Before you dive into your keto meal plan, make sure you understand what the keto diet is, how it works, and the effect it has on your body. Basically, the keto diet — also known as the ketogenic diet, the low-carb diet, or the low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet — lowers your intake of carbohydrates, which triggers an insulin response and puts the body into a state known as ketosis. This is a natural process initiated by the body to help us survive when food intake is low. During this state, we produce ketones, which are created when fat breaks down in the liver.
The body’s "normal" metabolic state is called “glycolysis”, which burns carbs for energy. While your body is in carb-burning mode, it uses all available carbs for energy before it touches stored fat. However, in ketosis your body is primed to burn fat, which is why so many people swear by the keto diet for weight loss.
Keto Meal Plan: What Should It Include?
A keto meal plan for beginners should contain 35 grams of total carbs or less each day and 20 grams of net carbs or less each day. This is a good starting range for keto newbies. Net carbs are simply the grams of total carbohydrates in a portion of food minus its grams of fiber. (Because fiber is a carbohydrate that your body cannot digest, it doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels or trigger an insulin response.)
If you want great results from your keto meal plan for weight loss, try to keep both your total carbs and net carbs below those limits each day.
As well as restricting your carb intake, you should restrict your protein intake. If you eat too much protein, your ketosis level may decrease. If you want to lose weight, aim for between 0.6 grams and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.
Fat is your primary source of energy on the keto diet, so make sure you’re eating enough of it. The keto diet is not about starving yourself.
You can’t get enough water on the keto diet. Aim for a gallon of water per day to stay hydrated, regulate vital bodily functions and help control hunger levels.
You’ll get better results from your keto meal plan if you stop or limit snacking. Snacking can create insulin spikes during the day, which can interfere with weight loss.
Try to incorporate some exercise into your daily routine. About 20-30 minutes of exercise per day helps to regulate weight loss and blood sugar levels.
Some keto diet followers recommend intermittent fasting to get into ketosis quickly. During intermittent fasting, you don’t eat or drink anything containing calories for a certain period of time. When you deprive your body of calories for a few hours, it starts to go through its excess glucose stores (from carbohydrates). After it’s burned through all glucose, it has no choice but to burn fats for energy – the entire basis of a keto diet.
For beginners to intermittent fasting, skipping breakfast may be a good starting point. For more experienced keto-dieters, fat fasting helps overcome a weight loss plateau. Fat fasting involves eating 80 to 90 percent of calories from fat for certain time (no more than five days is recommended) and limiting all non-fat food sources. The theory behind this is that your body speeds up its metabolism to burn even more fat.
Many people try a 21-day keto meal plan to start, to see how a ketogenic diet works for them.
Keto Diet Plan Menus
Now that you understand the basics of how to achieve ketosis, you can start creating your keto diet plan menus. Aim to create a few different menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner to ensure you have a varied diet throughout the week. Lots of free keto meal plan ideas are available online. Here’s a three-day keto jumpstart meal plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner:
Breakfast: Spinach, mushroom, and feta cheese omelet with keto coffee (coffee with added fat such as MCT oil, butter, heavy cream, or bone broth protein)
Lunch: Oven-baked salmon with broccoli
Dinner: Grilled chicken served with eggplant, yellow squash, and zucchini along with a few tomatoes, sautéed with garlic in olive oil
Breakfast: Bacon and 2 or 3 fried eggs
Lunch: Spinach salad with bacon, red onion, tomato and vinaigrette
Dinner: Meatloaf (use chopped mushrooms and onions as a binder instead of breadcrumbs) served with a veggie salad
Breakfast: Avocado-baked eggs (cut an avocado in two, crack an egg into the hole and bake until the egg is set)
Lunch: Tuna salad lettuce wraps with avocado
Dinner: Tacos with beef, full fat sour cream and cheese, and romaine lettuce for shells instead of tortillas
Easy Keto Meal Plan for Beginners
The ultimate easy keto meal plan doesn’t require too much advance prep or cooking time. These dishes are super simple to put together when you’re short of time.
Breakfast: Whole milk, unsweetened yogurt mixed with full-fat sour cream, raspberries, chia seeds, and walnuts
Lunch: Cubes of grilled chicken, a slice of nitrate-free ham, cheese cubes, pickle slices, a hard-boiled egg, a few raw grape tomatoes, raw veggies like cauliflower or broccoli, a few almonds or walnuts, guacamole, and ranch dressing
Dinner: Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, chicken breast, bacon, Parmesan, and olive oil dressing
Vegan Keto Meal Plan
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, your dietary options may be limited but you can still stick to a keto diet. A vegetarian keto meal plan contains plenty of cheese, eggs, and vegetables. Try a vegetarian keto club salad with eggs, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce and a crispy tofu and bok choy salad for tasty veggie keto meals.
