One of the first things I learned that helped me to start eating a healthy and balanced diet was to learn what macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are and what percentage should be present in my meals so that my body is well nourished.
The second was to understand that I needed some organization and good habits in the kitchen to be able to do everything well and in a short amount of time.
Knowledge that changes habits
There was a time when I felt anxiety just thinking about what I was going to cook the next day. Looking for a solution, I tried using lists first. I made one with all the recipes I knew how to prepare without effort and created an Excel spreadsheet to decide which of them I would prepare each week. However, I saw that this actually took me a long time. Also, when I started studying for a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and I learned about nutrients, I realized that almost none of the recipes I use to prepare had a balanced level of macronutrients because they were either starters (carbohydrates) or main dishes (proteins) that I, however, used to eat separately.
My first objective was then to prepare one complete dish that, in addition, tasted good to me.
For many years in my life, there was a long list of vegetables that did not even appear on my plate because I didn’t like their taste. I always thought that was a big obstacle to follow a healthy diet.
However, two things happened:
– The fact of learning about food, about the nutrients that each one has for our body and about the needs that they cover in our organism, made me change perspective.
– Also, something changed when I began to eliminate processed and sugary foods from my diet: my palate began to accept flavors that I previously rejected (broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, peppers, etc.).
What my typical dish looks like
There are many theories about the ideal percentages of macronutrients that each dish should provide. These percentages, as well as the food quantities consumed, depending on many individual factors and the activity of each person. I had been experimenting for a while and now my typical dish, indicatively, looks like this:
25% whole grain
15-20% legume or animal protein
5-10% healthy fat
Keep in mind that these percentages are approximate and I do not count any calories.
The usefulness of this discovery was in understanding more that I had to consume more vegetables and that cereals and legumes, or animal protein, should not be the protagonist of the dish, but rather the garnish.
With these amounts, I’m usually satisfied with my meals. I have enough energy to work many hours each day and to train about three times a week.
My shopping list
This is the list of foods that I have been consuming so far in my lunches and dinners, although I am always adding new ones to increase the variety of products that I consume.
Legumes: I prefer to buy dried legumes and cook them myself because with my preparation, I can digest them better. However, buying them already cooked is also a good option.
Lentils (red, black, green)
Beans (black, white)
Vegetables and greens: I usually buy the ones I find in the produce store, with a tendency to buy seasonal ones that, in addition, tend to be cheaper.
Ecological animal protein:
Chicken – I usually buy an entire one, asking to have it cut into quarters, using the bones to make broth.
Salmon (also a fat)
Sardines (also a fat)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cooking and preparation: how to save time
Before starting with my challenge I used to prepare elaborate meals and then freeze them, but that involved a lot of organization and time. I also had to remember to thaw them and, in addition, a lot of the thawed food doesn’t taste good anymore. Today I prepare elaborate dishes only if I feel like something in particular.
A change that has helped me a lot when it comes to organizing my meals has been to move to easy cooking methods (baked, grilled, boiled) that require more coordination rather than culinary knowledge. Thanks to this solution, in a week I buy groceries just once, I cook twice, spending less than four hours of my time in the kitchen. I’m saving a lot of time with this change, I have less of a headache in thinking about what to cook and I always have healthy food ready to be eaten.
How I prepare each category of food
Cereals: I follow the instructions and prepare them boiled. Also, every time I make a new meal prep I use a different cereal until I have used the ones I have at home once. I usually prepare one cup of dried legumes for about four days.
Vegetables and greens: I usually bake them, unless I make a salad. I cut them, put them in the trays, add salt, aromatic herbs and extra virgin olive oil, and then they are ready for the oven. I usually bake two full trays at the same time to take advantage of the fact that the oven is on, thus optimizing electricity.
Animal protein: I choose it according to the day and I grill it or bake it. Eggs can be done as an omelet, fried, hard cooked or poached.
Dried legumes: except for the red lentils, I let them soak for 12 hours with a piece of kombu (it is what helps to make them more digestible). I discard the water of the soaking and I boil them, with the same kombu alga, for a couple of hours, depending on the legume. As with cereals, in each meal prep, I also use a different legume. The measure of a cup of dry legumes is for about four days.
Each preparation takes me about an hour and a half to have a cereal, a legume, and many vegetables ready to eat. I store them separately in containers and they usually keep in the fridge for about four days. When I’m hungry, I mix the different ingredients, only needing to add animal protein and healthy fat, if this is not already part of the protein (salmon, sardines).
My favorite healthy fat is an avocado sauce with lemon, garlic, and yogurt. I also love extra virgin olive oil that, although I use it to bake the vegetables, I like to add some to the cereal and the legume. Nuts and seeds are another healthy fat option that can be sprinkled on top of vegetables.
10 tips to always eat healthy meals
Now it’s your turn. I am leaving this list that summarizes the points to follow to help you organize your meals.
- Buy only fresh ingredients that you are going to cook yourself. If you decide to buy pre-cooked ones, make sure they do not have added ingredients, especially sugar (in all its forms).
- Use easy and simple cooking methods.
- Change ingredients every time you prepare your meals.
- Prepare large quantities for three or four days.
- Store the food separately in tightly closed Tupperware.
- Organize yourself to always have ready-to-eat food in the fridge.
- When hungry, mix the ingredients in the ideal amounts to cover the needs of your body.
And three other points that will help you in your healthy eating habits:
- Chew well and take the time to taste your food.
- Eat foods that you like and enjoy.
- Do not overeat but don’t undereat either.
Do you have any advice or trick that you use in the kitchen?
Do you recommend some other food that you love?
Finally, if your main problem is related to food cravings, I invite you to also read my post How To Eliminate Food Cravings And What To Do When They Win where I discuss the reasons that often cause our cravings and I propose some solutions for eliminating them.
As always, a thousand thanks for stopping by!
A big hug and Happy Healthy Life,
Claudia Canu is a former junk and sugar addict transformed into a Health Motivator with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has created this website not only to share her “Journey to her Healthy Forties” but also to help other busy women with basic knowledge about nutrition and who don’t love cooking, to live a healthier life and achieve big goals.