Healthy meal plans can be very beneficial to our health and the health of your family.
Many of us would like to eat better, but are not sure how to do that. They are afraid that they do not have enough cooking skills, that healthy ingredients are to expensive or they are simply lacking ideas for healthy meals. Eating healthy does not need to be complicated, time consuming or stressful and does not need to be expensive either. If we spend a little bit time on organisation and preparation we can easily create a healthy meal plans on a budget.
Where to start and how to make the process of creating healthy meal plans most efficient? First of all we need to know what should go on our plates. Better knowledge of which foods are healthy and which are not, will save us a lot of time on searching for a healthy recipes, creating a healthy meal plans and on choosing the right foods when we go shopping. Let me give you
Four rules of what healthy meal should contain
1. Eat a whole food diet
Whole foods are those that are completely unprocessed or have been minimal processed. They haven’t been packaged and are in the most natural form you can get. As a result, whole foods are free from additives like added sugar, trans fats, sodium, preservatives or colouring, that we should be avoiding in a healthy meal plan. Instead whole foods are rich in fibre, minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and healthy fats, they are easier to digest and absorbed by our bodies, therefore the body can make good use of it by nourishing the organs.
Processed foods are confusing to our bodies, which doesn’t recognised it as a food and it do not know how to utilise it. For those reasons, processed foods may cause inflammation and over stimulation of the immune system which, after longer exposure, may contribute to a chronic disease. So, we do not want processed foods on our plate.
2. Rainbow on a plate
Introducing a variety of colourful vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices will greatly improve the nutrient status of our meals. More colours on the plate equates to more vitamins and minerals and a much more appetising look of the meal. Colourful vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices are high in fibre and rich in antioxidant — vital for maintaining good health and in disease prevention.
Remember that it is best to eat organic produce, which have a higher content of vitamins and minerals and are pesticide free. Most nutrient rich vegetables, fruits and herbs will be local grown. Also, eat according to the seasons, as seasonal produce is more likely to be fresh and have better nutritional value.
3. Balanced meals
Healthy meals should be balanced. It means it should contain a combination of all the essential macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. A combination of macronutrients guarantee more stable blood sugar levels. This is because a balanced meal is digested slower, therefore the energy from this meal will be slowly released, preventing blood sugar spikes and dips. Additionally when the meal is balanced it will give us a better spectrum of nutrients provided by all the essential food groups and those nutrients are also better absorbed. Find examples of balanced meals here.
Best protein sources to include in our meals are: organic and/or free range poultry, wild/grass fed red meat, wild fish, organic eggs, raw cheeses, beans and legumes.
Best sources of fats that should be present in all our meals are: avocados, extra virgin olive oil, linseed oil, walnut oil, hemp oil, raw coconut oil (and other coconut products), oily fish or fish oils, grass feed butter, ghee, nuts and seeds.
Best carbohydrate sources for healthy meals are: vegetables and fruits (preferably low glycemic and organic: spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rocket, Romanian lettuce, pack choi, watercress, radish, tomatoes, celery, leek, onion, garlic, all types of berries etc) as well as grains, like quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, rice, sprouted or sourdough bread.
4. Right proportions
To make sure our meal is truly healthy, we need to get the proportions right, including the plate size. Our plates have increased in size from 8inches in 1960 to 12inches in 2010! We should get rid of all the oversize dishes from our household and go back to the old fashion sizes. Oversized plates are promoting overeating and consuming far more calories then we should. Same size meals would not fit a smaller plate, so we simply would eat less.
The essential macronutrients: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, should also be in the right proportions. This will allow us to create the most health benefiting meal plans. The easiest way to get the proportions right is to cover half of the plate with vegetables, which are the healthiest form of carbohydrates. Vegetables should be a combination of raw veggies and slightly cooked (steamed, lightly fried, slow cooked on low heat). One quarter of the plate should be a protein source, this is a fist size portion. Protein source should preferably be organic eggs and/or chicken, grass feed beef or wild fish. The last quarter of the plate is to be divided between the wholegrain, starchy products and healthy fats.
Wholegrain starchy products are not essential to our diets, unless you are training hard and need to bulk up your meal. Whereas healthy fats (avocado, fatty fish, coconut, etc) are essential and our bodies cannot function without fats. Therefore, starches could even be substituted with additional portion of a healthy fat. A portion of fat would be: 1/2 avocado, 2 tablespoon of oil (coconut, olive, linseed), handful of olives, 2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds.
