How to Meal Plan in Medical School

Shane Farrell
Published on Jan 14, 2020. Updated on Jul 11, 2023.

Are you a busy medical student, or just busy in general? Do you want to cook but need some advice on how to meal plan? Shane shares some of his great tips on how to become a master of meal planning. 

Maintaining a healthy diet during your first year of medical school is quite a challenge. After spending countless hours in the library, no one feels like taking the time to cook dinner, especially when takeout or microwavable meals are readily available. I made a promise to myself before my first year began that I was going to take the time and make an effort to eat healthier. If this is something you’re looking to do, check out these tips!

Tip 1: Make your grocery list ahead of time and stick to it

I plan all my meals for the week on Sunday afternoons. This is something that my family has done for years. I personally use a note card or the Notes app on my phone to list the specific groceries that I need for the week ahead. It not only helps expedite your time spent shopping, but also prevents excessive spending when you know exactly what you need. 

I have found that sticking to this list has really helped me stay within my budget, but every once in a while, I will throw a pack of Oreos into the cart that weren’t on my list. I’m only human!

Tip 2: Pack your own meals and snacks for your study breaks

Believe me, it’s just as simple as a trip to the vending machines at school, but at a fraction of the cost. Instead of cookies or chips, I personally prefer almonds and Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars as my go-to study snacks. When I decide to “camp” at school for a full day of studying on a weekend, I will take the time to pack my own lunch. This can be as simple as a fresh salad with grilled chicken, or leftovers from the night before. 

It took a few weeks of budget management to realize that a habit of weekly food deliveries was burning a bigger hole in my wallet than I realized. During test weeks though, treat yourself with takeout. 

Read everything you need to know about the USMLE Step 1

Tip 3: Take the time to indulge yourself

As future health professionals, we all know that healthy eating is important for our overall wellness. With that being said, you shouldn’t feel obligated to survive on salads exclusively. Call someone in your family who’s into cooking (I’m sure they’d love to hear from you!) and ask for recipes that were your favorite as a child. Take a break to go grab some ice cream and watch the sunset. 

For me, one of the best parts of my day is preparing dinner for myself and my wife. I get home from school around 5:00 PM each day and I take an hour to cook dinner for us. This allows us to take a breather, reflect, and talk about our day. I realize that it is incredibly difficult to pull yourself away from the books, but this time is crucial for your mental health and overall happiness

All right, as a quick recap...

You should try to stick to your budget as closely as you can, you’ll thank yourself later. Use your time wisely when you’re at the grocery store, because as students, our free time is limited, and I’m sure you would much rather spend time doing what you love instead of perusing the aisles of your local grocery store. Lastly, be sure to enjoy yourself. Eat your favorite dessert. Call your family. Go out to dinner with your classmates when you all need a study break. Food is not just something you need to keep your body going, but with the experience of food and sharing a meal with others, it can really help your mental health as well. Bon appetit

About Shane

Shane is a 2nd year medical student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, PA. He is originally from Scranton, PA and is thinking of specializing in Emergency Medicine. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, watching sports and going for walks with his wife and his Golden Retriever, Maisie.