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Healthy Practices At Mealtime

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I don’t know about you, but the staggering amount of health and diet books out there makes my head spin. I’m not sure how the average person is supposed to make sense of all the latest fads and tips, nor do I believe that it’s natural for the simple act of eating to be so difficult. We are literally born knowing how to eat so it seems crazy that it takes so many experts and doctors to instruct us as adults.

Unfortunately we are in the information generation and are consistently overloaded with endless media messages about the “right” way to eat, so it’s completely understandable that we are a little confused. It’s more important than ever to be discerning about the information we receive and to get to know our own bodies better so that we can make sound dietary decisions.

With that being said the following are mealtime tips that I’ve either gathered from books, articles and blogs, or that I have kind of developed on my own. Basically healthy practices that all in all make sense to me and are general guidelines I use at mealtime. Again everyone is different so take these tips or leave them. The key is to determine what works best for you and to work towards healthy eating habits that come to you naturally so you can stop thinking so much about how and what to eat and just enjoy the experience.

Create Color. Rich colors in food often indicate higher nutritional value and in my opinion make food more appealing. Looking at a plate filled with a bright orange sweet potato, rich dark leafy greens, and a golden brown filet of fish topped with a tomato confit looks much more appetizing than a plate of brown fried chicken, white mashed potatoes and a tan biscuit. Variety is the spice of life!

Fill your plate with mostly vegetables first. This is more of a defense (or offense depending on how you look at it) tactic for me. If left to my own devices I will start with the cheesy pasta and fill a quarter or half of my plate and then get to the salad and only have enough room for a leaf and maybe a tomato chunk. Focus on the nutrient rich foods first and fill your plate with them, then use the leftover space for the more indulgent foods. At least if you clean your plate you will have filled most of your tummy with healthy foods and will not be making the decision to have seconds out of hunger or lack of nutrients.

Work towards taking a break between bites (<– this one is a HARD one for me). I am a like turbo charged super fast eater. I get it from my father. I know I need to slow down. Both to actually enjoy the flavors of what I am eating but also to actually recognize that I am in fact eating. Lately I have been trying the whole sitting my utensils down between each bite thing. Sometimes I also make it a point to take a sip of water in between bites. At this point anything to stop the vortex that is my mouth from inhaling my food is open game.

When building salads keep these things in minds:
1. You don’t have to use lettuce as your base – try spiralized zucchini or multiple chopped veggies like cucumber, tomato and carrots.
2. Focus on flavor so you don’t have to depend on dressing – it doesn’t take much of a strong cheese (like blue cheese or feta) to go a long way flavorwise. Fill your salad with flavor packed goodies like peppers, red onion, tomatoes, roasted veggies, hummus, dried or fresh fruits and light sprinkles of strong cheese as a way to all but eliminate the need for a rich dressing to make it edible. I actually went a while without using dressing at all.
3. Remember to include protein – a bowl full of crisp veggies might keep you full for a while, but it’s important to keep the overall nutritional value of your salad in mind. Nuts, seeds, beans, baked tofu, smoked fish or grilled meats add depth, flavor and essential protein to your meal.
4. Add something warm for a change – Not all salads have to be cold. Try a warm salad or layer fresh grilled or roasted vegetables on top for a delicious contrast of temperatures. I also sometimes feel like I need something warm in order to feel like I’ve eaten a real meal. Adding a few warm ingredients helps me feel more satisfied.
5. Be creative with your dressings – in general is a good practice to pay close attention to the ingredients list on any bottle dressings. There’s no reason to have a laundry list of hard to pronounce ingredients or harmful additives and preservatives. It’s so easy to create delicious dressings at home and even easier to drizzle a touch of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon, soy sauce or even use hummus as a dressing.
6. Don’t add what you don’t like just because it isn’t good for you – just because most salads are made with tomatoes, cucumbers and a carrots, if you don’t like those foods you aren’t going to enjoy your meal. This is where healthy eating and pleasure come together. Find vegetable that you do enjoy, no matter how odd the combination and build your salad around those foods that will create a pleasurable experience for you. I really don’t like fruit in my salads. I know it’s fancy and adds a lot of rich flavor but I don’t enjoy it, so I don’t include them in my salads.

Recognize your eating habits; both good and bad, and your cravings and work with them. Filling three-quarters of your plate with salad in an effort to fill up on greens instead of that delicious creamy pasta, only to eat the salad and then go back for seconds or thirds of the pasta really defeats the purpose. I am SO guilty of this. Learn what it takes to truly satisfy your craving. For some it only takes three bites, for others you may need to indulge in an entire steak now and then to feel like you’ve taken care of your craving. The key here is to be reasonable and to slow down enough to appreciate the flavor so that you can accurately determine when you have reached your satisfaction point. Other ways to work around habits and cravings is to find healthy substitutions. I’ll be the first to say that a cashew based vegan mac ‘n cheese recipe will never hold a candle to my Mamaw’s cheesy creamy specialty. However, being a long time chocolate chip cookie dough lover I’ve never been more happy to discover raw cookie dough balls…that are actually GOOD for you.

Use smaller plates. I’m sure you have all heard this before and sometimes I agree that a bigger plate is needed, especially given that salad greens take up a lot of space, but in general visually seeing a full yet small plate is more satisfying than a big plate with a lot of white space. And who are we kidding, if there is space on our plate we will most likely fill it.

Have something green at EVERY meal. This may seem a little extreme but leafy greens are some of the most nutritious foods there are. If you aren’t keen on lettuce try other varieties of greens like kale, arugula or spinach. Experiment with different and new ways to fix broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, zucchini, snap peas, or green beans. There are really endless options when it comes to vegetables so there really isn’t a good excuse to not give them a try. I always say if you don’t like vegetables then you just haven’t had the prepared the right way. They can be mouthwateringly delectable.

Makes every meal special. I have to admit this concept didn’t hit home until I read Bethenny Frankel’s neurotic book Naturally Thin. (I’m debating writing my less than positive review on that book in a later post.) But I actually agree with her point that when we take the time to make what we are eating special and appetizing it is much more satisfying. Plain deli turkey and a slice of processed cheese on white bread is pretty bland and boring. But a fresh shaved slice of turkey, an artisan slice of pepperjack, bright crisp green lettuce and a slice of juicy tomato spiced up with some spicy mustard on crusty fresh baked bread is a meal fit for a king.  Even if you are down to eating a frozen meal (in which case we need to have other discussions) at least put it on a plate, pair it with some fresh veggies and treat yourself to an actual meal. There’s never a good reason to short yourself of a quality meal.

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