Many of us often find it difficult to plan healthy meals and snacks with the usual time constraints of work and family life. As a result, we may end up eating on the run via drive-thru restaurants, takeout meals, or even from a break room vending machine – all of which may not be the best choice when it comes to planning healthy, well-balanced meals!
However, you can easily achieve eating the right foods in appropriate amounts with a few simple strategies.
Follow MyPlate Rules
Remember the old Food Pyramid? The USDA took the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and created a new user-friendly graphic, MyPlate, to help us manage what and how much we eat. The key concepts are:
- Approximately half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, one-fourth should be lean protein, and in the remaining area should be taken up by a carbohydrate of choice.
- Enjoy any foods you like, but in smaller amounts.
- Focus on drinking fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and other dairy products.
- Select whole grain breads and cereals as opposed to white flour or sugared varieties. Whole grain takes longer to break down in the body, which helps keep blood sugar levels from rising too quickly. On the other hand, refined white flour products and sugary cereals cause a quick spike in blood sugar, which is always followed by an equally swift drop (or crash) leaving us feeling tired, hungry and cranky.
- Drink a bit more water to help you feel full. Water is a key element in keeping your body working properly, including your metabolic rate.
- Beware of hidden salt. Salt is a preservative in processed and ready-prepared foods. These include soups, cheeses, frozen/boxed entrées, and restaurant meals. Believe it or not, we get most of our sodium from these sources as opposed to that which we shake onto our food.
Looking to manage your weight? Give these simple strategies a try either at home or on the go.
- Getting Saucy: Heavy sauces, made from full-fat cheese or cream, really pack a punch when it comes to calories and can turn your well-intentioned vegetable plate into a disaster. Aim for light sauces, or perhaps flavorful herbs and spices, to add that special taste to your meal.
- Soup Rules: Soups are usually a good choice and can fill you up with few calories. Aim for broth-based ones with lots of veggies as opposed to cream-based soups that have few vegetables. Soups that contain beans or lentils are great options as well to boost your fiber intake and help you feel full.
- Don’t Eat Everything: Leaving something behind is challenging for most and definitely takes practice. Many of us recall being scolded as children for not cleaning our plates and our eating patterns are mostly driven by habit. And just like any habit, breaking it takes time and consistent effort. If you’re in a restaurant, asking for the to-go bag at the beginning of a meal is a great idea. Simply portion out half for your place and place the rest into the bag. This ensures that you eat only half your original meal, and gives you an appropriately-sized portion for a meal another day.
- Eat Your Vegetables: Choose vegetables that are steamed and seasoned with lemon, herbs, or spices. As for salads, besides the cheese, most of your calories are in the dressing. You can still have the dressing, but ask for it on the side and dip each bite as opposed to pouring over the top.
- The Big Finish: For your dessert, try selecting something that can be accompanied by fruit such as fat-free frozen yogurt or light ice creams. If you must have that chocolate volcano cake, this is an ideal opportunity to share with friends to enjoy the treat at a fraction of the calories.
By keeping some of these strategies in mind, getting on track with healthier eating will become easy. Eventually, implementing these strategies will become a natural part of your day. Remember, you have the ability to take control of your meals; proper planning is all that it takes!
Looking for some easy, delicious, nutritious meal ideas? Check out these healthy recipes featuring the 21 “Fit Foods” that protect against cancer and heart disease.
By Gina Crome
Gina M. Crome, M.S., M.P.H., R.D.Gina Crome is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise. She holds a dual Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology as well as a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from Loma Linda University whereby she received the Selma Andrews Award for Excellence and Professionalism.
Over the past 20 years, Gina’s mission has focused on guiding individuals towards gaining a better quality of life. She has previously struggled with her own weight issues and has since lost a total of 172 pounds, driving her passion home to promote healthier lifestyles. Gina is available for media interviews and community appearances and she is the author of various online nutrition and fitness columns.