Provided by Prevention
Raise your hand if you wish a nutritionist would tell you exactly what to eat and when to look and feel great all day long. Yeah, we thought so-that's why we tapped three experts who counsel real women on the simple secrets of smarter meal planning.
Here's what they told us:
1) Have a meal or small snack every 3 to 4 hours. This fuels your metabolism and helps prevent binges and blood sugar crashes.
2) Combine protein (meat, fish, beans, nuts, eggs, dairy) and fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) at every meal. When eaten together, these foods take longer to digest than simpler carbohydrates, so you stay fuller, longer.
3) Get up, move around, and drink water often. This daily meal plan has a wide range of calories (from about 1,550 to 2,100); if you're active you can go toward the higher end of the range. (Use our calorie counter to see how many you need based on your age, weight, and activity level).
Finally, remember that even the "perfect day" isn't perfect if you eat the same thing over and over again. Use the principles outlined here to mix and match your own delicious, healthy meals.
6:30 to 7 AM: Wake Up with Water
"Before you put coffee, tea, or food into your body, it's best to first break your fast with a glass of water with lemon," says Ashley Koff, RD, a nutritionist in Los Angeles and founder of ashleykoffapproved.com
. When you sleep, Koff says, your body isn't just abstaining from food but from water too. "Because many vitamins are water-soluble, having a glass before you eat will help your body better absorb nutrients from food." The acidity of the lemon helps rebalance your digestive tract by making it alkaline, allowing "good" bacteria in your intestines to thrive and facilitate optimal nutrient absorption.
7 AM: Short Walk
This is your ideal fat-burning window, says Koff. A light bout of cardio soon after you wake up and before you eat-a 20-minute walk with the dog, jumping jacks, or running up and down stairs in your home, etc.-taps into your body's energy reserves. "I don't mean a 2-hour hike or an intense 45-minute spin class on an empty stomach," she says. The idea is to fit in some easy activity and try to eat within an hour or so of waking up.
7:30 AM: Breakfast
All of our experts loved oatmeal for breakfast. Have one-half cup of uncooked oats or a packet of instant. "Your body digests the fiber slowly, so you stay full for a couple of hours," says Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, founder of B Nutritious, a private nutrition counseling practice in New York City. For protein, add a glass of fat-free milk, yogurt, or a hard-boiled egg. Or stir some nuts (almonds or walnuts) into your oats. For fruit, Alpert recommends one-half cup of mixed berries for vitamins and antioxidants and more fiber. You can also pour a small glass of OJ, which has nutrients like vitamin C, folate, and potassium.
Bonus Tip: Whatever you do, don't just sip coffee all morning and wait to eat until lunch, says Alpert. "You'll be so hungry, you won't make healthy choices."
300 to 400 calories.
9 AM: Water
You know you're supposed to have multiple glasses a day. But it's better to sip a little water all day long instead of chugging a giant glass when you suddenly feel parched. "If your tongue feels dry to the touch or your pee is bright yellow, you're dehydrated," says Alpert.
10 AM: Stretch and Walk
Get up, stretch, and stroll every hour to hour-and-a-half, says Heidi Skolnik, MS, a nutritionist at the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Walk to a coworker's cube instead of shooting off an e-mail or take the internal stairs when you head to another floor in your office.
10:30 to 11 AM: Small Snack
Eat every 3 to 4 hours to keep energy up and avoid big mealtime binges. For fiber and protein, try an apple with a string cheese or a handful of nuts (especially if you didn't have them at breakfast). "Everyone should have an apple in her desk drawer," says Alpert. "They're the perfect take-along snack-they don't bruise in your purse and they're easy to eat anywhere." Or try yogurt (Koff likes the nonfat Greek kind) with some berries.
Bonus Tip: Sit whenever you eat, says Koff. Take small bites and try to drag out your snack for as long as possible (ideally 10 to 15 minutes). Research shows the more chewing you do, the more nutrients your body absorbs.
150 to 300 calories.
11:30 AM to Noon: Water, Vitamin, and a Walk
Finish your glass, refill it, and swallow your multivitamin. "I recommend clients take their multi shortly before lunch because the B vitamins and certain minerals help your body utilize carbs so you have more post-meal energy," says Koff. Then get up and stretch at your desk. These moves also help keep energy up, so you're not tempted to snack out of boredom or fatigue. Plus, some movement before lunch jump-starts your digestive system, Koff says.
