Preparing healthful meals on a regular basis can seem daunting to some people. However, this does not have to be the case! It is easy to prepare meals that include a variety of good foods that taste great and are quick and easy to make. The easiest way to get started is by using MyPlate as your guide. MyPlate provides us with the ultimate directions for meal planning. If we center our meals around the five food groups of MyPlate, planning and preparing meals will be simple and stress-free. MyPlate encourages us to eat fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.
Whenever possible, try to include 3-4 food groups in each meal and incorporate these tips:
- Focus on whole fruits
- Vary your vegetables
- Make half of your grains whole grains
- Vary your protein routine
- Move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt
Breakfast meals can be quick, easy, and nutritious, and can even include all five food groups! Try some of these ideas:
- Whole grain toast with a vegetable, cheese, and egg omelet, and a small side of fruit (Five food groups!)
- Oatmeal prepared with milk and topped with fresh or dried fruits and walnuts (Four food groups!)
- Hard-boiled egg, half a whole-grain bagel, ½ cup of fresh berries and a glass of milk (Four food groups!)
- Low-fat plain yogurt layered with fruits, nuts, and a 1/4 cup serving of whole-grain granola (Four food groups!)
With breakfast, it is easy to choose products that say “100% whole grain” on the label, such as whole grain breads, bagels, muffins, breakfast cereals and oats. It is also easy to add a glass of low-fat milk or yogurt and a small serving of whole fruits to increase the number of food groups in your breakfast.
Eating a lunch that is packed with good-for-you foods can keep you energized as you enter the afternoon hours. Consuming a meal that balances out 3-5 food groups is best. Here are some lunch ideas that can be easily and quickly prepared the night before:
- Home-made chicken salad (rotisserie chicken, low-fat plain yogurt, apple chunks, grapes, and diced celery) sandwich on multi-grain toast, with a side salad. Add as many colors to your salad as you can! Think leafy greens, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots. Use light vinaigrette dressing in moderation. (Five food groups!)
- Tossed salads can be a great lunch entrée when you make wise topping choices. Steer clear of toppings that can add too much salt or fat to your meal (croutons, bacon, creamy dressings, and lots of cheese) and instead top your salad with a variety of color and food groups. For a Southwest-inspired salad, try salad greens topped with corn, black beans, cherry tomatoes, avocado, 2 tbsp of shredded cheddar cheese, and red onions. If using canned corn and canned black beans, choose low-sodium varieties and rinse the beans to get rid of even more salt. Make your own creamy dressing using yogurt, lime juice and cilantro. (Four food groups!)
- Make a leftover bowl: start with leftover brown rice or whole grain pasta, top with leftover protein (diced chicken, salmon, or tofu), and include your favorite (cooked or raw) vegetables. (Three food groups!)
Dinner in a Hurry
After a long day, the last thing we want to do is work tirelessly in the kitchen making dinner. Try these lightning fast meals for a change:
- No-mess pasta dish: Choose macaroni, elbows, or bowtie pasta and top with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh tomatoes, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, basil, and rotisserie chicken. Serve with a side salad.
- Taco bar: Prepare a lean ground meat (turkey, beef, or meat alternative) in the skillet and add your favorite taco seasoning. Serve with corn tortillas, salsa, avocado or guacamole, shredded lettuce and shredded cheddar cheese. Skip the sour cream, instead add a dollop of plain yogurt. (Four food groups!)
- Make a meat-free, cook-free dish: canned beans, chickpeas, and edamame are all great sources of plant protein and can become the stars of a minute meal dinner. For example, for a Mediterranean-inspired dinner, make a chickpea, cucumber, tomato, olives and feta cheese salad and drizzle it with olive oil. Serve with a multi-grain baguette.
If you find yourself in an energy slump between meals, your body might be asking you to feed it some additional nutrition. Rather than reaching for the candy, chips, or other processed snacks, try some fresh foods instead.
- Crunchy veggies with hummus (carrots, sugar snap peas, or even fresh green beans work great!)
- A small trail mix of nuts, dried fruits, and whole grain cereals. This can be easily made and portioned out at home.
- Single serving low-fat yogurt with a side of fruit.
- A whole fruit with a spoonful of nut butter (try bananas and peanut butter, or apples and almond butter).
So, next time you find yourself asking the question “What am I going to make?,” remember to think of MyPlate, and aim to include three to five food groups with each of your meals. This way, you can ensure you are eating a balanced meal with ample vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.