Today, we have more options than ever before for grabbing a quick breakfast, lunch, or dinner on the run. Our hectic lifestyles and breakneck schedules make the thought of planning out meals for a week – or sometimes even a day – into a daunting task. Even carefully planned and executed meal plans don’t insure that you and your family are eating correctly.
How healthy is the food that you are eating? Does it provide you and your family with all of your required essential nutrients? Are you serving a variety of choices in appropriate portions? Does the meal help your family grow and stay healthy? The answers to these questions can help change your normal meal plan into a Healthy meal plan.
A healthy meal plan is simply your personal guide to help you outline daily meals. It includes healthy, nutritious foods, served in moderate quantities that can easily allow you to keep track of your daily calorie intake.
Julia Child, the renowned chef and television icon, once said “Moderation, small helpings, sample a little bit of everything: these are the secrets of happiness and good health.” They are also key elements in creating a healthy meal plan through managed serving sizes and careful food choices.
Portion control can be one of the most effective tools in helping to maintain healthy eating habits. And the key to effective portion control is to understand the amount of food that you should have for each meal. Appropriate serving sizes will vary for each individual based on gender, age, how physically active you are, and any underlying health conditions.
Most packaged foods will have serving size and the number of servings per package printed right on the label. This information is useful in understanding the nutrients and calories in each serving.
Mealtime grains can include rice, crackers, bread, cereals, and pasta. Grain servings are measured by the ounce, with one ounce being the equivalent of one slice of bread, one cup of dry cereal, or half a cup of cooked oats, rice, or pasta.
4-5 ounces per day
9-18 years-old girl
5 ounces per day
9-18 years-old boy
6 ounces per day
6 ounces per day
8 ounces per day
Make sure that at least half of these grain servings include healthier whole grain choices like wheat or multiple grain breads and crackers, oatmeal, or whole wheat pasta.
Vegetables are an important source of nutrients for the body. Be sure to explore the wide variety of vegetables that you can serve, giving each meal more of a unique flavor, providing a variety of vitamins and nutrients, and increasing the odds that you can find something that everyone will enjoy. Servings of vegetables are measured in cups, and the daily-recommended servings are:
1 ½ cup per day
9-13 years-old girl
2 cups per day
9-13 years-old boy
2 ½ cups per day
2-3 cups per day
Fruits provide a healthy option for fiber and many other essential nutrients, but can also be high in sugar content. Fruits can be purchased fresh, packaged in a can or jar, or dried. The daily recommended intake of fruit is:
1-1 ½ cup per day or 1 whole medium sized fruit
2 cups per day
A serving of fruit is equal to one small apple, one big banana, or one cup of fruit juice. A quarter cup or half cup of dry fruits is equal to a single serving. And rely on only on 100 percent fruit juice, as it has more nutrients and less sugar.
Milk and Milk Products
Milk and milk products are rich foods, full of calcium that is essential to developing and maintaining strong bones. Milk products include yogurt, milk, cheese, and ice cream. Since dairy products like cream, butter, and cream cheese do not provide enough calcium, they do not qualify as “milk products.” The recommended amount of milk and milk products for different age groups are:
2 cups per day
3 cups of milk or milk product per day
3 cups of milk or milk product per day
Try to choose low fat or non-fat milk, and yogurt and cheese prepared from skimmed milk, as they contain less fat.
Meats & Beans (Protein)
This category of food includes chicken, beef, pork, turkey, and fish. Other protein rich foods include beans, lentils, peanuts, and eggs. Servings of these foods are measured in ounce equivalents. One ounce equivalent is equal to a half-cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, one to two tablespoons of peanut butter, and a handful of nuts. The daily recommended servings are:
2-4 ounces per day
5-6 ounces per day
5-6 ounces per day
Some protein rich foods are also high in fat content. Try to choose lean meats, fish, beans, and peas as often as you can. For healthier eating, you should also remove any visible fat from the meat as you prepare it, roast or grill the meat instead of frying it.