A vegan keto meal plan obviously can’t rely on eggs or cheese and other dairy products, but it’s not impossible to be a vegan on a keto diet. To make this fairly restrictive diet work for you, make sure you follow a few basic rules. As well as limiting your total carbs per day to 35 grams, stick to low-carb vegetables, get at least 70 percent of your calories from plant-based fats and around 25 percent of your calories from plant-based proteins, and consider nutritional supplements to give you vitamins you might not be getting enough of from your diet, such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and B6 and vitamin D.
On the vegan keto diet, you can substitute high-protein, low-carb vegan “meats” for real meats, such as tempeh and tofu. Stock up on leafy greens like kale and spinach, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, low-carb sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit, and high-fat dairy substitutes like unsweetened coconut-based yogurt, coconut cream, and vegan cheese.
1200 Keto Meal Plan for Weight Loss
You can tailor your keto meal plan to suit your daily calorie requirements. For example, you could follow a 1,200 calorie keto meal plan or a 1500 calorie keto meal plan. It’s a good idea to seek your doctor’s advice before embarking on a diet that greatly restricts your calorie intake.
While everyone is different in terms of metabolism, activity levels, and so on, remember that the basic formula for calories is energy stored equals energy in minus energy out. So if you need 1,800 calories per day to maintain your weight, and you eat 1,400 calories per day, you will lose weight because your body uses around 400 calories of body fat to make up for the 400 calories missing from your diet.
Keto Meal Plan Examples
Here are more keto diet meal plan examples to get your keto journey started.
While many keto fans try to avoid snacking, you can add snacks to your keto meal planner if you wish. Some keto snack ideas include BLT roll-ups with bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and turkey, cream cheese spread between two cucumber slices, and spicy guacamole with raw zucchini slices. The most important thing to remember about snacks is that they should be just as keto-friendly as your main meals.
When you start to try these keto meal plan ideas, you’ll soon come up with your own simple keto meal plan to suit your taste preferences.
Keto Meal Plan and Shopping List
It will be easier to stick to your keto meal plan if you have a keto meal plan and shopping list to hand at all times. Stock up on pantry items and buy fresh produce as and when you need it. Here are some suggested shopping lists to help you get started with your keto diet meal plan.
Nuts and seeds:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Pistachio nuts
- Nut butters
- Seed flours
- Sunflower seeds
- Homemade whipped cream
- Cream cheese
- String cheese
- Babybel cheese
- Blue cheese dressing
- Sour cream
- Black olives
- Bell peppers
- Romaine lettuce
- Beef/ground beef
- Beef/chicken broth
- Beef jerky
- Meat sticks
- Cashew milk
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Protein shakes
- Herbal teas
- Coffee with heavy cream
- Bullet Proof coffee
Foods to Avoid
There are also certain foods and drinks you shouldn’t have on your keto shopping list. Keep your keto meal plan free from diet soda, vitamin water and other artificial sugar substitutes. These sugar substitutes trick your body into thinking that large amounts of sugar are entering it, which can result in a blood sugar increase. Consuming lots of zero-calorie sweeteners may also make you more likely to crave sweet-tasting foods and drinks, not the healthy whole food favored on the keto diet. Try sparkling water as a healthier alternative to diet soda.
Avoid any foods full of starch when you’re on a keto diet plan. Starchy foods like rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, fruit and candy are much higher in carbs than low-starch foods.
Some people drink alcohol on a keto diet, but this could slow down your weight loss because many types of alcohol are high in sugar and starch. The best alcoholic options on a keto diet are dry wine, champagne, brandy, vodka and sugar-free cocktails. Beer is particularly bad on a keto diet, as it is starchy and therefore full of rapidly-absorbed carbs.
Try to stick to natural ingredients whenever possible. Avoid anything ready-made or pre-packaged with a long list of ingredients on the packet. The shorter the ingredients list, the better! Packaged products often contain “hidden” carbs and are full of additives, chemicals, and sweeteners. Aim to eat good quality, minimally processed, real food as much as possible.
Keto Meal Plan Tips
A keto meal plan can be difficult for beginners. “If you are used to eating highly-processed sugary food and refined carbohydrates, you’ll need to ease into it,” advises nutritionist Angela Bicos Mavridis. “Reprogramming your body from being a sugar burner to ultimately being a fat burner can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks depending on your current metabolic state, your sugar-dragon, and your mindset.”
According to Bicos Mavridis, the potential benefits of the keto diet go way beyond weight loss. She says it may improve cognition and brain health, help get rid of migraines and mood swings, and help treat candida and persistent heartburn.
Sticking to a keto meal plan on a budget is simple if you plan ahead. Work out your budget for the week, decide on your keto weekly meal plan and make a list of the ingredients you need. Use coupons and voucher apps on your phone to make savings. Shop around to get the best prices and buy long-life pantry produce in bulk to get discounts for a cheap keto meal plan.
To get the most from a keto diet, be patient with yourself, learn from your mistakes, and don’t set unrealistic weight loss goals. Once you’ve got a few favorite recipes and a greater understanding of foods to eat and foods to avoid, you’ll find it easier to adapt to your new way of eating.
This post was written by Claire Gillespie.