I read a blog post recently by Lily Nichols, one of my favorite experts in the field of nutrition. In the post, she admits that she is not a great meal planner. What?!
I’m so relieved!
Just like the rest of us, she gets off-track with a detailed meal plan – what if a particular ingredient isn’t available, or you need to use up a leftover vegetable?
In my Conquering Diabetes in Pregnancy course (which will be coming out soon – so stay tuned), I recommend planning meals and shopping for groceries a week at a time. This makes sense in that it cuts down on shopping. But you don’t have to have elaborate recipes for each night of the week. Lily follows a loose meal “template,” with a protein/fat, vegetable, and starch for each meal.
Here is my adaptation – a meal plan that all of us can follow.
Choose your protein
For each meal, you need to first decide on your protein/fat.
Every meal needs one.
This is where most of the meal’s nutrients come from, and protein/fat is what makes you feel satisfied, so you won’t feel like you have to have an unhealthy snack before the next meal.
For breakfast, your protein may be 2 eggs, or some turkey bacon, sausage, or some combination of these.
For lunch and dinner, a 4-6 ounce piece of chicken or beef or pork. If fresh wild-caught fish is available, go for it! Frozen fish fillets are also a great option.
Preparing meat and fish is super simple. Almost any of these taste great drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper! And explore spice mixes at your grocery store or farmers’ market – Mexican, Italian, Provence, curry, and Indian spice blends are easy to find and add loads of flavor.
Choose your veggies
Now that you know what your protein will be, add vegetables.
Preferably, at least two. Look for what is fresh, in season, and locally grown whenever possible. But there is nothing wrong with canned or frozen vegetables when you’re in a hurry! The vegetables should cover at least half your plate. Most of us don’t think about vegetables as a breakfast food, but an omelet with a handful of spinach and some leftover roasted vegetables is wonderful!
Choose your starch or fruit
This step is optional. You may or may not want to add a small amount of starch or fruit.
Remember, your meal is already complete with protein/fat and vegetables. This, I think, is the hardest concept to believe when you’re trying to eat better.
An apple a day does not keep the doctor away. Apples today are far bigger and sweeter than ancient varieties, and you need to limit fruit and starch. Whether or not you have diabetes in pregnancy, your body generally has more trouble processing carbohydrates during pregnancy. If you are exercising daily, add a little starch to your meals in the form of a small serving of sweet potatoes, quinoa (yeah, it’s got protein, but it’s also loaded with carbs), brown rice, whole grain pasta, or beans.
Or have a little cheese and half an apple for dessert.
A quick and easy flexible recipe
In my Winner Winner Chicken Dinner post, I describe a one-pan roasted chicken thigh meal. This same sheet pan idea can be used for almost any meal for a quick, nutritious family dinner.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy clean-up, you’ll thank me later), place your meat or fish on the parchment, surround with vegetables. For example, you could choose carrots, squash, zucchini, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or sliced eggplant.
Then you drizzle everything with olive oil and kosher salt and pepper, and roast till the meat is done and vegetables are fork-tender. Dinner in one pan, bam!
And there you have it. Choose a protein/fat, load up on vegetables, season it all up (butter and salt, yum), and maybe add a little starch or fruit.
There are endless variations and combinations when you follow the method above. It really is simple and easy to plan meals. Create your own! Coming up in the next few weeks: more salads! Just in time for the summer. Don’t groan. I will tempt you with colorful salad meals that are super easy, make complete meals, and look beautiful.