Day 16 of our 30-day nutrition challenge is to nutritionally balance meals.
Western diets are often boring and beige. Too much bread, pasta, potatoes and not much else on the plate. It’s not just lack of colour, it’s often lack of nutrition balance too. Too carbohydrate heavy, and too little protein and vegetables, no wonder many of us are craving the sweet stuff when we run out of energy and need the quick sugar fix or caffeine stimulation.
A small change, but an important one which nutritionists do every time they plan a meal is to think – does the meal tick all the boxes. Does it contain balance: carbohydrates, protein, fats, fibre. Meal planning results in:
- Improve energy
- Support immunity
- Feeling fuller for longer
- Reduced cravings for stimulants
- Less food waste
Day 5 #nutritionchallenge30 taught us all about the different types of carbohydrates for slow and quick energy. When meal planning firstly think about timing – what will you be doing before and after the meal. If you’ll be sitting down and not exercising for at least a couple of hours you’ll want to include the slow release (complex) carbohydrates like wholemeal pasta, brown rice, granary or seeded bread. Remember also the reheating trick from day 3 for added benefit.
If you’d like to reduce body fat then reducing the quantity of carbohydrates can help. Check the package serving suggestion (often we mistakenly serve twice as much as recommended), and perhaps some evenings per week exclude carbohydrates from the evening meal – still having them for lunch, but not necessarily also in the evening.
If you’ll be exercising immediately after a meal/snack you’ll want to menu plan something light and easy to digest (banana sandwich, eggs, yogurt + fruit). If you’re planning a post exercise meal, you’ll want to focus on ticking the protein box as well as including some carbohydrates.
In day 4 of the #nutritionchallenge30 we explained about complete and incomplete protein sources. Post exercise it’s important to make sure there is complete protein on the plate, and is the portion the right size? Aiming for approx. size of palm of hand (chicken breast, tin of tuna, 2 eggs). It’s the protein which will help to repair muscles following exercise. Research suggests ideally protein should be consumed within 30mins of finishing exercise but if you will struggle to do this then perhaps consider taking a protein snack (protein smoothie, hard boiled eggs, chicken strips) with you to eat when exercised has finished.
Even if you’re not planning on exercising that day it’s still important to include protein with each meal as it’s the protein which will keep you fuller for longer and reduce the cravings for sweet foods and stimulants. When planning a meal firstly think about the protein source – meat, fish, dairy, eggs, soya, quinoa, or vegetarian combining. Try to not have the same protein source two days in a row so your will be increasing the variety in your diet. When you’ve selected the protein source then add the rest of the meal ideas around it – pasta, rice, vegetables etc.
It’s not essential to include fats in every meal but they should be included at least once per day. In day 6 #nutritionchallenge30 and in our podcast episodes with Dr Alex Richardson we learn why fats are so important in our diet – even more so now when we realise the benefit they have for our mental health. Good fats like fish, avocado, olive oil, nut, seeds can easily added – fresh or tinned fish at least twice per week, and prepping like a boss (day 15) buying a side of salmon means saving cooking each evening plus saving money (a side of salmon is less expensive than individual salmon portions). It’s easy to incorporate good fats into snacks (flaxseed into smoothies or yogurt) which will also help to maintain energy levels.
It’s not quite the boring message it used to have – we’re more aware that fibre isn’t just for bowel cancer risk reduction but for its huge benefit in supporting immunity (day 2 #nutritionchallenge30). Including at least 5 fist size portions per day is easy with meal planning. Plan for one fist size amount of vegetables (salad, raw carrot/pepper) with lunch, two pieces of fruit (one with breakfast and one mid-afternoon snack), and just two fist size amounts for the evening meal (making this two different colourful vegetables).
You can also find out more meal ideas in our Improving energy & concentration webinar and our Bitesize Nutrition podcasts. If you’re new to podcasts you can listen free without registration on your phone or PC by clicking on the podcast link in this paragraph. Or you can listen to Bitesize Nutrition on iTunes & Spotify.
Don’t forget to let us know what you think using #nutritionchallenge30
- The information in this article is for educational purposes and should not replace medical advice.
- The information is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
- If you have a diagnosed medical condition, you should consult a doctor before making any major changes to your diet, and;
- Some supplements may interact with medications and you should check with your GP before commencing any supplement programme.