Planning a Healthy Meal 101
by Mergynette Mercado
Imagine enjoying a home-cooked healthy meal, eating on time despite a hectic schedule, skipping the drive-thru and never having to worry about where and what to eat. For some, these scenarios may be too good to be true, but actually, it’s possible with meal planning.
Nowadays, more and more of us have on-the-go lifestyles. Often, when we look for ways to save time, we unknowingly—and sometimes knowingly—sacrifice good nutrition. With meal planning, we can ensure a healthy and well-balanced diet by managing our caloric intake and meeting our nutritional needs. It reduces time and stress when deciding what to eat for our next meal and also helps save money by shopping more efficiently.
The key is to KEEP THINGS SIMPLE. Know what food to eat for each meal and snack, and the rest will follow -- from the grocery list to food preparation.
Be guided by the healthy eating plate. The healthy eating plate is designed and developed to help us prepare a healthy and balanced meal to meet the needs of our bodies. This tool makes it much easier to remember the right food group proportions to eat on a per-meal basis. However, since each person has his or her own specific needs, consulting a nutritionist-dietitian for personalized portion control is advised. Nevertheless, it’s not necessary to be overly concerned with calorie-counting. It’s more important to consider where those calories are coming from. The technique is to focus on variety and freshness.
Make half of your plate colorful—this means half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Focus on eating whole fruits and diversify your vegetables – from green veggies to red ones, to orange ones, etc. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day to boost your vitamins, minerals and fiber consumption.
Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates for one quarter of your plate. Instead of refined white rice, opt for brown, red or black rice, which are more complex and keep you full much longer. You can also replace your white potatoes with sweet potatoes, yams or other root crops. Substitute your regular pasta with whole-wheat pasta or brown-rice pasta; white bread with whole-wheat bread or whole-grain bread; instant oatmeal with steel-cut or rolled oats. Try other good carbohydrate sources like adlai, or edible starchy seeds like quinoa and amaranth. These contain more fiber and nutrients that are linked to lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.
The last quarter of your plate is for your protein. Rotate your sources among lean meats, seafood and poultry, to beans, nuts, seeds, and eggs. You can also include milk and dairy products, specifically the fat-free or low-fat types like cheese and yogurt, as these also contain high amounts of protein.
The healthy eating plate is not just limited to food. The glass of water beside the plate emphasizes the importance of drinking more water and less sugary beverages. It is highly advised that you read nutrition facts labels to compare the saturated fat, sodium and added sugars in your food and beverages.
Now that you are familiar with the healthy eating plate, we can start on planning your meals.
Get a meal plan journal.
Regardless if it’s a mobile application, computer document or even a simple notebook, you must prepare a journal. By keeping a journal, you can come up with the meals you want to have on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis. This can also serve as your reference for your next batch of meal plans.
Step 1: List all your favorite foods and mix & match the dishes. Assess if the combination matches the healthy eating plate.
Tip: You can also consider specific meals or food for different days of the week. You can have a “themed” menu like Salad Sunday, Meatless Monday, Pasta Tuesday and the like.
Step 2: Once you have decided the menu either by week or month, make your grocery list and decide on a shopping day. Make sure to include food items that are in season and are locally available. Aside from being cheaper, seasonal produce has higher nutritional value.
Step 3: During your meal preparation, focus on food that takes longest to cook. You can also try multi-tasking like boiling staples and steaming vegetables at the same time and/or chopping your fruits and veggies while baking or roasting your meats.
Tip: When you cook a recipe, make additional portions for the next day. Divide cooked food into individual meal containers, and make sure to label all prepared food items with the date so you can keep track of what to consume first.
SAMPLE DAY PLAN
One of the best ways to help you stay committed to eating healthy is by planning your meals ahead of time. Knowing what you are going to have for your meals can help you avoid “temptations,” make your shopping easier and more efficient, and save you from the struggle of last-minute meal decisions. There is no strict method for meal planning, as it can vary based on cooking ability, cooking equipment, budget, schedules, food preferences, and personal goals. As you’ll see, planning a healthy meal is not as difficult as you think.
You may also want to attend our wellness forum “You Are What You Eat: A Talk on How Food Can Cause or Prevent Disease” on Thursday, July 27, 2017 6:00PM at the Herbal Lounge of Aegle Wellness Center, The City Club to learn more about healthy meal planning.
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Ms. Mercado specializes in nutritional counseling and customized nutrition program development. She provides a practical approach to diet-related health matters, including weight management, food allergies and food sensitivity management, athletic performance enhancement, and disease management. She also focuses on food quality and quantity improvement, eliminating nutritional deficiencies, developing healthy recipes, and calculating food’s nutrition content. She advocates for nutritional awareness and mindfulness in addressing factors that affect one's overall health.
She believes and practices a client-centered approach, along with evidence-based and habit-based approaches to nutrition therapy. She is passionate about helping people build a good relationship with food and sustain a positive lifestyle.
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