How to Fit “Combos” into your Meal Plan

A lot of clients ask me, “how can I use recipes in my healthy meal plan?” Whether you like to cook or not, you should be able to follow all different kinds of recipes and make them work into your plan. Using recipes also helps you to add variety and excitement into your diet. If you are intimidated, don’t be! Most recipes will list the difficulty at the top so you can choose based off of your skill level.

How to make them work

Once you’ve found some recipes to try out, check out the past couple of posts on Recipe Makeover for  a review on how to cut down on unwanted fat, salt, and sugar from the recipe. Next, determine the ingredients that are considered your starch, protein, and vegetable food groups and aim to keep the portion sizes similar to your needs based on your meal plan.

  • Starch: these are your starchy vegetables (beans, corn, peas, potatoes), pasta, rice, tortilla, sliced bread, and buns. Most meal plans suggests choosing 2-3 servings of these. I would aim keep the amount to 1 cup starchy vegetables, rice, or pasta, 3 – 6 inch tortillas, or one hamburger bun. 
  • Protein:  Look for the ingredients that are lean meat, fish, poultry, meat substitute, or tofu. Most meal plans recommend choosing 3-4 ounces. Aim to cook a quarter of a pound of cooked meat or meat substitute (such as veggie burger or tofu) per person. The portion should be about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Vegetables: There are no limits on your non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, onions, etc. Use this opportunity to fill up on these ingredients. If your recipe doesn’t include very many vegetables, you can either choose to sneak them into the recipe or make a side of steamed vegetables or a salad to pair with the meal.

Now that you have learned the correct amount of each of the components for your meal (starch, protein, and vegetable), I would make sure your recipe has the correct proportions. For example, if I use a recipe that serves 4 people, I will try to make sure to cook about 4 cups total of starch (rice, pasta, or starchy vegetables), 1 pound of meat which is 16 ounces, and loads of vegetables.

What about mixtures?

The next question I usually get is “what if my starches, protein, and vegetables are mixed?”  If you have already done the work and determined how much of each component you need to make, then this is the easy part! It doesn’t matter how you mix it, in fact I would encourage you to get creative. Here a few examples of some mixtures based off 3 starch servings and 3-4 ounces of meat, and unlimited non-starchy vegetables.

  • Tacos:  2 – 6 inch corn tortillas, 1/2 cup rice and beans, 3 ounces of fajita chicken strips, and loads of pico di gallo, lettuce, and sliced tomatoes.  
  • Spaghetti: 2/3 cup pasta with 1/2 cup pasta sauce, quarter pound lean ground beef, onions and mushroom, and side salad with 2 tbsp low-fat salad dressing.
  • Stir Fry: 1 cup rice, 3 ounce chunks of chicken breast or tofu, and sauteed mixed vegetables (no peas or corn).
  • Stuffed baked potato: 1 medium baked potato, ½ cup pinto beans, 3-4 ounces smoked turkey breast, 2 teaspoon barbecue sauce with a side of steamed green beans. also has a lists of ways to count “mixed” foods.  Also, keep in mind, a short cut for determining how much of each portion to eat if you don’t know your suggested serving sizes (or don’t feel like bothering with adjusting the recipe) is to follow the plate method: Make half your plate vegetables . Just make sure you eat off of an 8 inch plate and this method is very simple and useful to follow.

Recipe of the week:

Southwest Chicken Sliders – these mini corn bread and chicken sliders are creative and a perfect kid friendly meal. You can have 2 corn bread muffins with 2 -1.5 ounce pieces of chicken. I omitted the bacon and made a side salad with arugula, tomatoes, and light honey mustard dressing.

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