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. (Find your daily caloric intake 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.
1. If you need to stay full all morning long:
Greek yogurt is a powerhouse breakfast, packing up to 18 g of protein into just one 6-ounce container. Plus, one serving of plain can tally only 100 calories and 0 g of fat. Mix in some almonds and a fiber-rich fruit, like fresh pear, to round out the meal.
2. If you need something fast and convenient:
Grab a bar, but not just any one: Many are laden with sugar and fat. Try Kind fruit and nut bars, which have up to 10 g of protein and 5 g of fiber, plus antioxidants.
3. If the drive-thru is your only option in the AM:
Avoid morning calorie sinkholes like muffins, bagels, and pancakes, and order a protein-packed egg sandwich instead. To save calories, hold the cheese.
4. If you’re never hungry till noon:
If your body’s not used to having breakfast, ease yourself into it by sipping on a smoothie (we like Odwalla) throughout the morning to start your day with vitamins and nutrients. Also, curb late-night snacking, which can suppress your morning appetite.
5. If you need to fuel a morning workout:
Carbs and protein are essential for repairing your muscles post sweat session. Kashi’s 7 Grain frozen waffle has 7 g of fiber and 4 g of protein per serving. Pair it with a protein-packed serving of peanut butter, some sliced bananas, and a glass of fat-free milk and you’ll have a winning start.
6. If you’re trying to shed those last 10 pounds:
Swap your morning cup o’ joe for a mug of green tea–research shows that it can rev your metabolism. As for your main meal: Fill up on two eggs any way you like ‘em. Studies show that people who incorporated eggs instead of bagels into a reduced-calorie diet lost 65% more weight.
7. If heart health is your priority:
Try a breakfast burrito chock-full of heart-friendly monounsaturated fats. Fill a whole wheat wrap with sliced avocado, scrambled liquid egg product, and a splash of salsa.
8. If you need your daily dose of 25 g of fiber:
Don’t settle for a cereal with fewer than 5 g of fiber per serving. Some varieties, such as Fiber One, contain as much as 14 g. To add even more fiber-filled food (and flavor): Toss in raspberries.