1 to 1:30 PM: Lunch
Build yourself a rainbow salad, says Alpert. Start with dark, leafy greens and pile them high with a mix of colorful veggies, protein, and good-for-you fats. Try tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and mushrooms for a healthy mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Add 1/4 cup of avocado for healthy, monounsaturated fat, and ½ cup of protein, like tuna fish, grilled chicken, turkey, beans, or lentils. "Get adventurous with different veggies every day," Alpert says. "The more color and variety, the better." All of the nutritionists gave the okay on dressing, but don't drown your salad in it, and choose a light version or an olive oil–based one. "You want some fat in your salad because it helps your body digest fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K," says Skolnick. Wash your meal down with water.
Bonus Tip: If you want, have a slice of whole grain bread on the side. "People love bread," says Alpert. "If you'll feel deprived without it, I'd rather you have the 100 or so calories here than risk going overboard later."
400 to 500 calories.
2 PM: Water and a Walk
Doing this now will help you make a sensible choice when those 4 o'clock cravings strike. "Get outside if you can, especially if you didn't go out for lunch," says Koff. "The fresh air and sunshine will boost your spirits and stop you from overeating because of a bad mood."
3:30 to 4 PM: Afternoon Snack
Welcome to the witching hour: Almost everyone needs to snack between lunch and dinner, says Alpert. For a fiber-protein mix, try a 6-ounce yogurt (the natural milk sugars help with sweet cravings) and a handful of high-fiber cereal. Have a banana with a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter. "Or pick something fun," says Koff, like an ounce of dark chocolate (70% cacao). It's packed with polyphenols, a type of antioxidant shown to help lower blood pressure, keep your brain sharp, and more.
Bonus Tip: Let your appetite be your guide here-you may not need the same type of snack every day. If you had a big lunch, you may only need a small nibble. If you plan to hit the gym after work, you may want to eat more or save some of your snack until closer to your workout (an hour or so beforehand).
150 to 250 calories.
6 to 7 PM: Walk or Work Out
If you didn't walk in the morning, now is a good time to squeeze in some exercise. "When you're home waiting before dinner is when the munchies happen," says Alpert. She recommends some kind of regular predinner activity to all her clients, whether it's just circling your block a couple of times or going to the gym. "When you have something scheduled, you're less likely to float in and out of the kitchen." It's also a smart to try to include walking in your commute. If you drive to work, pick a far-away parking spot, says Alpert. If you take a train or bus, hop off a stop earlier than your usual and hoof it the rest of the way.
7:30 PM: Dinner
Start this meal off with soup, recommend our experts. Studies show that people who do end up eating less overall. Have a cup of a low-fat broth-based kind, like minestrone, miso, or gazpacho. For the main meal, "I'd like to see a nice portion, 3 or 4 ounces, of grilled wild salmon because it has lean protein and provides healthy omega-3 fats," says Alpert. Add cooked vegetables like sautéed broccoli or spinach and 1/2 cup of brown rice.
For a nonfish option, try turkey meatballs (roll in some whole oats for extra fiber and spices for antioxidants) over a bed of spaghetti squash, which has the texture of pasta but counts as a veggie serving. Use 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, and sprinkle a handful of pine nuts on top for extra-crunchy texture. Have water with dinner, ideally, but a small (4 ounce) glass of wine is fine from time to time, our nutritionists concurred.
Bonus Tip: Stick to proper portions, especially when it comes to your proteins and carbs. For a realistic perspective, try our portion control quiz.
400 to 500 calories.
9:30 PM: Dessert
Wait an hour or so after dinner for a before-bed snack. You don't have to strictly follow the fiber-protein rule, but it should be more than just empty calories. A few options: A tablespoon of chocolate drizzled over 1/2 cup of berries, apple slices with honey, or coconut water or orange juice ice pops.
100 to 150 calories.
10:30 to 11 PM: Head to Bed
Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night; less than that, and you up your risk for a host of health problems, including weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more, not to mention the odds that you'll feel more tired, frazzled, and likely to overeat the next day. Drink another glass of water shortly before bed, and give yourself plenty of time to wind down with a calming routine, such as a bath or reading in bed.