approx 2/3 will be vegetable , often cheap veg like kale . I also use frozen Quorn mince instead of mincemeat for chilli , bolognese etc and I weigh out my dried pasta or rice 75g ... The quorn mince is much lower in calories, tastes the same and cheaper.

I still have treat foods but I buy them in smaller sizes eg if I fancy chocolate I NEVER buy a big bar no matter how cheap it is, I buy small kitkats or jaffa cakes, or a small size green&black dark chocolate ( or the supermarket own brand ) .

You are a young student and the changes you make now could really give you a healthier longer life. I was over 60 , with years of bad eating habits behind me, so if I could do it so can you. Good luck 😊


Hi John, I can remember feeling like you over dieting in the past. But this time my dieting friend recommended the Hairy Dieter's cookbook it was less than £4 and its really helped me cook tasty meals they've done the hard work working out the calories and portion size and once I've followed the recipe step by step the next time its a doddle to do. Sometimes I use cheaper ingredients i.e. for the curry I will use a mixed curry spice which cost 35p instead of all the individual spices, I guess over time I could buy them but it would be an expense. I use longlife cream (yes cream in the recipes!) which lasts for ages and can be frozen in ice cube trays. The recipes are so tasty nobody knows they are diet food and I freeze the portions not eaten where possible. I really enjoy choosing my tea from the book now and its helping me learn more about cooking, I'm becoming a better, healthier (thinner) cook. I have learned to like porridge for breakfast which costs 60p a bag and lasts for ages so I don't think about what to eat for brekkie I just grab the porridge oats put a small handful in a bowl and microwave with milk. I think the worst thing for me about past dieting is calorie counting and eating odd food, now I don't calorie count there's lots of really normal tasty recipes to choose from I try to do some exercise 3 or 4 times a week and I've lost 1 1/2 stone in 4 weeks! Its been a bit of an education but its been worth it (so far).

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Thanks for the replies guys. I'm not that young a student btw, I am a mature student at 29 so perhaps I should know more about this stuff.

I've just made a start by going to Sainsbury's and buying lots of fresh and tinned fruit, tinned veg, frozen veg, few chicken breasts and pork chops, reduced fat mince to have with my veg, wholemeal bread for sandwiches for lunch, weetabix and 1% milk with frozen berries for breakfast.

Should be enough to get me going.

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That's a good start.... be careful with the tinned fruit though, many have added sugary syrup and even the ones in fruit juice have natural sugar . I buy tinned fruit too for a quick dessert, but I drain off most of the liquid and don't be afraid of adding cream btw, it's a healthy fat and better for you than icecream! .



Well done SJ, you are starting to get the hang of it already.

Other cereals worth having are puffed wheat, porridge oats and shredded wheat. These are all wholegrain with no added sugar, so fill you up for longer. Puffed wheat is so light you get masses in a portion. But your weetabix is already portioned! Most packaged foods have portion information on them, often near to the nutritional information that includes the kcal count. Adding fruit to your cereal is one way of replacing the sugar and making a more filling meal.

It is well worth learning what a portion looks like. Many of us got fat eating healthily, but our portions were too big. The two very large guys in my family have switched to my portion sizes, they just have more portions! For lean meat we look for around 100g, fish somewhere between 80g and 100g. Potatoes are 200g, but larger for baked potatoes. Rice and pasta/noodles are 60g raw or 150g cooked. Try to increase the fibre in foods by having wholemeal or wholegrain versions and stop peeling potatoes, just scrub and cut out any bruising or marks before chopping and cooking.

Sainsbury's sell several Basics range products which are useful. I love their no fat plain yogurt, tetra packed tomatoes, tuna in brine, the canned sandwich ham and the chicken breast. Some of the meal type cans are worth trying too as fast meals for one. So far I like the chicken in white sauce and the curries. Baked beans are very useful on toast and as an ingredient in soups and casseroles. Eggs are fantastically good value both price wise and nutritionally. I tend to buy medium or the mixed sized packs. They would make a really good addition to your breakfast as boiled, beaten and scrambled without fat in a non stick pan. They can be poached in water, gently fried or made into omelettes. A couple of hard boiled eggs in your fridge will give you an emergency high protein snack. Research says that people who have eggs for breakfast, tend to lose weight better than those who don't.

Another useful option, if liked, is some of the vegetarian and quorn options. Have a look at the own brand veg burgers, and quorn burgers/fillets/sausages/mince - all lower in kcal and fats than the meaty options. These are all things we tend to eat with onion and ketchup/mustard/sauces, so you might not miss the meat flavours.

The low fat dairy products are useful too. Try skimmed milk, plain yogurt (add your own fruit), especially 0% fat Greek yogurt, quark, and the various lower fat cheese products like cheese triangles or spready cheese. Cheese is one of my problem foods so I buy the slices. I know I am paying them to slice it for me, but if I was cutting my own, I would cut it to 20g or 40g and eat the small bits cut off. So I get it ready cut. Lower fat cheeses include feta, Camembert and Brie. Otherwise I go for strength like Parmesan for cooking and extra mature cheddar, so I can use less.

When using fats, switch to the healthy oils and ask the pharmacist for a children's plastic medicine spoon. These have a 5ml teaspoon at one end and a half teaspoon at the other. Use that to measure your oil for frying and salads etc. You can fry most things in a teaspoonful of oil and roast potatoes etc or homemade oven chips in the same amount.

Nearly all frozen fish options fit into diets easily.

You've already learned the trick of having sliced bread as it is portioned. Other options include rolls, thins, pitta, small naans, chapatis and wraps. I also love melba toasts, because they are very crispy and packed in 80kcal packets, inside the box.

Because you are having less protein and fats, the trick is to pile on the veg to fill your plate. If you would have meat and 2 veg, from now on make it 3 or 4 veg. Consider trying all the frozen mixed veg options as a cheap and convenient way of getting variety. When buying frozen veg, most supermarket cheap brands are as good as the more expensive ones. The exception is peas.

You might find Lidl and Aldi are much cheaper than Sainsbury's for a lot of products. I use Lidl and once I adjusted my shopping list, I found it very cheap especially for veg and fruit. About 50% less. I still have to go to Sainsbury and Asda for favourite products that the discounters don't have equivalents to.

Sorry to go on so long, but if any of this helps you along, then it will have been worth it.


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The easiest way is to have 4-5 options of lunch or dinner and rotate them.

Cold lunches are great, especially as a student you can brown-bag them to campus. I usually had 3 of the following options in a tupperware with an fruit or yoghurt for dessert:


2-3 Cold ham rolls

2-3 Corn beef slices

1 tin tuna in greek yoghurt with salt, pepper & garlic

3-4 full fat, raw milk cheese slices (cheddar or the like)

1 cup of almonds, pistachios, walnuts or a mix

1/2 cup hummus

1/2 cup shredded roast chicken or turkey

1/2 cup real mozzarella balls


1 cup olives

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 cup veg sticks (carrot, cucumber, courgette, celery, sugarsnap peas, bell peppers)





Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp)

So an example lunch would be:

2-3 corned beef slices + 3-4 slices of cheese and 1 cup of carrot & cucumber sticks.

And dinner just opt to lower carbs i.e rather than pasta with from frozen veg have frozen veg with some pasta.

Snack of fruit, nuts & seeds. Avoid packaged and processed "health" foods. Protein and natural fats keep you fuller, longer, and don't convert to sugar when digested (unlike most carbs, complex or otherwise).


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