A healthy lifestyle enables you to improve your well-being, but it also involves making better choices. One of the most important choices you can make is to consume nutritious and well-rounded meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By incorporating a variety of healthful foods into each meal and keeping meals within your ideal caloric range, you can fuel your body with the energy it needs and support optimal brain function while satisfying your taste buds.
Components of a Healthy Meal
The most recently published Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that a healthy eating plan should place an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy and lean proteins. It should limit saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Staying within individual daily caloric needs is another important aspect of a healthy meal. Using a smaller plate for each meal can help to control portions so you don't overeat.
As the first meal of the day, a balanced breakfast allows you to set the right tone for the rest of your day's diet. Nutrition experts at Choose My Plate suggest filling your plate with mostly vegetables and fruits and smaller portions of protein and grains. When choosing grains, choose 100-percent whole grains, because they provide more nutrients and fiber than processed, refined grains.
Cooked oatmeal and whole grain cereal lower cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels. For additional fiber and Vitamin C, add berries. Use fat-free or low-fat milk to add calcium, which supports healthy bones and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Other healthy breakfast meals that focus on whole grains, vitamins and calcium include a smoothie with low-fat yogurt, fruit and wheat germ; leftover vegetable pizza made with low-fat cheese and a whole grain crust; or a yogurt parfait made with fruit and wheat germ or whole grain cereal.
A healthy, well-balanced lunch keeps your energy going during the day while giving your body and brain the necessary nutrients to perform optimally at school or work. Like breakfast, it is important to focus on packing in as many vitamins and nutrients as possible without exceeding your ideal daily caloric needs. Easy, healthy and portable lunches might include whole grain bread filled with lean turkey, spinach leaves and spicy mustard with sides of sliced veggies and an apple. The cholesterol-lowering whole grain combined with the essential protein in the turkey support energy and brain function. The spinach, veggies and fruit provide vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, but not too many calories.
You may have more time to prepare meals at dinnertime than at lunchtime, so take advantage of this by getting more creative with your healthy dinners. Lean protein paired with colorful, steamed vegetables and a whole wheat roll with a fruit salad for dessert will help you to get all of the important food groups and end your day with a meal full of vitamins, nutrients and fiber. You can broil, bake, poach, or sauté the protein in a tiny bit of olive oil to add flavor and incorporate the oil's phenolic compounds, which are anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants. Meatloaf, tacos, soups and salads are all suitable options for healthy dinners if you use lean proteins and vegetables as ingredients.
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Choose My Plate: Build a Healthy Meal
- Choose My Plate: Fruits
- Choose My Plate: Dairy
- Choose My Plate: Empty Calories Chart
- PubMed Health: Impact of Diet on Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis
- Harvard School of Public Health: Health Gains from Whole Grains
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Tips on How to Make Healthier Meals
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight
- Mayoclinic.com: Nutrition and Healthy Eating
Poppy Carpenter graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In addition to teaching journalism to junior high students, she also covers health and fitness for "PUSH Monthly" and Angie's List.