5 Top Tips for Eating Really Well
Written for the families of Wee Care
Life is so busy and we are presented with so much information about what to eat, it’s no wonder we’re often left frazzled and confused, and in our state of confusion we tend to forget the simple things.
Sometimes we need to go back to basics.
So, rather than focusing on ‘don’t eat too much of…’ let’s focus on ‘what to eat’ and in doing so fill our little ones’ tummies (and our own!) with mostly good stuff, leaving little space for the stuff we know is not so good.
I tend not to focus on portion sizes and servings; we are all unique and our appetite fluctuates daily. I look more at the balance on the plate and aim to ensure that what is being eaten is good stuff.
Perfection is not what we’re striving for here. Use 80/20 as a good guide. If what goes in is looking good 80% of the time then 20% of the time it’s ok to let go a little bit.
These are the guiding principles I follow at home and suggest for my clients when putting together family meals. Other than fulfilling nutritional needs, I find they help achieve a crucial health objective – balancing blood sugar levels – which may be a hard term to relate to, so here is what it looks like: we feel satisfied, calm and enjoy steady energy rather than feeling tired, irritable, and perpetually foraging for more ‘quick fixes’.
1. WHOLEFOODS – this is my number one principle as it sets us up for great nutrition. By minimising processed foods and turning to wholefoods in their natural state we are by default cutting out a great deal of sugar, salt and damaged fats. Tell tale signs of processed foods include a long list of ingredients, the presence of preservatives, vegetable oils and sugar as well as claims on the packaging (like ‘gluten free’ or ‘low fat’). As much as possible involve kids in food shopping and cooking – I find it works well to encourage trying new things and learning what real food is all about. The more you make things from scratch the better your nutrition will be. Committing to wholefoods requires you to read ingredient lists ferociously as there are so many products that look clean and are in fact far from. Finally, remember that you’re only human and we live in a modern world, so of course some processed foods will sneak in; just be picky about what they are!
2. A RAINBOW PLATE – A colourful plate is usually a sign that you’re on track (and no, jelly beans do not count here, sorry). Colour comes from veggies and fruit and their deep pigment is truly medicinal. They of course also deliver a truckload of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Most kids and adults do well in the fruit department but are simply not getting enough veggies. Unlike many controversies in nutritional science, no study will ever dispute the vast health benefits of vegetables, so we need to constantly think about getting more in. I find home-made dips are a wonderful way to get more veggies in (e.g. pesto, carrot dip, beetroot dip), as are smoothies where it’s easy to throw in some avo and parsley. Boost traditional meals such as Bolognese by adding zucchini, mushrooms and kale and topping with avocado and pesto. Soups are also great for packing in more veggies and I also like to add sea vegetables (like nori) to soups, stews and eggs as they are so rich in minerals. Legumes (mentioned below) also contribute towards our veg intake; so hummus (made from chickpeas) or kidney beans added to a dish are both ways of upping our veg intake. As a rule of thumb, I go with half (yes, half!) of our plate at lunch and dinner comprising of veggies.
3. PROTEIN IN EACH MEAL – Eggs, chicken, fish, red meat, legumes (like beans, lentils and chickpeas), dairy, nuts and seeds.
Protein is a key player in helping us feel satiated. It is also vital for growth, repair and a healthy immune system. In our daily rush, we can often forgo protein, falling into the trap of filling up on carbs. Breakfast in particular is a time to pay close attention to this principle as it can either set us up for a good day or begin a downward spiral. If we look at a bowl of porridge, for example – coupled with just fruit, it lacks protein. We can pimp it up with full fat natural yoghurt as well as some almond butter and we are already doing so much better! Avocado on toast seems like a good idea but again, no protein. Add a mashed boiled egg on top and voila!
It’s not at all about becoming a protein junky. In fact, it’s not the more the merrier. Too much protein can be detrimental.
4. GOOD FATS IN EACH MEAL – Fear not the (good) fats. Again, by turning your back on processed foods you are saying goodbye to most damaged (bad) fats. Focus on fats from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, oily fish, grass fed meat, coconut oil, butter and full fat yoghurt. Aside from being vital for healthy body and brain function, fats actually signal our brain that we are full and hence play a vital role in the feeling of satiety. Sugar and processed foods do the exact opposite. Pimp your meal with nourishing fats like nut butter in a bowl of porridge, a dollop of pesto and some avocado on top of Bolognese or olive oil drizzled over steamed veggies.
5. COMPLEX CARBS ARE A ‘SIDESHOW NOT THE MAIN ACT’ – Complex carbs are largely derived from whole grains (like spelt, rice, rye, wheat, oats, quinoa and buckwheat). Whilst they form a part of a balanced diet, they tend to ‘steal the show’ by forming the bulk of meals (think: bowl of cereal or bowl of pasta). They can displace other vital components of a healthy meal (like veggies, protein and fats) as they fill our tummies before we can get to the other good stuff. Hence I like to let them be a side show rather than the main act. Don’t forget that complex carbs are also found in starchy veggies (like sweet potato, potatoes and green peas) and in legumes too, so I do like for some of my starchy carbs to come from these foods instead of just relying on grains. If we apply the first four principles to structure our meals then this fifth principle should naturally fall into place.
NOTE: Wherever nuts or products containing nuts are mentioned please keep them for home, not WEE CARE.