Menu Planning for Health
Following your new healthy eating plan requires planning. However, with a minimal amount of organization, you can keep health-enhancing foods in your refrigerator, cupboards, and pantry. Now that you've learned how to include healthier foods in your diet, use these ideas to plan healthy meals. Start using even a handful of these suggestions in your daily life, and before you realize it, you will have shifted to a healthier overall eating pattern.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's also a wonderful opportunity to eat fiber-rich foods. Plan to include a combination of fiber-rich and protein-rich foods in your breakfast, along with either a fruit or vegetable serving. Great sources of fiber for breakfast include hot or cold cereals and whole-grain breads. Breakfast protein can come from nonfat or low-fat dairy products such as milk or soymilk, or from eggs. You can add fruits or vegetables either by drinking one glass of juice, or by mixing fruit with your cereal dish.
Another great breakfast option is a smoothie. These are easy to make in a blender, with either milk or soymilk, some fruit, and wheat germ or ground flax seed. All of these options can help you start off your day on the right foot.
Lunch is another great opportunity to include a rich source of fiber and more fruits and vegetables. Try sandwiches on hearty whole-grain breads with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and sprouts. For vegetable sources of protein, use bean dips such as hummus on the sandwich. Another option is to use one serving of lean deli meat, like turkey, in a sandwich. Peanut butter is also a great sandwich filling, or you might try avocados.
If packing a lunch, include a vegetable and some fruit. For example, take some prewashed, prepackaged baby carrots or celery sticks. Or slice up a bell pepper into sticks. Easily portable fruits include apples, bananas, oranges, nectarines, grapes, and pears. Try to eat fruits that are fresh and in season.
Don't skip meals. Eliminating a lot of calories in one quick swoop is a short-sighted strategy. Your metabolism needs energy frequently and regularly, or else it will slow down and operate as if it's in starvation mode. Instead, eat smaller meals plus a few healthy snacks in between. Then you'll continuously burn energy to your best advantage.
Salads are a great lunch that can be made the night before and can become more filling by adding beans, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, or starches such as whole-grain pastas. You can also add grilled chicken, cubes of tofu, or tempeh to your salads for added protein. Tofu can also be added to steamed vegetables, soup, and sauces. Soups are a fantastic source of multiple vegetables and beans. If you combine soups or salad with a hearty whole-grain bread or muffin, you can have a satisfying and nutrient-packed meal. For dessert, try some fresh fruit or poached, baked, or frozen fruits, such as poached pears, baked apples, or fresh fruit sorbets.
For dinner, try to shift the emphasis to a vegetable- and grain-based main course with a meat dish on the side. Or, in meals that call for sauces, use a combination of vegetables and meats to reduce the total amount of meat that you consume. For example, you can cut the amount of meat in stew in half and instead add extra carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Try chili with beans and no meat, or use ground turkey instead of beef and add more vegetables instead of meats. Try enjoying stir-fried vegetable dishes with only a small amount of skinless chicken, or simply use tofu instead of any meat product.
Keep in mind that when you eat beans, peas, or lentils together with a dairy product or with grains such as bread or rice, you can obtain the same amount of protein from your meal as if you had consumed a meat dish. Other benefits of eating more beans instead of meat is that they are much more affordable, they contain no saturated fats and no cholesterol, they are nutrient dense, and they are valuable sources of dietary fiber.
If you use canned beans in your foods, try to buy low-sodium varieties and use the liquid that they come packed in for cooking. That liquid is rich in soluble fiber — that's why it has that thick consistency.