With the release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a lot of attention is placed on how we’re all supposed to be eating. It’s easy for eating right to feel complicated (especially in the form of a 400 page report!), but we’ve got good news: it isn’t. To show how it’s done, five FoodInsight writers (both RDs and non-RDs) took on eating by the dietary guidelines for the week. See how they did it, what they thought was the hardest and how you can steal their approaches!
Monday with Sarah: Yogurt, turkey wrap, crackers and dip, eggplant parm
Tuesday with Megan: Banana oats, chickpeas, chicken sausage
Wednesday with Liz: Greek yogurt, salmon meal, kale salad
Thursday with Laura: Oatmeal, chicken sausage, salmon and brown rice
Friday with Kamilah: Oatmeal, chili, spinach salad
The main message I took away from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines is to focus on a variety of foods in the diet and eating patterns. Is this new news? No, not really. But it was a worthwhile reminder for me especially during a time of year that is hectic. We are coming off of vacation and snapped back into the reality of work and other commitments. Here’s a snapshot of the way I eat to be in line with the 2015 DGAs. I’m not counting calories, milligrams of nutrients or weighing my food. Instead, I’m being aware and cognizant of trying to get all the important nutrients I need in my diet.
Breakfast: Greek yogurt and pomegranate seeds for crunch. Protein, calcium, probiotics, and fiber- all before 9am? Check! The 2015 DGAs called out calcium as a nutrient of public health concern, and yogurt is packed full of calcium. The DGAs also say that a healthy eating pattern includes protein foods, fruits and low and non-fat dairy. My day is off to a great start!
Morning Snack: I consider my mid-morning coffee break a snack. The coffee gives me extra protein and calcium since I get a latte that includes either regular or soy milk. Either way, I’m upping my nutrient intake with a caffeine boost!
Lunch: I always bring my own lunch, and I usually eat the same type of food. Monday, it was a turkey wrap: whole grain tortilla, roasted turkey, and avocado. The DGAs say to make half our grains whole (hence the whole grain tortilla). I also incorporated lean protein and healthful fats. The DGAs state that 20-35 percent of total calories should be from fats. They specifically mention replacing saturated fats with MUFAs and PUFAs, which avocados provide. Well done, self! I also included a handful of cherry tomatoes and an apple to help me reach my fruit and veggie needs for the day. I drank water with my lunch (as I do throughout the day). I finished my meal with a quarter of a cookie (these cookies were giant!) that a team member brought in as a treat. Sensible splurges can definitely be part of a healthy eating pattern. It just depends on your calorie budget- I enjoyed every last bite!
Afternoon Snacks: I always have at least one afternoon snack, depending on if I am teaching my spin class or not. Today, I had a handful of almonds and a few dried figs for some extra protein and carbs before my workout. After my spin class, I had a few whole grain crackers and tzaziki dip (yogurt dip). More protein, whole grains and fiber held off my hunger until dinner, so it’s easier eat reasonable portions at that time.
Dinner: Dinner was homemade eggplant Parmesan. It looks and tastes amazing but takes little effort in the slow cooker. In this case, it was actually leftovers from Sunday night. The tomato sauce and eggplant gave me important antioxidants, the cheese has calcium and protein and the side of spinach sautéed in olive oil adds to my veggie quota. As a bonus, olive oil is among the oils that DGA states are also part of a healthy eating pattern.
Takeaways: The 2015 DGAs come with a lot of recommendations. The important thing to remember is that following the guidelines doesn’t have to be tedious or too far outside of what you are already doing. Look for small ways to change your existing habits. Try to incorporate more of the foods recommended in a healthy eating pattern and limit the ones that you may be overdoing. At the end of the day, you’ll feel good about the choices you’ve made and excited about breakfast tomorrow.
My trick for DGA? Meal planning! We have a white board in our kitchen that helps us plan our dinners (and lunches since I pack leftovers for lunch the next day). I also made a big portion control change recently. I used to have bags of snacks at my desk, but I found I was eating too much at once. Now, I pack up my snacks from home in plastic bags to keep the quantity right.
