This is the fourth post of a four-part series on “Building Your Own Nutritional Plan” by Kristen Smith, RD. Follow along as she continues to further discuss how to implement healthier nutrition habits into your life to reach your long-term goals. Put Your Plan in Action You have decided to follow a new healthy nutritional plan. You have determined your nutritional needs and created measurable and achievable goals. The only problem now is you aren’t sure how to incorporate your healthy eating plan into your daily lifestyle. You may feel intimidated or overwhelmed initially, but with some well-defined steps on how to implement those plans, you will be able to stick to it for the long haul. Create a Tangible Outline Typically the first thing to focus on as you implement your nutritional plan is the outline you hope to follow. The most successful plan will contain an easy to follow outline that can serve as the structure for your meals and snacks each and every day. The focus of this outline should be food groups rather than specific foods. People who follow a specific meal plan with repetitive foods tend to get burned out easily and typically don’t stick with their plan for a significant amount of time. Your outline should be based on your specific nutritional needs and goals, but will likely consist of three meals with two to three snacks. Each meal should also include a balance of foods groups like lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. When including each food group on the outline make sure to also include number of servings. Most healthy individuals will require a lean protein source at every meal and some snacks. Each meal should also contain at least one serving of fruits and or vegetables. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This is not to say you can’t ever eat these foods. However, they should not be part of a routine in any meal plan as they can provide significant calories and lack nutrition.[/perfectpullquote] Food groups lacking significant nutrition value like added fats, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and sweets should be kept in moderation and not included as a part of most meals or snacks. This is not to say you can’t ever eat these foods. However, they should not be part of a routine in any meal plan as they can provide significant calories and lack nutrition. Consider allowing yourself one or two of these food groups only a few times per week. Implement Your Meal Plan Once you have a solid outline created you can start filling in the outline for the upcoming days or week. At each meal, you will need to specify the exact foods you plan to eat for the food group listed. For example, if you listed a lean protein with lunch you will now need to specify whether that’s grilled chicken, a turkey burger, fish sandwich, etc. Attempt to incorporate foods you enjoy and will look forward to rather than foods you feel forced to eat. Try not to repeat the same foods each and every week in efforts to prevent becoming bored and uninterested in your meal plan. Most of my clients tend to fill in their meal plan outline at the beginning of each week. They will often spend one weekend day writing out their plan meal and planning out how they will implement this plan for the week. Sometimes this preparation will include grocery shopping or meal preparation. However, if planning for a week at a time appears overwhelming, don’t be afraid to fill in our outline with specific foods every few days. Measure and Update Once you implement a plan, it’s important to measure your goal against what you are doing. This assessment can occur on a weekly or monthly basis depending on the type of goals you have set. Your evaluation will likely determine how you will proceed with your current meal plan and the changes that need to take place. Part of success after starting a new meal plan is proving you can maintain meeting your goals and thus staying on track with your nutritional plan for the long haul. If you are able to meet your short term goals consistently over the course of a few weeks or a month it may be time to reevaluate your goals. You may want to move onto other goals and update your meal plan accordingly or take next steps to meet long-term goals. After you have reached your long-term goals, the next step will be to figure out how to maintain them for a significant period. Reflect on what tools and methods have helped you to be successful in reaching that specific goal. Assess if maintaining those aspects will be feasible and realistic for a longer timeframe. If you are meeting your goals, but not doing it with methods that you can stick with for the long-term re-evaluate how you plan to continue and meet the goal. Best of luck implementing your new nutritional plan!