The key to long-term weight management and healthy eating is consuming a balanced diet. Restrictive eating and fad diets may provide temporary weight loss, but they may also provide fatigue, hunger, food fantasizing, malnutrition, binging, and ultimately weight regain.
By combining carbohydrates, protein, and fat in appropriate amounts at each meal, you will feel satisfied while providing your body with essential nutrients and energy.
The healthy plate is a great template for planning meals:
- Vegetables - Fill half of your plate with vegetables. While it might not be easy to do this at breakfast on a regular basis, make it a habit to do this at lunch and dinner every day. Vegetables are not only nutritious and low in calories, but they also add water, fiber, and volume to any meal. This leads you to feel full faster and reduces the number of calories that you consume.
- Starch - Fill one quarter of your plate with whole grains like whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, or brown rice. If you prefer starchy vegetables, try ½ cup of corn, peas, or mashed potatoes.
- Lean protein - On the other quarter of your plate, place a lean protein. Options include, but are not limited to: loin cuts of meat, skinless poultry, Canadian bacon, ham, and seafood.
- Dairy - Add a side of low-fat or fat-free cow milk, soy milk, almond milk, or yogurt to each meal.
- Fruit - Eating a small portion of fruit is a healthy way to end each meal on a sweet note. It is much lower in calories yet contains more nutrition, fiber, water, and antioxidants than any typical dessert.
- Fat - While your body needs fat, it is found in just about everything, so you don't need to add it to each meal. The type of fat is just as important as serving size. While peanut butter, canola oil, and sunflower seeds are all healthy selections, calories and fat can add up quickly. One teaspoon of each is around 45 calories and 5 grams of fat.
People who skip, or eat very little, breakfast tend to overeat later on in the day. Research shows that skipping breakfast increases the risk of obesity. Examples of a balanced breakfast include:
- 1-2 slices of whole wheat toast, 1 egg, an orange, and 8 ounces of low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt
- Breakfast sandwich made with a whole wheat English muffin, Canadian bacon, and light cheese with a fruit and 8 ounces of milk or yogurt on the side
- If you aren't very hungry in the morning, try drinking your breakfast: Carnation Instant Breakfast No Sugar Added, 8-10 ounces of low-fat or fat-free milk, 1 banana, and 1 tablespoon peanut butter
Lunch and Dinner
Lunch and dinner are interchangeable, which makes meal planning easier. To save time, you can prepare extra one night for dinner and take the leftovers for lunch the next day. Examples include:
- 3 ounces skinless rotisserie or grilled chicken, ½ cup of rice, 1 small apple, 1 light yogurt, and salad with light dressing
- 2 baked tostada shells, 3 ounces of lean ground turkey, 1/4 cup reduced fat cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa, light yogurt, and 1 cup of strawberries.
Also, consider making meals ahead of time on a day you might have more free time:
Portion out the food, freeze it, and then use them any time you need a quick, no-fuss meal.
Snacks should be small, so think of them as one portion of protein and one portion of carbohydrate:
- 1 ounce of light cheese (e.g. Baby Bell or Laughing Cow) with 15 grapes
- 6 crackers and 1 ounce of water packed tuna
- Light yogurt with 6 almonds
Meal timing is essential to weight management. Eat every 4-5 hours. Eat breakfast, lunch, and, dinner but if you go more than 4-5 hours between meals, have a light snack. This will keep your blood sugar steady and prevent you from overeating at your next meal. Recent research from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that eating 3 meals and 1-2 snacks a day may help with weight management.
Mandy Seay is a bilingual registered and licensed dietitian who holds both a bachelor's degree in nutrition and in journalism. After gaining 30 pounds while living abroad, Mandy worked to lose the weight and regain her health. It was here that she discovered her passion for nutrition and went on to pursue a career as a dietitian. Mandy currently works as a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in Austin, Texas, where she specializes in diabetes, weight management and general and preventive nutrition. She recently published her first book, Your Best Health, a personalized program to losing weight and gaining a healthy lifestyle. Please visit Mandy's website at Nutritionistics.com.