Breakfast: Whipped banana oats! When you mention oatmeal, you may think of a watery, flavorless, unappealing mixture. But this oatmeal is far from that. I make a few tweaks that make all the difference! I use milk instead of water for flavor and protein; add in thinly sliced banana to give it a whipped texture; and scoop in chia seeds for healthy fats, more protein and added texture! I also like to top with delicious jam and nuts for crunch protein and healthy fats.
Lunch: I had leftovers from dinner the night before: brown rice, roasted chickpeas, and an Indian dish made with eggplants and tomatoes. The Indian dish was made while I was at work- in the crock pot! That is one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. The brown rice was from a microwavable pouch (ready in 90 seconds), and the chickpeas were made by opening two cans of chickpeas, coating in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasting for 30 minutes.
Dinner: Chicken sausage, roasted potatoes and veggies. Another dinner favorite of ours where we get the oven to do the work. Fill two roasting pans with potatoes and your favorite veggies. Coat in healthy oil and your favorite spices and roast for 30-40 min. So easy!
Takeaways: My biggest challenges was eating enough veggies. Now I pack carrots, celery, bell peppers or cherry tomatoes for a snack a few times a week. Also, I’m trying to eat more fish for a dose of healthy unsaturated fats. Fish is on the agenda for next week!
MyPlate is my best friend when it comes to simple, no-nonsense meal prep. I try to imagine how all my meals fit with the recommendations: serving of protein, grains, and half of your plate filled with fruits and veggies. Even if I’m having a sandwich, I still try to “MyPlate” it with side salads and extra veggies.
I’m also all about the DGA’s recommendations to balance your healthful diet with the right amount of physical activity. Living in the city, I can walk everywhere I need to go. Even on weeks when I’m not able to hit the gym as often, I still (usually) meet the DGA recommendations for physical activity.
Breakfast: I had Greek yogurt, one tbs. of strawberry preserves and a banana. Breakfast is always a great time for me to get in a serving or two of high protein dairy and fruit as well.
Lunch: This was a busy day for me, so both lunch and dinner were basically “on-the-go.” Lunch was a frozen salmon meal with orzo pasta and spinach in yogurt sauce, an orange, and a diet soda. This is a typical weekday lunch for me. It’s great because it has moderate portions (3 oz. of salmon, ½ cup orzo, ½ cup cooked spinach with a couple grape tomatoes thrown in for good measure). It also delivers a variety of nutrients.
Dinner: I had a spinach and kale salad topped with black beans, quinoa, avocado, cabbage, tomatoes, and 4 oz. shredded seasoned chicken breast. This salad provided some healthy, unsaturated fats via the avocado and was packed with protein, fiber and whole grains. Another awesome feature of this salad: I didn’t have to make it. You don’t have to eat all of your meals at home to meet dietary guidelines recommendations. In fact, many restaurant and quick serve options can fit nicely into your DGA healthy meal pattern.
Takeaways: Getting the right amount of fruit in the winter can be difficult for me. The number of fruits that are in-season is limited, and sometimes I’m just not in the mood for fresh fruit like I am in the summer. My solution is to focus on my favorite in-season fruits (citrus, for example), sneak in more fruits via smoothies, and maximize my favorite “double-duty” vegetables (like grape tomatoes, which are rich in vitamins A and C).
Sticking to the dietary guidelines makes it easier for me to make a good choice when I went out to dinner. Knowing I was being held accountable in following the DGAs on Thursday made it easier to make a healthful selection from the menu. I know I needed some lean protein (I just had finished rock climbing) and lots of veggies. That eliminated a lot of tempting choices that wouldn’t have met the right criteria, such as a plate of only French fries.
