3 Top Tips For Healthy Meals

When we are young, the concept of healthy meals is very black and white. Vegetables are good and fast food is bad. Cleaning your plate is good and being wasteful is bad. As we grow up, no one bothers to tell us that, in reality, individual foods are neither good nor bad- only too much food is bad. In fact, the idea that we need to clean our plates has gotten us into big trouble.

As it turns out, nutrition isn’t black and white at all. On a physiological level, it can be extremely complicated. Sometimes we do all the right things and still can’t seem to manage our weight, our energy, or our health. Of course, if we could only live on the Biggest Loser Ranch we wouldn’t have any of the obstacles that make eating healthy meals so complicated and impractical in the real world.

If only there were a few simple rules that made eating healthy simple?!

The good news is, there are three simple tips that can make healthy meals more of a no brainer. After all, we don’t all have the time or money to study nutrition, to visit a certified nutritionist, or to order all our meals packaged and ready-to-eat.

If you assess your diet regarding the three guidelines below, you will be doing a better job than most towards getting the nutrients and energy your body needs. (And by “diet” I don’t mean that four letter word that signifies perpetual deprivation but simply, what you consume daily.)

The Three Tips are to
1) keep your meals colorful
2) keep your meals small and frequent, and
3) keep your meals fresh.

As we explore these criteria in a little more depth, it will highlight some reasons you should incorporate them into your lifestyle.

1) Keep Your Healthy Meals Colorful

Our body needs six different nutrients to function optimally during the day. These include carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Most of us don’t have time or sufficient interest to make getting our daily allowance of amino acids and essential vitamins a scientific venture. So how can you make sure you are getting what you need? Answer: by keeping your meals colorful. It is that simple.

Picture a plate containing fish and chips beside a smoked salmon salad with a whole grain roll. One of these plates is monochromatic and the other has reds, greens, browns and whatever else your imagination used to dress it up. The more colorful plate has half the calories, more than twice the nutritional benefit, and will provide more lasting energy. Meanwhile, the monochromatic plate is also more likely to make you feel sluggish and desperately thirsty as a result of excessive sodium levels. The point is, picking healthy meals is a choice you are free to make.

While carbohydrates ( like bread, potatoes, rice, and starchy vegetables) and protein ( like meat, beans, and dairy) should be components of every meal, the more fruits and vegetables you add, the healthier and more colorful your meal will be. Even adding peas and carrots to the fish and chips plate would significantly increase the nutritional value of this dish. Presentation is not just for cooking shows- it is for your health, too.

People who eat mindfully (or in other words, don’t have a weight problem) enjoy food with all of their senses. Practice making your meals and snacks colorful by incorporating a variety of food groups. This way they will be a feast for your senses, your belly, and your body.

2) Keep Your Healthy Meals Smaller and More Frequent

A healthy eating schedule is going to vary from person to person. Three square meals a day is sometimes the only thing someone has time to prepare and enjoy. However, food is fuel. If you are hungry, eat. If you are not hungry, don’t. For many people, enjoying 4-6 smaller meals everyday actually helps them function more efficiently.

Deprivation is not beneficial for your body or mind. You have to eat to lose. However, most of us are used to mindlessly eating portion sizes that are larger than what we really need. You want to be satisfied but not stuffed.

More frequent, smaller meals keep your metabolism revved and make it less likely that you will store food as fat instead of burning it for fuel. It also keeps your energy levels and blood sugar levels steady which decreases the likelihood of overeating at your next meal or suffering crashes in energy that cause you to crave lousy, processed foods and sweets.

Anyone who has ever grocery shopped on an empty stomach knows that creating healthy meals is easier if you don’t let yourself get overly hungry. By making sure you have a healthy breakfast and healthy snacks available for the day ahead, you will be significantly less likely to feel the need to stuff your face and you will find it easier to manage your weight. Overall, focusing on eating to keep your energy up and your hunger under control will help you be a pleasant, healthy person.

