Most people assume that, as a holistic nutritionist, all I do is create meal plans for my clients. I’ll let you in on a little secret, that assumption is so far from the truth. I have yet to create a meal plan for a client and the only meal plan I have created within the past year was the 4 week meal plan for my Eat Feel Live Love Challenge!
There are several reasons as to why I don’t write meal plans for my clients, but the main reason stems from a personal experience.
When I began recovering from anorexia nervosa in 2008, I was put on a meal plan created for me by my dietitian. This meal plan was very much my saving grace. I trusted my dietitian with every cell in my body and followed the meal plan she gave to me to a T. The meal plan I followed was definitely a positive thing for me for quite some time; however, the problem started to occur when I was recovered, no longer needed a meal plan, yet was too fearful to let go of my meal plan that I had followed so tightly for so many years.
Knowing what I do today (and how long it took me to get over the fear of being off of a meal plan), I don’t write meal plans for clients (unless a certain client requires one for a specific reason). Instead, I educate my clients on how their plate should look at each meal. Education is power and by educating my clients on how their meals should look, they are able to make educated choices about the foods they choose to put on their plate as well as develop a healthy relationship with food (and avoid the feeling that they need to follow a meal plan!)
When it comes to your plate, I want you to think about balance. Here are my guidelines for on how to build a balanced plate:
1. Always include a source of protein
Proteins come in many different forms and have a variety of roles and functions throughout the body. Proteins act as enzymes and play a role in hormones and antibodies, too. It goes without saying that we need to include protein into our diet to function properly. When we include protein at each meal, it helps us meet our protein requirements and stabilize our energy levels.
The best sources of protein come from animal sources such as eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, all seafood, etc. There is protein in plant-based sources such as legumes, nuts, and seeds, but the protein found in animal meat is much more bioavailable and contains nutrients that plant-proteins lack, such as the very important vitamin, B12.
At each meal, aim to fill 1/3 of your plate with high quality, animal protein. A typical day of protein sources may look like:
Breakfast: 3 eggs
Lunch: Grass fed ground beef (1/3 of your plate)
Dinner: Wild caught salmon (1/3 of your plate)
2. Always include a source of carbohydrates
Just like protein, carbohydrates are essential for our health. In this episode of The Nourished Podcast, we talk about symptoms of eating too low carb. Many of the health issues I see in my clients have to do with eating too low carb. Depression, anxiety, thyroid, and adrenal problems can all stem from eating too low carb and all it takes (in some cases) is an increase in carbohydrate consumption to overcome these health issues.
Carbohydrates are found in everything from sweet potatoes to kale and quinoa to cupcakes. However, all too often I see my clients and other individuals struggling with their health due to consuming all of their carbohydrates from fibrous, low carbohydrate vegetables such as spinach, kale, and the like. Although spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are absolutely necessary for optimal health and I would love for you to include them on your plate daily, 100% of your carbohydrate intake should not be comprised of leafy greens.
Examples of starchy, non-fibrous carbohydrates include: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, plantain, cassava, taro, winter squash, parsnips, and beets. White rice and other gluten free grains are other great options if you are able to tolerate them.
A good place to start is to aim to fill 1/3 of your plate with these real food carbohydrates.
3. Fill the rest of your plate with vegetables
Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, leeks, mushrooms, and any other vegetable you can think of should occupy the remaining space on your plate. Most people don’t think of breakfast as a time to include vegetables on your plate, but I look forward to filling my plate with vegetables at breakfast! A typical breakfast for me is: 2 eggs, some leftover protein from the night before, sweet potatoes or plantains, and a combination of 2+ vegetables. Including vegetables at each meal allows you to take in the micronutrients your body needs to thrive.
4. Use fats at every meal
I like to teach people that fats are a vehicle for our nutrients. Eating fats with each of our meals allows our bodies to absorb the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. Additionally, we need fats for many functions throughout our bodies. There is a lot of stigma around fats and which to include into your diet for health. Despite what you may think about saturated fats, they are necessary for your health and should be one of the healthy fats you prioritize.
Saturated fats are required from proper brain function. Our brains are made up of fats and cholesterol, mainly saturated fats, and a diet low in saturated fat deprives the brain from the building blocks it needs to repair and function.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important components of cell membranes and are precursors to many substances in the body. These substances have many functions throughout the body such as inflammatory responses and blood pressure regulation, to name a few. Today’s modern diet contains between 10 – 25 times the optimal level of omega 6. You can help bring your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio back into balance by eliminating processed foods (a high source of omega-6) and eating oily fish (a high source of omega-3) 3x per week.
In order to get an adequate amount of fat into your diet on a daily basis, include fats at each meal. Choose fatty meats such as grass fed beef, wild caught salmon, or grass fed lamb, for an example. Cook with high quality cooking fats such as coconut oil, grass fed butter, grass fed ghee, and olive oil. Add avocado, coconut, nuts, and seeds to salads and meals.
When you follow these 4 guidelines on how to build a balanced plate, you are ensuring that your body is receiving the nutrition in needs, in the proper balance that it requires. Portion sizes will vary depending on the person. Of course, a 200 lb. man would require more food than a 130 lb. woman. However, these four pieces of advice will help guide you. Additionally, some people may require snacks on top of your 3 meals a day. When choosing a snack, opt for a combination of a protein, fat, or fibre to ensure stable blood sugar levels. A snack may look like:
1 apple with almond butter
1 hard boiled egg with a handful of nuts
1 avocado mashed with canned salmon and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Listen to your body, pay attention to it’s signals, and use those signals as information on how to nourish it. Our bodies are smart and want to be healthy, we just need to pay attention and take the time to listen.
I know it’s not always easy, which is why I offer one on one nutrition coaching. For more information, click here.