1 June 2024

Meal Planning, the Low GI Way

Meal planning has got to be one of the best ways to keep on track with a healthy diet. Meal planning requires preparation and planning from knowing what and how much to eat, to grocery shopping and of course, cooking. It may feel like a huge task if you are new to meal planning or getting back into the routine. However, with a bit of organisation, practice, and ‘know-how’, you will soon have established a new routine and reap the many health benefits plus save money! Meal planning can be broken down into three simple steps:


Shop around:
Before buying groceries considering shopping around for the best quality and value. For example, you can often find value for money at farmers’ markets, green grocers, butchers, and fish markets. Local supermarkets also compete with weekly deals so keep ahead by reviewing their catalogues. Buying lean cuts of meat in bulk when they are on special and freezing portions is another way of saving money and having food readily available.

Stock the pantry:
Stock up on ‘pantry essentials’ makes it easier to plan healthy meals at a budget price. Essentials include:

  • Fruit and vegetables – fresh, frozen, and canned
  • Low GI wholegrains – wholegrain or sourdough bread, oats, natural muesli, wholegrain crackers, rice, pasta, noodles, barley, couscous, quinoa, bulghur, buckwheat
  • Lean protein – lean red meat, chicken, fish (fresh and tinned), eggs, legumes (canned and dried), tofu, tempeh
  • Dairy and dairy alternatives i.e., milk, yoghurt, cheese, soymilk, soy yoghurt
  • Healthy fats – olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, avocado, 100% nut butters e.g., peanut, almond
  • Miscellaneous items: herbs (fresh and dried), spices, reduced salt soy sauce, no added salt tomato paste, no added salt tinned tomatoes, passata

Buy in season:
Seasonal fruit and vegetables are at their nutritional peak, taste better and often cheaper. Follow the Australian seasonal fruit and vegetables calendar.

Don’t forget frozen and canned varieties:
When specific fruit and vegetables are out of season, try frozen or canned varieties. Frozen fruit and vegetables are snap frozen after harvest and still hold a lot of nutrition and can be a healthy, longer lasting option. For example, when fresh berries are not in season, switch to the frozen variety. Frozen blueberries are great addition to your winter porridge and baking. Canned tomatoes are also an excellent pantry essential when fresh tomatoes are out of season. In fact, cooked tomatoes have more of the antioxidant, lycopene bioavailable than raw tomatoes!

Batch cooking:
Batch cooking is great idea if you do not have time to cook every day. The main idea behind batch cooking is to make double or triple the quantity of your favourite healthy meals and freeze into portions. Soups, casseroles, and curries freeze well. Make sure you have enough freezable containers to use and label each portion with the name and date. Most foods keep well for about three months. When you want a meal, simply defrost it in the fridge the night before then reheat in the oven, microwave, or stovetop the next day. Make sure you transfer the meal into a saucepan or heat proof dish/container before you reheat! Batch cooking saves you time and money and keeps you on track with a healthy, balanced diet.


Macronutrients in our diet include carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. We need them in larger quantities than other foods hence the term ‘macro’. Below are the macronutrients to include when planning a meal to ensure we are meeting all our nutritional requirements.

Our bodies preferred fuel source is carbohydrates or ‘carbs’ however, not all carbs are created equal. Some digest to form glucose in the blood quickly and some digest more slowly. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a tool that measures how quickly or slowly carbohydrates are digested and increase blood glucose levels. They are then given a ranking from 0-100 with 55 or less being low GI and 70 or more being high GI. High GI carbohydrates cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, whereas low GI foods are digested and absorbed more slowly. This slow release of glucose into the bloodstream has proven to be much more beneficial for the body – from improving energy levels to managing weight, diabetes, and other health concerns.  In general, low GI foods are less processed and higher in fibre compared to high GI carbs e.g., white bread compared to wholegrain bread. To get you started, here is our Low GI Pantry List and Low GI Shopping List

Protein is an important macronutrient needed for cell growth and repair and is important for building strong muscles. Protein also contributes to satiety, the feeling of fullness, and reduces hunger. Dietary sources: red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy (cheese, milk, yoghurt), legumes, pulses, and soy (tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and soy yoghurt). Including a combination of plant and animal-based protein as part of a balanced diet can help to lower your risk of chronic disease such as heart disease. When meal planning for the week, keep these National Heart Foundation recommendations in mind:

Red meat:

  • An important source of muscle building protein and nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12
  • Studies show too much red meat contributes to unhealthy saturated fat in our diet, which is linked to high cholesterol levels, increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Keep serves small, lean and unprocessed
  • Red meat, pork, lamb, and veal can be included no more than 1-3 serves a week (350g a week)


  • Skinless poultry (chicken and turkey) does not increase or decrease your risk of heart disease
  • Skinless poultry can be included freely in the week

Plant Protein

  • Plant protein is high in soluble fibre, low GI, low in saturated fat and budget friendly.
  • Include more protein sources from vegetable foods e.g., legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds and smaller portions of animal protein.
  • If you are new to plant protein, start by reducing the amount of animal protein in a meal and add a can of legumes such as chickpeas or lentils. Legumes are a great addition to soups, casseroles, and salads. Next aim for 1-2 vegetarian meals per week

Healthy Fats
Forget no fat and choose healthy fats which are unsaturated such as olive oil, oily fish and avocado, nut and seeds. A small handful (30g) unsalted nuts as a snack, cooking with extra virgin olive oil and spreading avocado on your morning wholegrain toast are simple ways to add good fats to your diet. One of the essential fatty acids, omega 3, is associated with lower rates of heart disease (heart failure and sudden cardiac death) and stroke. Omega 3 fats also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression. Omega 3 sources include oily fish (sardines, salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel). Aim for 2-3 oily fish meals per week.

Add Colour
Including enough fruit and vegetables each day will not only provide the body with essential vitamins and minerals, but it also contains important antioxidants and dietary fibre which has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease. Aim for 5 serves of vegetables/salad and 2 serves of fruit each day.


  1. Pile the plate with colour: Add lots of high fibre, colourful vegetables and salad. Aim for at least 2 large handfuls (2 cups) of vegetables or salad or half your plate.
  2. Add some low GI carbohydrates: Include one low GI carbohydrate choice. This includes lower GI potato, sweet potato, low GI rice, pasta, corn, pearled couscous, barley, legumes, or wholegrain bread. One serve is approximately ½ cup cooked, a ‘fist size’ or ¼ of your plate. The number of carbohydrate serves you need will depend on your age, activity levels, health goals and medical conditions.
  3. Add some lean protein: Protein includes meat, poultry (chicken and turkey), fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh. Aim for one portion at each meal. One portion is 1 ‘palm sized’ portion of protein or the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
  4. Add a dash of ‘good fats’. Do not forget the essential fats, which can also contribute to satiety. Healthy fats include avocado, olive oil, olives, nuts, and seeds. One portion is a ‘thumb size’ e.g., 1 Tbsp olive oil or ¼ avocado.


7 Day Dinner Sample Meal Plan
This 7-day dinner meal plan is based on the National Heart Foundation recommendations. If you eat animal protein, this meal guide shows you how to vary different proteins in the week to keep it balanced.  Try batch cooking so you have meals on hand for the next few weeks!

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Saturday Sunday
Fish Chicken Meat Vegetarian Chicken Meat
Mediterranean Salmon Traybake French-Style Chicken Casserole Hidden Veggie Bolognaise Roast Pumpkin & Coconut Soup One Pan Spanish Chicken Pork Souvlaki


By Rebecca McPhee, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) & Health Coach Consultant.

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