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How to Create Wholesome and Balanced Meals!
Hello, Friend! Happy Tuesday!
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It’s important to know HOW to create a healthy meal for yourself, or for your family/those around you. This way, you don’t have to rely on recipes! (Don’t get me wrong, a new recipe every once in a while is great and helps with variety but it’s nice not to need them!) Once you have this understanding, you can use a combination of the proteins, fruit, veggies, starches/sides, healthy fats, and treats that you love to create your meals.
I also think we can give ourselves permission to not try as hard! Go ahead and create meals from less fancy things! Let’s make simple and easy-to-cook foods that, when combined, create a healthy and hearty meal. Creating a healthy meal isn't as complex as it may seem – it is, however, about making mindful choices, balancing nutrients, and savoring every bite.
Here's your roadmap to crafting a nourishing meal that fuels your body and satisfies your taste buds.
First, let’s break down our meal. We are generally aiming for something like this:
A balanced meal typically consists of three essential components:
A Protein Source: The building blocks of muscle, hair, and nails, protein plays a pivotal role in repairing tissues and promoting satiety. Prioritize lean sources like chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, beans, and legumes. Peanut butter is not a substantial protein source… it just has some protein in it.
A Carbohydrate Source (this could also be your fruit/veggie): Carbs are your body's primary source of energy. You might include whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and sweet potatoes for sustained energy release. Aim to always include a fruit or veggie! These provide a rainbow of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim for a variety of colors to ensure a broad nutrient intake.
A Fat Source: Fat sources are interesting as they don’t always exist as an item, but are more likely to be in our foods. An avocado or nuts as part of a meal is an actual fat source, but we also get fats from dairy or oils we cook with, etc. so while they may not always be one item on our plate, we still need some!
Now that we know that, you want to start by picking the protein! This is the cornerstone of your plate:
Prioritizing protein in your meals helps regulate hunger, maintain muscle mass, and promote a feeling of fullness. Here's how to incorporate protein effectively:
Lean Sources: Choose lean cuts of meat, poultry without skin, and fish. Plant-based options like tofu, tempeh, legumes, and beans are excellent alternatives.
Quantity: Aim to fill about a quarter of your plate with protein. A portion at least the size of your palm is a handy reference.
Distribution: Distribute protein throughout your day's meals to support muscle repair and growth. Aim to have it with every meal, and maybe also some snacks!
As an example of this, I was just trying to think of some recipes I could share on my Instagram over the next few weeks. I started by thinking about what protein sources would be central to the recipes. I haven’t made any fish in a while, and my brother-in-law recently ordered cod at a restaurant meal we were at and it looked awesome, so cod it is! Then I picked veggies (the carbs of the meal) that are easy to cook with it, will add olive oil to the cod and veggies (the fat), and voila, a meal!
Let’s talk more about veggies for a second. Veggies are hard for some of us to eat or get enough of simply because they’re not super exciting. I get it… I don’t LOVE lots of veggies (except the frozen broccoli from Market Basket which you should definitely get if you have an MB near you!). Anyway, how can we make consuming veggies easier for ourselves??
It may simply help to know that they’re worth it to include. Vegetables are your nutritional powerhouses, packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You can also consider:
Variety: Aim to include a variety of colors – red, green, orange, and more. Different colors often indicate different types of nutrients, and the different types of foods can help with eat-ability as opposed to trying to eat an apple every single day if that’s not your thing.
Volume: You can typically eat a lot of veggies for not a lot of calories, so aim to fill half of your plate with vegetables. Eating this many veggies can also help literally take up space in your stomach, helping with fullness.
Cooking Methods: Experiment with roasting, sautéing, steaming, or even enjoying some veggies raw for different textures and flavors. And USE SPICES! Seriously, spices are typically 0 calories and can really influence the eat-ability of some veggies… so do it up!
Be mindful of your heavier carb portions!
Listen, I’m not trying to demonize carbs. They’re essential for energy, fiber, stabilizing blood sugar, and fullness, AND, at the same time, some of the heavier, starchier options can add up quickly calorically speaking! They’re also typically easy to eat a lot of.
So, when you’re picking them, aim for whole grains and keep your carbohydrate portion to about a quarter of your plate. Balancing your carb intake helps prevent energy crashes and ensures moderate caloric intake.
Pick a healthy fat!
Incorporate healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil into your meal. These fats support brain health, aid in nutrient absorption, and provide a feeling of satiety as they are slower digesting.
However, we want to use healthy fats in moderation. A thumb-sized serving of nuts or seeds or a drizzle of olive oil is sufficient. Here, too, these calories add up quickly so we want to be mindful of how much we’re having. Have you ever actually looked at the nutrition label on something like mixed nuts?? Quite a few calories for like 20 nuts. Again, not trying to turn you away from things like nuts, you do need fats, just want to caution overeating.
Things to Watch Out For When Creating a Meal:
Both of these points have already been mentioned above, but I’m going to explicitly list them here because these are big reasons why people don’t see the results they’re looking for even when they’re eating healthy.
Portion sizes! We want to make sure protein is at least palm sized, heavier carbs are about a cupped hand (maybe 1/2 cup), and fats are thumb sized. Fruits and veggies have leeway so when in doubt/when hungry, have more of those!
Are you cooking with a lot of oil or using lots of dressing/condiments? Think about the extras on your meals. Barbecue sauces, butter, salad dressings, etc. These calories add up quickly, and some of these items also have added sugars, and we don’t always account for them! Check in with your extras and see if you can either adjust the amount of them, account for the content in your understanding of what you’re eating, or skip them all together!
With this all being said, eating isn't *just* about nourishing your body or calories or protein content; it's also about enjoying flavors, textures, and aromas.
To that point, I invite you to also embrace mindful eating:
Slow Down: Eat slowly and savor each bite. Know that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness.
Pay Attention: Tune into your body's hunger and fullness cues. Are you eating out of habit or because it’s on your plate or due to actual hunger?
Engage Your Senses: Notice the colors, textures, and flavors of your food. Eating mindfully enhances your overall dining experience.
Within these loose structures, you can customize your meals based on your dietary preferences, needs, and goals. By focusing on a balanced plate, prioritizing protein, incorporating vibrant vegetables, and embracing mindful eating, you're setting the stage for a lifetime of nourishing choices and wellness. You also will require fewer recipes because you know how to pick pieces to create a meal!
ASTERISK TO THIS WHOLE POST: Does every single meal you eat have to look like this?? Nope!! Sometimes you want a good old fashioned pasta and sauce meal… any protein in that?? Not a ton! Is it the end of the world? NOPE! Sometimes we have less protein and that’s okay… as long as most of the other times we are including it.
I know I just said all of this about not needing recipes, but I still post a bunch of recipes on my Instagram, check them out by clicking here!
I also recently released an eBook with more than 50 recipes, as well as educational elements, advice on how to be successful with your body composition goals, real-life stories, and general nutrition support! Click here to check that out!
Is this post helpful? What other questions do you have about meal creation? What other “how to” posts would you like to see? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
As always, Thank you for reading!