We’ve looked at a number of steps you can take to help bring your body into balance from increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, to including protein with each meal and snack and having the right type of carbs and fats.
But perhaps pulling it all together at mealtimes isn’t yet happening. Is it challenging to prepare healthy meals? Are you short on time? Is it hard to know what to make? In this article, we look at how to conquer lunch and dinner. Plus, some handy tips to avoid transferring obesogens into your food.
The first time I spoke to Olivia was when she booked a call to see if my course was right for her. Her main concern was that if she did it, she would have to cook. Olivia didn’t like cooking and she said she wasn’t good at it.
I told her she could make changes, such as adding in extra portions of vegetables to what she was already eating, that would help. But if she really wanted to bring her body into balance, she would need to start preparing some food from scratch. It didn’t have to be everything, to start with, but she would need to be moving in that direction.
Olivia took the plunge and joined the course. As the weeks went on, her confidence climbed. She started with cooking one simple meal a week—and sometimes the results were surprisingly tasty! If there were an award for trying the newest foods, Olivia would definitely have received it! I want to share in Olivia’s own words what she said at the end of the course: ‘I was non-cook, ready meal in my approach to food before starting Dawn’s course.
I can honestly say in the past two weeks since finishing the course I haven’t eaten one ready meal. So, the positive change the programme has brought to me is brilliant. I have dropped a clothes size and am continuing to see a steady change in my body mass. What Dawn has helped me to establish as a new routine is proving to be sustainable and enjoyable’.
Over the stretch of three months, as she gradually moved away from ready meals to home-cooked food, Olivia’s cravings for sweet foods decreased from ‘very often’ to ‘not very often’ (a decrease of 57 percent on the scale used to measure this). Her response to ‘I can’t resist food, even when I’m not hungry’ reduced from ‘Sometimes’ to ‘Never’. And ‘I find it hard to eat healthily’ decreased from ‘Often’ to ‘Not very often’.
Much of what we eat is ascribable to habit. Many people have around five or six different meals they frequently prepare. It can help to find a new set of healthy ‘key’ meals that you enjoy and could see yourself preparing regularly.
A quick reminder chooses key meals in which half your intake consists of vegetables or salad. Split the other half between protein and unrefined carbs, with a small amount of healthy fats. Unlike proteins, which balance your blood sugar levels, carbs and fats are not essential with every meal—you could have extra vegetables instead.
If you struggle with one element—for example, how to include more vegetables or protein refer back to the relevant article for meal suggestions and tips.
When you are short on time
If time is an issue or you don’t enjoy cooking, it can help to find quick and easy-to-prepare key meals, such as baked salmon with new potatoes and steamed vegetables or salad. So, you don’t have to cook every day, try cooking extra quantities of some meals, and make them last two days. Or make meals that can be prepared in bulk and frozen, such as casseroles.
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Planning—and when planning falls apart
If you are someone who plans, that’s great. Planning your meals in advance, you can make sure you have the ingredients. That’s super helpful. But this works better for some people than others. If you know you are not going to stick to planning meals for any length of time, then you need to find another option.
Such as meals that don’t have to be prepared to an exact recipe; if you lack certain ingredients, mix and match. Let’s say you were thinking of making a vegetable and butterbean tagine, but you are out of butterbeans. Just use a different type of bean.
Or replace with lentils or tofu or fish from the freezer. If you don’t have the right vegetables, what vegetables on hand could you use? If you keep a range of basic healthy foods in the house, you can always prepare something healthy. Some fresh foods don’t keep.
Other foods, like lentils, brown rice, frozen vegetables and frozen fish, quinoa, nuts, tofu and dried herbs and spices, keep longer, so it is easy to always have them in the house. Then you could make, for example, a lentil bolognaises with whatever fresh vegetables you have and also add some frozen vegetables.
I often make a vegetable bowl, which varies considerably depending on what I have available. There is no fixed recipe, and it’s easy to make! Put some tofu, a hard-boiled egg, beans, prawns or other protein in a bowl. Steam some vegetables. Optionally add some complex carbs such as brown rice and add a sauce. You could use miso soup or fry onion and spices such as cumin and turmeric and add coconut milk.
For many people, lunch needs to be simple or something that you can take to work. It could be as easy as saving some of your dinner from the night before. Soup and sandwiches are easy options, as are foods such as lentil or quinoa salads or bean and brown rice salads.
If you take food to work, would investing in a thermos for soup (or other hot foods) be helpful? Instead of a white-bread cheese sandwich, have hummus and grated carrot on whole grain bread and take cherry tomatoes or red pepper, carrot or cucumber sticks.
Eggs are another easy option. Omelets are quick. Or pre-prepare egg and vegetable muffins and add a large salad. If you are at home for lunch, vegetable bowls can be quick and easy, depending on what you put in them. Brown rice noodles with vegetables and prawns, tofu or cashew nuts are also quick and easy to prepare.
