With so many different diets and cooking techniques out there, it can be hard to get a clear picture of healthy eating, what should and shouldn’t be on your plate, how you should be preparing your food, and the best look at good habits. While there are many children’s plates with compartments that have been marked for vegetables and fruit, grains, and a source of protein, these pointer plates as as readily available for adults, which is why charts that spell out how much of each food group you should eat can be helpful in improving your diet.
Healthy Eating: A Picture of Your Plate
When you’re getting ready for dinner, keep the following amounts of each food group in mind, from ChooseMyPlate.gov:
- One-half of your plate should be filled with leafy greens, crunchy vegetables and small amounts of fruits. You’ll get the biggest impact on your nutrition because vegetables and fruits are filled with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, but with a small number of calories. Consider a salad with kale, spinach, arugula, and Swiss chard, with apples and other fruits and veggies.
- One-quarter of your plate should have whole grains or legumes, which are high in fiber and help you to feel full while giving your digestive system a boost. Try lentils, brown rice, kidney, navy or black beans, or whole-wheat bread.
- One-quarter of your plate should have a healthy protein. You’ll get both healthy fats and added energy; combined, these will help you maintain a consistent blood sugar and void the spikes that can cause cravings. Meats should be grass-fed, or try wild fish, eggs or beans and rice or tempeh.
- A small sliver of your plate should include healthy fats. Consider using olive oil and avocado on your salad, adding in nuts and seeds, or making these integral components of your protein.
Build the Best Salad You’ve Ever Eaten
If you’d rather try a one-dish dinner, consider making yourself a gourmet salad using these hints from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen. Start with one to cups of your favorite, nutritious greens. Using several different greens for your vase will give you a wider variety of nutrients while bringing a broader flavor base. This will serve as the greatest part of your salad, so make sure you pick fresh veggies; using organic and locally-grown choices for your entire salad can boost the nutrition. Add in about one-half to one cup of fruits and veggies. Consider your favorite flavors or trying something new, like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apples and caramelized onions for a fall feast. Top your salad with about one-half cup of cheese or nuts, among other choices. For your fall salad, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries can enhance the flavors. Add a protein and dressing, and dig in.
DIY Dressings for Super Salads
You’ve made your salad — when it comes to finishing it off, taking a few minutes to make the perfect salad dressing with this guide from the Food Network means you can build on the flavors you’ve combined to create the perfect plate. A lighter vinaigrette, mixes one part of acid to three parts of oil, and then adds in different flavors, which can include the ones listed, or jams and preserves, ginger, soy sauce, or other spices. Creamier dressings have three parts of a creamy base to one part of a flavor, and add a different dimension and depth to your salad.
Pack A Lunchtime Powerhouse
Buying your lunch each day can add up: both financially and on the scale. The processed, fried foods that are more cost-effective have little nutritional value and add empty calories, and by eating them every day, you’ll start to feel sluggish, weary, and broke. Packing your lunch, though, with this guide from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen, can help you ensure that you’re getting a filling, nutritious lunch while saving your money and your long-term health.
Try some of your leftover salad, and add in some protein, or try mixing some of these different categories to put together your perfect packed lunch. Don’t forget to pack healthy snacks, like fruit, veggies, and raw almonds, homemade muffins, or air-popped popcorn. Many people derail their diets when it comes to snack time, so plan ahead to stay on track.
Packing the Perfect School Lunch
As you prepare your lunch, pull out a lunchbox for your child and pack school lunch at the same time. Many school lunches are mainly comprised of processed foods, and they have the safe effect on your children as they do on you, causing your child to lose focus and have a harder time concentrating and learning. Consider a bento-style lunch box, which has different compartments for foods from each group in this chart from Your Own Home Store. Some parents have found alternatives to popular lunch choices; rather than buying store-box make-your-own lunches, they’ve packed homemade turkey, whole-grain crackers, their child’s favorite cheese, and let children enjoy the idea while benefiting from better foods.
Tips for Keeping Your Produce Fresh
When you’re buying produce, it’s important to remember that you’ll get the biggest benefit from the freshest fruits and vegetables, and storing them properly will have a significant impact on your physical and financial health. More than 130 billion pounds of food are thrown out each year, so take advantage of your investment by properly storing your food according to this chart from Cook Smarts. Some foods, like cilantro and tomatoes (salsa, anyone?), should be used quickly once you’ve purchased them, while others, like squash, lemons, and root vegetables, have a long shelf life that will allow you to stock up. Most produce should be stored in the refrigerator, although there are some exceptions that can be stored on the counter.
Finding the Best Oils for Cooking
It can be easy to just pull some oil from the shelf to prepare your next meal, but knowing the difference between different oil types can make the difference between a delicious dinner and a meal mishap. Different oils have different smoke points, which is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke and burn. This chart from Fix can help. If you want to quickly sear meat, for example, try avocado oil, which has a 520-degree smoke point and is filled with healthy vitamins and potassium. Olive oils, on the other hand, are an ideal choice for preparing salad dressings, dipping breads, and baking, since it has a lower smoke point. Each oil brings different nutritional qualities and flavors to your meal, so try a few to find your favorites.
Five-Minute One-Pot Dinners
If you want to learn about healthy eating, look to the professionals, and these five-minute meals from nutritionists shatter your reasons for running to the drive-through. Women’s Health talked to several, who named these as their favorite easy dinners. From waffles with peanut butter and blueberries to a hearty, one-pot dinner that combines black beans, and a bag each of frozen broccoli and frozen brown rice, with a little bit of olive oil and seasonings, gives you fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, to help you feel full and fantastic.
Super Soups: DIY Broths
Bone broths are filled with nutrients and help everything from helping to soothe upset stomachs to improving your skin, nails, and hair, sources claim. They also taste really, really good. Whether you are in it for the effects, or just want a homestyle bowl of soup, making your own with this chart from SheKnows means you’ll save money and cut down on the sodium and other processed ingredients. Soups and broths are very easy to make — toss everything in a pot with some water, let them simmer for as many as 12 hours, and you’ll end up with a healthy option you can drink, add to soup ingredients, or use when making sauces, rice, and other dishes.
Healthy Baking Takes the Cake
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your sweet tooth. You can take your favorite snacks and make them at home, like these Larabar swaps, or you can take your favorite recipes and make them better for you with this chart from Greatest. By swapping out common ingredients, like whole-wheat flour, nut flour, or even pureed black beans for processed white flour, you’ll get more fiber, more whole nutrition, and a better base for your breads, brownies, cookies, or cakes. There are ways to remove sugars from your sweets, saving you from empty calories; healthier swaps for oils and butters, like adding in pureed avocado or applesauce; and even egg alternatives for those who are facing food allergies or want to avoid the option.
A healthy diet isn’t always the easiest to follow, but making some of these simple swaps and taking easy steps can help you save money, cut down on calories, and find the best way to make healthy eating a regular part of your lifestyle.