Now that we know what foods we want on our plates (find recipes examples here), we can start planning our meals. Meals should be planned ahead to give ourselves time to shop for the ingredients and to prepare the food. It is best to do weekly meal plans and to shop accordingly. Most of the ingredients and prepared foods will stay fresh for up to a week if refrigerated. Meals can also be stored for a longer period of time in a freezer, so we can repeat our weekly meal plan over the following weeks, if we make more of it.
Where to start with creating a healthy meal plan? If we are creative enough and have a little bit of experience in a kitchen we can crate a healthy meals based on the Four rules of what healthy meal should contain. However, for those of us who are at the beginning of the healthy eating journey, or those who are looking for some cooking inspiration it may be a good idea to purchase a healthy cooking book, or to look up recipes online at www.positivevitality.ie for example. We know already what healthy meal should contain, so it should not be a problem to recognise a healthy recipe, alternatively please look up the books and websites in a footnotes.
When we have a good source of recipes we can start creating healthy meal plans. What is important in creating a healthy meal plans is not to overestimate our skills, time and budget.Therefore, the recipes that we want to include in our meal plans must be chosen wisely. Follow my
Four steps of creating a healthy and easy meal plans on a budget
- Simple and nutritious
Whether we already have some experience in healthy eating or we are complete novices — simplicity is the key! Otherwise we will be adding time, money, stress and we will lose all the fun of creating a healthy meal plans.
Consider foods that are easy to prepare, that can be eaten raw or made via quick-cooking methods like steaming or light pan-frying. Also, we don’t need a million of ingredients for a good meal. Chose the foods which are a concentrated source of nutrients, like leafy greens, sprouts, seeds, fermented vegetables, superfoods and herbs and spices. Those that need hardly any preparation and by adding them to our meal we can greatly increase their nutritional value. Save the recipes that take longer to prepare for the day off.
- Be prepared
There is nothing worse than coming back home hungry, with a great idea for a healthy meal and realising that we do not have all of the ingredients. Sometimes we can work something out and find a substitute, but it can happen that we are missing the main ingredient and there’s no way to prepare a meal without it. Very often we end up eating whatever is handy or we order a take away. If we allow our selves this cheat meal, to many times being unprepared can totally sabotage our healthy meal planning. So, unless it is a planned cheat meal, which is totally fine once o
r twice a week, this is a situation that we want to avoid.
Planing ahead will help us to avoid this situation. Simply:
- get the recipes ready
- put them together in a weekly meal plan
- check what ingredients you need
- make your shopping list accordingly
- buy all you need for the weekly meal plan
- make some time to prepare it.
- Cook in bulk
We can save ourselves lots of time and money if we cook in bulk. Simply multiply the ingredients of your chosen recipe by as many portions as you need. To prevent boredom of eating the same food over a few days you can make 2-3 meals and eat it every second or third day. Another way is eating the left overs from a dinner for your lunch the next day. Or to make a quick side salad/veggies which will make the same meal bit more different.
There are lots of recipes you can cook in bulk, for example we can make a big pot of soup or stew or a large stir fry. We can roast a whole chicken, duck, lamb leg or make a lentil or mackerel pate and eat it over a week. We can chop extra veggies for a soup and make roast veg the day after. We can make more shakes or smoothies, dips and pestos and refrigerate. We can prepare homemade muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds and have for a quick weekly breakfast.
- Healthy snacks
When creating healthy meal plans, not only the meals but also the snacks should be healthy, otherwise it is difficult to sustain healthy eating habits. Snacks can be easily prepared at home, purchased from a supermarket or a health shop. Always include healthy snack ideas in the meal plan and the shopp
Examples of healthy snacks are: dips like humus, guacamole, pesto, cashew mayo consumed with carrot or celery stick, or on a slice of cucumber or with some linseed crackers; avocado with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, a handful of olives, nuts and seeds, greek yoghurt with berries, hard cheese slices or hard boiled egg with a few teaspoon of pesto, vegetable crisps, teaspoon of nut butter on a slice of apple and so on. Find recipes here and ready made healthy snacks here.
Knowing the Four rules of what a healthy meal should contain and Four steps of creating a healthy and easy meal plan on a budget we can get to action. Choosing the right recipes and putting it together should not be a problem any longer. Neither making the right and affordable food choices while shopping with a list. Or even the food preparation itself when we can save time on cooking in bulk. Now we can simply enjoy healthy eating and have fun creating a healthy meal plans. For more advice on healthy eating visit my blog.