How To Make A Clean Eating Meal Plan When You Are Busy

Ok, so you just realized that you should probably start to clean up your diet a bit.

Where do you start?

Don’t worry. Today, we are going to cover how to make a clean eating meal plan, despite your busy schedule.

how to make a clean eating meal plan when you are busy cover image

Welcome to the third installment of the WCT series on eating clean.

In part one of this series, we discuss The Importance of a Balanced Diet along with 3 key Principles of Successful Dieting.

In part two, How To Stop Counting Calories Using 1 Unique Method, we discuss an effective method of quantifying your food intake without having to actually weigh or measure your food.

In this post, we will discuss

  • How to select a diet that is right for you,
  • A simple clean eating meal plan
  • The proper way to make dietary adjustments to reach your goals.

Let’s get started…


There are many diets on the market, and each one proclaims to be better than the last. Some restrict certain foods, while others allow you to eat anything you desire (within certain confines).

The truth of the matter is: diets don’t have to be overly restrictive, nor do they have to condemn any particular food group (as most brand-name diets often do).

Balanced diets that ensure an appropriate intake of the three macronutrients while maintaining a slight caloric deficit are easy and essential.

The answer to the prevailing question of “which diet is the best diet” is always the same. The best diet is the one that you will follow.

Therefore, your diet needs to be sustainable for YOU, and for your situation.

If you can consistently eat paleo, go for it. If you prefer to be a vegetarian, be my guest.

We find it helpful to think of eating clean as a lifestyle, not as a diet.

It’s ok to stray from your meal plan once in a while, but always get back on course.

Never say, “Oh well, I already ate one doughnut, there goes my diet!”

This does not have to be an all or none phenomenon. As long as you consistently put the right foods in your system, you will be fine.

By changing your perception of food consumption, you are more likely to sustain your dietary habits for the rest of your life.

Now let’s get to the actual tactics that we use to eat clean.


Eating clean is actually quite simple.

The real challenge lies in making good food choices when you’re working 12-16 hour shifts, and everyone else around you is eating whatever they please.

Here are some quick tips that you can utilize to help accomplish your goal: whether that is to eat better, lose weight, or gain muscle.


When in doubt, always consume more lean protein – these include high-quality meats like lean chicken breast and beef, wild caught fish, and organic eggs.

But it’s also important to keep your consumption of animal products at bay and consume more plant-based proteins.

Non-animal options include tofu, green split peas, lentils, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds.

Proteins are complex and require a lot of energy to digest and break down. They are also the building blocks of maintaining lean muscle mass, one of the best indicators of overall health.

High protein intake from good quality sources will help you achieve ANY goal, no matter what that goal may be.


Secondly, do not be afraid of fat– they are essential and can be consumed at every meal.  Fats help curb your appetite and decrease food cravings.

When choosing fatty foods- keep saturated fats to a minimum, and attempt to get the majority from mono-unsaturated fats including olive oil, nuts, nut butter, seeds, dark chocolate, and avocados.

High quality fats make for great snacks.

Do not forget, fats do not make you fat! Overconsumption of low-quality food, coupled with inactivity is what will make you fat.

Our favorite fat?

Hemp seeds.

They are jam-packed with healthy omega 3 fats as well as protein.


Carbohydrates are the trickiest, as this is the macronutrient that everyone consumes the most of.  You can eat carbohydrates at every meal, but unlike fats and protein, they are not absolutely necessary.

a picture of a loaf of whole wheat bread

If presented with a choice, choose the whole wheat or whole grain variety. Brown rice vs white rice, whole wheat pasta vs regular pasta, whole grain bread vs white bread etc.

Also, ensure that your carbohydrates are consumed in moderation. A simple trick to minimize carb consumption is to only consume what fits in your cupped hand at each sitting as we discussed in Part 2.

For the most optimal benefit, you can choose to replace the carbohydrate altogether with a fist-sized serving of leafy green vegetables.

This way you get the benefit of meeting your daily vegetable quota (which is at least 5 servings a day by the way) and it will not feel like you are consuming salads all the time.


If you are going to look at one thing on the nutrition label, look at the sugar content. So many foods that are considered to be healthy are loaded with refined sugar.

Juices are one of the biggest culprits.

  • A Naked juice has 50+ grams per bottle.
  • A Chobani yogurt can have approximately 20 grams per cup.
  • Protein bars also tend to have approximately 20 grams.

Always be in the know. According to the AHA, men should consume 9 teaspoons of sugar per day, and women 6.

How many teaspoons are 20 grams of sugar?


Do you think that Dr. Pepper with 75 grams of sugar is a good choice?

If you are in the mood for something sweet, pick up fruit. The natural sugar that comes from the actual fruit is a much better option.


Everyone loves to talk about the ingredients in food.

There is one very simple rule of thumb you should follow. Always go with the food that has the fewest amount of ingredients.

5 ingredients or less is a great starting point.

Single ingredients foods are king. Did you know that natural almond butter is a single ingredient food?

In addition, there is one ingredient that you must ALWAYS avoid.

Anything that says ‘hydrogenated’

Partial or fully hydrogenated oils are what trans-fats are made out of.  If you don’t know about trans fat, the FDA has made it is illegal for manufacturers to use it in food.

There aren’t too many things the FDA has taken such a strong stance against.


Do you have coffee for breakfast? You can do so much better.

Consuming a high quality, nutrient dense, breakfast is a great way to quick start your clean eating journey. It’s an easy opportunity to eat something satiating and get your body going with high quality nutrients!