3) Keep Your Foods Fresh

Eating healthy meals doesn’t mean buying packaged foods that say they are healthy on the outside of the box. Healthy meals should include fresh foods. If everything you eat is unwrapped, microwaved, delivered, or frozen, you need a serious diet overhaul. What your body craves is nutrients, not preservatives and added chemicals. Processed foods are more calorically dense and harder for your body to breakdown so they are more likely to be stored as fat than natural food.

If the ingredients list on a packaged food item is a bunch of words you don’t recognize or have never seen before, don’t buy it. Instead, build a skill for life and learn to cook the meal from raw ingredients. Ingredients that aren’t in your granny’s pantry, don’t habitually belong in yours. In other words,” if it doesn’t grow, let it go”. While it may seem like a convenient time saver now to buy the ready made stuff, preparing your own healthy meals will help you live longer, easily making up for the time it takes to prepare meals in the long run.

It takes conscious effort to incorporate these rules into your daily routine, but they will quickly become habitual with practice. Your efforts start in the grocery store where you can focus on choosing fresh foods and ingredients that will allow for plenty of nutritious choices for healthy meals and snacks in the days ahead. Then all you have to do is focus on including a variety of food groups to ensure you always add at least a splash of color. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the more the merrier as far as your body is concerned.

Making color a priority, eating smaller meals as frequently as your hunger dictates, and seeking out fresh foods will pay off. In fact, assessing your healthy meals along these three guidelines might just help you save your health and your money. The more you fill your body with quality nutrients, the less you will crave U.F.O’s (unidentified food objects). After all, having access to and eating healthy meals is a luxury, not a punishment.

Healthy Meals 24/7

Wouldn’t you feel great if you had healthy and delicious meals throughout the day, every day of the week? Of course you would, but for most of us preparing healthy meals seems too difficult, time consuming, and intimidating. Well, I’m here to tell you that the secret to having healthy meals on hand anytime and every time is planning and having healthy food staples. Let’s be honest, most of us spend more time planning a night out than we do our planning our meals for the week and are more concerned about the staples in our wardrobe than the staples in our pantry. So, it’s time to shift your priorities and efforts if you are serious about making healthy lifestyle changes in your diet and in your life.

Healthy Meal Planning: Groceries
Purchasing healthy foods takes not more time or effort that buying pre-package, processed, unhealthy foods, and while some healthy foods may require cooking and/or preparation time, aren’t you and your family worth it? When you shop at the supermarket, or receive your grocery delivery you want to see a rainbow of colors in your produce, a variety of whole grains, and lean, healthy proteins. If you find that because of your schedule fresh fruits and vegetables go bad purchase frozen or canned. I personally love frozen greens like collards and kale and I always have canned beans and pumpkin, and marinated artichoke hearts on hand. If you and/or your family are used to having frozen processed foods, sugary, calorie laden sweets and unhealthy snacks you want to gradually replace and remove these items from your diet. For example, switch from regular chips to baked chips, regular popcorn for low-fat popcorn, regular soda for flavored seltzer, full fat ice cream for lite or reduced fat. For a quick, healthy breakfast have whole grain cereals, breads and waffles on hand. Lunches can alternate between healthy, home-made brown bag and healthier take-out options that are offered with whole grains and whole grain breads, as well as with sushi and salads (go easy on the dressing, cheeses, crispy chicken, bacon, etc.). For healthy snacks be sure to stock up on nuts, dried and fresh fruit, and yogurt. And as always, be aware of portion sizes. Eating healthier is not a green light to over eat.

Healthy Meal Planning: Staples
In order to able to toss together a quick healthy meal anytime, you must have essential staples on hand. First are the fresh groceries that you have already stocked your refrigerator with, second are the staples that you should have in your pantry and/or cabinets. Some essential pantry staples are:

Canned fish and vegetables- Canned fishes like salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fatty acids and add a protein punch to sandwiches, salads, and pasta. Canned and marinated vegetables like canned tomatoes, pumpkin and marinated mushrooms and artichokes help transform an ordinary grain, soup, or sauce into a more flavorful, exciting meal, plus they’re chock-full of nutrients.