Reduce tinned foods and food wrapped or stored in plastic
Let’s say you make a delicious healthy lunch. Don’t then pack it up in a plastic container to take to work. As we have previously discussed, plastic used ubiquitously in food and drink packaging, is a common source of exposure to obesogens.
Many plastics and food tins contain bisphenol A (BPA) and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), obesogens which have been associated with hormone disruption.
If the recycling code on the plastic is 3 or 7, it contains BPA. Code 3 is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and code 7 includes polycarbonates. BPA, phthalates and other environmental chemicals also disrupt your thyroid, which controls your metabolism.
The good news is that simple changes can make a big difference. If you avoid tinned foods and foods wrapped in plastic, you can substantially reduce your exposure to BPA and phthalates. After three days with only fresh foods, BPA and phthalate levels measured in urine dropped significantly (by 66 percent and over 50 percent respectively).
To reduce plastic
is very handy! However, for your health, your weight and the planet, try to avoid or reduce its use. You can store food in glass, porcelain or stainless steel and take food to work in stainless steel or glass containers. Beeswax wraps make a good alternative to stretch films. (It is best to avoid aluminum foil, to avoid leaching of aluminum into food. Aluminum is toxic to your body.)
If you do buy food wrapped in plastic, particularly oily food, unwrap it when you get home and store in a non-plastic container. As we touched on in Daisy’s story, BPA leaches out into food increasingly if exposed to warm temperatures and high acidity. So don’t microwave or put hot food into polycarbonate plastic containers. It is also best to avoid storing acidic foods such as rhubarb or tomatoes in plastic containers.
To reduce tinned foods
Use fresh or frozen vegetables. In recipes, it is easy to replace tinned tomatoes with fresh tomatoes or use tomatoes in jars.
Instead of tinned beans, buy dried beans; then cook and freeze them. If you want to defrost your frozen beans quickly, place them in a sieve or colander and pour boiling water over them. If you habitually eat tinned soup, switch to soup in cardboard cartons.
Or make a big batch of homemade soup and freeze it in glass containers. If you make just one change with tinned foods, my top recommendation is to reduce tinned acidic foods, such as tomatoes.
Your next step
Your next step is to focus on lunch and dinner. You may prefer to focus on just one of these meals first. Whether you eat alone or with others, it’s important to take time to sit down and appreciate your food. What and how you eat matters.
Value and nurture yourself by making healthy meals a priority in your life. If you eat alone, dinnertime should still be a moment to sit down, relax and enjoy yourself. Make it a pleasurable experience, whether that is by laying the table attractively, eating off a favorite plate, or putting a vase of flowers on the table.
Take the time to acknowledge to yourself that mealtimes are important; that you are important. Start to create a set of healthy ‘key’ meals. Keep in mind, that we are looking at sustainable changes. If you are not currently cooking, could you choose one simple dinner you could prepare this week? It may help to look at recipe books or on the internet or to swap recipes with friends.
You have your own dietary requirements and preferences, so it is important that you find options that you enjoy and that work for you, and that enable you to sustain a healthy way of eating.
- Where do meals fall apart for you?
- What happens on the days you don’t have a healthy evening meal?
- What could you do about it?
- If this seems difficult, what gets in the way?
- Is it a lack of time or that you don’t like cooking?
- Or maybe you eat on your own and it feels like too much effort. If lack of time is an issue, is there a time of day that works for you to prepare food?
One of my clients used to cook batches of meals on Sundays, then freeze them for the week. If planning in advance doesn’t work for you, what foods do you need to keep in the house,
so, you can always throw together a healthy meal?
If you don’t like cooking, could you listen to an audio book or podcast while preparing food?
Or could you cook with a friend?
What would make it more enjoyable?
You already know this, but it’s so important to remember: processed foods may contain obesogensic additives, trigger cravings or cause you to overeat. So it’s really important to find healthy dinners you enjoy that fit into your life. That make it easy for you to sustain your healthy eating.
Read Also About lunch vegetables
Key things you have learned in this article
- If you reduce the use of tinned foods and foods wrapped in plastics, you significantly reduce your exposure to obesogens.
- At meals, fill half your plate with vegetables or salad. Split the other half between protein and unrefined carbs. Include a small amount of healthy fats. Whilst you need unrefined carbs and healthy fats, you don’t have to have them at every meal. You could replace with extra vegetables.
- Most people have a set of meals they cook regularly. Find a new set of healthy ‘key’ meals that you enjoy preparing and could see yourself eating regularly.
- If you like to plan meals, that’s great. If not, make sure you have on hand the basics to prepare a healthy meal. Find a set of ‘key’ meals where you can easily substitute ingredients.
- Processed foods often contain ingredients that can trigger cravings or overeating or make you store more fat.