We are all striving to feel better, do better, be better, live better. We each in our own ways have our priorities and goals aligned, and slowly but surely we are getting there. For so many, eating better is a work in progress. And we are so fortunate to have such amazing information at our fingertips. The internet, facebook, pinterest… we can find all sorts of recipes and inspirations.
But sometimes these inspirational posts and videos can also work against us. We look at what others are doing and think our meals will never come close to that. Sometimes the ingredients list is intimidatingly long. Or the instructions are so complicated. Or maybe the ingredients are so exotic we’d have to travel all over the place (and internet) just to get them. Yes, those gorgeous pictures get me too. (Confession- sometimes I check out cookbooks from the library just to look at the pictures… with no intention of ever making the recipes!) But sometimes you just need to set the cookbook down, turn off the computer, and make your own meal.
So what makes a meal? I guarantee you it’s not a complicated list of unique foods and techniques you’ve never heard of. A meal doesn’t even have to be hot. A meal just needs to satisfy your needs nutritionally, emotionally, and mentally. What do I mean by that? We’ve been trained to think a meal has to come out like it does at a restaurant. And for those of us who are not adept at cooking, well, then we must be relegated to cereal for dinner. Or frozen dinners. Or take out. Not so!
In our house, I try to make a nice dinner once a week. We are pretty busy, going from one place to the next all the time. We take our meals together where we can. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And on those busy, throw-a-quick-meal-together days, the only rules are “Where is your protein? Where is your green?” My children are so tired of hearing me ask this but I drill it into their heads day in and day out.
Building our plates can be as regimented or loose as we choose. But we start first with a vegetable. (I prefer green, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.) The biggest portion should be your vegetables. These guys are chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and necessary health boosting benefits. They are your friends. They help you function better, digest better, think better, breathe better, move better, fight cancer and other illnesses… need more? I like to see at least half of my plate covered in vegetables. Most of them work beautifully together, and in this house we aim for the rainbow on our plates!
Next, protein. We don’t have to go over board here, just a modest amount is good. The recommended amount is roughly .4g per lb of body weight. There are some medical or extenuating circumstances that will change this, but those individuals will have been advised by their doctors if this is the case. Protein is so important in providing nutrients such as omega fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, and all the good things that help us rebuild and repair. This is important for day to day issues, like muscle support, but did you know it is vital in recovery from illness too? So that’s why these too food sources are my top picks. Of course I recommend organic, grass fed and pastured animal proteins, wild fish, and organic beans and legumes. The beans and legumes are considered incomplete proteins, and therefor should be eaten with another incomplete protein to make them more available as protein and micronutrients in your body. Vegetables are other incomplete proteins, so as long as you have vegetables to eat with them, you now have a better nutrient profile. Combining them with nuts or rice will also do the trick.
Now, our healthy fats. Avocado oil, coconut, ghee, lard or butter for cooking… olive oil as dressings or low temperature cooking… fat is flavor, fat is satiety, fat is healing. Our brains are made from this stuff- feed your brain! It doesn’t have to be much, but fat should be included in healthy doses every day. What is a healthy dose? You will know when you find your happy level. Watch for the following signs: improved energy throughout the day, less cravings for sugar throughout the day, less need to snack in general, improved mental functioning, improved digestion… sound good? Right! Fat is our friend. How will you know when you get too much? A quick way to tell is your digestion. If it causes loose stools, back off a bit. Reduce the amount until you feel good and see positive signs in your body. For me, it took some playing around. But my brain and digestive tract work best with a higher amount of fats in my daily diet.
Next comes a fruit. Fruit is a tricky one. Some people do really well with it, some don’t. Pay attention to your body and you will soon find out which side of the fence you are on. Fruit is natural fructose, but the body doesn’t see it differently than other sugars. That means that fruit can still spike your blood sugars. And that means it can create imbalances in focus, energy, hormones, digestion, and in just about every other system in your body. Tread lightly, and focus on berries and lower glycemic index fruits, preferably local and in season. Caveat- I do love my frozen berries. Harvested at peak ripeness and frozen on site, they are more nutritious for us than most fresh options. Dried fruits, by the way, are especially tricky here. The dehydrated content of this food is even more blood sugar spiking. We use these very sparingly.
Last? Well, I go back to my vegetables, personally. But for others, this is where you would enter your grains. And of course, I prefer less inflammatory options like quinoa, amaranth, sprouted rice, and buckwheat. My children love these, but honestly by the time they fulfill my previous requirements they are no longer needing them. This keeps our gluten free, processed grain foods to a bare minimum. Why is this important to me? Because I believe there is truth behind the theory that a poorly varied diet contributes to food sensitivities. And rice and corn, highly used gluten free substitutes, are fast rising on the allergen list. I do occasionally indulge in the alternative grains, like lentil pasta, black bean pasta, and the like. It makes for a special treat when the need arises. But usually, once we have fulfilled my previous tenets, there is not really room in our stomachs for grains.
So these are my rules. Sometimes our dinners look like beautiful, restaurant worthy plates. Steaming hot foods that coordinate pleasingly with their herbs and spices, the kind that you want to take a picture of they are so pretty. Yes, sometimes this is what we eat. And then other times we eat carrots with hummus, avocados, and cold tuna salad. Or cucumber slices with homemade mayo and deli meat. Sometimes it’s just a random collection of things we found in the fridge. But it always follows my basic tenets. And if we walk away feeling satiated by the flavors, energized by the nutrients… then it was a meal. And it was a good one.
So don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. You do what you need to do to be healthy, and you do not worry about what your version looks like in comparison to someone else’s. If you’re happy and you’re fulfilling your nutritional needs and wants, then you are doing well. Congratulate yourself, you’re eating a good meal!