Trust me, those 5-10 extra minutes of sleep pale in comparison to the benefits you would get from eating a high-quality breakfast.

Don’t know where to start? Check out 5 Quick And Healthy Breakfast Options For Busy Mornings.


Ok, now that you have the basics covered, let’s discuss how you should eat.

Spread out your daily intake and aim to consume 4-6 meals per day.

Not every sitting has to be a complete meal (which we will define as a meal that contains a protein, a fat, and a carb), but the more complete meals you have the better.

The remaining meals can be snacks.

Eating multiple times throughout the day will help ensure that you are giving your body all of the nutrients that it needs, especially when you have a busy and unpredictable schedule.

For a complete meal, consume

*3-4 ounces of a protein (palm size),

*1/2 cup of starchy carbs (cupped hand)

or a cup of vegetables (fist size)(preferred)

*And a tablespoon of fat (thumb size)

Refer back to Part 2 to see how you can easily measure these quantities*

image of a plate with salmon and vegetables
  • Women can consume one serving of each macronutrient per meal.
  • Men can consume up to two servings of each macronutrient per meal.

For snacks, the best options include protein and healthy fats such as nuts and nut butter packets, greek yogurt, or avocados.


Ok, so now you know how to eat clean, and you know how to set your meal plan.

The next thing that you need to do is define your goals.

In order to get to your destination, you must know where you are going.

Are you trying to lose bodyweight? Are you trying to gain weight? How much and by when?

If your goal is to change your body weight, do not check the scale every single day. Due to variations in hydration levels alone, your body weight can fluctuate ~1% on any given day.

As a result, you should only weigh yourself 1 to 2 times a week to measure any true progress.

Always check your body weight first thing in the morning, after going to the bathroom, to keep as many factors constant as possible.

If your bodyweight doesn’t change significantly over 2 weeks (2-3 lbs), then you are eucaloric.

This means that your body is using up energy at roughly the same rate at which you are consuming it. If you are gaining weight, you are hypercaloric, and if you are losing weight you are hypocaloric.

Based on these results, we can then adjust your intake accordingly.


If after 2 weeks, you have not noticed a change in the desired direction, make SMALL adjustments.

Keep in mind that this is NOT a quick fix. It is important to use 2-week intervals to evaluate your progress.

If your goal is to lose weight, aim to lose 1 lb pound per week (+/- 0.5 lbs).

No more no less.

image of a bathroom scale

Anything more than this is unsustainable and will cause an unwanted rebound.

The same goes for weight gain. Aim for 1 to 1.5 lbs per week.

If you are not hitting the above recommendations, modify each meal by a small margin. Consume slightly less of the starchy carb at each sitting, and more of the vegetable if you are trying to lose weight.

If you are trying to gain weight, eat slightly more of the carb or the fat. Always keep protein consumption high no matter what.

Do not change the number of meals you consume. You should still aim for 4-6 meals per day.  This is critical.

The higher the quality of the food, the more work your body has to do to digest and process it.

Don’t forget, this is more about creating a lifestyle, rather than simply following a ‘diet.’

Adding some form of exercise will also be extremely beneficial when following this lifestyle. Regular exercise can increase muscle mass, which can further increase your metabolism and calorie burning potential.

Learn how busy professionals should exercise by reading Creating Quick and Effective Workout Routines.

Using these methods, you can create a sustainable diet that works for you and your lifestyle. Don’t make things complicated, diets truly are simple!


So in a nutshell…

  • Eat 4-6 meals per day, aiming to consume a balanced proportion of each macronutrient at each sitting.
  • Use your hand to determine your serving sizes.
  • If you’re not getting closer to your goal after 2 weeks, make small adjustments in the desired direction and re-evaluate your progress in two weeks intervals.
  • Make sure that your diet is personalized to you and your circumstances. The goal is to create a lifestyle that is sustainable.

So that’s it. After reading these three articles, you are now armed with the most useful principles that encompass healthy eating. Go forth and conquer!

Be sure to check out 7 Simple Ways to Eat Better Immediately for actionable ways to improve your diet regardless of how busy you are.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced with nutrition? Post your comments and questions below.

Don’t forget to share this article if you found it useful, and subscribe to receive a copy of our free Ebook- The White Coat Trainer Nutrition Guide!

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.

6 thoughts on “How To Make A Clean Eating Meal Plan When You Are Busy”

  1. Thanks for the great post, I’m really enjoying this blog! How do you balance getting 4-6 meals in a day, with the type of workday a resident has? Especially in a surgical specialty where you may often be locked into a case?

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Thanks for reading the blog! I am able to do this mainly because my wife and I meal prep a week in advance. That way I pack at least 3 of my meals with me to bring to work and have readily available. I always have breakfast before I leave for work every morning which also helps. Lastly, if I’m in a long surgical case or stuck in clinic, I will combine two meals when I get a chance or eat a little more when I get home that day. I’ll write a blog post about this, thanks for the idea.

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      I think it has the potential to work for a select group of people, however I generally wouldn’t recommend it. Especially not to doctors or other busy professionals. This is because of the type of work that is often required for a 12-16 hour work day. Its probably not a good idea to have long periods of hunger at work, which can affect you mentally and physically. Also, if your schedule is unpredictable, it may be difficult to schedule your fasts and your meal times on a consistent basis. I think it’s better to try and eat when you can and spread out your meals throughout the day.

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