The choice of food being served is every bit as important as the amount of food being served. By incorporating healthy decisions into a meal plan that features a wide variety of options, you and your family can avoid seeing ‘the same old thing’ for dinner each night. Monitoring fats, counting carbs, sugar substitutes, food exchanges, and understanding the Glycemic Index are all concepts that can help you plan healthier meals.
The right kinds of fat in limited amounts can be a very important part of a healthy diet. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol levels Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil. Polyunsaturated fat is found in vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, soy and cottonseed oil. Good low-fat food options include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, skimmed milk, and cholesterol free protein.
On the other hand, trans fats and saturated fats can be harmful. Eating a diet filled with these fats can result in heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer. Maintaining a low-fat diet is essential for healthy living. It is recommended that fat should contribute only 25 to 30 percent of the total calories that we consume every day as adults, which translates to somewhere between 56 and 77 grams of fat, on average.
It is recommended to limit meat to six ounces per day.
Carb counting can be helpful to someone dieting, since it is recommended to get between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates. Carb counting is especially important for diabetics because foods that contain carbohydrates raise blood glucose level. Carb counting is a technique that tracks the amount of carbohydrates you eat at each meal, which allows you to control the number of calories you consume each day. Counting the total carbs in a meal allows you to easily adjust the amount of carbohydrates you are eating as needed.
Counting carbs also makes it easy to balance your carbohydrate intake with the amount of protein and fat you eat. Foods that are rich in carbohydrates include bread, cereals, rice, fruit, yogurt, milk, potatoes, corn, dry beans, fruit juice, cakes, cookies, and candies.
A sweet tooth can undermine the best healthy eating plans, so know about sugar substitutes and how you can incorporate them into meal plans. Sugar substitutes are chemical or natural substances that taste as good as sugar, but with far fewer – or even zero – calories. Using sugar substitutes can help you to control your calorie intake as well as your blood glucose level.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved sugar substitutes as safe to use and stated that they do not cause any diseases. In fact, sugar substitutes have proven to be 100 times below the threshold of any medical or health concerns. Often, people that use sugar substitutes take in fewer calories and do not have as many issues with overeating.
If you are dieting or on a restricted meal plan, a food exchange list provides you options for substituting foods with approximately the same nutritional value. Comparable foods will have about the same amount of calories, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, while giving you options to avoid foods that you do not like while adding more variety to your menu.
The food exchange list has three main categories: carbohydrates, fats, and meat or meat substitutes, allowing substitutions within each category. One of the best sources for a food exchange list is The American Diabetes Association, which publishes a food exchange list that covers all three categories.
Glycemic Index (GI)
The Glycemic Index is a measurement of how quickly different foods raise your body’s blood glucose levels. Each carbohydrate that you eat has a different effect on your blood glucose level, and how quickly each one affects you will vary.
Foods with lower GI values tend to increase blood sugar levels slowly. Foods that have high GI values can cause a drastic increase in blood sugar levels. Choosing foods that have a lower GI value is the long term secret to maintaining a healthy heart, normal blood glucose levels, and weight control. Foods that have low GI values include oats, barley, bran, whole grains, sour dough, stone ground flour, pasta, noodles, basmati rice, and lots of vegetables.
Plan a simple, healthy, and manageable diet, and then slowly shift yourself to healthy meal plan that is more varied and complex.
Practice portion control, but make sure that you create meals that fill a balanced set of nutritional requirements.
Look for foods with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats like peanut oil, olive oil, almonds, pecans, sesame seeds, corn, soy beans, and flaxseed oil.
Include different source of protein diet in your meal plan. This can include chick peas, beans, cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, cheese, brown rice, broccoli, potatoes, and lentils.
Make sure that calcium and vitamins are a big part of your diet. Foods that are rich in calcium include spinach, white beans, soy beverages, and soy beans.
Limit the amount of sugar, salt, and processed food in your meals.
Consult your physician about creating the right meal plan for you.
A well-stocked kitchen and a set of quick, easy, and healthy recipes make healthy meal plans easier to execute. Do not be afraid to deviate from your carefully designed healthy meal plan and reward yourself on occasion with a less-than-healthy indulgent meal. After all, as Julia Child recommended “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”