If you want to be able to fix healthy, balanced meals for you and your family, it's probably best to put in a little effort and do a little research beforehand. However once you know the basics, it’ll be super easy to create healthy meals and snacks and you’ll be so glad that you made the effort! Read on to find 5 simple steps you can take to create healthy, balanced meals:
5 Simple Steps For Making Healthy, Balanced Meals
1. Learn About Micro/Macronutrients and What They Do For The Body
While you certainly aren't aiming to become a nutritionist or food scientist, it is a good idea to learn about micro and macronutrients, what they do for the body and why they are important. For example, protein is a macro and is important for retaining muscle mass and muscle repair. Carbs are also a macro, and they give us energy. Another macro is fats, which are essential for healthy brain development and overall cell function. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals we consume, and while they can be focused on to a lesser degree, it’s important to ensure we’re getting what we need from our food. Where can we find these micronutrients?
Calcium - milk, yogurt, spinach, and sardines
Vitamin B12 - beef, fish, cheese, and eggs
Zinc - beef, cashews, garbanzo beans, and turkey
Potassium - bananas, spinach, potatoes, and apricots
Vitamin C - oranges, peppers, broccoli, and bananas
2. Learn How To Read Nutritional Labels
Learning to read (and understand) nutritional labels will ultimately help you to make smarter food choices. Make sure you check out the serving size vs. the number of servings in the entire package, and understand that the nutrition facts on the label are generally PER SERVING. This means if the serving size is one cup and you generally eat two, you are doubling the amount of calories, fat and other nutrients noted on the label!
Daily Values, or DV, are another aspect of the nutrition label you should maneuver. The DV will help to evaluate how a certain food will fit into your meal plan, and percentages are for the entire day--not just a meal or snack. Most DV's are at an average level of nutrients for a 2,000 calorie day diet.
3. The ‘Low Cal’ Option Is Not Always The Best
Many food manufacturers have clever marketing techniques that would lead you to believe their products are healthy and good for you when in fact, many are far from it. So many ‘low cal’ food options contain all kinds of additives, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors and worst of all--that pesky high fructose corn syrup--to trick you into thinking the low-fat variety is just as tasty, yet somehow healthier, as the full-fat one.
That doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorite foods; you just have to be mindful of what you’re consuming and how much you're consuming.
4. Don’t Vilify Foods
It’s easy to vilify this food or that food when you constantly hear conflicting stories in the media about what's good for you today, and what's not. But rather than eliminating these foods altogether, eat them in moderation instead. Try to get in the habit of following The Food Plate. The Food Plate replaced the food pyramid in 2011, and we love it.
5. Get A Grip On Portion Control
Americans have become so out of touch with portion control that a legitimate serving size for an adult looks like a Happy Meal. Try purchasing an inexpensive electronic scale to weigh and measure your portions. Use cup measures for foods like cereal and ice cream. Use measuring spoons for salt and sugar. When you start making an effort to understand portion sizes, you’ll get a better idea of what will fill you up, what won’t, and how to stay balanced for life.
Sometimes, there is just no time to make yourself a healthy meal; it happens to the best of us. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to make take out and fast food a bit healthier. Check out this infographic from Cleveland Clinic on how to make your takeout and frozen meals healthier: