How To Build A Healthy Meal Plan?

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Food | 0 comments

Building A Healthy Meal Plan

Starting a new meal plan can be overwhelming-what kinds of foods should I put on my plate, what are the appropriate portions, and how do I balance carbohydrates, protein, and fat? First, an important housekeeping item that will help promote weight loss and blood sugar control: use a salad plate, which is smaller than a dinner plate.

Once you have the plate, your goal will be to fill half of it with non-starchy vegetables (yes, 1/2!!), such as carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, or zucchini. A quarter of the plate should hold 3-4 ounces (think of a deck of cards as a size reference) of lean protein, such as fish, chicken, or lean beef. The last 1/4 of the plate holds a starch, such as a small baked potato, brown rice, or pasta. You can also add a serving of fat, such as light margarine, mayonnaise, or salad dressing. A small serving of fruit for dessert balances out your meal.

Many Americans do not divide their plates into this formula. Instead, they pile their plates high with carbohydrate foods, such as cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and pinto beans or spaghetti and bread. When you throw off the plate balance, you will see a higher post-meal blood sugar.

By trying one new healthy food each week and eating a wide variety of foods, you will give your body a variety of vitamins and minerals, and keep you from getting stuck in a food rut.

Additionally, it’s easier to overload on calories when you don’t use the plate-balance approach. In order to lose pounds or maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to understand the calories in/calories out relationship:

  1. Calories consumed > calories burned = weight gain
  2. Calories consumed < calories burned = weight loss
  3. Calories consumed = calories burned = stable weight

Last week, we offered a recommendation of 1,800 calories a day as a starting point for a weight-loss program. But it’s just as important to know where the calories are coming from as it is to know how many you have in a day. For example, you can end up drinking a lot of calories: there are more than 200 calories in a 12-ounce beer; 190 calories in a 16-ounce caffè latte and 17 grams of sugar; and 50 calories for 8 ounces of Gatorade Orange, which also holds 14 grams of sugar.

The good news is that we are always using up calories, even while resting. This is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Basically, it’s the minimum calories required for our bodies to function. Of course, that alone will not put you in the weight-loss equation, which is why getting more physically activity is so important.

Choosing Wisely

Putting together a healthy plate to help you stay on target with your daily calorie count and aid in controlling blood sugars isn’t difficult when following these recommendations:

  • Choose foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Aim for one fruit serving with each meal. Also, pile your plate high with non-starchy vegetables, such as green beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, or asparagus. Choose a small serving of starchy vegetables, such as sweet potato, corn, or peas. Choose brown rice over white rice and whole grain or whole wheat pasta over white processed pasta. Shop for breads and rolls that offer at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Include low-fat, non-fat dairy foods or dairy alternatives. Shop for skim or 1% milk, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cottage cheese. Look for cheese with less than 3 grams of fat per serving, such as 2% milk cheeses, Cabot reduced-fat cheese, or Laughing Cow cheese wedges.
  • Serve 3-4 ounces of protein at every meal (remember the deck of cards). Experiment with fish and seafood (not fried), chicken, turkey, ground turkey breast, and lean cuts of beef or pork, even egg whites or an egg substitute. You will save money and make your diet heart healthy by shrinking your animal protein portion size.
  • Choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, light tub margarine, reduced-fat mayonnaise, or reduced-fat salad dressing. Avoid trans fats often found in baked goods, frozen processed foods, stick margarine, cookies, crackers, and peanut butter by looking for “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” on labels. Also, limit serving sizes of all fats. Even though olive oil is a healthy fat, it still brings 45 calories and 5 grams of fat per one level teaspoon. If you pour oil into a pan for cooking, you could be adding an additional 300 or more calories to your dish! A great alternative is low sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Also, ask for salad dressing “on the side” and dip your fork into it before forking your salad.
  • Include sweets, desserts, and treats in moderation. “Sugar free” sweets typically contain about the same amount or even more carbohydrates as the “regular” versions. If you are going to have a sweet treat, limit the portion size and check your blood sugar two hours after the meal.

Variety is the spice of life, especially when watching what you eat. Try to choose one new healthy food each week. By eating a wide variety, you will give your body a variety of vitamins and minerals, and avoid getting stuck in a food rut.

Food Finds

Calories and sugar can hide in the most unexpected foods. For example:

  • A fresh bagel from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts – more than 400 calories
  • Processed tomato pasta sauces – some have as much sugar as a candy bar

Then again, there are some tasty low- or no-cal options:

  • Arugula – 4 calories/1 cup
  • Black coffee – 0 calories

Some simple substitutions to cut calories:

  • Whole-wheat English muffin instead of a white-bread hamburger bun
  • Replace processed noodles with spaghetti squash


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