Whole Grains- Experiment with different grains like barley, bulgur wheat, quinoa, millet, and brown rice, which is also available in long and short grain, and basmati. Whole wheat and quinoa pastas are great for a quick, healthy and filling dinner. Mix things up and use assorted shapes and sizes of pasta with a varied combination of vegetables and lean proteins.

Broths, bouillon cubes and powders, which are also available in healthier versions like fat-free, low sodium, all natural and vegetarian add guilt free depth of flavor to meats, grains, soups, casseroles, and sauces.

Nuts- Pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts contribute heart-healthy fats, as well as adding texture, flavor, and substance to salads, grains, and hot vegetables dishes.

Oils, Vinegars, and Spices- Explore the spice aisles and ethic food sections of your market. You will find an endless variety of oils like olive, canola, safflower, truffle, and coconut-vinegars like fig, rice, apple cider, red vine and balsamic-spices like cardamom, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon along with spice blends like lemon-pepper, Italian and steak seasoning, sazón, adobo, and curries add tons of flavor without adding sodium and fat.

Healthy Meal Planning: Cooking
You can enjoy healthy meals every day without having to cook every day, really, once again planning is key. One day a week, whichever day your schedule allows, cook enough grains/carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables for 4-6 days, this is what I call your healthy meals base. For example, as my base, I like to bake two sheet trays of tofu, cook about 4 cups of quinoa and steam or bake a massive amount of vegetables for the week. Throughout the week, you can then vary and modify your healthy meals base with your healthy staples and groceries. Add sautéed, colorful peppers and savory onion and garlic to your protein to make a fajita or stir fry, add dried fruits and nuts to your grain to make a delicious pilaf and dress your vegetables with one of your many flavorful spices, oils and vinegars.

Once healthy meal planning is established as part of your healthy lifestyle routine, you’ll find that it becomes second nature and effortless. Gradually, you’ll build up a delicious, varied range of home-made meals that you can prepare quickly and easily, and which are much better for your health than ready-made, pre-packaged meals and fast food. As you can see, with really no more time, effort, and stress than you are currently excreting now over what is healthy to buy, eat, and cook you can plan week’s worth of nutritious, well balanced meals that will improve your health and overall wellness.

Maripili Rodriguez, NCCA-CPT, AADP-HC is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-Certified Personal Trainer, a certified holistic health counselor, and professionally trained natural foods chef. Using her own unique and comprehensive Healthy Life System, which she is a product and success story of, Ms. Rodriguez works with serial dieters who have struggled for years, even decades to attain and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

Eating Healthy Meals Together Improve More Than Just the Body

It is natural that eating a healthy meal with your family can improve your health. Researchers have long known that eating healthy is the key to a longer life and physical fitness. Eating a healthy meal can improve your overall mood, give you more energy, and make you feel better in general.

People who eat with their family are less likely to eat unhealthy foods. When someone eats alone they are more likely to eat junk food, prepackaged quick meals, or frozen dinners. When you serve healthy meals you tend to take care both preparing and eating.

Researchers agree that eating healthy meals with your family helps you concentrate and can improve your performance at work or school. There has been a lot of research on this in the past and all of it shows that eating together can improve almost all aspects of your life.

When you eat with your family you also have more of a say in what and how much your children eat. By demonstrating healthy eating habits you are showing your children how to eat. It is natural for them to pick up good eating habits when they see them. Modeling is a great way to influence your children.

It is important to realize that serving your family healthy meals bring your family closer together. A good conversation over dinner is an excellent way to catch up with your family in a non-confrontational way. There is nothing better than sitting down over a meal and talking with your family.

Planning healthy meals is also very important. Planning a meal means to take more time in thinking about healthy choices. If the meal is preplanned then there is less of a chance that you will use unhealthy substitutions. If you want a healthy alternative to frozen dinners you can prepare double one day and then freeze half of it. When you are ready or just do not have time to cook you can defrost the meal.

Overall healthy family meals are a great way to eat well, bond with your family, and improve their performance at work or school. It helps to strengthen family ties and helps keep families together.