Planning meals and knowing what to eat each day in order to reach our health and fitness goals can be quite the challenge, especially with all the fast convenience foods around. So in this month’s column, I want to outline the key nutritional points that you should be considering at every meal time when building your plate of food.
First of all, I must highlight that these are general guidelines for you to follow to give you a helping hand, but we must always remember that as individuals, we usually have different dietary needs and this must always be considered.
For example, if you are someone that is active in your job and you also exercise regularly, your body most likely will need a higher calorie intake to ensure you have the energy you need to function effectively. If you are someone who has a very static job and you are less active day-to-day, your calorie intake should not need to be as much as say the latter person.
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I believe that calorie intake must be considered and adapted depending on your situation or physical goals as it is the ideal way to manage portion sizes, however WHAT we eat and the quality of WHAT we eat is just as important. Where these calories come from is vitally important.
How to build your plate
We want to keep things as balanced as possible, ensuring we’re not missing out on any essential food groups throughout the day.
Ideally we should be building our plates like so:
½ the plate is vegetables: The more variety in colour, the better. We gain an array of vitamins and minerals through a rainbow of vegetables. Vegetables are also rich in fibre, which aids digestion and can help keep us fuller for longer.
1 x palm sized amount of protein: The protein we choose is ideally lean, like fish or chicken, but good quality red meat once or twice a week is fine and oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sea bass, trout and tuna steak is actually recommended once or twice a week because of the health benefits. If you are vegetarian or vegan then finding a natural source of protein is ideal, although you may need a larger portion size to meet your required daily allowance of protein.
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A thumb-sized amount of fats: This may include the oil you cook with, it may be the oily fish, it could be the oil in the salad dressing, but you want to focus on good fats such as extra virgin oils, avocados, oily fish or a sprinkle of nuts and seeds.
Half a palm size amount of carbohydrates: This would be the general ideal amount but again, may need to vary depending on you and your activity levels. Some people can function very well on a lower carb intake and others cannot. Personally, I believe carbs should not be feared, they should be enjoyed by everyone and the best way to get the most out of your choice of carbs is by focusing on the “brown” versions, rich in fibre and other minerals that the refined versions are stripped of, as well as oats, grains, legumes and potatoes. Having refined carbohydrates now and again is absolutely fine but I wouldn’t advise they be your main source of energy every day.
So if you are someone that enjoys jam on toast followed by a crusty white baguette and then pasta for dinner, you may want to take on board the above, you should find it helps to improve your energy levels and general wellbeing.
Examples of meals you can enjoy for a healthy, energy-fuelled day
Whole rolled porridge oats made with nut milk and topped with a handful of fruit and a drizzle of honey or nut butter.
This breakfast is more carb heavy, which may not meet my above guidelines exactly but it is ideal for the morning as it sets you up for the day and releases energy slowly into the body so that you’re full up until lunch time.
A chunky homemade chicken & vegetable soup.
Soup is also great because you can make it in batches and have your lunches organised for several days. If you use a mixture of vegetables, you’re getting your rainbow, while the chicken is essential for the protein element, I love barley in my soups but some potato is great too. For vegetarians and vegans, tofu or chickpeas are great protein rich sources that work well in a lunch like this.
Keep it simple with a fillet of fish, at least two types of vegetables, preferably some leafy green vegetables and one other and either some wholegrain rice or sweet potatoes. Add flavour with some herbs and spices.
Making tray bakes with chicken, fish and lots of vegetables and seasoning is a super quick and easy dinner and again if you make a batch you can prepare tomorrows lunch at the same time.
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If your meals are fulfilling and balanced, you’re less likely to need a snack throughout the day however, it is common for us to feel that 4pm slump, so my advice would be a protein and fibre rich snack that will keep you satisfied until dinner time. Apple and a dollop of nut butter is a great example or crudités with some houmous, just be mindful of how much you have as it is easy to get carried away.
I hope this has been insightful, giving you some general guidelines to follow if you’re feeling a little lost with your diet. Remember to always seek advice from a qualified nutritionist if you feel your current diet isn’t working for you, as you may be missing or adding something in your diet that your body does or doesn’t need.
My last tip would be to make sure you retain a positive relationship with food, as much as food is there to nourish the body it is important that we enjoy it too! My book ‘Get it done’ contains 60 delicious recipes including some healthy twists on our favourite classics so that not only can we reap the benefits of healthy food but so we can enjoy every single meal time.
See you next month!