Make your meals work for you with our guide to a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Timing is everything, they say, and that goes for eating, too, especially if you're trying to develop healthy eating habits or trying to lose weight. It's not just about eating healthy meals—it's when you eat that is also important. Should you eat before exercise, or after? Should you dine like an early bird or a night owl?
Knowing when to eat will keep your body and brain at their peak all day long—helping you lose weight without skipping a meal. So, when planning your day, use these simple healthy meal guidelines that tell you when to eat to feel full longer, stay energized and avoid overeating.
Healthy Eating 101
First, keep in mind the very basics. Foods are composed of protein, carbohydrates and fat, the three energy nutrients. Each plays a specific role in how our body functions.
- Carbohydrates: Provide quick energy but are not stored well in the body. Examples are breads, cereals, pasta, rice, bagels, crackers, fruit, fruit juice, vegetables and legumes.
- Protein: The body uses protein primarily for building muscle. Examples include chicken, beef, pork, legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, eggs and peanut butter.
- Fat: A long-term storage form of energy. Fats are found in butter, meats, margarine, mayonnaise, fried foods and some salad dressings. Because there are "good" and "bad" fats, it's important to limit saturated fat and get most of your fat from plant sources.
It's Not Only What You Eat...
To get the most energy out of the foods you're eating, you should carefully plan out your meal according to the time of day. Because some foods don't break down and digest as easily in the body, it's important to think about the time of day you're eating them.
Breakfast: Choose a healthy mixture of carbohydrates and protein to jump-start your day and feed your brain. Studies have shown that loading up on protein and carbs in the morning may help you stick to a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet the rest of the day. Some healthy options include:
- whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk and fresh fruit
- an egg-white sandwich, fruit and glass of milk
- a blender smoothie made of yogurt and fruit
- hot cooked cereal
Lunch: Eat a good protein source to help keep your body functioning throughout the afternoon and give you the energy to avoid feeling sleepy or lethargic in the afternoon. Avoid overeating and munching on high-fat foods, which can cause fatigue. Some healthy foods include:
- a tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread with carrot sticks or celery on the side
- minestrone soup with veggies, chicken and whole grain pasta
- hummus with mixed veggies and whole-grain pita
Dinner: Make it the smallest meal of the day by reducing your portions. If you haven't had at least five servings of fruit or vegetables, load up on them and decrease portions of meat, chicken, or other protein. Here are some healthy suggestions:
- a salad with goat cheese, colorful veggies, shrimp or chicken and a low-calorie balsamic vinaigrette
- grilled salmon with couscous and steamed carrots
- healthy eggplant lasagna
If you plan on working out after you eat choose foods high in carbs for energy and low in fat to speed up digestion. Instead of a sugar-laden energy or cereal bar, try fresh fruit, like apples or pears; Greek yogurt with a bit of honey or low-fat string cheese. Eat small 100-200 calorie snacks throughout the day and stay hydrated so that you don't overeat during your larger meals.