Healthy Meal Deconstructed

Hey guys!

I was on Quora (because I have no life) and someone asked how to make simple, healthier meals without spending a ton of money.

That got me thinking: what is an easy dinner blueprint to follow that can change with available and inexpensive ingredients?

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Here is an answer:

To cover my six: Ask your doctor about all of the information I provide. Just because something works for one person does not guarantee it will work for another. This is not a diet, but rather a basic framework to incorporate into your cooking rotation. I am not an expert on nutrition nor do I claim to be.

In general, you want to have the following in your meals: protein, for strength and overall energy, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, which are good for brain health and don’t add to your waistline, and a reasonable amount of calories proportionate to your activity levels. If you don’t exercise often, go for fewer calories, but NEVER starve yourself. The average women needs about 1,600-2,400 calories a day, and men need about 2,000-3,000. Look for foods and recipes that have at least 10g of protein in them (don’t overdo your protein however), at MOST 15g or so of sugar, and low levels of saturated and trans fat. Avoid soft drinks, and drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Have one to three pieces of some type of fruit every day, as a snack or as a dessert (although a bit high in sugar, cantaloupe and peach slices are awesome for your skin and hair, btw). Finally, drink cold water with a slice of lemon squeezed into the glass. It acts as a palate cleanser, so that each bite of your meal is fresh (which is why it’s also great with fish), and changes the pH levels in your stomach to better metabolize your food. This helps you stay hydrated, improves your skin, and makes you feel fuller. Drink it before, after, and during your meal.

Now, to the good stuff. A great place to start with meal planning is the layout. Try to divide your plate into general thirds:

  • a source of protein (such as grilled chicken, low-mercury fish, or tofu),
  • a source of vitamins and calcium (such as salad or roasted green vegetables),
  • and a healthy starch (such as a baked sweet potato, long grain brown rice, or squash).

Now that you have the basic building blocks, you can adjust your recipes however you want.

One easy and simple meal I often turn to is grilled barbeque chicken with green beans and an Asian style salad on the side. If you are careful of portions and condiments, it’s very filling.

Chicken:

The (boneless and skinless) chicken is not breaded, but rather marinated in sweet but slightly watered-down barbecue sauce for 30 min. or overnight, then grilled on a grill for about 7-8+ min a side, depending on thickness and cut (each piece should have an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees). Baste occasionally with extra sauce during the grilling process. Hot sauce can be added to the marinade if you like a kick. When the chicken is cooked through and has reached the correct temperature, it should be very tender but a bit charred on the outside.

Green beans:

For five or more people, use half of one of those giant bags of frozen French cut green beans, and cook them in a big pot according to their directions. Drain them, return them to their pot, and add a bit of butter (watch the butter portions!), olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and onion powder to taste. Stir well, and keep warm on a burner at the lowest setting for a short time until ready to serve. This recipe is quite fragrant, and actually great for long grain brown rice as well. It has a very light taste but can be tweaked for more punch.

Asian Salad:

There are a ton of great pre-mixed salad-in-a-bag options, but if you are cooking for a bunch of people or just need more, buy Makoto ginger salad dressing, some golden raisins, some chopped or sliced almonds, and a less expensive bigger-sized bag of chopped salad with carrot shreds. In a big bowl, mix these ingredients together to taste, using a rubber spatula to mix it so that the greens are coated thoroughly. You can change this up however you want to, but be careful to avoid creamy dressings. Also, be careful of the amount of dressing you use in general, as even though it will be split up among several people, it can still get a bit calorie-heavy if you don’t keep an eye. The salad only lasts about a day once assembled, so try to only prepare as much as you will actually use. If taking it to someone’s house or on a picnic, assemble all the ingredients before you go, and just add the dressing before it is served.

Never kick yourself for missing a chance to eat a healthy meal. It’s OK! An occasional treat is fine. The most important decision is your next one

I try to eat healthy food and stay active. Am I a supermodel? No. Is that fine by me? Yes.

When I succeed, I celebrate. When I falter, I sing:

I give myself very good advice, but I very rarely follow it.

–Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carrol

See ya later, Space Cadets!

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