In order to plan healthy meals for the week, we must first be clear about the elements that make up a balanced diet and how to substitute unhealthy food choices for food choices that can promote our health. According to recent statistics published by USDA and CDC, the average dietary fiber intake among adults in the United States is about 15 grams of fiber a day. However, the recommended daily intake is close to 30 grams of fiber. In this bulletin, we will try to guide you step-by-step using the USDA guidelines on how to build your weekly healthy menus and where to find resources to adjust your menus according to your budget.
Key elements in a healthy diet
- Cover your unique needs
- Satisfy your appetite
- Be as plant-based as possible
- Be as unprocessed as possible
- Include all the food groups in moderation
- Include a variety of foods, colors, and flavors
Building a balanced meal in 4 easy steps
- Choose a protein
- Choose a whole grain
- Choose a vegetable (optional at breakfast)
- Choose a fruit
- Breakfast: Kale, tomato, and scrambled eggs on whole avocado grain toast
- Lunch: Whole wheat pasta with vegetables and chicken
- Dinner: Stuffed bell pepper (with ground beef and vegetable stew) served over bulgur or quinoa
Note: Use fruits as dessert.
Switching for healthier food choices to promote our health
- Prefer lean cuts
- Prefer variety of vegetables
- Prefer whole fruits over juices
- Prefer low-fat or fat free dairy products
- Prefer low sodium versions
- Prefer whole grain versions over white flowers or starches
- Try to reduce your sugar intake (foods and beverages) as much as possible
Step 5: Tips to build healthy weekly menus
- Write down your current food choices and how you could improve them.
- See what you already have in your pantry and refrigerator to figure out what items you may need to buy and which ones you can substitute for healthier options next time you shop for your groceries.
- Plan half of your plate with vegetables, one quarter with whole grains, and one quarter with lean protein sources. Make fruits your dessert.
- Try new recipes. When choosing recipes, consider your schedule and cooking skills.
- Cook more so you have leftovers for later.
To get more tips on food shopping and meal planning visit: Food Shopping and Meal Planning
To learn how to eat healthy on a budget visit: Healthy Eating on a Budget
To modify a recipe to be healthier visit: Modifying a Recipe to be Healthier
To learn more about Plant-based diets and how to build a Mediterranean diet and free recipes visit:
The recipe of the week comes via The Food network: Three Bean Salad
- Kosher salt
- 8 ounces fresh green beans (about 2 cups), washed and cut in half
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or other vinegar that you might already have at home)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 15-ounce can or 1.5 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15-ounce can or 1.5 cups cooked red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 shallot, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Set up a large bowl of ice water. Add the green beans to the pot and cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and shock the green beans into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the green beans.
Whisk the vinegar, mustard, and honey in a large bowl. Whisk in the oil until emulsified. Add the green beans, cannellinis, kidneys, basil, parsley, and shallots to the bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N