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Building healthy meals to feel better and lower health risks can be simple. As Lark will tell you, the magic formula includes plenty of nutritious foods and sensible portions.
Whether cooking for yourself or ordering at a restaurant, the following plate makeovers can give you practice in spotting places on the plate where there may be room for improvement. This can help you quickly and easily make any meal a little more nutritious and better for weight loss.
The approximate calorie savings for each meal are provided, and additional benefits of the swaps include more protein, less unhealthy fat, fewer grams of starches and sugar, and more fiber, vegetables, fruit, and/or whole grains. In short, these meals can help with weight control and overall health.
Plate 1: Fish Dinner with Rice and Vegetables
Original Dinner: 6-ounce piece of breaded, fried fish, 1.5 cups of rice, 1/4 cup zucchini
Overhauled Dinner: 4-ounces of salmon, 1/2 cup of brown rice, 1 cup of zucchini
Approximate Calorie Difference: 400 calories
The Overhauled has a smaller portion of protein, since a serving is only 3 to 4 ounces. That amount has about 24 to 32 grams of protein, and your body can only benefit from about 20 to 30 at one sitting.
The Overhauled has a single serving of rice, instead of 3 servings in the Original.
The Overhauled has a full cup of vegetables, which is a good goal for most meals.
The Overhauled has some healthier swaps, with carb-free baked fish instead of breaded and fried fish and whole-grain brown rice instead of refined white rice.
Plate 2: Sandwich Sack Lunch
Original Sack Lunch: Sub sandwich with salami, pepperoni, cheese, and mayo; potato chips; and a cookie.
Overhauled Sack Lunch: Sandwich on whole grain bread with chicken breast, cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and/or sprouts; 1 cup of baked kale chips; an orange
Approximate Calorie Difference: 500 calories
The Original has no vegetables, while the Overhauled has a full cup.
The Overhauled has fruit and whole grains, while the carbs in the Original are from refined white bread, starchy fried potatoes, and a sugary cookie.
The Original has processed fatty meat (hello, calories, fat, and cancer-causing chemicals!), while the Overhauled has lean chicken breast. Tuna is another good choice. Deli turkey breast is lean and high-protein, but all-natural, low-sodium varieties are best.
The Overhauled has mustard instead of fatty mayo.
Plate 3: Fried Chicken and a Biscuit with Mashed Potatoes
Original Chicken Dinner: Fried chicken; mashed potatoes made with butter; biscuit; sweet tea
The Overhauled has skinless chicken with whole-grain or low-carb breading (try whole-grain breadcrumbs, crushed bran cereal, or almond meal), and the chicken is baked instead of fried, as in the Original.
The Overhauled has fewer carbs due to smashed cauliflower made with milk instead of potatoes made with butter, and it has a full serving of vegetables. Turnips, carrots, and acorn squash are also nice substitutes for potatoes.
The Overhauled has a whole-grain, higher-fiber, lower-fat roll compared to the Original's fatty biscuit with refined white flour.
The Original has tons of sugar from sweet tea, while the Overhauled has none.
Plate 4: Loaded Baked Potato with Chili
Original Potato and Chili: Baked Russet potato with sour cream, cheese, and bacon; beef chili
Overhauled Potato and Chili: Baked sweet potato with non-fat plain yogurt, low-fat cheese, and broccoli florets; vegetarian chili (or ground turkey) made with beans and extra tomatoes and bell peppers
Approximate Calorie Difference: 300
The Overhauled is richer in antioxidants and vegetables from the sweet potato, broccoli, tomatoes, bell peppers, and beans.
The Original has red meat and a load of saturated fat from the bacon, sour cream, and beef, while the protein in the Overhauled is lean.
The Overhauled may be more filling and satisfying for longer since it has more fiber and does not have white potatoes, which spike blood sugar and later let it drop.
Plate 5: PB&J Sandwich
Original PB&J: 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and 2 tablespoons of jam or jelly on white bread; 2 ounces of crackers; 1 small box of raisins
Overhauled PB&J: 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and 1/2 cup of berries in a whole-grain pita pocket; 1 cup baby carrots; 1 hard-boiled egg
Approximate Calorie Difference: 200 calories
The Overhauled may not save that many calories, but it can help keep you fuller for longer than the Original because it has more protein and fiber from the bread, egg, carrots, and berries, and less sugar and refined starch from the crackers, jam, bread, and raisins.
The Original may have a serving of fruit from the raisins, but the berries in the Overhauled have less sugar, more fiber, and fewer calories than the raisins.
Both have healthy fat and protein from peanut butter, but the Overhauled also has more protein, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.
Plate 6: Cobb Salad
Original Cobb Salad: Crispy chicken, bacon, cheese, hard-boiled egg, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, and creamy dressing.
The Overhauled has leaner proteins and reduced-fat cheese.
The Original has more calories and fat from the dressing than the Overhauled.
The Overhauled is lower in carbs because the chicken has no breading and there are no croutons.
Plate 7: Beef and Rice Bowl
Original Teriyaki Bowl: Teriyaki beef and white rice bowl.
Overhauled Teriyaki Bowl: Half-sized vegetable and brown rice bowl with an "extra" order of teriyaki chicken.
Approximate Calorie Difference: 400 calories
The Original has a mound of starchy, blood sugar-spiking white rice, while the Overhauled is much lower in carbs and has whole-grain brown rice.
The Overhauled has a serving of vegetables.
The Original has red meat, possibly fatty, while chicken is a lean protein. Get bonus points, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, for ordering salmon instead, or try tofu for a plant-based protein option.
An "extra" or "side" order of chicken may be smaller than the portion you might receive if you ordered a chicken bowl.
You do not need to make every healthy choice every time, but a few healthy swaps here and there can really add up. You really can lose weight and lower blood sugar with healthy habits and delicious food that works for your lifestyle.
Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.