REALLY, WHAT IS A “GOOD” PLATE OF FOOD?
When I talk about nutrition with most of my clients almost all of them say they eat healthy… but are they really?
Today let’s solve the mystery of what is considered a good plate of food!
Let’s break it down to the ideal- We will cover
-What is a “good plate of food”
-What YOUR “good plate of food” should try to look like
-How to easily create changes in your meals
WHAT IS A GOOD PLATE OF FOOD?
Sure, I could start off with the perfect plate of food and tell you that after reading this, the magical healthy eating fairy is going to come by and all of your plates will be perfect. But, I’ve got 3 kids all in activities, I run a business, I am the primary house chef and I have yet to see that damn fairy stop over to drop meals out of their butts, so they probably won’t visit your house either. Let’s talk about real life first.
A good plate can take on a lot of different looks. When it comes to planning what a good plate looks like for you, think about the intention of the meal, where you are at, and if you are making the best possible choice.
What is the goal of this meal? To fuel my body? Recover from exercise? To be tasty? To satisfy some craving? A good meal has intention. Most of my meals do fall into the fuel my body category, but at our house there has been a long standing date night for Pizza Fridays. The portion sizes may be different depending on my goals, but In 12 years I’ve only missed a few times. Pizza Friday not only keeps my wife happy, but it also helps to keep me focused during the week. An extra bonus is that it let's me enjoy the food I love the most without feeling bad about it. I do have a few rules that I follow to make my ‘Za meal a little more ideal, but we will get into that later.
Below you can see the difference between what is considered a good post workout meal vs a good anytime meal. Both are good meals that look different based on the goal of the meal. So a good plate has intention or goal.
A good plate will need to start with you. If your plate already looks pretty close to what we will describe below, then a few small changes should be easy for you to handle. If your current plate looks like a microwave dinner or fast food take out, going straight to an “ideal” plate might be too much for you to handle all at once. So a good plate has to take into account where you are currently at.
Finally a good plate is your best possible option. Let’s look at one of the worst nutrition situations possible: Fast Food. Being a parent on the go, I’m no stranger to grabbing some take out. Sure that double burger with bacon and cheese and large fries is giving me the “you know you want me” look, but I also see that grilled chicken sandwich and soup over there in the bottom corner being all shy. In most cases I don’t want to be caught paying for that foodie one night stand for the next 20 years. Let’s remove the mayo from that chicken and I’ve saved some food baby child support in the form of at least 600 calories of extra fat and fried carbs and got in a healthy relationship with a bunch of extra nutrition and lean protein. So even in the worst of situations a good meal is the best available option.
WHAT SHOULD YOUR “GOOD PLATE” TRY TO LOOK LIKE?
So now that we are okay with the idea that a good plate of food takes on a few different looks, let’s take a look at what myself and most experts would agree the magic food fairy would drop off. Below is a picture of what the experts would say is a good anytime meal and a plant based meal.
AN “EXPERT” GOOD PLATE OF FOOD HAS:
Lean protein- For meat eaters these are lean meats that could include but are not limited to chicken or turkey, breast, 90% or leaner ground meats, lean cuts of beef, most fish and seafood and wild game. Most vegetarian sources will come with some extra carbs or fats but look for beans, legumes, protein powders. If you are looking at your food label you want to see about 22 grams of protein for every 9 grams of fat.
A bunch of veggies - Veggies of all different colors and kinds not only give us important vitamins and minerals for our basic daily needs and energy, but they also provide volume and fiber that can help us feel satisfied.
Some nutrient dense carbs - When looking at carbs, give more attention to things with a high nutritional return. Berries and fruits provide extra phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Whole grains, beans and potatoes can also pack a nutrient dense punch.
Some healthy fats (for most meals)- Nuts can be a tasty snack or addition to a salad. Avocado, oils and nut butters can be great flavor boosters. The good thing is they are also great for hormone production, skin and joint health, lower LDL cholesterol, slowing digestion and can lower inflammation.
Is eaten mindfully - You are the missing part of the plate that can bring this all together. Slow down to taste and enjoy your food. Eliminate distractions so you're not overeating. Put down your fork between bits. Chew your food to a paste to slow you down as well as improve digestion and absorption of all that nutrition. Stop when you are satisfied rather than waiting till you're stuffed.
HOW CAN YOU EASILY CREATE CHANGES TO MAKE YOUR PLATE MORE IDEAL?
First, look at where you are currently at. What is 1 manageable change you could make with each meal to make it look more like the expert based plate? Could you be more consistent in your meal choices? Adding our switching to lean proteins instead of fatty cuts? Making sure a few more veggies make it to your plate? Making a switch from fries to a baked potato with olive oil? If you improve just 1 thing at each meal for the next year you will have made over 1,000 healthier choices! Choose 1 small change and make it a part of your diet. Then move onto another. Over time you will see huge improvements.
Look at each meal you have. What is the reason you are eating it? If your goal is to have optimal health and body composition, at least 80% of your meals the intention of your meal should be to fuel your body. Making decisions based on optimizing the nutrition you are putting in rather than taste and convenience is a huge step to make your meals more ideal.
Finally, are you making the best available option? Most likely every meal you eat will not look like the “expert” plate. A good plate on a 10 hour road trip is going to be different then a home cooked family meal. Both plates can be good as long as it is your best option.
I almost forgot- How do I make pizza night “healthier”? Before I start - I take a digestive enzyme to help break down the dairy (I have a dairy sensitivity). Then before I grab my pizza I have a super lean protein like chicken breast or tuna and a salad. The protein and volume from the salad help to make me feel full. Finally I only grab 2 slices at a time, walk away and eat slowly. If I sat down with the box in front of me, I could eat the whole box. Grabbing smaller portions and eating slowly creates more of a barrier between me and finishing that box.
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