Whole grains (such as whole-grain bread/pasta, brown rice, and oats)
Nuts and peanuts
Reduce-fat dairy products
Sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soft drinks and sports drinks)
Processed red meats
Added sugars, such as those in candies, ice cream, cakes, other desserts, and sugar-sweetened foods such as flavored yogurt and oatmeal.
Refined grains, such as white bread, rice, and pasta, and refined cereals
Once you know which foods to include, how do you put together a meal plan? The Mayo Clinic explains that the Plate Method is a simple way to compose each meal. According to the ADA, your plate (or bowl) at most meals should be:
Half-filled with non-starchy vegetables, such as greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, onions, carrots, bell peppers, or celery.
One-quarter filled with a lean protein, such as fish, skinless chicken, tofu, reduced-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, lean ground turkey, or beans.
One-quarter filled with a low-fat dairy product, such as plain yogurt, or a high-fiber carbohydrate, such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, beans, fruit, popcorn, acorn squash, or sweet potato.
There may also be a small amount of healthy fat at the meal.
The Harvard School of Public Health has a similar plate called the "Healthy Eating Plate." It also emphasizes vegetables, grains, and proteins, but also suggests including fruit and water at most meals, as well as healthy fats.
The Plate Method has some advantages.
It leads to balanced meals.
It helps control blood sugar by including protein and fiber at most meals, without getting too much unhealthy fat or too many starchy or sugary carbohydrates.
It does not require extensive measuring.
It encourages creativity in meal planning.
The ADA provides examples of meals based on the plate method. For example, Avocado Toast with Turkey Bacon and Tomato can be for breakfast, lunch could be Easy Beef Chili with Kale Apple Slaw and Smooth Salsa, and dinner could be Lemon Chicken with Collard Greens and Yellow Squash.
Here are a few more ideas for meals based on the Plate Method.
Sweet Potato and Fennel Hash
Each serving can include 1/2 cup each of cubed sweet potato, diced onion, and sliced fennel. Cook them in 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, or sage as desired. Toward the end, add 4 egg whites (or 1 egg) and finally, add 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves.
Southwestern Breakfast Bowl (or Plate)
Each bowl can include 1/2 cup of canned low-sodium black beans, 1 cup of cooked cut vegetables, such as onions, bell peppers, and zucchini, 1/2 cup (2 oz.) of low-sodium cheese, and 1/4 of a medium avocado. If you like, heat the beans with cumin and chili powder before adding them to the bowl. Garnish (optionally) with cilantro leaves, 1 tablespoon of salsa, and/or 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt.
To serve two, cook 1 cup of diced onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup of oats and turn off the heat. Stir in 2 cups of fresh spinach and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Top with a cooked egg to serve.
Lunch and Dinner
Chicken Noodle Cabbage Soup
These ingredients can make 8 servings: 1 cup each of diced carrots, celery, and onions, 4 cups of cabbage, and 24 ounces of cooked, cubed chicken. Cook the vegetables in low-sodium broth with a bay leaf, a dash of black pepper, and a dash of cumin, then add 8 ounces of dry whole-grain noodles. Add the chicken and simmer for 15 minutes. Optional: serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil.
Quinoa Salad with Salmon
Each serving can include 3 ounces of salmon, 1/2 cup sliced snow peas, 1/2 cup sliced carrot, 1/2 cup diced bell pepper, 1/4 cup sliced green onion, and 1/2 cup cooked quinoa. Cook the vegetables in 1 teaspoon of olive oil, then mix in a bowl with teriyaki sauce. Cook the salmon in the same pan, then toss with the quinoa and vegetables before serving.
Shrimp, tofu, or chicken can substitute for salmon, and farro, brown rice, and barley can be swapped for quinoa.
Burger and Zucchini Fries
Bake 1 to 2 cups of zucchini, cut in strips like French fries, on a baking sheet with cooking spray. Kosher salt is optional. Place 3 ounces of cooked ground turkey on a whole-grain bun with (optional) yellow, dijon, or brown mustard and lettuce and tomatoes, or any combination of vegetables, such as grilled onions and/or mushrooms or baked zucchini slices. For extra fiber and a cholesterol-free meal, a veggie burger can be substituted for ground turkey.
Spinach Mac and Cheese
To serve four people, blend 8 ounces of cooked butternut or acorn squash, 1 cup of diced onions and 1 chopped clove of garlic that have been cooked in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 cup low-fat cheddar or swiss cheese, 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese, 2 cups of hot cooked pasta, and 4 cups of fresh spinach. You can also use cooked broccoli florets instead of spinach.
Baked "Fried Chicken" and Smashed Cauliflower
To serve four, coat 12 ounces of skinless chicken breast pieces in egg whites, coat with whole-wheat panko tossed with your choice of salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika and/or Italian seasoning, and bake. Serve with 1 head of cooked cauliflower pureed with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 fat-free cream cheese, and (optional) garlic powder, salt, pepper, turmeric, and/or nutmeg.
To serve two, lightly cook 8 ounces of salmon (or other fish) in 1 tablespoon of olive oil along with 1/2 cup diced onion and 2 cloves of pressed garlic. Add 1 can of Italian-style tomatoes, 1 can of tomato paste, 1/2 cup of water, and salt, oregano, basil, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Serve over 1/2 cup (per person) cooked brown rice (2 cups total).
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