It’s one thing to read and understand a set of nutritional guidelines, like the nutritional habits I outlined previously. It’s quite another to apply them to every meal of every day (or even most meals). To help you better apply these standards, here are some practical meal and snack options to help get the ball rolling. For the purposes of this post, I will assume a physique goal that includes “leanness.” Someone looking to gain a lot of muscle mass would need more carbs. Someone preparing for a physique competition would need fewer.
First, let’s recap the nutritional habits:
- Eat about every 3 hours
- Eat protein with every meal
- Eat vegetables and/or fruits with every meal
- Eat other carbs only first thing in the morning or after exercise
- Drink only zero calorie beverages
- Eat whole foods
Now, on to the meals!
Yes, you must eat breakfast. It refuels the body after a long night of fasting and jump starts the metabolism for the day. It’s no surprise then, that eating breakfast is correlated with better weight control.
Good options for breakfast protein are eggs and yogurt (unsweetened – Greek yogurt is best). Mix veggies into eggs (think omelet, frittata, or just plain scramble. Mix fruit into yogurt. Zero calorie breakfast beverages include black coffee, tea, and water (obviously).
Notice that first thing in the morning is one of the acceptable times to add in some simpler/starchier carbohydrates. Best options for this are oatmeal (steel cut or old fashioned – instant/quick oats are too finely processed to be ideal), quinoa, or oat bran. Keep in mind that these must accompany a protein source like eggs or yogurt (see habit #2).
Breakfast stuff to avoid: cold cereal, bagels, toast, English muffins, most granola (and bars), waffles, pancakes, and any other bready/sugary stuff.
Good options for lunch and dinner most center around putting meat and vegetables together in various ways. Examples: salads with chicken or lean beef (dress with olive oil and vinegar to avoid sugary dressings), stir fry (non-sugary sauces), kebabs. For the lazy (like me): cook meat in pan, cook vegetables in pot, place on plate, apply olive oil and/or spices, consume with vigor. Fruit is also fine with lunch and dinner. For most people, beans are also acceptable, although those looking for the last bit of leanness may wish to cut those as well. Water and unsweetened green tea are excellent beverage choices.
Lunch and dinner items to avoid: rice, pasta, bread, other grain-oriented products. These types of things may be considered if the meal comes immediately after a workout (see habit 4), when the body is more receptive to starchy carbs.
Good choices for between meal snacks include veggies, fruit, nuts, cheese, yogurt (unsweetened), and natural nut butters
Bad choices for snacks: cookies, chips, pastries, sodas, cakes, etc.
Hopefully this makes choosing foods that fit the habits a little simpler. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. John Berardi, who wrote the original nutritional habits, has a great cookbook for fit foodies entitled Gourmet Nutrition. It is chock full of delicious meal options for the nutritional conscious. My copy is well loved.