There’s no denying it: summer is well and truly on its way. Cue the sudden urge to step on the scales and cut back on treats.
If weight loss is on your mind before the silly season hits, you might be considering becoming a member of your local gym, signing up for a detox or joining an online nutrition and exercise program. But before you throw away your hard-earned dollars, you should listen to my one simple tip, first.
As a dietitian, I often find that weight loss is simply an exercise in portion size. You’d be surprised by the amount of times I find people eating relatively healthy foods – but far too much of them, and often in the wrong proportions.
So, without further ado, here’s how to put together a healthy meal for weight loss (and overall healthy eating, for that matter).
First up, the healthy plate model
If there’s one thing you take from this article, let it be this: at every main meal, make half of your plate vegetables. Be sure to focus on non-starchy veg (like salad leaves, cucumber and tomato) instead of potato and corn.
There are a few good reasons to do so: for one, non-starchy veggies have a high-water content and are low in kilojoules, so you can eat a lot of them for little energy cost, which is obvs good for your waistline.
For two, they’re full of fibre, which isn’t just good for a healthy gut – it can also help to keep you feeling full (rather than deprived like most restrictive weight loss diets do).
And three, veggies are brimming with disease-fighting antioxidants and a range of micronutrients to keep your body fighting fit and working it’s best. #Winning.
The next component of your meal is protein (and no, you don’t have to go crazy with it). Of course, protein is important for building and maintaining muscle mass, and it can even keep you feeling full, but I often find this is where people go overboard. Truth is, we actually need far less protein than you probably think.
In fact, women between the ages of 19-50 are only recommended to have two and a half serves a day. In case you aren’t aware, one serve is just 65g cooked red meat, 80g cooked chicken or 100g cooked fish. Two eggs, one cup of beans or a piece of tofu the size of a deck of cards counts, too.
So, simply designate one quarter of your plate to lean protein like fish, eggs, trimmed steak and chicken without the skin and you’re on the right track.
Last but not least, quality carbs should take up one quarter of your meal (sorry – that means huge bowls of pasta and rice don’t make the cut). This is important for sustained energy and fibre for a healthy gut. Think wholegrains, sweet potato or corn.
In terms of grains, you might be surprised to learn that women between the ages of 19-50 are recommended to have six serves a day – so I suggest aiming for two serves at each main meal. To give you some perspective, a few examples of a single serve are one slice of bread, a quarter of a cup of muesli or half a cup of cooked rice, pasta or quinoa.
It’s important to note that fats are a key component of a healthy meal – but they’re super energy dense, so small quantities are key. Stick to one quarter of an avocado, a small handful of unsalted nuts or one teaspoon of olive oil per person when cooking.
And now for your healthy dinner ideas
Once you have the basics down pat, healthy eating pretty much becomes an equation. I know when I’m putting together my own meals, I find myself asking ‘where’s my carbs?’, ‘what’s my protein’ and ‘do I have enough veg?’ It can take some practice, but once you’re into the swing of things, it becomes second nature.
So, with that in mind, here’s a week’s worth of my favourite dinner ideas that aren’t just good for weight loss, but healthy eating in general:
- Monday: small fillet of white fish + veggie-packed quinoa salad with avocado
- Tuesday: honey mustard chicken thigh + roasted sweet potato + leafy green salad topped with one tablespoon of mixed seeds
- Wednesday: vegetable frittata made with potato
- Thursday: chickpea vegetable curry
- Friday: one cup cooked wholemeal pasta + homemade red sauce with lentils & plenty of veggies
- Saturday: healthy homemade burgers made with a lean beef patty and lots of vegetables on a small wholemeal bun
- Sunday: small fillet of salmon + veggie-packed healthy fried rice
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can follow her @honest_nutrition.
For more low-cal cooking ideas, check out the best supermarket soups when you CBF cooking dinner. Plus, 3 lunches under $5 that are easy to meal prep.
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