When I say balanced meal, what comes to mind? I revert back to childhood dinners and the mainstay meat, obligatory vegetable and the banal baked potato or rice. While we may now know so much more about food and health, it's hard to argue with the straightforwardness of the old system. I think many parents still stick to this formula when feeding their children which is not necessarily as fiber-rich, nutrient-dense or eco-conscious as it could be. We can be current with our food choices and maintain the clarity when meal planning with the following tweaks:
1. Let Veggies Dominate
Vegetables should replace meat as the principal of the plate. If you picture a plate veggies should occupy half of it. And if the thought of a ton of broccoli doesn't excite you try to compose dinners with 2 veggies (one green and one starchy or some salad and another seasonal vegetable).
2. Eat Your BlackBerry
With vegetables taking center stage, protein can be put in its proper place. Whether grass-fed beef, lean poultry, wild salmon or pork we should think more like the Japanese and consider meat a condiment. Look at your BlackBerry, that's your portion cue.
3. Eat Double Stuff
Most foods are a composite of nutrients. Tofu, whole grains and legumes have significant amounts of both protein and carbs. Pair any of these with the veggies (see #1) and your meal is balanced and easy. And regardless of whether you are an omnivore, locavore or carnivore less meat and chicken and more (I didn't say only!) whole grains and legumes is really the way to go when it comes to health.
4. Eat the Real Stuff
In addition to considering the components of a meal, we now know the importance of investigating the quality and origin of ingredients used. When I was growing up fruit cocktail was a frequent stand-in for fruit. Fruit cocktail is not fruit. It does not taste like fresh, seasonal peaches or pears, nor do berries or peaches shipped from god-knows-where in the middle of January. When possible chose local, seasonal produce and humanely grown meats.
5. Eat a Larger Lunch
With the balanced meal we grew up with came the notion of the humongous dinner at the end of the day. Our workdays do not end at 5 anymore and there are many hours between lunch and dinner. Consider moving lunch up as the largest meal of the day.
6. Don't Forget Fat
I'd like to think we have enough distance from the '90s that fat phobia is finally waning. Fat helps make you feel full and adds flavor and interest to dishes. And it's not just about olive and canola oil. I love using sunflower seeds, pine nuts, walnuts and sesame oil when I cook. And when you feel satisfied with your meals, you can keep the cookie monster a childhood memory as well.
With these basic pointers in place, the possibilities are endless. I hope your meal planning has been simplified and that there's peace of mind knowing you're feeding yourself and your family well.
Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian, is the founder of Food Trainers, a New York City-based holistic health and nutrition counseling service. She has developed several programs, including Mindful Menus and Market Foodtraining, to give individuals, families, corporations and athletes attainable strategies for managing a healthy lifestyle.
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