The “Pick 3/4” Checklist for Balanced Meals & Snacks

Let’s face it, as much as you plan ahead, we can always expect some snacks and meals to happen on the fly. As you stare into your fridge, pace in front of your office snack stash, or zone out at the to-go foods at Starbucks… use these 4 bullets as the foundations when building your meal. Ask yourself, does this choice or combination of foods have at least 3 of the following:

  • protein
  • healthy fat*
  • fiber/whole grain
  • fruit or vegetable

Ideally, you can hit all of these in each meal or snack.

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For example, a banana with peanut butter has some protein & healthy fats* in the peanut butter (let’s not count the macros, we’ve only just met), and the banana is a fruit with some good micronutrients (and together, these foods give 1/5 of your daily dietary fiber minimum).

*What is a healthy fat? With all this talk about coconut oil not being healthy…(1,2) what should you believe? Fatty foods and oils that I personally use and recommend for use on a daily basis include olive oil, avocados, nut butters (peanut butter, tahini, almond butter), and hummus. Less regularly, I use cheese, butter, sesame, coconut and canola oil. The kinds of fats and oils YOU use will depend on cultural/ethnic preferences and cooking methods. More on that in a later blog post.

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Once you get the hang of it, this checklist becomes second nature. For a meal, baked salmon with brown rice and sautéed vegetables would hit all 4 of these. Even if you wanted to go “low carb” and eliminate the rice, the sautéed vegetables would have a good amount of fiber to satisfy that requirement. However, I want to emphasize that I am a proponent of carbohydrates (whole grains) for fiber and volume and some nutrients. Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat (pasta, bread), quinoa, barley, oats, etc. can be awesome additions to your diet. Don’t demonize “carbs,” and don’t fall for the myth perpetuated in current diet plans that say the only “carbs” you can eat are sweet potatoes.

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