Breakfast: Steel cut oatmeal, skim milk, banana, and a touch of maple syrup for taste. While I don’t have vegetables at this meal, this breakfast gives me a head start on getting a good balance of the food groups for the day. I got some protein from the milk, a serving of fruit, and whole grains from the oatmeal.<
Lunch: Chicken sausage, tomatoes, green beans, hummus, and a sweet potato. I loved this meal! It was colorful and full of veggies, protein, and a small yet delicious sweet potato! It looked just like MyPlate!
Dinner: Salmon, brown rice, and Brussel sprouts. I went out to dinner on Thursday and picked from the menu what I thought would be the best option. The rice portion was a little bigger than I would have liked, as well as the fish. The cut of fish should be about the size of my palm. I’d say it was about 20 percent bigger than it needed to be. But Brussel sprouts are quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables!
Takeaways: My biggest challenge was controlling the portion sizes of my meal. I made a healthful selection at the restaurant, but the portions were bigger than expected. I addressed this issue by stopping when I was full, and planning a to-go box for later. I didn’t clean my plate and was OK with that. Remember, just because the food is put in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it!
I already follow the DGA’s pretty well with a few short comings (that shortly), but it’s easier sticking to it when my pantry is stocked and I make meals ahead. Chili was this week’s lunch. I made it on Sunday, and had enough to eat Monday through Friday. I never woke wondering what I was going to make for lunch. A stocked kitchen also makes it easier to come home and whip up a quick healthy meal. I washed some spinach at the beginning of the week, and the eggs and bacon were cooked and ready to serve in under 15 minutes. Olive oil is a mainstay in my kitchen, and I have a ton of spices ready to go.
Breakfast: Oatmeal, sausage and hot chocolate. I love oatmeal! It’s just one of those foods that’s always in my pantry. It’s nutritionally dense with fiber, whole grains, iron, and zinc. I had this morning’s oatmeal with a little bit of maple syrup, brown sugar, and cinnamon. But I’ve also added fruit, honey, and coconut flakes to switch it up. I added sausage to my breakfast for an extra protein kick because sometimes I don’t reach my protein needs according to the RDA (0.8 gm/kg), so I try to have a little bit at each meal. I rounded out my meal with a cup of hot chocolate made with lactose-free milk (I’m lactose intolerant), so antioxidants, calcium, and vitamin D galore!
Lunch: Chili. It had ground beef, black beans, tomatoes, and some cheddar cheese. Along with an array of spices like cumin, red pepper, oregano, and basil. While I could’ve used more carbs, I got a decent dose of fiber and protein. Since the weather has been getting colder, I’ve been making more soups. I always have canned tomatoes and beans on hand; I throw them in crockpot with some type of meat (in this case ground beef, but I’ve also had chicken, pork, and lamb) and spices, set the temperature, and go about my day. In 8 hours, I have delicious chili ready to eat.
Dinner: Spinach salad with boiled eggs, bacon, and a lemon pepper vinaigrette. I love spinach, it’s one of my favorite vegetables and pairs well with almost anything. I throw it in smoothies, use it on sandwiches, and create yummy salads. The options are limitless. For more protein and some texture, I added eggs and bacon. Then I made a lemon pepper vinaigrette with some olive oil for a dose of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Takeaways: My biggest challenges are protein, fiber, and sugar. I have difficulty getting enough protein and fiber in my diet. It’s always been a challenge for me, so I’ve been making strides to have both at each meal. By making these little goals each day, I am eating more protein and fiber so as to reach the recommended daily amount. On the other hand, I am a sugar fiend. I’ve tried to focus more on fruits as snacks, because they’re also full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Once I’m stocked on fruit, a little bit of a treat-splurge once in a while satisfies my sweet tooth without derailing my overall healthy diet.
Whether you like eating out like Liz, want to meal-plan like Megan, or have a weirdly frequent consumption of oatmeal (who knew our breakfasts would be so similar?!), the dietary guidelines don’t have to be a pain. Use these plans to make little changes and additions through the day, and you’ll have a healthy eating pattern before you know it!