If none of the suggestions in my previous post sounded appealing, a balanced meal approach is another way to improve your current eating plan. Do an initial assessment of each meal and notice which are balanced and which are not. Do you get at least 2 food groups in every meal? That’s a good place to start. Or do you consistently get 3 in some meals but not in others? Another good place to start. Finally, if you definitely, most assuredly, absolutely always get at least 3 food groups in every meal, what about the variety at these meals? Is there a good mixture of protein sources each week, or fruits and vegetables?
Ideally each meal has at least 2-3 food groups. What does this look like? Grilled chicken with a side of green beans and bread. Tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. Macaroni and cheese with broccoli. These are not strange, mysterious and complex meals that can only be achieved by those with a lot of time. It may simply mean throwing some vegetables into your pasta sauce, cutting up a cucumber and handful of tomatoes to serve with dinner, or adding some canned beans to a pot of soup. Mindfulness towards balanced meals, plus a couple tricks on easy ways to achieve balance, goes a long ways towards improving the eating plan. Balanced meals means satisfying meals that taste good and fulfill our nutritional needs. There are so many ways to attain balance that it won’t require forcing unwanted food choices that are unsustainable, but fitting guidelines to your preferences and lifestyle.
One key ingredient is protein to help us feel full. Animal-based proteins like chicken, fish, pork, beef all tend to be pretty dense in calories, so for weight loss protein doesn’t have to be the main feature of a meal. A boiled egg sliced into a garden salad adds variety and a little bit of protein without a ton of calories. Instead of chicken as the main course, why not chop it up, serve it up with beans, rice and wheat tortillas to make chicken burritos? The idea is to have some protein at each meal, no matter how little. A small handful of nuts or half spoonful of nut butter, milk or yogurt, hummus are all easy ways to add in some protein for very little additional cooking effort. Beans, lentils, soy, and certain grains are all great low calorie, high fiber protein alternatives.
Another key ingredient is the fiber found in fruits and vegetables. Fiber adds bulk to meals, which helps us feel full faster and keeps the food in our stomachs longer. Also, fruits and vegetables tend to be pretty low in calories, so adding some of those into a meal will increase the “fullness” quotient without adding too many calories. There are so many fruits and vegetables in supermarkets, there is bound to be a couple that you like. Slice up some apples and serve them with dinner. Throw in a banana with French toast instead of bacon (The French toast has egg and milk in it, so you’ve already satisfied the protein component of the meal!) Add some baby carrots in to your lunch bag. Instead of the usual tomato and lettuce in sandwiches, try new and unusual vegetables like sliced cucumber, bell peppers, carrots.
For those going the “many small meals” route, most, if not all, snacks should contain a balance of 2-3 food groups as well. Some prefer small snacks like a banana or a small yogurt, just realize these won’t satisfy for nearly as long as yogurt with granola and dried fruit, or a banana and a couple walnuts. Creating snacks with more than one food group ensures greater balance and variety in your overall eating. It also keeps us satisfied for longer, decreasing the need to munch constantly. Balanced snacks you’ve seen before includes fruit and yogurt, trail mix, low-fat cheese on whole wheat crackers, vegetable sticks and hummus, peanut butter on celery.
Although it sounds complicated at first, intuitively we’re already quite familiar with the concept of balanced meals. They’re many of the meals and snacks that we grew up with. Keep a couple handy, portable sources of protein and fruits and vegetables on hand – nuts, already hardboiled eggs, yogurt, canned beans, hummus; vegetable sticks, ready to eat fruits – and you can easily achieve balance with most meals and snacks.