Creating Healthful Menus

Plan menus so that each meal complements what you plan to eat later in the day or what you have eaten earlier in the day. Include plant-based entrées as often as possible.

Examples that can result in satisfying meatless meals include pasta with marinara sauce and lots of vegetables, stir-fried vegetables with tofu over rice, or lentil soup with a side dish containing grains, beans, or vegetables.

Plant-based entrées can be tasty, filling, and nutritious. When you choose to eat meat, fish, or poultry, remember that your goal is to eat 6 ounces or less per day. If you ate meat for lunch, appropriately decrease your dinner portion. Avoid red meats that contain a large amount of fat.

Instead, emphasize poultry or fish. When you eat red meat, choose a “choice” grade and a cut from the loin or round, because these generally are the leanest types of meat. The skin on poultry holds in moisture and flavor during cooking.

However, the skin is high in fat and calories. Contrary to popular belief, the skin does not need to be removed before cooking. There is minimal fat absorption if the skin is left on. Just make sure to remove the skin before the poultry is eaten.

Many fish are low in fat. Those that are not low in fat generally contain omega-3 fatty acids that may help prevent heart disease. However, remember, all fats are high in calories, so the less fat added during cooking, the better. Condiments and sauces can add nutrition and enhance flavor.

Keep in mind, however, that some are high in fat, sodium, and calories. An example of a high-fat sauce is gravy over mashed potatoes. Instead, try sprinkling mashed potatoes with garlic or other herbs. When choosing a topping, look for a lower-fat alternative. If none are available, then use less of the original topping.

Sliced, chopped, or puréed vegetables can make a nourishing low-fat condiment. Fruits are a delicious complement to almost any meal. They can top meats, enrich salads, or be served for dessert. A dessert can be a pleasant end to a healthful meal. However, a dessert should not be an “extra.”

Be sure it is included in your overall meal plan. Make the dessert a bonus by emphasizing fruit, whole grains, and lower-fat items. If you do not have a recipe that emphasizes fruits and whole grains, look for one that can be readily modified. Sorbets and low-fat frozen yogurts or ice creams are good choices.

Even cookies, pies, cakes, and chocolates have their place. However, remember, because these desserts generally are high in fat and sugar, they are at the pinnacle of the Food Guide Pyramid. Therefore, they should be the exception rather than the rule. If you plan to eat a dessert, take a small portion.

If you are preparing a dessert for a special occasion, make just enough to serve you and your guests. Leftover dessert is a powerful temptation. With a little thought and planning, you know what foods to emphasize and what foods to limit. You are ready to make a commitment to improve the way you and your family eat. Now it is time to put your plan into action.